Fish oil and the self-critical brain loop

Disclaimer: you do you, this is a single (several times repeated) anecdata report.  Fish oil is cheap so you can run this experiment at home.

Do you recognise this brain pattern:

Remember that thing you did years ago that was horrible.  Now is a time to think about that and feel bad about it.

Including the variation that looks like, “oh here’s another example” for hours and hours at a time until you are successfully distracted.

Except sometimes it comes when you are idle.  Like catching public transport, waiting for a doctor, or generally doing a task with spare brain cycles.

I usually treat this experience as a chance to learn from my past.  Mainly because the only thing that settles a thought like, “you did this bad thing and you should feel bad” is a thought like, “I have now learnt from my mistakes and if confronted by a similar mistake like that I will now instead do X”.

Or at least that’s one strategy for making it go away.

Another strategy that makes it go away is the one I suggest for the Call Of the Void.

Focus wholly and completely and loudly on the concept.  Let it take your full attention and acknowledge that yes; this is in fact a present danger and experience.  Of course don’t jump, or do anything drastic, just acknowledge the feeling, boldly, sharply, ugly.  Then return as you were to the other tasks at hand.

The strategy is suggested by mindfulness and Acceptance commitment therapy.

You don’t have to stop the feelings.  In fact – the more you try to push a feeling away the more it will come back.  A misconception is that CBT is a thought control strategy.  That’s not true.  CBT has you engage and challenge those thoughts.  Don’t push them away.  Invite them in, declare war on them, ask them for evidence and argue with them till they are beaten down and disproven.

Turns out when I take fish oil, my critical feedback loop brain track goes away.

I have been conducting experiments on myself.  This is the result of iterations, trials and repetition.

I implemented a trigger-action plan, it’s not perfect.

When I notice I am in the brain loop, I mentally check when I last took fish oil.

Literally without fail for several months:

  1. If I purposely go off fish oil to test what happens, later that day, sometimes the next day I will find myself in a critical loop.  Shortly after taking my fish oil the thoughts are gone.
  2. If I accidentally go off fish oil, within 24 hours of not taking fish oil I find myself in a self-critical loop.

Studies also show mixed information that fish oil makes a difference to depression.  I would be willing to advocate trying it out and sticking to it if it helps.  I propose if you have a brain type that causes this critical loop habit often enough or a related brain loop and fish oil can mute the loop, then it could be effective for treating depression.

I can’t explain why this happens.  But I can suggest trying it and reporting back.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Paranoia testing

Because I live on the internet I sometimes meet some interesting characters.  On this particular occasion I found myself in a conversation with someone who suggested, “I don’t know if I’m paranoid or not”.  The full story had some drug use and what I can only describe as peculiar circumstances (if they were in fact being accurately reported but I have no reason not to believe the reports).

Intrigued by this puzzle and I was not entirely sure what the best course of action to do with a potential mentally unwell person – Should I discourage the stories, should I indulge the stories?  If I say something that causes my friend to drop into a state of greater paranoia I would be liable to try to help them out again.  After a short while of talking I figured that I would just try and get the person to think and feel about the “edges” of what it means to have paranoia.

Which is how I came up with the idea to run some simple thought experiment tests that might give you a hint as to whether you have paranoia or not.  I didn’t know if I could be trusted by this person so I was always very careful to suggest ideas and not insist on any ideas.  It’s not necessary for me to insist someone seek treatment.

As a brain living inside the conditions like paranoia it’s difficult to have an objective test because any scientific test that can be done on faulty equipment is going to come up with faulty results the equivalent to the fault.  A camera with a dust speck on it’s lens will always take a photo of the dust spec. Unfortunately paranoia is a more complicated fault to test.  

Any experiment that you might try, could run into multiple errors at the same time or multiple errors in the one experiment.  Could paranoia machinery change at different times of day?  Different amounts of stress?  If you were to try and design a normal experiment knowing that your equipment was faulty you’ll be trying to aim for reliability, validity and accuracy.  

Repeating the experiment for reliability – which is to say that if you were shooting an arrow and you always land in the direction of the target you know you have at least the reliability to shoot an arrow.  If you regularly hit one foot to the left of the bullseye you have the accuracy to get close to the target, you just need to move the target or improve your aim so that you actually hit it.

The other problem that you might have is validity. Which is if you try to weigh a feather to work out how much an average feather weighs but you only happen to have peacock feathers you might end up with a different answer than if you measured a pigeon’s feathers.  Depending on what you want to know – your experiment needs to validly come to a result. a result that doesn’t represent the information you are trying to measure is going to be useless. 

So in thinking about paranoia how can you test whether you are paranoid or not using your faulty equipment that may or may not be faulty (paranoid)?

First I started trying to think of something that is a little bit random but has a known randomness to it. For example a coin flip. You know that it will probably land either heads or tails but it might be a test that you have to run a couple of times before you conclude that it is it a biased or before you conclude that the coin is actually random.

The next strategy I considered was the random person strategy. For example a stranger on a bus or a server at the supermarket.  In law there is a reasonable person test that can be applied, something like, “what would a reasonable person have done in the situation given the details and facts of the experience that the defendant was going through”.  Curiously the reasonable hypothetical person was once described as, “The man on the Clapham omnibus is a reasonably educated, intelligent but nondescript person, against whom the defendant’s conduct can be measured.”, or, “The bald-headed man at the back of the omnibus.”.  As a map-making strategy, I find it kind of neat that they describe a “reasonable person” as a “man on the bus”.  So when running your experiment or thought experiment – do you think you could ask a stranger on a bus the result of a coin flip and have them tell you the true answer?

For a non paranoid person – the server at the supermarket, or a person on the bus has no incentive to lie to you about anything you might ask them.  If you are specifically unsure if the other humans are all in cahoots with each other scheming against you, at some point it gets damn expensive to pull off a ruse like “all of the people on every bus you ever catch are paid to stand around and answer your questions incorrectly”. For example if you ask the stranger on a bus, what day of the week it was – do you think you could trust their answer?


If all the humans in your life, or many of the humans in your life were part of a grand scheme, very quickly the cost of maintaining a grand scheme starts to grow. Where maybe a room full of people could pull a practical joke on someone for about an hour or two – “just for fun”…  By the time the ruse’s time scale stretches out to a day or perhaps several days there needs to be some sort of value being generated, for simplicity – in terms of “dollars” to incentivise people to “keep playing along”. By the time you want your brain to believe that – 5 people you have never met – scheming or pulling a practical joke on you. If those 5 people spend more than a day on that practical joke the cost of keeping them pulling that joke starts to escalate where a full day might be 12 hours x 5 people x your country’s minimum wage (I will use $10 for simplicity) = $600 for a day’s practical joke.  It’s not cheap.  I would say bordering on irrational to burn that sort of cost on a practical joke.

I really want to believe that I am important enough to scheme about but I know the incentives here. If you can’t afford to pay those 5 confederates to participate in your practical joke then after about a day they’re going to go home and get on with their lives.  I do consider myself “valuable” but I don’t know that I consider myself valuable enough for a 10 person scheme for 3 days even (10*12*3*10=$3600).  I mean, depending on what it’s worth to pull a thinly veiled paranoia plot, epic scheme or hilarious practical joke – there has to be a monetary cost to the scheme.  By the time you start to include public places – clearing up any chance of the “scheme” failing, starts to get quite expensive.

