I scheduled this post to go live as a showtime, then realized I wasn’t sure if “consciousness” is the right way to even frame this, but I let it go live anyway. In some sense it could be called “sanity”, but that has its own challenging connotations. I use both terms sort of synonymously below; I might decide later that yet a third word is better. There’s also a lot more that I can—and will—say about this!
I figure collective consciousness can be summarized as the capacity for a group of people to:
(Jordan Hall’s 3 facets of sovereignty: perception, sensemaking and agency.)
I like to say “Utopia is when everyone just does what they feel like doing, and the situation is such that that everyone doing what they feel like doing results in everyone’s needs getting met.” On a smaller group, a sane We is when everyone in the We does what they feel like in the context of the We, and they are sufficiently coherently attuned to each other and the whole such that each member’s needs/careabouts get met.
In some sense, obviously, if there existed an X such that if you supported the X it would cause everything you want to be achieved better than you could manage on your own, you’d want to support the X. Obviously, from the X’s perspective, it would want to support the individuals’ wants/needs/etc to get met so that they have more capacity to continue supporting it supporting them supporting it [ad infinitum]. This is the upward spiral, and it’s made out of attending to how to create win-wins on whatever scale.
There can’t, as far as I can tell, exist such an X that is fully outside the individual(s) it is supporting. In order for it to actually satisfy what you actually care about, consistently and ongoingly, it needs a direct feedback loop into what you care about, which may not be what you can specify in advance. The system gives you what you need/want, not what you think you need/want, in the same way that you do this for yourself when you’re on top of things. Like if you eat something and it doesn’t satisfy you, you get something else, because you can tell. (This is related to goodhart and to the AI alignment puzzle).
Fortunately, as far as I can tell, we can learn to form We systems that are capable of meeting this challenge. They are composed of ourselves as individuals, paying attention to ourselves, each other and the whole in particular ways. Such a We can exist in an ongoing long-term explicit committed way (eg a marriage) or one-off task-based unremarkable ad hoc way (eg a group gathers to get someone’s car unstuck, then disappears) or something in between (eg some people who meet out on deep playa at burning man and decide to be buddies for the rest of the day).
What does it look like to aim for flow & sovereignty? There’s a kind of conversation that can surface all that’s present for people and allow a lot of sensemaking to occur. How do you get to such a conversation? There are various elements:
There’s also a matter of “what is the point of this conversation?” I think the best conversations have an orientation towards some fluid emergent combination of:
There might also be a specific topic, perhaps reflecting on an experience that everyone just went through together, or a question that one person has convened the conversation about.
I sometimes call these sorts of conversations a “co-what-now” process. “What now” is both about “what do we do now?” and also simply about making space to collectively hold the implications of whatever has just happened and what everyone’s sitting with. And when it’s working, there’s a lot of getting on the same page, that emerges clarity of the situation and of the next steps, and leaves people feeling satisfied and understood.
It seems to me like aiming towards having conversations like these on a consistent basis, not necessarily formally but in terms of the basic stance & attitude, is the sort of ongoing aim that it makes sense for such a group to have, and inclining towards whatever makes these conversations more satisfying.
And if one person is clear that the thing they need to do is some specific solo project, then perhaps they don’t participate in the co-what-now conversation at all (or beyond showing up to say “I’m gonna go do X”). There’s obviously a cost to having that person not present, but ideally there’s a collective sense of trusting that that person is taking that into account in their prioritizing. And if not, then that gets talked about. And maybe that person wants the large-group co-what-now conversations to happen at a different time of day or something. And maybe the conversations are recorded and the person listens to them later, or maybe someone else fills them in. Or maybe they just take some distance for a day or a week, and this is also workable.
And maybe one person isn’t actually internally clear about what they need to do, but they’re conflicted and tangled about something that feels really pressing and urgent but they don’t know how to solve it. In such a case, it’ll be hard for that person to settle into a collective train of thought & not-knowing because their situation will be dominating their experience. It may be possible for them to expand their awareness while holding onto that situation, so they can step into co-flow, although if they experience doing so and their situation often continues to remain unresolved at the end of the conversation, they will—accurately!—feel like the conversation is failing to address what’s most pressing to them, which will produce distrust and oscillation.
If they can’t expand their awareness enough to get into a kind of collective flow (which should be very rare by the time you get to a fully collaborative group but will be common with a partway there group) then there’s a sense in which what they need to do is whatever is going to solve their situation and liberate their attention so they can rest. That might not be a total solution, but something that makes the situation feel handled. And some or all of the other people might be able to support them in that with conversation or coaching or labor or whatever else, but also perhaps not. And the other people may or may not feel appetite towards supporting them in that. And the others may also want to still convene with each other, sensing into what-now in the context of the situation of one person being preoccupied by something else.
