Laughter and Dominance: 5-year reflection on againstness training

It’s now been five years since I first attended a CFAR workshop. I wrote a 3-year retrospective 2 years ago. Today I want to reflect on one specific aspect of the workshop: the Againstness Training.

In addition to the 5 year mark, this is also timely because I just heard from the instructor, Val, that after lots of evolution in how it was taught, this class has finally been fully replaced, by one called Presence.

The Againstness Training was an activity designed to practice the skill of de-escalating your internal stress systems, in the face of something scary you’re attempting to do.

I had a friend record a video of my training exercise, which has proven to be a very fruitful decision, as I’ve been able to reflect on that video as part of getting more context for where I am now. Here’s the video. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching! If you have, I recommend you nonetheless watch the first 2 minutes or so as context for what I’m going to say, below:

» read the rest of this entry »

12017 Yearly Review

It’s January 31st, 12018, as I type this. I told myself last night that I would either write a yearly review today, or not at all. It feels hard to figure out what to say about my past year. My life is rich and complex and wonderful and challenging and… hard to summarize.

Yet I feel like I don’t want to break my chain of yearly review blog posts quite yet. So here I am, writing… something. If I were to ask myself, “Aside from breaking the chain, why does this yearly review post feel important?” …the main answer is that there are things about my life that my blog readers don’t know, that might be valuable context for anyone who is following the story of my life.

This itself is a sort of strange experience. I know who some of the readers of my blog are—some friends, my housemates & other Upstart collaborators, and of course my parents—but I don’t know most of you. And yet even the people I know most closely still learn a lot about me from reading my blog, which suggests that if you’ve been reading most of my blog posts the past year or two, you also know a lot about me.

And if you haven’t? This is a challenge I face in all of my blog posts: to what extent can I assume that people will have read the previous ones? Or to what extent will they have remembered it anyway?

For instance, I didn’t remember until I re-read it just now that during last year’s review I said:

I’ll tell you if/how [using the Holocene calendar] affects my thinking during next year’s yearly review, after I’ve been using it for awhile.

So I guess I’ll do that. (For context, the Holocene calendar is like the one you’re used to, but starts 10,000 years earlier, making this my 12017 review instead of my 2017 review.) The short answer is that I don’t think it’s affected my thinking very much, and I found it to be not at all something worth creating extra confusion publicly, so it’s mostly a thing I’ve been using in my personal notes. I continue to enjoy it aesthetically though. I do think that when I first started using it it gave me a dramatically increased awareness of something like [where I am in history]. And now using “2017” to indicate the year feels like one of those graphs with the scale lopped off in a confusing way. “12017” of course also lops off most of the past, but it at least doesn’t lop off much history.

One thing I have often written about in my yearly review is what I learned that year. One of my biggest learnings of 12017 has already been thoroughly covered though, in Transcending Regrets, Problems, and Mistakes. That article tells the story of how I spent the year learning a very core skill: not imagining that the past should have gone differently, or even in some meaningful sense could have gone differently. Similarly, I could point you at Towards being purpose-driven without fighting myself to indicate a milestone partway through another major learning arc in the past year (disarming my internal conflicts) but I want to write about that in more detail in its own focused posts, so it doesn’t make sense to focus on it here. Nearly all of my blog posts in the past year have some sort of learning like that.

I notice, as I’m writing this, that I almost feel kind of defensive. As if I’m writing this post in an attempt to prove that it’s impossible for me to write an adequate yearly review.

Maybe I’m overcomplicating things, and a simple chronological approach would allow me to say whatever needs or wants to be said, on a month-by-month basis. I’m sure lots of things will yet be missed from this, but it seems better than nothing, and I don’t feel so defensive about it! 😀

January

The first major project that Benjamin and I did after he joined Complice was we ran two Goal-Crafting Intensives, which went awesomely. It was a great proof-of-concept for running events like these, and we’ve since planned and executed three more a year later, and are planning some other workshops in the future.

We then participated in » read the rest of this entry »

Building self-trust with Self-Referential Motivation

Noah asks:

I feel so incredibly much better when I don’t procrastinate, and yet I still procrastinate regularly. Why am I so resistant to classical conditioning in this context? What further questions should I ask myself / demands should I make of myself, to attack this problem?