Maybe your number is higher than mine – maybe you think someone has $10,000 to spend on fooling you for a few days. But there still should be a limit to how complicated a scheme must be before it is unreasonably complicated and unlikely to be possible or valid because it just cost too damn much to pull off.

A note

What if you wrote yourself a note and hid it in a drawer?  Do you think that you could come back the following morning and expect that no one had tampered with it?

What if you wrote the note in code?  A simple substitution cipher is all it takes to make a slightly higher barrier to tampering.  Do you think you could trust the note to not be tampered with now?

From existing research we know that there is a limited number of people who can be involved in a conspiracy before it becomes unwieldy to keep a secret.

Simply put if you have too many people involved in the conspiracy it becomes impossible to keep a secret as time goes on.

The research (if you agree with their models and I am not so sure that I do) seems to suggest a much higher number of participants than I would have guessed, still.  Interesting to know.

Mostly I am curious of what test you might use or generate to evaluate if you are paranoid.  Knowing of course that no test is perfect and your faulty hardware could be getting in the way of you actually noticing a scheme afoot, or being able to tell if you are paranoid.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Posted in exercise, models of thinking | Leave a comment

Emotional labour

A brief breakdown:

  • event: I broke your vase.
  • event: I bought you a gift but then left it at home
  • event: I want to go to a (privately valuable event) on our (relationship important day)


  1. I wanted to save you the effort of thinking about the thing and so I decided not to tell/ask you before it was resolved.
  2. I wanted to not have to withhold a thing from you so I told you as soon as it was bothering me so that I didn’t have to lie/cheat/withhold/deceive you even if I thought it was in your best interest

what is a better plan of action?

1 would be doing emotional labour in the form of:

I thought about the event and how you would feel about it and modelled how I thought you would feel and then acted according to what I thought was best for you feeling better.

2 would be to put an emotional burden on the other person but carries with it more honesty, more expectation that the other person is autonomous and able to make choices for themselves.

I didn’t want to withhold anything, but instead burdened you with making the choice about what to do about the matter by telling you about my conundrum.

I used to do 1, but now I do 2. The relationship books tend to suggest 2. All of the things my brain ever conjured up used to tell me 1.  Brain: Make the martyr choice for people.  Don’t tell them, suffer in secret.

I made a lot of relationship mistakes doing 1’s in various situations and now I do 2s.  I don’t know why this works but it lines up with everything I ever read – NVC, Daring greatly, Gottman institute research.

I don’t have much to add other than – I wonder if you do 1’s or 2’s.  I would prefer people do 2’s not 1’s around me.

(A little more on emotional labour)

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Posted in models of thinking | Leave a comment

Repairing Anxiety using Internal and External locus of control models

I want you to examine your map.  It’s the representation you carry around in your head that says, “I am in control of most things” or it says, “most things are out of my control”.  Or for very specific things it says, “I am in control” or “I am not in control”.

Factually – In the territory – through life things are more and less in your control or shaped by events beyond your control in the external world.

Independent of your locus of control, can be noted the way you feel about a problem alongside whether it is internal of external locus of control.   As a separation of cause and effect.  (Of concrete event and their surrounding judgements, evaluations, conclusions or extrapolations)

This might already seem obvious but let’s make some examples to play with.  Here are some times that you might feel in control or out of control.

  1. Internal-Good: I am the lead on the project so everything is going to get done my way (the right way).
  2. Internal-Bad: My house is a mess and it’s my fault.  It won’t get tidy unless I do something about it and it’s bothering me.
  3. External-Good: I outsourced my tax to an accountant.  Now I have less to worry about.
  4. External-Bad: I got the flu, how does this keep happening to me?!?

In these examples it’s clear what’s going on (the concrete) and it’s supposed to be clear whether it’s an internal or external locus of control, and the feeling is mentioned.

Now lets play with them.  Can we shift the concrete experiences to a different locus of control? from the original first example we can shift the event to the 4 quadrants above

  1. Internal-good: I am the lead on the project so everything is going to get done my way (the right way).
  2. Internal-bad: I am the lead on the project.  It’s all on me. What if I make a mistake, it will be all my fault.  I don’t know if I can handle it.
  3. External-good: I am the lead on the project, I have so much responsibility at work, they must know I can handle it.  
  4. External-bad: I am the lead on the project. I am under so much pressure at work.  It’s stressing me out!

But that’s not the only example that can shift.

  1. Internal-good: My house is a mess, it’s my fault but I don’t care.  I am having way too much fun to bother with it.  I will deal with it when it bothers me enough or when I find time
  2. Internal-bad: My house is a mess and it’s my fault.  It won’t get tidy unless I do something about it and it’s bothering me.
  3. External-good: My house is a mess and it’s my fault, lucky for me no one cares!  I can get away with it because it doesn’t matter.  
  4. External-bad: My house is a mess and it’s my fault, what if anyone sees, I can’t have friends over, what would they think of me?  I have too much to do, life never gives me enough time to hold myself together

As we try each example…

  1. Internal-good: I outsourced my tax to an accountant.  I am a powerful agent that can decide to not do tasks if I don’t want to.  I know my strengths and this is not one of them.
  2. Internal-bad: I outsourced my tax to an accountant.  I am incompetent about finance, it’s my fault I have to pay someone to do this for me.
  3. External-good: I outsourced my tax to an accountant.  Now I have less to worry about.
  4. External-bad: I outsourced my tax to an accountant. My tax was too hard, I had no choice but to pay someone to fix it for me
  1. Internal-good: I got the flu.  I had to take care of my sick friends, I knew there was a risk but you gotta live.
  2. Internal-Bad: I got the flu. I hate public transport, so many sick people I always get sick.  I can’t help it.
  3. External-good: I got the flu. these things happen.  Better take it easy or I will be sick for longer.
  4. External-bad: I got the flu, how does this keep happening to me?!?

Curious isn’t it.  Any concrete experience can be shifted to a good/bad feeling, and any locus of control can be shifted to a internal/external locus of control as well.

As a person who has an ego that barely fits in the room, it means that I am very practised at living in that first row of the square.  That means I am looking for a method that either obtains power/control for myself or bestows responsibility to the external locus of control.

If you carry anxieties around with you, chances are they have some perspective that can be changed by hanging around in the other part of the square.  Obviously this is not yet a method for getting you into the first row of the square but moving in that direction is the strategy below.


The only method I want to mention in this article is to switch locus of control.  So if you are in Internal-bad try switch to external and see what comes up.  That is; move diagonally in the table.

Going from;

Internal-bad: My house is a mess and it’s my fault.  It won’t get tidy unless I do something about it and it’s bothering me.


External-good: My house is a mess and it’s my fault, lucky for me no one else cares!  I can get away with it because it doesn’t matter to anyone else and no one can see.