Note that one interesting phenomenon is that a conversation of 2 or more people yields a clear next step for one person, that makes obvious sense to do, but when they go to do it they find it’s not so obvious anymore. This can be for a few reasons:
Most of my posts are essays of one kind or another. This one is mostly to announce that if you’re only following my blog, you’re missing out on some of my thinking which is starting to show up in other places.
One of these is I’ve now done half a dozen podcasts which you can find listed in detail here, or in brief here:
I want to do another podcast episode around monthly this year, so let me know if you want to have me on your show, or recommend me to an interviewer you like. (I’m down for both interview-style conversations and more deep jamming dialogue-style ones.)
Another medium is that I’m starting to post videos to my own YouTube channel more, including:
Let me know what topics you’d like to hear me speak on!
I’ve also been writing a lot on Twitter, as uhhh you may know from the frequent remark at the beginning of my posts the last couple years saying “this blog post is adapted from a twitter thread…” We’re incubating a beautiful little scenius there and would love to welcome you. Seriously, you don’t know what you’re missing.
While I’m at it: I’m interested in doing some guest blogging, so if you know anyone who runs a publication of any kind that might increase my visibility, let me know! I’m particularly interested in finding other places to share my thoughts on motivation, productivity, goal-setting, etc.
(If you’re reading this in my email newsletter, you can just hit reply; if not, hit me up on twitter @Malcolm_Ocean)
I said that to some friends—“mindset choice” is a confusion—and they were like “what?” and I wrote this response.
In order for this post to make much sense, you’ll need some referent for what I’m calling below “the complete stance” and “confused stances”… these are pretty obscure terms used by David Chapman on meaningness.com. I sent a draft of this to David and he said “it makes sense”. I used different terms in the original, which are even more obscure (“collaborative mindset” and “coercive mindset”).
Arguably this point might hold for terms like “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” but these are often treated pretty shallowly, and growth mindset has to be seriously steelmanned in order to be anywhere near as complete as the complete stance. In any case, we’re talking about constellations of foundational assumptions.
I refer below to “the complete stance” as having certain self-evident properties. If those properties aren’t obvious to you, then I must be pointing at something else than what you think I’m pointing at—either something completely different or something approximately the same but with some other detail. The thing I’m pointing at is precisely the thing that has those properties. So insofar as you have a referent that seems to work, try it on, but if it doesn’t fit, aim towards one that does. This is central to what I’m saying here.
To get started with, here’s another important not-what-I’m-saying: I don’t think “choice” is always a confusion. There’s something people experience that we created the word “choice” for… but that doesn’t mean that this is the best concept for the job. We created telegraphs, but now we don’t use them because we have email & phones. Newton created a model of mechanics, which is still the best model for doing most human-scale engineering but fails when things get really tiny or really fast. Nor does it mean that the thing it was originally invented for is the thing it’s being used for now. It might be a metaphorical application for which it is ill-suited.
It seems to me that “choice” is best suited for things like “do I choose to get on the plane to Paris or the one to Dubai?” Once the plane is in the air, the choice has been made and no further choice is needed—or even possible. Mindset is clearly not like this—one tries to choose, then discovers one has apparently unchosen without even noticing. Wat.
It seems also that “choice” is somewhat well-suited for situations like Malcolm & Sarah choosing to go to British Columbia. We were in the state of not having chosen for awhile, but being aware of such a choice, and then there was a moment when we chose. And ofc, if Sarah’s car had completely fallen apart, or an avalanche had completely blocked the entire Rocky Mountains, or we had had the worst fight of our entire relationship, or we’d gotten invited to an epic context somewhere else in the world, maybe we would have then chosen something different. But in the absence of some major unknown unknown, we were now in a state of intending to incorporate all emergent factors into a plan that included going to BC. To not let letdowns or breakdowns or meltdowns or lockdowns otherwise disturb that overall plan.
Mindset/stance, still, does not appear to me to be like this, inasmuch as with mindset:
A) people “choose” but then this choice appears to later get reverted without a conscious intention to choose otherwise. This would be like Sarah and I forgetting that we chose to go to BC. This does sometimes happen in relation to concrete choices too but it’s weird and indicates unconscious resistance here as well and more choosing is NOT the answer.