I suspect that this is a paradox that almost everyone has encountered on some level. People want to be productive. It feels good to have a really fruitful day.

This is something we often forget, when we frame our self-improvement efforts as a fight between what we should do and what we want to do.

And note that it’s not just that people want-to-have-been-productive. It generally feels pretty good while you’re doing it too. There are exceptions, of course—some work is a grind—but in general it’s at least satisfying, if not fulfilling, to be doing good work. And even with relatively aversive work, it usually feels better to be actually making progress than to just be stewing in the feeling that you should be working but aren’t.

So here’s the million-dollar question: if it feels good to be productive, why aren’t people productive more? » read the rest of this entry »

Captain’s Log: ultra-simple tech for self-reflection

For the last few months I’ve been using a remarkably powerful, remarkably simple technique for increasing my effectiveness. It’s called a Captain’s Log.

It’s kind of like a journal, except instead of writing in it reflectively from a historical or archival perspective, the specific purpose of it is to write in it in the heat of the moment, when encountering a feeling of uncertainty or internal conflict. (I realize that the name doesn’t really reflect that distinction, but I don’t care! Perhaps it’s from Invictus: I am the captain of my soul.)

How much better would your days be if every time you felt uncertain or conflicted, you were able to have a quick conversation with a compassionate friend? Would that effect be present even if the friend didn’t really say anything but just nodded as you thought out loud? Well, turns out you can basically do this!

And it turns out that it’s a really valuable tool for practicing undividedness as though saving my head from fire.

Thoughts that might prompt me to use it:

  • “I’m not sure what to do this afternoon…”
  • “I’m feeling kind of flinchy (ie drawn towards absorbing websites)”
  • “I want to go out, but I also want to finish the thing I’m working on”
  • “Maybe it’s time to go to bed? Maybe?”
  • “Where did the last 3 hours go?”
  • “I’m having a bit of trouble focusing but I really want to do some pomodoros!”
  • “Hmm I kind of want to go to this party, but I also want to go to that other thing. Ack!”
  • “I seem to be dissociating…”
    » read the rest of this entry »

The Third Kind of Expectation

I wrote a post last year on two different kinds of expectations: anticipations and entitlements. I realized sometime later that there is a third, very important kind of expectation. I’ve spent a lot of good time trying to find a good name for them but haven’t, so I’m just calling them “the third kind of expectation”. On reflection, while this is unwieldy, it is an absolutely fantastic name by the sparkly pink purple ball thing criterion.

First, a recap on the other two kinds of expectations in my model: anticipations and entitlements. An anticipation is an expectation in the predictive sense: what you think will happen, whether implicitly or explicitly. An entitlement is what you think should happen, whether implicitly or explicitly. If your anticipation is broken, you feel surprised or confused. If your entitlement is broken, you feel indignant or outraged.

I made the claim in my previous article that entitlements are in general problematic, both because they create interpersonal problems and because they’re a kind of rationalization.

But isn’t entitlement okay when…?

Since then, some people have pointed out to me that there’s an important role that entitlements play. Or more precisely, situations where an angry response may make sense. What if someone breaks a promise? Or oversteps a boundary? It’s widely believed that an experience of passionate intensity like anger is an appropriate response to having one’s boundaries violated.

I continue to think entitlements aren’t helpful, and that what you’re mostly looking for in these situations are more shaped like this third kind of expectation.

» read the rest of this entry »

Towards being purpose-driven without fighting myself

Lots of more abstract writing in the works, but in the meantime, an update on my personal learning process: I’m currently working on shifting out of a meta-oscillation between being intensely purpose-driven but stressed & tense and being self-compassionate & internally aligned but aimless & disoriented.

Of course, an update on my personal learning process is still going to include some abstractions!

I sketched out a 2×2 to capture these dimensions. I’m not totally satisfied with the axes or the quadrants, but the overall structure feels clear and powerful, and I’ll refine it over time. I’m trying to get more comfortable putting out drafts of things:

The ideal state is the one in the top right, » read the rest of this entry »

Acts of Speech and States of Mind

Much of this post was originally drafted a couple years ago, so the personal stories described in here took place then. I’m publishing it now in part because the novella that inspired it—Ted Chiang’s Story of your Lifehas recently been made into a feature-length movie (Arrival). In some contexts, it might make sense to say that this post may contain spoilers for SOYL; in this particular one, that would be hilariously ironic. Even after reading this post, the story will be worth reading.