While avoiding:

External-bad: My house is a mess and it’s my fault, what if anyone sees, I can’t have friends over, what would they think of me?  I have too much to do, life never gives me enough time to hold myself together

How exactly? Try:

  1. Write down the problem in concrete form.  Or get clear on what the problem is somehow.  You can talk to a friend or just think about it so long as you lock down what the problem is.  The benefit of writing it down is that once written it’s not going to squirm in your head and be the elusive spiralling colour changing problem monster.
  2. Decide which locus of control you are currently in. (or just pick one.  It can’t both be “my fault” and “not my problem” at the same time” so start somewhere and switch.)
  3. Try think of ways in which the problem is in the other locus of control.  (“Not my problem” or “I can take charge of this problem”)
  4. If 3 seems impossible – ask other people for help.  They will be able to see your situation differently and suggest ways of looking that are in the other locus of control.

It would be very hard for a problem to be both entirely your fault (caused by you) and the world hating you (caused by external forces) at the same time.  It’s also remarkably hard to be in control of a problem and have it be not your problem.  What I am saying is that it would have to either be your problem or not your problem.  It would be hard to be both.

Meta: changing your internal models of locus of control is an internal locus of control method.  Unless you propose, “this is the way I am I can’t change it” which would be an external locus of control explanation.

I don’t know how to build on this so it will have to come in another post.  having this out there will help to make it easier to build on later.

Meta: this took around 2.5 hours to put together.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Posted in models of thinking, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

models of cuteness and human face attractiveness

I found out that I don’t measure any cuteness in my head.  That is to say I have never seen a baby thing and had a feeling inside me to coo at it.  Nor have I ever seen something cute and fluffy and wanted to cuddle it because it was cute and fluffy.

Now I can look at these two pictures and see one is “cute” and the other is a tree.


It’s not rocket science to be able to work out what other people find cute and then just build a rule like,

Baby things fit into the category of cute.  Caricatures and small versions of bigger things can sometimes be cute.

And voila – cuteness camouflage.  Trouble is that nothing actually seems cute to me.  No small humans, no small animals, no insects, no creatures or pictures at all.  Nothing.

Also I guess I am really good at pretending I am normal because I am so good that I didn’t even realise!  This isn’t the first time I have pointed out and shared fundamentally different human experiences.

Not thrilled by a lack of cuteness in the world?

If my ability to enjoy looking at baby animals is wrong, I don’t want to be right. – Erratio

Yeah I guess I don’t blame you.

how do you even make sense of half the internet if you don’t perceive cuteness? Tumblr must be a strange alien place. – Mindspillage

Don’t go to Japan the land of cuteness. – Tim

I always figured that Japan had this “Japan-ness” to it.  And yes the internet never really made sense in that way.

If this is not a big deal for you I noticed another example a few weeks ago.

One can survive in this world without cuteness.  One can also survive in this world without a register of attractiveness of human faces.  But it’s a bit harder to not notice.

I looked at a few lists of the Most attractive faces.  It’s great, the internet means there are tons of them!  So I looked down the list and realised that I have no idea what the difference between these faces are, and none of them are attractive to me.  They are just faces.  One after the other.  Human faces.

Lisa Haydon Gal Godot

Apparently the normal human experience is to find these faces attractive or appealing or somehow positive in some way.  All I get is a bit of symmetry and the occasional feature that stands out more than other features.

All the world is signalling but the signals of more or less attractive faces?  I got nothing.

One day in the future when captachas need to be better than “spell this gibberish word” and they ask, “which of these faces is attractive” or “select the cute picture” I will be locked out of the internet and shunned for being a robot in meaty flesh.  Until that day I need to keep preparing and building my models.

Meta: This took about 30mins to write.  There are probably other human experiences I am missing that I will add to the list.

Posted in models of thinking | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Models of human relationships – tools to understand people

This post will not teach you the models here.  This post is a summary of the models that I carry in my head.  I have written most of the descriptions without looking them up (See Feynman notebook method).  If you have read a book on every one of these points they will make sense, as if you were shaking hands with an old acquaintance.  If you are seeing them for the first time, they won’t make very much sense or they will feel like a surface trivial truth.

I can’t make you read all the books but maybe I can offer you that the answer to social problems is surprisingly simple.  After reading enough books you start to see the overlap and realise they often are trying to talk about the same thing.  (i.e. NVC + Gottman go together well).

In fact if you were several independent dragon hunters trying to model an invisible beast and all of various people’s homemade sensors kept going “ping” at similar events you would probably start to agree you were chasing the same monster.  Models should start to agree when they are talking about the same thing.  The variety of models should make it easier for different minds to connect to different parts of the answer.

All models are wrong, some models are useful.  Try to look at where the models converge.  That’s where I find the truth.

1. The book Crucial Confrontations – Kerry Patterson
(without explaining how) If you can navigate to a place of safety in a conversation you can say pretty much anything.  Which is not to say “here is how to be a jerk” but if you know something is going to come across negative you can first make sure to be in a positive/agreeable/supportive conversation before raising the hard thing.

In the middle of a yelling match is maybe not the best time to bring up something that has bugged you for years.  However a few sentences about growth mindset, supporting people being a better person and trying to help (and getting a feel that the person is ready to hear the thing) and you could tell anyone they are a lazy bum who needs to shape up or ship out.

The conversation needs to be safe.  For example – “I want to help you as a person and I know how hard it can be to get feedback from other people and I want to make you into a better person.  I have an idea for how you might like to improve.  Before I tell you I want to reassure you that even though this might come across abrasive I want to help you grow and be better in the future…”

(some people will be easier than others to navigate a safe conversation and that’s where there are no hard and fast rules for how to do this.  Go with your gut)

The crux of this model is “have a model of the other person” [15]

2. The partner book “Difficult conversations

There are 4 types of difficult conversations around communicating a decision:
a. Consultation (Bob asks Alice for ideas for the decision he is going to make on his own)
b. Collaboration (Bob and Alice make a decision together)
c. Declaration (Bob tells alice the decision he has made)
d. Delegation (Bob tells alice to make the decision)

As someone’s boss you may sometimes have to pass on bad news in the form of a declaration.  It’s up to you which conversation this is going to be but being clear about what conversation this is will be helpful to a person to understand their place in responding or interacting with you.  It becomes difficult where there is a misunderstanding about what is going on.

It’s also important when you are on the receiving end to be on the same page about what conversation this is.  (you don’t want to be negotiating in a collaborative manner when they are trying to give you a declaration of their decision, and the same when you are leading the conversation).

Among other details in the book.

3. Getting the 3rd story.

linking back to –
(from one of those books [1] or [2])

Bob knows what happened from his perspective and Alice knows her version of events.  Where there is a disagreement of what follows from different versions of events it is possible to construct a 3rd person story.  This may be hard to do when you are involved and an actual 3rd person can help but is not crucial in constructing the story.  If you can step outside of your own story and construct a 3rd version together this can resolve misunderstandings.
Something like; “I thought you said we should meet here, even though I said I wanted ice-cream, you thought that meant we should meet at the ice-cream place next door and we each waited 30mins for the other one to turn up to where we were.”.  By constructing a 3rd story it’s possible that no one was at fault.  It’s also possible that it can become clear what went wrong and how to learn from that or what can be done differently.