B) the complete stance is by definition better than confused stances in all ways, so if you appear to have a choice and the answer isn’t obvious, then the thing you have labelled “complete stance” isn’t the real thing. It’s missing something. And if the answer is obvious, why bother calling it a choice? (except perhaps as an interesting exercise… I’ve done this exercise on mundane things sometimes—it’s worth doing!)» read the rest of this entry »
This article is an elaboration on this tweet:
Everyone is basically living in a dream mashup of their current external situation and whatever old emotional meanings are getting activated by the current situation. Like dreaming you’re at your high school but it’s also on a boat somehow.
What makes this metaphor really powerful is that, as in dreams, somehow the weirdness of this mashup goes unnoticed until you wake up (and only then if you think about it). And then even though you’ve noticed while awake how weird dreams are, you’re just as fooled by the next dream, until you wake up.
This helps explain the vivid reality of peoples’ experiences. The emotional brain is experiencing something totally real—just as your high school is real. The part of you that’s taking in reality is experiencing something totally real—just as boats are real. But, unless you had a really avant-garde education, there is no real “my high school, except on a boat”.
So people experience these mashups in relationships as well, emotionally experiencing their friends & partners as if they’re a parent, teacher, sibling, or bully from childhood, or an earlier friend or partner. Or someone is an adult but when they talk with their parents, they readily overlay their experience of their parents from childhood, who had absolute authority over them. To be clear, it can be particularly strong & weird with trauma but as far as I can tell this is how meaning-making works in general. It’s just sometimes the mapping is a good fit and other times it’s really weird.
And, as with dreams, no matter how weird it gets, we usually don’t notice when it’s happening to us.» read the rest of this entry »
When I was 16, I accepted I would die.
It wasn’t hard to do—I was about to die! What point would there be in not accepting it?
Spoiler: I didn’t die. But at that moment, I thought I was about to die. I was jumping off a cliff into some water, with friends, on a volunteer trip in Kenya, and on this particular jump I did some sort of flip and thought I hadn’t cleared the part of the cliff below my jump spot that stuck out, and I saw the rock coming towards me and thought
“This is it. I’m going to smash my face into this rock, and then die of that impact, blood loss, or drowning.”
We were hours’ bumpy drive from anything remotely resembling a hospital.
Moments later, a splash—
I spent a few minutes, shaken, sitting on the bank and appreciating my life.
Years later, I noticed that that acceptance of death wasn’t persistent. It was a kind of short-issue visa, and because it was issued last-minute it also expired pretty quickly.
And over the last few years I’ve noticed I have many layers of complexities in my relationship to death.
A lot of people have patterns in their relationships (particularly romantic or familial) that cause them to get upset, bizarrely intensely. These patterns have built up over years of experience pushing each others’ buttons. I’ve done a lot of work on these kinds of patterns over the last few years and have made substantial progress, to the point where I’m no longer particularly worried about getting angry at my parents or partners. Even my younger sister, for the most part. (If she’s reading this, she’s probably saying “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED”)
But I still have a massive class of relationships that need serious work: my relationships with technology.
I have an eye for design—it’s part of why I went into Systems Design Engineering for undergrad. Being a designer is a great skill to have, for the most part. But it comes with a big drawback: you notice bad design.
And most things, it turns out, are badly designed.
There are reasons for this, of course. Big organizations are hard to coordinate. Points of failure are often hard to foresee.
I came to the realization a few weeks ago that some of my biggest potential growth in the dimension of againstness-y responses is in this domain. I noticed that my defensiveness in social situations is fading broadly—though not gone, not yet—and I was switching more and more to curiosity as a default mode of interaction. My patterns around poorly-designed products, however, seemed as strong as ever.
I found myself realizing that I felt entitled to well-designed products. Honestly, even as I write this, it feels hard to let go of the idea that I am. But I’m not. I’m not entitled to well-designed products. Even when » read the rest of this entry »
Two experiences in the last 48h have caused me to redesign some of my language and communication patterns in a pretty serious way. I suspect that these are generally applicable and very useful, so I’m sharing!
Before I get into it, take a moment and see what comes to mind when you read the phrases “that made me feel uncomfortable” or “I noticed some discomfort while reading that.”
Okay, turns out that I’d been using phrases like that, and they were totally backfiring, because they communicated something totally different than what I was intending to communicate.
On a mailing list I frequent, someone offhandedly made a remark that was intended to be humorous. I felt uncomfortable reading it, which I shared with the group, along with an explanation for why I consciously endorsed that feeling of discomfort. Fortunately, I edited the subject before replying, because it prompted a massive email thread about (among other things) whether or not it makes sense to be offended by things and whether or not it makes sense to avoid saying things that will make people uncomfortable. And a bit about the content-level topic itself.