This post begins, like so many of mine, with a conversation with Jean, the founder of the Upstart Collaboratory, where she and I and others are practicing the extreme sport of human relating. Jean remarked that a conversation she’d had earlier that day had been really good, then noted that she’d already told me that.

I replied, “Well, yes, and it was meaningful to me that you said it again. On the most basic level, it implies that on some level you felt you hadn’t yet conveyed just how good the conversation had been.” Then I shared with her something I’d heard from Andrew Critch, at a CFAR workshop. (Quote is from memory)

If someone says “something” to you, then that doesn’t mean that “something” is true. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that that person believes that “something” is true. Incidentally, it also doesn’t necessarily mean that they think that you don’t already agree with them that “something”. It really just means that, at the moment they said it, it made sense to them to say “something”. To you.

» read the rest of this entry »

12016: A Year of Co-Responsibility

I was having a lot of challenge figuring out where to start this one. For some reason, the Object/Process/Meta structure I used the past three years doesn’t feel like it makes sense this year. Maybe because this year a lot of the object-level “stuff I did” was itself process- or meta-level.

The first thing I need to get out of the way is that as of last week, I’m using the Holocene calendar, which means that instead of writing my 2016 CE review, I’m writing my 12016 HE review. It’s the same year, but I’m experimenting with living in the thirteenth millennium because (4-6 years after) the birth of Christ is a weird start time for a bunch of reasons. Better is about 12,000 years ago, around the start of human civilization. There might be a slightly more accurate year, but the nice thing about just adding 10,000 years is that it means you don’t have to do any math to convert between CE and HE: just stick a 1 on the front or take it off. This in turn means I can use it in public-facing works and while it might be a little confusing, it’s still easily-understood. Here’s a great YouTube video on the subject. I’ll tell you if/how this affects my thinking during next year’s yearly review, after I’ve been using it for awhile.

Okay, 12016. » read the rest of this entry »

Common-knowledge self-commitments for changing patterns of thought

So we’re trying to upgrade our mindsets.

Here’s my formulation of what we’ve been doing at my learning community, which has been working well and shows a lot of potential to be even more powerful:

With deep knowledge of why you want to change, make a clear commitment, to yourself. Then, share that commitment with people who support you, and make it common knowledge.

I’ve written before about a hard vs soft distinction: with hard accountability, there is a direct, specific negative outcome as a result of failing to meet your commitment. This is the domain of commitment contracts (“if I don’t write this paper by tuesday 8pm, I’ll pay you $50”) and systems like Beeminder. With soft accountability, you’re making a commitment to paying attention to your behaviour in the relevant area and shaping it to be more in line with your long-term vision.

Read that post to find out more about the distinction. Here I just want to note that hard accountability has some disadvantages in fuzzy domains, for instance in changing habits of thought. One is that if there’s a grey area, it’s then very unclear if you’ve succeeded or failed at the committed behaviour, and you need to know. Furthermore, it’s likely to be the case that the behaviour change you want to make isn’t exactly the same as the one you can measure, which means that your commitment is now somewhat at odds with your goal, in that you’re optimizing for the wrong thing.

» read the rest of this entry »

You flow downhill (and you can sculpt the hill)

“It was a pity thoughts always ran the easiest way, like water in old ditches.” ― Walter de la Mare, The Return

You’re probably more predictable than you think. This can be scary to realize, since the perspective of not having as much control as you might feel like you do, but it can also be a relief: feeling like you have control over something you don’t have control over can lead to self-blame, frustration and confusion.

One way to play with this idea is to assume that future-you’s behaviour is entirely predictable, in much the same way that if you have a tilted surface, you can predict with a high degree of accuracy which way water will flow across it: downhill. Dig a trench, and the water will stay in it. Put up a wall, and the water will be stopped by it. Steepen the hill, and the water will flow faster.

So what’s downhill for you? What sorts of predictable future motions will you make?

» read the rest of this entry »

A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm trying to figure out how humans work so I can help make humanity work. More about me.

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