(cue business management After-Action-Review activities {what did we do well, what could we have done better, what would we do differently}, now SWOT)

4. The Gottman Institute research (and book)

The 4 horsemen of divorce (but just because that’s what the research is about doesn’t mean we can’t apply it elsewhere) (yes Gottman is limited in value because of bad use of statistics we can’t be sure the models are accurate, I still find it’s a good model at explaining things).

Don’t do these things.  When you see these things, recognise them for what they are and don’t engage with them.  If necessary acknowledge people are feeling certain angry feelings and let them get them out (not everyone can efficiently drop how they are feeling and get on with talking about it, especially not without practice).

Each one has an antidote, usually in the form of an attitude or strategy that can leave you thinking about the same thing differently and relating to it differently.

I. Criticism
I would rename to “inherent criticism”.  Comes in the form of an inherent descriptor like, “you are a lazy person”, “you always run late”.  “you are the type of person who forgets my birthday”[see 5].  Try to replace inherent criticism with *[6] concrete descriptions of actions.

To counter this – try descriptions like [6a]:  “I can see you are sitting on the couch right now and I would like you to offer help when you can see me cleaning”.  “yesterday I saw you try to do a few extra tasks and that caused us to run late”, “you forgot my birthday last year”.

The important thing about the change here is that an inherent label comes in the form of an unchangeable belief.  It’s equivalent to saying, “you are a tall person”.  It’s fixed in time, space and attitude.  You don’t want to give someone a fixed negative trait.  Not in your head and especially not out of your head either to that person or to anyone else.  You set someone up for failure if you do.  As soon as someone is “the lazy one” you give them the ticket to “always be lazy” and if they are half smart they will probably take it.  Besides – you don’t change people’s actions by using criticism.  You maybe relieve some frustration but then you have created some open frustration and the problem still exists.

II. Defensiveness
Probably easiest to understand by the description of reactive defensiveness.  It usually comes as a reaction to an accusation.  If two people are yelling, chances are neither is listening.  In response to “you are always making us run late”, a defensive reaction would be, “I make us run late because you always stress me out”.

It does two things:
1. claim to not be responsible
2. make a second accusation (can be irrelevant to the subject at hand).

First of all if you are bringing up several problems at once you are going to confuse matters.  Try to deal with one problem at a time.  It doesn’t really matter which so long as you are not yelling about being late while they are yelling about you forgetting the laundry. (and so long as you deal with all the problems)

The second part is that you can’t shift blame.  Absorbing some blame does not make you a bad person.  Nor does it make you inherently terrible.  You can have both done a wrong thing and not be a bad person.  After all you had your reasons for doing what you did.

The antidote to defensiveness is to acknowledge [6] what they have said and move forward without reacting.

III. Contempt
This is about an internal state as much as an external state.  Contempt is about the story we tell ourselves about the other person (see NVC) and is a state of negative intent.  I hold you contemptuously.  For example, “a good person would not run late”, “if you were smarter you would just…”, “I work so hard on this relationship and you just…”, Some examples of displays of contempt include when a person uses sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humour [see 7 – emotional intelligence about physiological events].  This overlaps with Inherent criticism and makes more sense with [6 NVC].
Contempt has two antidotes, Teacher mindset and curiosity.  Teacher mindset can change an attitude of, “He should know what he did wrong” to, “I need to explain to him how to do it right”.  Curiosity [See NVC, also [3] the 3rd story] can take you to a place of trying to understand what is going on and take you away from the place of the stories we tell ourselves.[10]

IV. Stonewalling
This is a physiological state of going silent.  It is used when you are being lectured (for example) and you go silent, possibly start thinking about everything else while you wait for someone to finish.  It’s like holding your breath when you go underwater, waiting for it to pass.  If you are doing this what you need to do is take a break from whatever is going on and do something different, for example go for a walk and calm down.
There was a classic joke, they asked a 110 year old why he lived so long and he said, every time I got into an argument with my wife I used to go for a walk.  I went on a lot of walks in my life.
Because this is a physiological state it’s so easy to fix so long as you remember to pay attention to your internal state [see NVC what is most alive in you, and 11. what does that look like in practice]

5. How to win friends and influence people

I always recommend this book to people starting the journey because it’s a great place to start.  These days I have better models but when I didn’t know anything this was a place to begin.  Most of my models are now more complicated applications of the ideas initially presented.  You still need weak models before replacing them with more complicated ones which are more accurate.
The principles and (in brackets) what has superseded them for me:

1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain. (There are places and methods to do this.  Criticism can be done as [1] from a place of safety or in [4] from a teacher/mentor/growth mindset.  Definitely don’t do it from a place of criticism.  Condemnation is more about [10] and is an inherent trait.  Progress doesn’t usually happen when we use inherent traits, From Saul Alinsky’s rules for radicals – don’t complain unless you have the right answer – “I have a problem and you have to figure out how to fix it for me” is not a good way to get your problem solved.)
2. Give honest, sincere appreciation. (so long as you are doing this out of the goodness of your heart good.  If you are using it for manipulation you can just not bother.  NVC supersedes this.  By keeping track of what is most alive in you, you can do better than this)
3. Arouse in the other person an eager want. (Work out what people want, work out how to get both your needs met – superceded by NVC.)
4. Become genuinely interested in other people. (depends what for.  Don’t bother if you don’t want to.  That would not be genuine.  You need to find the genuine interest inside yourself first.)
5. Smile. (um.  Hard to disagree with but a default smiling state is a good one to cultivate – from [7] physiological states are linked two ways.  Smiling will make you happy just as being happy will make you smile)
6. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the most important sound in any language. (I don’t know about most important but I would say that anyone can remember names with practice.

7. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. (NVC – pay attention to what is most alive in you when you do. Make sure you know about the spectrum of )
8. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest. (Sure why not.  Sales are a lot easier when you are selling what people want. See [15] and NVC to supersede how and why this works)
9. Make the other person feel important – and do so sincerely. (I guess?  I don’t do this actively.)
10 The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. ([9] if you are in an argument something already went wrong)
11. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.” (NVC, instead of saying no, say what gets in the way.  “here is evidence that says otherwise” can be better than “durr WRONGGG” but I have seen people use “you are wrong” perfectly fine.)
12. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. (hard to disagree with, but holding onto grudges and guity things is not useful.  [4] gottman talks about defensiveness, avoid defensiveness and acknowledge the fact that someone feels you are at fault first.  It will satisfy the psychological need arising in an offended person [14])
13. Begin in a friendly way. (as opposed to what?  Sure I guess.)
14. Get the other person saying, “Yes, yes” immediately. (Yes ladders are important and valuable.  You see bits of this creeping into Gottman [4], NVC [6], The game [13] and other practices but no one as yet explains it as well as I would like.  The game probably has the best commentary on it, short of business books that escape my memory right now)
15. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking. (not really important who talks so long as you are on the same page and in agreement.  If you want someone else to do the emotional labour [15] for you, then you can let them.  If you want to do it for them you can.  Implications of EL are not yet clear to me in full.  Some places it will be good to do EL for people, other places they need to do it for themselves to feel ownership of the problems and solutions)
16. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers. (sure I guess.  A good idea is it’s own champion.  Ideas that are obviously better will win out.  You can’t make a turd beat a diamond but you can employ tricks to polish certain diamonds over others.  This technique is battling over little bits.  can be useful but I would not rely on it alone.)
17. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view. (NVC [6] and EL [15] should help do that better.  Imagining that you are that person in a way that is hard to impart in words because it’s about having the experience of being that other person (see and not “just thinking about it”. needs a longer description and is an effective technique.)
18. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires. (NVC supercedes.  Everyone has basic feelings and needs that you can understand, like the need for safety)
19. Appeal to the nobler motives. (giving people a reputation to live up to is a valuable technique that I would say only works for qualified people – but does not work so well if you put pressure on people who are less skilled.  Probably relates to the things going through our head at the time – see also book – the inner game of tennis, NVC, judgement model)
20. Dramatize your ideas. (I don’t know?  Try it.  It could work.  will not work by virtue of it being a good model of things, might work by luck/breaking people out of their habits)
21. Throw down a challenge. (can work if people are willing to rise to a challenge can work against you and create cognitive dissonance if people are not willing.  Need more information to make it work)
22. Begin with praise and honest appreciation. (Don’t give people a shit sandwich – slices of compliments surrounding shit.  That’s not respectful of them.  Instead using [1] navigate to a place of safety to talk about things)
23. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly. (there are correct and incorrect ways to do this.  You can be passive agressive about it.  I don’t see a problem with being blunt – in private, in safe conversations [1] – about what is going on)
24. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person. (don’t yammer on, but it can help to connect you and them and the problem.  NVC would be better than just this)
25. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders. (socratic method, can be a drain, need more advanced skills and [15] EL to know if this is appropriate )
26. Let the other person save face. (better described in I agree with this, but [15] EL might describe it better)
27. Praise the slightest and every improvement. Be “lavish in your praise.” (NVC disagrees, praise only what is relevant, true and valid.  Be a teacher [4] but deliver praise when praise is due.)
28. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. (This is 19/26 again.  I agree with it.  I could use it more)
29. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct. (agree, solve the “problem” for someone else, make it easy to move forward)
30. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest. (NVC gives a better model of doing what other people want, “with the joy of a small child feeding a hungry duck”)

* Giving people a positive reputation to live up to.  “I trust that you won’t forget my birthday again”.  Don’t be silly with this, “I have confidence that you will give me a million dollars” will not actually yield you a million dollars unless you have reason to believe that will work.

6. NVC – Non-Judgemental communication 

I can’t yet do justice to NVC but I am putting together the pieces.  Best to watch the youtube talk in the title link but here are some short points.  Also this helps –
a. Concrete descriptions
In agreement with Gottman, be concrete and specific –  The objective test of whether the description is concrete is whether the description can be followed by an anonymous person to produce the same experience.  “you are a lazy person” VS “you are sitting on the couch”
b. Acknowledge feelings
people have huge psychological needs to be heard and understood.  Anyone can fulfill that need
c. Connect that to a need
See the NVC video.
d.  Making a request
See NVC video.
e. Saying no by passing your goals forward
Instead of saying no, Consider what it is that gets in the way of you saying no and say that instead.  Keep in mind vulnerability [16].  This also allows people to plan around your future intentions.  If someone asks you to buy a new car and you say, “no I plan to save money towards buying a house” they can choose to be mindful of that in the future and they can act accordingly (not offering you a different car for sale next week).
f. Connect with what is most alive in you right now
See video for best description.

7. Emotional intelligence

There is a two way path between physiological states and emotional states.

Try these:
a. Hold a pencil/pen in your mouth and go back and read the joke about the old man [4]. (expect to find it funnier than you did the first time)
b. furrow your brow while reading the first paragraph of this page again (expect to either feel confused or the cognitive dissonance version if you know it very well – “I know this too well”)
The two way path means that you can feel better about emotional pain by taking a paracetamol, but more specifically, if you take a break from a situation and come back to it the emotions might have improved.  This can include getting a glass of water, going for a walk, getting some fresh air.  And for more complicated decisions – sleeping on it (among other things).

Everyone can train emotional intelligence, they need practice.  This includes holding an understanding of your own states as well as being able to notice emotional states in other people.

I had an ex who had particularly visible physiological states, it was a very valuable experience to me to see the state changes and it really trained my guessing mind to be able to notice changes.  These days I can usually see when things change but I can’t always pick the emotion that has come up.  This is where NVC and curiosity become valuable (also circling).

EI is particularly important when it is particularly deficient.  In the book it talks about anger as a state that (to an untrained person) can cause a reaction before someone knows that they were angry.  Make sure to fix that first before moving to higher levels of emotional management.

8. model of arguments

(see also NVC)

If you view disagreements or misunderstandings as a venn diagram of what you know and what the other person knows.  You have full rights to make comment on anything you know but only have limited rights to make comment on what the other person knows.  Instead you can comment on the information they have given you.  “you said ‘X’, I know Y about what you said ‘X'”.  To say X is wrong, is not going to yield progress.  Instead to acknowledge that they described ‘X’ and their description does not make sense to me, or leaves me feeling confused [6].

9. The argument started earlier

From Gavin: “If I ever find myself in a position of saying – well officer, let me explain what happened…”, Something already went wrong well and truly before now.
When you start the journey you will start getting to “Aha” moments about where arguments start.  As you get more and more experience you realise the argument started well and truly earlier than you ever first realised.  When you get really good at it, you can stop and say [6] “I am confused”  well and truly before a yelling match.

10. The stories we tell ourselves

NVC based, Judgement model, There is a lot of people who are thinking in stories.  Related –

Their entire existence is the story and narrative they tell about themselves (see also Jordan Peterson – maps of meaning).  The constant narrative about how “the world hates me” is going to give you a particular world experience compared to the constant narrative, “I am a lucky person”.  You see this in gamblers who are searching for “the prevailing wind” or “winning streaks”.

You also see this in social pressure – when people think and get fixated on, “what will people think of me?”, sometimes the social pressure does not even have to be there to cause the thoughts and the actions that would be “social pressure”.
Several models of thinking advocate removing the story telling in your head to relieve the psychological pain.  See books, “search inside yourself”, NVC, Gateless gatecrashers, some information in the Persistent Non Symbolic Experience Article.

I am not sure what is the best practice, but mindfulness seems to help as well, since these thoughts are all theoretical, grounding yourself in the concrete [6a] and observing those thoughts seems to alleviate the anxieties it can cause.  But this can explain a lot of people’s actions (they are telling themselves a particular story in their head).

11. Polling your internal states
[related to 6 NVC]. Any time you are disconnected to what is going on, try asking yourself an internal question of “what is going on?” to connect with what is most alive in you right now.  This might be a feeling of boredom.  It could be anything, but if it’s not a good and strong connection with what is presently happening you have a chance to fix it.  (See also the book “The Charisma myth”)

12. circling (The circling handbook)

[6 built on NVC] is a practice of living in the current and present experience.  You can focus on another person or focus on yourself.  Perpetually answering the question of “what is most alive in you right now?” and sharing that with other people.

Some examples include:I am feeling nervous sharing this experienceI just closed my eyes and put my head back trying to think of a good example.I am distracted by the sound of birds behind me.I can feel air going past my nostrils as I think about this question.