Someone else shared that their perception of this conversation was that I was trying to shame the OP for what he had said, to which I responded:
Thanks for the feedback that that was how it looked. I will maintain, as one of the main this-made-me-uncomfortable-sayers, that I was not intending to send any guilt or shame.
However, I’ll drink my own medicine, noting that this whole conversation happened because of person A saying something that was interpreted by person B in an unexpectedly negative way.
So I just did the same thing!
“Implementation Intentions” is a tool from psychology literature that has been conclusively shown to increase the tendency of people to actually carry out actions towards their goals. Feel free to read the paper if you want justification. Since there’s plenty of that and I’d be just copy-pasting the article, I’m going to focus on the application side.
You can use this for huge goals or things you’re trying to accomplish, or it could just be a simple habit you want to create/change/eliminate. One example that’s worked well for me is staying up when I get up. I don’t have a big issue with getting up when my alarm goes off, but if I’m at all tired or even just cold, I feel a strong inclination to just crawl back into my nice warm bed… but when I do that, I fall asleep, and it usually isn’t even particularly restful sleep. So my goal here is to stay out of bed once I’ve gotten up.
This technically isn’t part of implementation intentions either—but it’s another well-documented tool that helps with goal success and that works well with implementation intentions. Warning: there are two key parts here that must be combined. Doing both will increase your chance of success; doing only one will decrease it.
The first part is to spend some time thinking about the benefits of achieving your goal: the short-term peace of having a relaxed morning instead of a rushed one… the long-term time gained by not oversleeping, and the value of whatever I spend that time doing instead. The second part is to bring to mind all of the obstacles you can think of, ranging from the regular and simple (“I get cold” or “I get tired”) to the less frequent and complex (“someone else is in the bathroom”).
Here’s what mine looks like for up-getting:`
What’s key, the research reveals, is to then contrast those obstacles with the ultimate benefits, so that you get a clear association in your mind that those things are what’s standing in the way of you having all of that awesome success. Once you’ve done that…
In the case of getting up, there’s really only one main opportunity: when I hear my alarm clock. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar actually likes to refer to this device as an “opportunity clock” because he thinks it’s a helpful positive reframe. “If you can hear it, you’ve got an opportunity.”
For a goal like “exercise more”, there are many opportunities. One in each context where you’re choosing what to do with your body. Perhaps when you decide whether to drive or bike to work, or to take the elevator or the stairs. Is there a bar somewhere in your daily routine that would be great for pull-ups? What would be a convenient time and place to do some crunches?
If you’re a programmer, then this will be really familiar. If not, then this sentence and the previous one are sort of examples. If-then statements are the core of implementation intentions. The name itself is to contrast with what researchers call “goal intentions”. Goal intentions are things like “I intend to be 10lbs lighter in 3 months” or “I intend to write a 50,000-word novel by the end of November.”
Implementation intentions look more like “if I have the chance to eat a cookie, then I’ll just take a deep breathe and refuse the cookie” or “if I sit down at my computer, I’ll open up the draft of my novel and write at least 1000 words before I go on Facebook”.
Goal intentions, despite having little directly to do with behaviour, have been shown to be effective for producing behaviour change. With implementation intentions and mental contrasting, they become even more effective. To create your if-then statements, start with the opportunities you identified in step 3. This is the initial “if” part. Then, add the intended action in those circumstances.
This is what I started with:
• When I hear the zeo opportunity clock, then I’ll get up and turn it off
It helps to be specific so that your brain is really certain when the “if” is triggered. I actually started with something I almost always do anyway. I then added:
• If I’ve just turned off the zeo, then I’ll go to the bathroom and weigh myself [I’m tracking my weight on beeminder]
This helps to create a new habit at that decision point where I’m deciding whether or not to go back to bed. While these two lines would be better than nothing on their own, they actually still have substantial room for improvement. Brains are incredibly skilled at generating excuses for things that are unpleasant or inconvenient or even just unfamiliar. You need to catch those cases. This was the ultimate chain of If-Thens that I created:
• When I hear the zeo opportunity clock, then I’ll get up and turn it off
• • If I’ve just turned off the zeo, then I’ll go to the bathroom and weigh myself
• • • If I feel like going back to bed instead, then I’ll ignore that feeling and still go weigh myself
• • • If someone is in the bathroom, then I’ll stay standing and start my morning intentions
• • • If I still feel tired, then I’ll go to the kitchen, get water, and splash it on my face
• • • • If I’m not dressed, then I’ll put on sweatpants then go
• • • If I realize that somehow I’ve sat or laid down on my bed, then I’ll count from 5 down to 0 then stand up on zero [this helps in tired situations because it doesn’t feel effortful to start counting]
• After weighing myself, then I’ll start my morning intentions
• • If I feel like doing them in bed, then I’ll do them sitting at my desk instead
Note that in several cases the “if” is basically “if I don’t feel like it”. While this might be surprising, or seem silly, it’s actually really key. If you say, “I’m going to go to the gym on Monday” then you’re implicitly assuming that on Monday you will still want to go to the gym. If you don’t, your brain might assume that you therefore don’t need to go. If, however, you decide that even if you don’t feel like it, you’re going to go anyway, then that excuse doesn’t work anymore.
This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s ever heard someone say “I’m never gonna drink again” …more than once. Turns out that not only does that not work, but it backfirefs, in the same way that trying not to think of a white bear usually results in frosty ursine thoughts. So rather than focus on the behaviour you want to avoid, think about what you want to do instead. I know if I heard someone say “from now on, I’m only drinking soda at parties!” I might actually expect them to succeed.
Start with implementation intentions for something that feels challenging but not overwhelming. Then you’re likely to succeed, after when when you add a new layer to this (either in the original goal or for a new one) you’ll already think of it as an effective system, and one that you obey.
This post explains success spirals really well.
If you set up your Implementation Intentions so that you’ve eliminated all snacking from your life with this, but you still want to snack sometimes, then you’re going to be forced to break your intentions to do so, which sets a precedent you don’t want. Instead, you might try something like what I did:
– If I really want a snack and I haven’t had one that day, then I can trade a coupon for a snack, provided that coupon was created at least a day ago.
I would just write eg “Friday Snack Coupon” on a sticky note on Thursday, and then on Friday I could buy a snack with this. This way I could still snack in a very limited way without breaking the official contract I’d set with myself.
One last tip—I know this is a lot! This whole thing doesn’t work if you find yourself in this situation and you don’t remember what your if-then actually was. There are two things that can help with this: first, start with simple If-Thens that are fairly easy to remember. Secondly, just create a global catchall If-Then:
• If I find myself in a situation where I’m pretty sure that I have an implementation intention but can’t quite seem to recall what it was, then I’ll behave in a way that seems like the kind of thing I’d put for the Then section in this context.
I just came up with that right now, so I’ll have to give it a field-test and see if it works.
Complice is launching soon.
What do people think of you? What affects what people think of you? I’m realizing that if you focus on what people think of you this moment, you usually lose track of what they’re going to think of you next month.
I’m interning at a large tech company for the first time (previous max was a 22-person startup) and I’ve been having some trouble navigating how to ask questions and get things done in the rather complicated system. Today, in my 1-on-1 meeting with my manager, we were talking about asking others for help, which he pointed out is really important in a large organization with relatively little documentation. I commented that I was worried that people would feel like I was asking them to solve all of my problems—that they might judge me for doing so. I described one part of this problem using this analogy:
Say I’m trying to make myself a sandwich, and I don’t even know where the bread is kept. So I ask you, “where’s the bread?” You indicate the appropriate cupboard. Then I get distracted for half an hour, initially trying to choose a kind of bread but then reading the ingredients… after which I find the knife and realize it’s totally dull and won’t slice the bread (the next step).
At this point I feel really apprehensive about asking you for help again, because I feel like you’ll notice how I haven’t really accomplished anything for awhile (with software development, this can be more on the order of hours and days) and that I’m now asking you for help with something that’s basically a next step to the last thing I asked about. Or that could be expected to follow within 2 minutes.
“Don’t worry about what people think of you,” my manager responded, to this story and to other concerns about pestering people, “think about the results.” In other words, if you’re hungry, do what it takes to get that sandwich made. Then it dawned on me that by trying to avoid having people think negatively toward me in the short term by asking too many questions, I was ultimately sacrificing their long-term opinion of me by reducing what I was able to accomplish.
When I’m finishing my internship, I’d much rather have a couple of people think, “Oh yeah, Malcolm was great, though he asked a lot of questions,” than have everyone think, “Malcolm just kind of went off on his own and barely accomplished anything”. Which is sillifying to realize, because I haven’t been behaving with that in mind. Well, it’s hard to change what you don’t even notice, so this is a start.
I wrote the bulk of the above this afternoon in an email to myself (something I do with surprising regularity) and then thought I’d share it on my blog, for a few reasons, notably that it’s a great example of conflicting wants. There’s a deeper shift happening here too, which is the realization of how my concern over my own image is itself getting in the way of both image and goals, therein being quite unproductive. But for now it seems easier to shift on the level of behaviour->values, achieving them in the short term rather than trying to change my values overnight.