The creators of cicling find it a very connecting experience to either share what is going on inside you or to guess at what is going on inside someone else and ask if that’s an accurate guess.  Or to alternate experiences, each sharing one and one.  or each guessing of each other – one and one.

I find it valuable because everyone can understand present experience, and get a glimpse of your current experience in the process of sharing experience with you.  This method can also work as a form of [15] and [7].

13. The game

(From the book The Game) This concept receives equal part condemnation and praise from various parties.

The basic concept of the game is that life is a game.  Specifically social interactions are a game that you can try out.  You can iterate on and repeat until success.  In the book it follows the journey of a pick up artist as he generally disregards other people’s agency and works out how to get what he wants (regularly bed people) through some stages of practicing certain methods of interaction, and iterating until he sees a lot of success.

I see a lot of this concept at kegan stage 3[18].  Everything is about social, and the only thing that matters is social relationships.

Most of the condemnations comes from the failure of this model to treat other people as human, worthy of moral weight, thought or anything other than to be used to your own purposes.  If you don’t like dehumanising people the book can still teach you a lot about social interaction, and practicing towards incremental improvement.

If you feel uncomfortable with Pick up, you should examine that belief closely, it’s probably to do with feeling uncomfortable with people using manipulation to pursue sex.  That’s fine, there is a lot to learn about social and a lot of social systems before you turn into “literally the devil” for knowing about it.  There are also other social goals other than sex that you can pursue.

If you are cautious about turning into a jerk – you are probably not likely to ever even get close to actions that paint you as a jerk because your filters will stop you.  It’s the people who have no filter on actions that might want to be careful – herein lies dark arts and being a jerk.  And as much as no one will stop you, no one will really enjoy your presence either if you are a jerk.

The biggest problem I have with game and game methodology is that we all play a one-shot version.  With high stakes of failure.  Which means some of the iteration and having to fail while you learn how to not be terrible – will permanently damage your reputation.  There is no perfect “retry” – a reputation will follow you basically to the ends of the earth and back.  As much as game will teach you some things, the other models in this list have better information for you and are going to go further than game.

14. what an apology must do from Aaron Lazare, M.D.- on apology

1. A valid acknowledgement of the offence that makes clear who the offender is and who is the offended. The offender must clearly and completely acknowledge the offence.
2. An effective explanation, which shows an offence was neither intentional nor personal, and is unlikely to recur.
3. Expressions of remorse, shame, and humility, which show that the offender recognises the suffering of the offended.
4. A reparation of some kind, in the form of a real or symbolic compensation for the offender’s transgression.
An effective apology must also satisfy at least one of seven psychological needs of an offended person.
1. The restoration of dignity in the offended person.
2. The affirmation that both parties have shared values and agree that the harm committed was wrong.
3. Validation that the victim was not responsible for the offense.
4. The assurance that the offended party is safe from a repeat offense.
5. Reparative justice, which occurs when the offended sees the offending party suffer through some type of punishment.
6. Reparation, when the victim receives some form of compensation for his pain.
7. A dialogue that allows the offended parties to express their feelings toward the offenders and even grieve over their losses.

These are not my notes from the book but they are particularly valuable when trying to construct an understanding of apologising and making up for misdeeds.  I don’t have them in memory but I know when I need to make a serious apology I can look them up.  They fit quite well with [6], but are more specific to apology and not all interactions.

15. Emotional labour

A relatively new concept.  This is roughly the ability to:
I. Model someone else’s emotional state
II. Get it right
III. act on their emotional state

For example:
I. I notice my partners eyes are droopy and they do not appear to be concentrating very well.  Is rubbing eyes and checking their watch a lot.
II. I suspect they are sleepy
III. I make them a coffee, or I offer to make them coffee.  (as a downgraded form I mention they look tired and ask if this is the case)

From Erratio:

Emotional labour is essentially a name for a managerial role in a relationship. This takes on a few different concrete forms.

The first is management of the household, appointments, shopping, and other assorted tasks that are generally shared across couples and/or housemates. Sweeping a floor or cooking dinner is not emotional labour, but being the person who makes sure that those things are accomplished is. It doesn’t matter whether you get the floor swept by doing it yourself, asking your partner to do it, firing up a Roomba, or hiring a cleaning service; what matters is that you are taking on responsibility for making sure the task is done. This is why people who say that they would be happy to help with the housework if you would just tell them what needs doing are being a lot less helpful than they think. They’re taking the physical labour component of the task but explicitly sticking the other person with the emotional labour component.

The second is taking responsibility for the likes, dislikes, feelings, wants and needs of other people who you are in a relationship with (and to be clear, it doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship). Stereotypical scenarios that are covered by this kind of emotional labour include: the hysterical girlfriend who demands that her boyfriend drop everything he’s doing to comfort her, the husband who comes home tense and moody after a long day at the office and expects to be asked how his day went and listened to and have validating noises made at him, noticing that the other person in a conversation is uncomfortable and steering the conversation to a more pleasant topic without having to be asked, helping a confused friend talk through their feelings about a potential or former partner, reminding your spouse that it’s so-and-so’s birthday and that so-and-so would appreciate being contacted, remembering birthdays and anniversaries and holidays and contacting people and saying or doing the right things on each of those dates.

This overlaps with [7].  Commentary on this concept suggest that it’s a habit that women get into doing more than men.  Mothers are good at paying attention to their kids and their needs (as the major caregiver from early on), and stemming from this wives also take care of their husbands.  While it would not be fair to suggest that all wives do anything I would be willing to concede that these are habits that people get into and are sometimes socially directed by society.

I am not sure of the overall value of this model but it’s clear that it has some implications about how people organise themselves – for better or worse.

16. Vulnerability – Brene brown
In order to form close connections with people a certain level of vulnerability is necessary.  This means that you need to share about yourself in order to give people something to connect to.  In the other direction people need to be a certain level of vulnerable to you in order to connect.  If you make sure to be open and encouraging and not judge you will enable people to open up to you and connect with you.
Sometimes being vulnerable will get you hurt and you need to be aware of that and not shut down future experiences (continue to be open with people).  I see this particularly in people who “take time” to get over relationships.  Being vulnerable is a skill that can be practiced.  Vulnerability replaced a lot of my ideas about [13 The game].  And would have given me a lot of ideas of how to connect with people, combined with [15] and [12]. (I have not read her books but I expect them to be useful)

17. More Than Two (book)

This is commonly known as the polyamory bible.  It doesn’t have to be read as a polyamory book, but in the world of polyamory emotional intelligence and the ability to communicate is the bread and butter of every day interactions.  If you are trying to juggle two or three relationships and you don’t know how to talk about hard things then you might as well quit now.  If you don’t know how to handle difficult feelings or experiences you might as well quit polyamory now.

Reading about these skills and what you might gain from the insight that polyamorous people have learnt is probably valuable to anyone.

18. Kegan stages of development

Other people have summarised this model better than me.  I won’t do it justice but if I had to be brief about it – there are a number of levels that we pass through as we grow from very small to more mature.  They include the basic kid level where we only notice inputs and outputs.  Shortly after – when we are sad “the whole world is sad” because we are the whole world.  Eventually we grow out of that and recognise other humans and that they have agency.  At around teenager we end up caring a lot about what other people think about us.  classic teenagers are scared of social pressure and say things like, “I would die if she saw me in this outfit” (while probably being hyperbolic, there is a bit of serious concern present).  Eventually we grow out of that and into system thinking (Libertarian, Socialist, among other tribes).  And later above tribalism into more nuanced varieties of tribes.

It’s hard to describe and you are better off reading the theories to get a better idea.  I find the model limited in application but I admit I need to read more about the theories to get my head around it better.

I have a lot more books on the topic to read but I am publishing this list because I feel like I have a good handle on the whole “how people work” and, “how relationships work” thing.  It’s rare that anyone does any actions that surprise me (socially) any more.  In fact I am getting so good at it that I trust my intuition [11] more than what people will say sometimes.

When something does not make sense I know what question to ask [6] to get answers.  Often enough it happens that people won’t answer the first time, this can represent people not feeling Safe [1] enough to be vulnerable [16].  That’s okay.  That represents it’s my job to get them to a comfortable place to open up if I want to get to the answers.

I particularly like NVC, Gottman, EL, EI, Vulnerability all of them and find myself using them fortnightly.  Most of these represent a book or more of educational material.  Don’t think you know them enough to dismiss them if you have not read the books.  If you feel you know them and already employ the model then it’s probably not necessary to look into it further, but if you are ready to dismiss any of these models because they “sound bad” or “don’t work” then I would encourage you to do your homework and understand them inside and out before you reject them.

The more models I find the more I find them converging on describing reality.  I am finding less and less I can say, “this is completely new to me” and more and more, “oh that’s just like [6] and [7]

Meta: this is something around 6000 words and took a day to write ~12 hours.  I did this in one sitting because everything was already in my head.  I am surprised I could sit still for this long.  (I took breaks for food and a nap but most of today was spent at my desk)

Cross posted to Lesswrong:

Cross posted to Medium:

Posted in models of thinking | 1 Comment

How long has civilisation been going?

I didn’t realise how short human history was.  Somewhere around 130,000 years ago we were standing upright as we are today.  Somewhere around 50,000 years ago we broadly arrived at:

the fully modern capacity for Culture *

That’s roughly when we started, “routine use of bone, ivory, and shell to produce formal (standardized) artifacts”.  Agriculture and humans staying still to grow plants happened at about 10,000BCE (or 12,000 years ago).

Writing started happening around 6600BCE* (8600 or so years ago).

This year is 5777 in the Hebrew calendar.  So someone has been counting for roughly that long.

The pyramids are estimated to have been built at around 2600 BCE (4600 years ago)

Somewhere between then and zero by the christian calendar we sorted out a lot of metals and how to use them.

And somewhere between then and now we finished up all the technological advances that lead to present day.

But it’s hard to get a feel for that.  Those are just some numbers of years.  Instead I want to relate that to our lives.  And our generations.

12,000 years ago is a good enough point to start paying attention to.

If a human generation is normally between 12* and 35* years.  Considering that further back the generations would have been closer to 12 years apart and today they are shifting to being more like 30 years apart (and up to 35 years apart).  That means the bounds are:

12,000/35 = 342

342-1000 generations.  That’s all we have.  In all of humanity.  We are SO YOUNG!

(if you take the 8600 year number as a starting point you get a range of 717-242.)

Let’s make it personal

I know my grandparents which means I am a not-negligible chance to also know my grandchildren and maybe even more (depending on medical technology).  I already have a living niece so I have already experienced 4 generations.  Without being unreasonable I can expect to see 5 and dream to see 6, 7 or infinite.

(5/1000)->(7/342) = between a half a percent and two percent of human history.  I will have lived through 1/2% – 2% of human generations (ignoring longevity escape for a moment) to date.

Compared to other life numbers:

Days in a year * 100 year = 36,500 days in a 100 year lifespan.

52 weeks *100 = 5200.  Or one week of a 100 year lifespan is equivalent to one generation of humans.

12,000 years / 365 days = 32.8 years.  Or when you are 32 years old you have lived more days than humans have been collecting artefacts of worth.

8600 years/365 = 23.5 years.  Or when you are 24 years old you have lived one day for every year humans have had written records.

Discrete human lives

If you put an olden day discrete human life at 25 years – maybe more, and a modern day discrete life at 90 years and compare those to the numbers above

12,000/25 = 480 discrete human lifetimes

12,000/90=133 discrete human lifetimes

8600/25=344 discrete human lifetimes

8600/90=95 discrete human lifetimes

That’s to say the entire of recorded history is only about 350 independent human lives stacked end on end.

Everything we know in history has been done on somewhere less than 480 discrete lifetime runthroughs.

Humanity is so young.  And we forget so easily that 500 lifetimes ago we were nothing.

Meta:  Thanks billy for hanging out and thinking about the numbers with me.  This idea came up on a whim and took a day of thinking about and about an hour to write up

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Posted in models of thinking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Feelings in the map.

Following on from: Concrete instructions

One of the underlying concepts of NVC (Non Judgemental communication) is to speak from your own perspective.  There is a very powerful instance of being able to ask for clarifications.  “I am confused” instead of “you said something confusing”.  (I previously wrote about locating the disagreement in an argument in: a model of arguments which aligns very well to this part of NVC).

While it may be true from a personal subjective experience that to me it seems like you said something confusing and in my subjective experience the world suddenly became confusing.  In fact – it would be unreasonable to propose that the external world (territory) is where the confusion lies. This is because the external world is valid and real independent on your own observer state of the world. If you ceased to exist, the defined “confusing” nature of the world would also cease to exist. That confusion rests in your own subjective map, not in the real objective existence of the world.

Identifying the confusion is a very early step.  A step independent of resolving the confusion.  Just for starters – identify, “I am confused”.  Then think about the very nature of being confused and what it is to be confused.

This also applies to other feelings.  Some examples include:

  • apprehensive
  • suspicious
  • frustrated
  • irritated
  • repulsed
  • torn
  • numb
  • lonely
  • exhausted

Acknowledging the feelings and giving them the respect they deserve is a step in the right direction.

Sometimes we need to transmit a feeling in order to impart the experience that we are having.  Not just the concrete instruction, but also the feelings that arose.  Independent of what comes next, and independent of the implications (and holding off from weaponising this particular attempt to communicate).  We want to be able to transmit:

  1. Concretely what happened
  2. How we are feeling in this instance

This goes for welcome and unwelcome experiences and feelings.  Some examples include:

(in the sneaky and not concrete form without being clear of the feeling) Whenever you do things for me I feel like the greatest person in the world!

(and in the concrete and specific form that speaks only of yourself) When I got this cookie I felt appreciative.


These two concepts could have been inspired by the same prior experience but for the second one I transmit exactly how to evoke the same feeling in the future (short of extra context that I will explain in another post).

When I show up at a meeting late I feel disappointed in myself.

When I get to a meeting and have to wait for it to start I feel disappointed.

Notice how that is a terrible place to stop?  How it leaves so much unsaid.  How it bleeds feelings all over the place but does nothing about them.  If you know people like this you might have one of three reactions:

  1. Why are you telling me this?  Is it my problem?  I don’t know what to do about this.
  2. I want to avoid this person because apparently their feelings are my responsibility and I don’t know that I agreed to make that my problem
  3. Oh let me help you with those feelings!

The trouble with 3 is that there is a certain type of person who leaks feelings often and can become a naturally draining person.  It’s not their fault!  But there is a solution!  See next post.

Generic human Needs

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Concrete Instructions

The Concrete Instruction Model

This post underpins other posts but may be particularly raw on it’s own.  It’s potentially really dumb and obvious but leads to other important skills later.

What I want you to do is to describe an experience concretely.  The objective test of whether the description is concrete is whether the description can be followed by an anonymous person to produce the same experience.

A few types of bad descriptions:

  • “make breakfast”
  • “I got angry at him”
  • “people should use good manners in the work environment”
  • “learn to play tennis”
  • “get out of the car”

But first – an exercise in knowing what it feels like to have or not have this skill.

The paper folding game

Each participant gets an equivalent white piece of paper.One person stands at the front of the room, facing away from all the other participants so they cannot see what the leader is doing and instructs a few example folds or tear instructions.

“fold the paper in half, then in half again.  Now fold the paper in half a third time, but unfold it.  Now tear off the corner.  Then half tear down the line of the third fold”

No questions should be asked and no one can ask for clarification until the instructions are over.

The participants are to unfold their pages and compare the results.  (bonus points for participants who tried to break the instructions)

If an instruction is concrete and specific enough, the pages will be the same, if not they will be different.

Now imagine the paper is instead instructions for heart surgery.  Or for baking a cake.  The concrete instruction model is telling you to describe your experience so that it can be repeated.

Round 2 is to play again after having explained the process and try to give clear verbal instructions this time.

Make Breakfast

Yea I can do that (as long as it’s an instruction to myself) but can you do what I would do?  Not with this instruction.  Not unless you have watched me make breakfast the same way several times before and expect to repeat that again.

In the case where it does not matter how to make breakfast, it may not be necessary to say anything more other than to give the idea of what happened without being specific.  However if you are teaching someone how to make breakfast it’s important to say more.  (the milk, the cereal, the bowl…)

I got angry at him.

Does this imply an internal state of anger?  An external state of loud voice, speaking fast, storming out of the room. Which external factor does this imply?  Can someone replicate your “angry at” experience by this instruction.  What are you trying to impart and is this description concrete and specific enough to impart what you want to impart?

People should use good manners in the work environment 

Or does it mean the general sentiment and tautological “good manners are good”.

Learn to play tennis (see the book: the inner game of tennis)

It’s funny because I can’t impart you the idea of how to learn, in a short sentence space.  I can only point to other things, like “go get a teacher and listen to what they say and do that”.  Or otherwise use some words to put off the “explanation” to later.  See also: Fake explanations, Applause lights, Occam’s razor.

Get out of the car
Well um.

Or if we were talking about the normal getting out of a car – your average person would be fine to follow that instruction for all relevant purposes.

All I want to impart is “be concrete and specific”.  Have the skill to be able to describe exactly what happened stepwise without advanced evaluations of experience.

Have a short simpson clip that emphasises the concrete experience over the evaluation (Bart saying, “how could this happen” as an evaluation, Millhouse describing what happened)

The ability to provide stepwise experience is a process of breaking down your experience for the communication to a system 2.

Concrete recount is a step on the way.

Next up:

Posted in communication | Tagged , | 1 Comment

ideas on a spectrum

In applicable advice, I talk about taking advice carefully, and only when you know why it works, to apply it in purposefully.  There is a specific type of behaviour that can be changed, adapted, challenged and improved.  Some examples include:

  • speaking lots –> speaking little
  • spending lots –> spending little
  • putting your needs first –> putting other’s needs first
  • fully indulging yourself –> fully restraining yourself
  • being forgiving of everyone –> holding a grudge forever
  • never having fun –> only ever having fun

I could make more examples but what’s more important is they all kinda look like this:

Somewhere along the spectrum is where you are right now, somewhere along the spectrum is the ideal spot, balanced between never having fun and only having fun.

When someone says, “I think you should stand up for yourself more”. They are likely saying that your current behaviour on the spectrum of possibility would be best if shifted to somewhere more towards the other end of the spectrum.  It can be hard to know where you are, and what they mean when they say stand up for yourself more.  But that’s the whole point of the problem of ideas on a spectrum.

I think we should try it.

Take a spectrum.  For example how often you eat food.  On one end we have, “I am eating all the time, a real grazer, lots of nibbling, it’s not even distracting” on the other end we have, “I sometimes forget to eat, food just isn’t salient.  I eat whenever other people eat but it’s no big deal and I can skip several meals in a row without noticing”.  Before you say these things are not on a spectrum, don’t bother arguing with me and just make your own spectrum for something that you do care about.

on a scale of 1-10 (or 1-100).  Where do you fall on your spectrum?

Now pick 5 people you know.  Try to place them on the spectrum too.  Think about who does the thing similar to you, and think about who does it better.  (beware that what works for someone else might work for reasons that don’t apply to you, but it’s still a good piece of the puzzle to have).

What if the spectrum was; maximum time spent exercising -> minimum time spent exercising.  Where up one end is, would take an uber to travel a block and up the other end is, stops exercising to eat and sleep and not much else.


Maybe not all spectrums are useful.  And a broad enough spectrum is unhelpful for working with.  So how about for exercise – on a spectrum of “exercises twice a day for 30mins” to “exercises once a fortnight for 30mins”.  Now plot yourself on that spectrum.  Then plot which way you want to move.  Plot 5 of your friends.

I want to emphasise that we are here analysing the current status independent of solutions to the problem.  Let’s face it, if it were easy to exercise more you would already have done it, chances are that (from the immunity to change process) you are experiencing some competing commitments.  Life wants you to both exercise AND sleep in.  Which is hard when you also want to get to work on time.

Independent of what has gotten in the way before, don’t look at strategies for solving the problem right now, only consider where do you want to be on the spectrum and where you are moving from.

So a guy is telling you to be more selfish.  If your map looks like this you might freak out and not listen:

And the reality should hold that if your map of where you think you are is correct you should indeed be less selfish, not more!  Right.  So if his map looks something like this:

It’s not really a disagreement about the virtues of selfishness and selflessness any more.  It can be reasonably true that if you were too selfless in fact you waht to be moving in the direction of being selfish (or giving your own desires higher priority). At the same time as being true that if you were too selfish you want to try to be less selfish.

The question is then – Where are you really on that spectrum, where do other people think you are?  And where do you want to be?  There might be a subjective better place to be on that spectrum but it starts with recognising that there is a spectrum.  Where you stand, Where you want to go, How exactly you do that…  Those are all independent questions.

Each question can be answered with evidence.  Each piece of evidence can be interpreted.  Each bayesian update can be made on each contributing piece of evidence.  We can usefully consider the positions from a place of balance, and maybe greater objectivity for our own situation.

Meta: this took 1.5hrs to write.  I suck at concentrating and it feels good to write out something I have intended to write out for a long time.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments