why don’t people communicate?

I’m struggling with my partner, he doesn’t communicate. I tell him I need to understand what is going on for him but he doesn’t seem to be able to get it out and across to me.  I don’t know if I am not listening or he is not trying.

In my experience this is one of two things.

1. Finding the words is hard.
Most people don’t have the following phrase:

I want to tell you something but I don’t know how to explain, can you give me some time to put it into words?

Even if most people could say that on the tip of their tongue, they would then have to think of words. And that’s hard.  A good communicator will be willing to help the other person find the words to map out what’s going on internally

2. Safety to say what you want to say.

Safety includes not expecting to be judged for what you say, and not expecting consequences for what you say.

Consequences can include

  • People feeling emotions (like sad, angry) about what you say.
  • People punishing you for what you said.
    • by judging you
    • by reacting physically
    • by reacting at all negatively (sometimes positive reaction is also a punishment)
    • by reacting in a way to manipulate you
  • People being unpredictable in behaviour (this requires the skill of predicting what people will do as well as people who act predictably.
  • receiving legal or financial attack based on what you say.  (or expecting this)
  • metaphysical/spiritual threat (God will judge what you say, or what you were thinking)

How to fix this?

  1. make safe the space for communication.  Make sure it’s private.  Build up trust (read: repeatedly be reliable in your ability to not judge them and not cause consequences for what they say.  This may take practice, this may take baby steps.)
  2. help them with the words.  Some people need help with words.  They need the guidance to find the feeling they are having.  They need some helpful questions to explore specificity of what’s going on.  Remember to be careful, without safety this is uncomfortable territory.

Also no one owes you anything.  You can ask for someone to help you to reach an understanding but they are allowed to say no.

Message sending should be easy.  But sometimes it’s more complicate than we realise.

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I’m going to help you quit Facebook with some science

I was a serial Facebook addict.  I used to spend 2+ hours a day on Facebook, most days.  Until I worked out how to change my mind.

Let’s talk about the news feed.  We all have this feeling that the news feed is drivel.  Even curated, mine was still full of crud. Even super curated it was dull at best.  Eventually I realised, something had to give.

As with many conflicts, indecision feels uncomfortable.  Personally, I was super uncomfortable sitting in the cognitive dissonance of two conflicting beliefs:

Belief 1: Facebook is drivel and I want to spend less time on Facebook.

Belief 2: Facebook has good content from my friends that I want to keep up with.

There are three possible ways this can go.  Either Facebook is in fact drivel and I will be happy to avoid it at any cost.  Or Facebook has good in it and I’m staying around for the good stuff because I know it’s worth it. Or Facebook is sometimes bad and sometimes good in some other complicated fashion, and I should check Facebook in some complicated intermittent fashion because of that…

This is how I worked out which belief was right.

You will need:

  • your news feed
  • pen and paper
  • 5-10 minutes

Basic premise: Facebook has some good content and some bad content.  But how much of each is ideal, acceptable or tolerable?

  • If there were 10 good posts for every 3 bad posts, I might be willing to accept that.  Maybe I can take some rubbish with the good! I should visit more often. 10:3
  • If there was 1 good post to every bad post, I could still accept that. 1:1
  • If there was 1 good post for every 5 bad posts, maybe I could suffer that.  After all, not everything is perfect. 1:5
  • But what if there was only 1 good post for every 10, 20, 30 bad posts?  I don’t think I’d be okay with that. 1:10
  • And if it was worse – 1 good for every 50 bad – that would be enough to leave the platform.  There’s no point digging for diamonds in a dung heap. I’d rather just read a book. 1:50

Think about the possible ratios and write down your pre-commitment.  What ratios do you consider ideal, acceptable, and unacceptable? Don’t worry about getting it perfect; you’re an adult who can change their mind at any time.  The purpose of writing down a ratio is to establish a baseline expectation before testing. I’m not coming to sneak up behind you and see your piece of paper and judge you if you change your mind.  It’s fun to try set a belief and then test it. This is doing science.

Once you’ve decided your ideal, acceptable and unacceptable ratios, write down another number.  What do you think the actual ratio is? Try to be honest. No one is looking.

Next, draw this table on your page:

Now comes the part that takes the time.  I want you to go down your news feed and I want you to count if you think posts are good or bad.  There’s also the “maybe” list for if you can’t decide. Be honest with yourself. Try not to count posts a particular way.  Try not to push the result somewhere. As a scientist, be curious about what it’s going to be. No need to bias the results.  It won’t work as an exercise if you lie to yourself. It’s also unnecessary to lie.

What’s good and what’s bad?  I don’t know. It’s subjective anyway.  I can’t tell you how to do that. You might want to think about:

  • Do you want to hear this?
  • Do you like the person it came from, is that enough to make the post good?
  • Is it user generated content or is it shared content from elsewhere?
  • is it “funny”?
  • is it “news”?
  • is it “happy”?
  • is it “political”?
  • Think of your own version of what factors might matter.
  • Is this an ad?

And keep going.  You can go to 100 posts, you can go for 5 minutes, go till you get bored.  Up to you how you decide when to stop. With a warning: If you don’t pre-determine the stopping rule you can bias the numbers a little.  What if post 101 is a good one, you might stop at 101 not 100. That means you swayed everything a little more good on the ratios than you would otherwise have measured.

Then what?  Count the columns.  Then? Do nothing. It’s just a ratio.  We measured, but we don’t have to do anything different.

How does this work?  What happened?  What did you do to me?

I say do nothing.  But I am confident that you are going to allocate less time to Facebook than previously.  Just naturally end up on there less often.

The trouble with feelings is that they are based in System 1.  I have a hunch that Facebook is boring. But I don’t always naturally know what to do with that hunch.  The task above takes the feeling and brings that into System 2. We can count and measure the exact quantity of the feeling.  Then maybe we can be better informed to act. And act you can.

Depending on what you uncover, you can choose what to do next.  You now know exactly how good or bad your news feed was today. Take this information and choose to look at Facebook less, or choose to look at Facebook more.  Maybe it’s where you find all the good ideas! And any time you like – retest. See how your intuition for the site, mismatches or matches to reality.

Another interesting thing I noticed on Facebook:

If I hit the “like” button, Facebook tries it’s valiant and hardest to show me more of that same thing.  That means if it’s pictures, Facebook will deliver slightly more pictures. If it’s from a group, posts from that group.  If it’s from a friend, I’d be hearing more from that friend over the next week. I kind of stopped hitting the like buttons.  Facebook doesn’t need to know my likes. I also hate like notifications so much that I got a browser add-on that hides them from view and notification.

Now I wasn’t hitting the like button so much.  But I would still comment occasionally. I would watch flame wars as they happened.  And I started getting interested in arguments.  I tried to work out where they started.  It seemed that they always started earlier than I expected.  Well before a flame war, people are getting aggravated. But while that was interesting to learn, I wasn’t commenting – I didn’t want to interrupt the arguments that I was seeing, I was trying to be an objective observer.  When I would make the occasional comment, same as likes, Facebook would deliver content that was similar to my future browsing.

if you are curious how the news feed will change, you can follow me in stopping likes and commenting.  Try it. Also try other experiments. Science is fun!

Meta: I did this 6+ months ago and the results stuck.  I spend a lot less time on Facebook than I used to.  But the amazing thing is that the effect was almost overnight.  It was obvious.  My ratio was worse than 1:20.  That was unacceptable to me.

When you try this, make sure you put down some predictions.  Part of the scientific method is to make predictions and then test those predictions.  In the process of modelling the world, predicting the future and generally being awesome, it’s okay to be wrong, it’s okay to be right – that’s why we test.  It’s not okay to fake the results and lie to yourself. Wouldn’t it be something if you were surprised. Or confused. Or you changed your mind in response to the evidence you found.

Facebook and social media are becoming an entrenched part of our lives.  Hopefully you ask the question about who’s in control.  Facebook is out to get you after all.

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Basic model of Sending a Message (Communication 101)

My hope in writing this out is that you go “well duh!  Of course” and then pretend like you knew this all already.  Whether or not you did is up to you.

With communication there is going to be a Sender and a Receiver. These can and will regularly swap around in a healthy relationship. There will also be a Message. The message goes from the sender to the receiver. Often we feel most heard when we get confirmation or affirmation that the message was received and it was the same message that we sent. This can happen by repetition (See also Handshaking (computer science)).

It’s not all that complicated.

A short time later.  A confirmation of the first message or a new message being sent.

Confirming a message, also a diagram of communication about message sending.

There are many ways that a message can go wrong.

Here is a few of them:

  • Over emphasis – you get the message across but it’s super harsh.  “Don’t walk on my left side” is heard as “never ever do that ever again”
  • Under emphasis – you get the message across but it’s a mild form and not taken seriously.  “can you make sure you message me when you are running late” becomes “if you remember to text me, that would be great”
  • Opposite message – you successfully send the opposite message.  “I appreciate your attention” becomes “leave me alone”
  • Wrong message – you successfully sent a different message. “I want you to tell me that you like what I am wearing” becomes “I want you to lie to me to make me feel better”
  • Under specific – you sent a message but it’s not clear what the specific problem is. Or why you are sending this message. “you need to be a cleaner person” when you wanted to say, “clean your bathroom because there is mould on the walls and it’s making you sick”
  • Over specific – you get the message across but it seems like it only applies to the past and not other similar situations.  See also rules-lawyering your relationships – “you said you didn’t want me to go to dinner, you didn’t say anything about lunch”.  “you said you didn’t like me holding hands, you didn’t say anything about walking arm in arm… why are you so upset! Come back and talk to me!”
  • garbled – it’s clear you are sending a message but it’s not clear what.  “Hey when you do that thing I wish you would do something different instead”.  “lets meet up some time to talk”.
  • Incomplete message – “hey can you just…”
  • Rambling long – Grice’s Maxim of quantity (Make your contribution as informative as is required.  Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.) – “I was just talking to sally and she said that I should tell you what I was telling her so I decided I would tell you and then I caught the bus here and then I was hungry so I went to get a sandwich and then I decided I would come talk to you…”
  • Sending a message by accident – you seem to be giving off a message.  See “resting bitch face”.  “when you cross your arms I think you are angry”  “but I was just cold”.  Also it’s counterpart-
    • Seeing a message that isn’t there – “you didn’t reply to my text for seventeen minutes so you must hate me and want to break up”.  You said “goodbye and not sweet dreams so something must be wrong”.

Problems with messages can be to do with one of these errors, or to do with a failure to successfully send and receive a message.  For example an interruption while sending can cause a message to be incomplete.  If the receiver is not paying attention this can get in the way of a message being sent.

It can also be helpful to be clear what you want someone to do with the message.

Some ideas:

  • I want you to repeat the message back to me.
  • I want you to confirm if you agree or disagree.
  • I want you to do the action I told you to do.
  • I want you to offer something as an exchange.
  • I want to know how this message makes you feel.
  • I want you to have heard the message and not responded.
  • I want validation from you.
  • I want support from you.
  • I want your ideas around solving this problem

See also emotional bids, validation/affirmation from NVC (video), Circling. 4 types of conversation from number 2 – difficult conversations in my list of models of relationshipsFilter on the way in, Filter on the way out, A model of arguments.  What is a problem?

Meta: I’ve never seen it written out.  My hope is that this simple model can help you think about communication and message sending.  It’s very simple and doesn’t cover barriers to sending a message and many other things but it’s a start.

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No Offence, no defence.

On the case of saying the phrase, “no offence” followed by a statement that may or may not cause offence.

Should you use the phrase? Should you avoid the phrase? Is the phrase misleading? For what purpose might one misuse the phrase? What kind of social responsibility does using the phrase imply? What kind of social context does the use of the phrase set? Is the phrase net good or net harm?

The issue is complicated.

One crux of the complexity is that offence is in the receiving party. It’s an experience of “feeling offended”. You can’t forcefully cause someone offence on purpose. However you can damn well try. You can say things that might beyond a reasonable doubt cause a reasonable person to take offence. In contrast you also can’t perfectly avoid causing offence but again you sure can try, and you can take a reasonable expectation that a reasonable person won’t be offended by a certain phrase. (See also: The reasonable person test)

For example – A situation in which “A would not expect to cause offence”
A: “Good day”
B – Taking offence: “What do you mean by that?”

In this example, depending on the tone used, A can probably be reasonably confident that a reasonable person won’t take offence from a statement like, “good day”. However we don’t know the full context. B could look like death warmed up and implying “good day” might be taken as a sarcastic and rude implication that A would be willing to disregard the context and rudely “pretend” that it’s a good day despite the context. Hold onto the complexity here. Offence is in the receiving party.

Social Grey Area

As with many social experiences there is a “grey area” Open to dispute as to where lines should be drawn. Some would say that it’s necessary for a free flowing society for there to be have an open and grey area. People need the capacity to ask each other the time. People need some grey area in which to explore and be social without reasonably being restricted. A society with too many restrictions would not be one worth living in. Having clarity about the existence of the grey area, it becomes clear that one cannot perfectly cause or avoid offence, there exists only subjective personal experience that cleaves the white and black from the grey. Legally we use the reasonable person test, and to judge which side of offence is taken.

The man on the Clapham omnibus is a hypothetical ordinary and reasonable person, used by the courts in English law where it is necessary to decide whether a party has acted as a reasonable person would – for example, in a civil action for negligence. The man on the Clapham omnibus is a reasonably educated, intelligent but nondescript person, against whom the defendant’s conduct can be measured. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_man_on_the_Clapham_omnibus)

This issue only gets more complicated from here.

Saying “no offence” gives off a signal to the receiver. You have some kind of understanding that what you are about to say can be easily or at least slightly taken as offensive. And you are going to say it anyway. It doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to “not offend people”. You may think that if they take offence it’s their problem. But then why say, “no offence” in the first place?

As for responsibility for resultant offence, You don’t necessarily take on the responsibility to ensure a person is not offended. As mentioned above, it may be impossible to prevent offence. The limit may be a reasonable person and a reasonable statement. Beyond which if you expect a person to be not offended, you best keep yo big fat mouth shut rather than say anything at all.


I propose that saying “no offence” creates a responsibility. By saying “no offence” you think have some responsibility to not offend. Or at the very least a responsibility to warn people of the upcoming offence. By saying “no offence”, you set the social context that, “offence should not be made”. And a further social context that one has a responsibility to warn before causing offence. Or warn of the potential of upcoming offence. While the warning creates an implied understanding that you expect the potential of offence. This doesn’t automatically make you responsible if you cause a resulting offence.  It does imply a duty or responsibility that you invested in, by saying, “no offence” – to not be causing offence.

If you do believe that a responsibility is created. And it would appear from the use of the statement, “no offence” that you would wish to take on a responsibility to not cause offence. Or at the very least a warning that offence is forthcoming. I would propose a responsibility to “not cause offence”, comes with a responsibility to, “repair the resultant damage”, if you do cause offence. In which case, if one truly intends to not cause offence, not be the causer of offence, not be responsible for causing offence or responsible for repairing the damage, one might not want to say any warning of “no offence” or in fact say anything at all.


In the context of a person having said, “no offence” and offence still being caused. Does a person have a responsibility to repair? Following on from above.  Creation of responsibility to not cause offence, having now caused offence. I propose that you stand responsible for the words that you created and what may come from them.

If there is in fact a duty and responsibility for social humans to not cause each other offence, and you set the context of the current interaction by saying “no offence”. You take on the responsibility and duty for offence, you have a duty to respond to the offence caused.

In summary – you should stand up and apologise for the offence, if offence is cause, from statements that follow the use of “no offence”.  Even more so than if the statement was not used.

Ensure your apology includes the acknowledgement of the pain caused and the intention to not cause harm in the future. (see the book: “On Apology” by Aaron Lazare)

The crux

Does saying “no offence”, create a responsibility?  Does it create more responsibility than not saying so?  Does it explicitly identify a responsibility that already existed?  Does the responsibility if implied by the statement, in intention as a warning, also carry over to the potential resultant offence, if created?  It does not appear clear.  It would take someone greater than I to be able to declare one way or another.

One thing is clear.  If you want to be a good and honest, perhaps, “reasonable person” – would a reasonable person intend offence?  Would a reasonable person create a warning?  I don’t know.

Perhaps the reasonable person, in living in the social grey area world in which we live in, trying to do the right thing, need only be mindful of the risks.  Perhaps acting in good intention, in attempting to cause no offence, in trying to not create offensive statements, in taking ownership of offence if it is caused, by acknowledging offence and honestly attempting to repair the harm caused.  Perhaps that is all a reasonable person needs to do.

Meta: I don’t take myself too seriously.  You probably don’t need to take me too seriously either.

Edit: I should have probably mentioned the prescriptive/descriptive split. It’s not very useful to prescribe language use. We can only really look at how people use it and draw inferences from there.  Language use changes over time and the use of language is always up to popular culture.  It’s interesting to look at these things but sometimes hard to be conclusive.

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Relationships, Emotional bids and Attachment styles

Emotional bids

A husband and wife are at the breakfast table. The wife looks out the window and says, “oh what a pretty bird”. The husband looks in the paper and says, “looks like there is a town meeting on this Saturday night”

John gottman – the mathematician who studied relationships defined a bid as one of those times when you reach out to another person. Anything is a bid, and there are 3 broad ways to classify a bid/response pair. (my notes on his theory here at number 4)

  1. Positive – “Why yes honey, very pretty”
  2. Negative – “I don’t know why you want us to go to those stupid meetings”
  3. Silence – no reply.

Important note: you can give a positive bid response while saying no to an offer. Often a bid comes in the form of an invitation. Inviting a friend to an event or party. The wife above could have said, “oh yeah, thanks for reminding me. I don’t really want to go to the town meeting. You can go without me.”

Gottman Proposes that in the order above, ideally positive, second negative and the worst is silence. A partner can still learn from a negative bid. You might not like that topic. It might be hard to say “thank you” around an area, you can teach your partner to ask more carefully with negative bid responses. The worst is silence. We can’t tell if it was good or bad or old-age deafness.

Great relationships have a high ratio of positive to negative bids. You can make any relationship better with more positive bids. This means two things:

  1. Have enough bids goin on. (You may have to make more bids)
  2. Have them be positive.

For 2 – Ensure positive responses when you are returning a bid. Don’t get discouraged with a negative response. Remember the person is trying to tell you something.  It’s not necessarily clear what.  Try to clarify silences/negatives with positive intent (See also Gottman “turn towards don’t turn away”).  Silences – “Yesterday evening when you didn’t reply – I am guessing you fell asleep”.  If negative, “I am confused (and needing clarity), What do you want? do you want me to talk about that topic in the future? or are you distracted?grumpy?occupied?other? right now?”

You can’t force bids in any direction. Just like you can’t force a relationship. But you can try a little harder, and you can be careful/conscious around your bids. Some people are naturals at this. Some need to understand the model in order to do it better.

A note on bids: Bids can be big or small. Some people like big bids like an expensive gift, a fancy dinner, a holiday. Some people like lots of small bids through a day, notes, messages, reminders that you care. On some levels, bids score “relationship goodness points” no matter the size. On other levels, the size of the bid matters. See also the 5 love languages (wikipedia has a good summary), for some more things to consider in terms of the contents of bids and what might be appreciated the most.

Attachment styles

There are 4 adult attachment styles in the theory. The research isn’t clear on how people end up in their styles. The healthiest is secure, the others are “insecure” styles.  I wanted to explore the question – how do the various attachment styles feel about the emotional bids theory?  How do they engage with various types of bids, and how does this propagate various attachment styles?


Mostly positive bids.  Lots of bids.  If there are less bids it doesn’t personally feel like it’s a problem.  Occasional negative or missed connection because it can happen.  But you can always explain to each other what went wrong.  You don’t take it personally when they don’t reply because “you know they didn’t mean to” ignore you and probably have a good reason to not have replied (positive attributions).


Negative replies are hard to avoid. Bids are sometimes negatively returned too. Sometimes the world seems to be in such a way that you can’t help making an attacking bid that is likely to be responded to negatively. You are preoccupied sometimes and miss a connection.  Having a bid un-returned gives you damage.  People don’t return my bids because I am not valuable/important.


negative bid responses. Sometimes radio silence. Positive bids seem like a demand or pressure to act in a certain way and you can’t just be happy because people only do positive bids when they want something.  Probably lives with sassyness because that seems like “what you do”.  Not responding to people seems like a normal thing to do.  Sometimes being with other people feels like they are demanding my time and attention and I need my freedom.


Negative bid responses often. Sometimes silence because you are scared of the bid-responses. Or a bid seems to be an attack and you can’t trust the partner to not be attacking you.

Meta: I don’t know if this helps.  It just is.  Maybe if I understand just one person who reads this then I can help a little bit.

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Draining friends

Some friends can be draining.  When you think about spending time with them you recall being made to feel tired.  Maybe they always bring you down.  They say things that make you feel frustrated.  They sound like a broken record at times.

There are probably a few ways that people can be draining friends.  This is an exploration of that concept.

Think of a friend who is draining.  I have three in mind.

What have they done that made you feel drained?

  1. My friend C used to make financial plans that I felt were irresponsible.  C would get excited about planning a holiday.  Look up prices, start working out how much it would cost.  All without having much savings.  C would intend to spend all their savings and come back with close to zero spare dollars.  They would excitedly share their plans about spending money.  I would listen intently, think about their plans and carefully point out the ways that simple things might go wrong.  Ways that C might end up with negative dollars when they got back.  I would be unconvincing at first.  C is a very stubborn person.  So am I.  I would slow down.  Explain some financial fundamentals.  Suggest some ways that things could go wrong.

    Eventually I would get the message across.  C would plan differently, but I would be “drained”.  I would be tired of having to teach them these things.  I love helping people understand concepts they don’t currently understand.  This was pretty confusing to me.  I don’t know exactly what made them more draining than other people.  And I am not entirely sure how to fix the feeling of draining.  But something about that interaction made them draining.

  2. My friend J used to believe the world was against them.  Every week they would have a new story describing the way that someone actively plotted to ruin their day.  The person who pushed past them on the bus.  The co-worker who didn’t respect their contribution.  The ex that said words that seemed designed to hurt them.  Each story I would listen intently.  And I would do what I do in my head when someone pushes past me on the bus.

    I imagine that they are busy and have somewhere to go.  Maybe they are running late, maybe they are rescuing babies from burning buildings.  I would share the way that I would be willing to interpret the same world experience.  This might not always go over well.  I’d have to explain the foundations of fundamental attribution error.  I’d suggest that maybe the co-worker doesn’t have time to appreciate their work because they were too busy with other responsibilities and it’s not the co-workers fault either.  Invariably I’d get the message across that maybe the world doesn’t hate J.  There would be peace in their world.  But not for long.  Only as long as until the next ambiguous world event happened.

  3. My friend S has a pet topic.  They always want to bring up the topic and engage about the topic.  It doesn’t help that the pet topic is one of those endlessly arguable topics.  So there is often new ways to look at the topic and try to explain it differently.  It’s gotten to the point that I will avoid conversation with this person because I anticipate they will invariably end up on that topic and end up in a debate.  Often an adversarial truth seeking method, not a collaborative truth seeking method.  I don’t always dislike adversarial truth seeking, but there appears to be a pattern here that I don’t enjoy.

Erratio had an example too.  A friend who would have a lot of complaints about how they were being treated socially.  Having stories that sound like, “He said this.  Then she said that. And can you believe they would do that to me”.  Erratio would do the emotional labour of processing these experiences until they were not so much “the universe is plotting against you”, and more, “sometimes things happen and you don’t always win”.  Erratio suggests – the thing that makes it extra draining is the thought that – knowing that a friend will end up having one of these conversations with you – you brace yourself to manage the conversation.  To the point where, even thinking about conversation with the person will cause the feeling of being drained.

Among these scenarios there are a few common elements:

  • A person with an idea or worldview that comes up and gets shared and portrayed a certain way.
  • A desire to change that view or interact with the idea.
  • Changing or interacting with the idea seems to be like walking through mud.  It’s harder work than just walking.
  • After successfully navigating to place of clarity around the idea, there is no recognition or acknowledgement of the distance travelled, or the work put in to reach a better place.  Often there is a desire from the other person to move forward as if they always agreed with me – despite the sudden change in view.
  • There is an expectation that the pattern of conversation will repeat.  Either because it has repeated in the past or because it was unresolved the last time it came up.
  • There is a desire to not engage in the pattern again.  The feeling of being tired just thinking about attending the conversation.
  • There is some implicit burden or responsibility to change the view.  This might be, “people wrong on the internet”, or “this person I really care about is about to make a stupid mistake that could be avoided”.  You feel you have a duty to be involved, often before consenting to being involved.

Something that might matter:

  • The view is strongly held and this makes it hard to communicated any different view, or that an understanding is missing.

Ways to fix this:

An obvious solution is to look at the draining features.  Either the parts listed here, or your own experiences of a draining person.  Consider changing the features of the drain

If I only ever go out to the movies with my friend J, I won’t be stuck having that conversation, we will talk about the movie, we might talk about the topic a little bit.  Overall I expect to not have to brace myself for the topic.

I could talk to my draining friend.  I could link them to this post, I could get curious and communicate about it.  I’d like to think I’ve done some work here to understand what’s going on, this isn’t an accusation of wrongdoing, it’s just an observation of how I am experiencing some social situations.  I have no blame around the fact that I feel drained.  Ideally I don’t want to feel drained.  Maybe there is a way we can talk about the important issue that doesn’t lead to the draining feeling.  Maybe my friend has a solution.  Maybe my friend had no idea they were causing the draining feeling.  Maybe there are other people in their lives that don’t feel as drained that they can talk to more.  Maybe they can improve their relationships by understanding the draining problem more themselves.

I could try working on myself.  At first I could think about my expectations.  Just because the friend was draining in the past does not mean they will always be draining in the future.  Alternatively, maybe I don’t have to help.  I don’t have to solve the problem.  Maybe the mistake is small.  Maybe letting my friend make the financial mistake would help them learn to not make that mistake again.  Maybe I am too worked up and invested in my friend here and I need to step back and not be so concerned.  It’s not my problem.

I don’t have the answers.  I do have these thoughts.

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A novel model of ADHD. Some self reported experiences and a comparison of motivation, flow, and more.

Imagine your mind is a big whiteboard.  All the things you want to do are on the board. By the end of a day the whiteboard is full of the things you thought about. Things you ran out of time to finish.  Ideas that want you to come back.  Ideas that want interest and attention. When you wake in the morning the whiteboard is blank. So is your memory of all the things you wanted to do yesterday.  What do you want to do today?  Anything I like!

This is my life on ADHD. Every morning I wake up without stress.  It’s wonderful!  I wake up to an empty whiteboard.  There’s nothing to do today!  I am free to do as I like!  What a carefree and worry free life I live.  This comes at a cost.

A blank whiteboard is also motivation free.  Long term goals are hard.  Impulsivity to check out what exciting new things have appeared on my radar. New messages, new cat videos on my feed, new cool math problems and neat technology…  New things to write on my blank whiteboard!  I wonder if…  What if that…  Maybe I should…  I’ll watch that later (if I remember).

ADHD model

I propose a working model of ADHD.  

Start with the basic 2 system model of the brain proposed by Daniel Kahneman. System 1 – fast intuition, “instinct” brain.  System 2 – procedural stepwise brain.  An ADHD neurotype can perform habits and routines and get into procedures.  This represents a working S1, without which, a skill like riding a bike is impossible.  Without S1 such a skill can’t become intuitive and automatic.  Intuition is needed for difficult-human type problems where action is required faster than a procedure strategy can be enacted.  While the process of learning to ride a bike may be fraught with distraction.  Once they overcome learning, it is possible for an ADHD person to ride a bike.

As an example – “why does the frisbees appear to get bigger as it gets close to my fac– *THUD*”.  That would be an example of S2 trying to play/think about frisbee.

I propose that all people are constantly noticing potentially distracting details.  Noises that pop up, people moving in the background, ideas that come from being reminded of something, connections to other parts of the brain.  A neurotypical person develops s2 control over impulses.  S2 can guide a, “oh this reminds me of a time…”, or a “let’s pick that thing up”  distraction with self-talk that says, that’s not relevant right now or other various tactics to keep one’s self on topic.  For example a phone reminder every half hour to check for yourself what you are working on like tagtime.

In ADHD neurotype, impulse control is deficient.  It’s not non-existent but it’s reduced.  The impulses that a neurotypical brain might naturally dismiss (as above) are not mediated.  That includes emotions that are fast to change, intrusive or creative thoughts, the desire to fiddle or fidget, and several other examples covered in the diagnostic questions below.

Impulse control

Let me be specific about impulse control.  When I say impulse I use the concept from the motivation equation model:

Motivation = The desire to do a task.

Expectancy = The expectation that you will be successful at the task.

Value = How important you find the result of doing the task.

Impulsiveness = The distractions that come up when doing the task.

Delay = How far away the reward is.

A quick example.  How motivated am I to finish my Science degree?

I expect I will be able to do it aside from the distractions and difficulties studying.  I value it very much as an achievement.  I am impulsive every time I try to study because I am distracted by reading Wikipedia, talking to friends on my phone and 101 other tasks.  The delay is abous 2-3 years away to finish the degree.

In the theory of the motivation equation, we can improve motivation by recognising which factors are the worst offenders and make them better.  For example the delay to reward is quite high in the example given but I can improve that with a calendar that I cross off each day, and a reminder that I am working towards a degree every single day that I cross it off.  In a neurotypical this strategy may not even be needed.  Or the strategy might come naturally.  In an ADHD brain, this strategy probably needs to be trained.  Then – even if the calendar strategy is trained, it may not work because of other factors.

Impulses are the off topic thoughts that pop into your mind. Impulses are the thoughts that reminds us to also add something else to the shopping list.  Impulses help us to notice that there are flies around because someone left a window open (otherwise there are just flies around).  Impulses allow us to suggest novel solutions to problems because we see the bigger picture.  They allow us to step away from the present stress and daydream for a moment. Impulses also cause us to not be able to study if there is a dirty cup on our desk.  They are the extended thought beyond, “there are flies”, to “why are there flies?” and more.  They can be trained to be productive, supportive and helpful.  Impulses are not good or bad.  Most importantly – they just ARE, You can’t fight them, and if you did they would get worse.  Making strategies to work with impulses is the best option you have.

In ADHD you don’t get to choose which impulses inspire you and come to your mind.  Not unless you train them.  Strategies that will work include planning and controlling the environment (workspace, etc) to reduce distractions, training habits of thought or behaviour to manage distraction (set a timer to allow for a quick break), fidget toys, and more.


I have explained above why behavioural strategies would work.  Why does medication work? Medication may cause the impulse reduction part of the brain to be louder.  The sort of medication that might make someone else anxious can suddenly cause an ADHD person to have impulse control thoughts.  For example coffee that will “bring people up” is know to bring ADHD people down to focus.  Of course these things are a fine balance and long term exposure to systematically messing with a brain can cause unknown adaptations.  Example: when not on medication, everything is worse, and medication dose needs to increase to remain effective.  (like how people adapt to coffee)


We know from Autism spectrum that the ability to hyperfocus and have special interests remains in brains that are not neurotypical.  But why?  I propose an analogy.  Imagine (as a neurotypical) you find something really interesting.  So interesting and stimulating that you don’t get distracted.  That is – a piece of information or something so amusing you can pay attention to it for long stretches at a time because nothing is currently more interesting.

ADHD still has the capacity to be hyper focused but only for very specific or stimulating content.  Impulse control is not needed if there are no impulses because the current topic is interesting enough.  In this sense an ADHD person has an advantage towards learning if they can teach themselves how to be sufficiently interested in learning hard things.  They also have a disadvantage in that sometimes you have to learn boring things before moving to the more interesting things.  Like learning how to write before learning how to use new words.  Fine motor control of writing may be harder to learn because it’s not interesting enough compared to the novel potential of new words.

This also means if you can reasonably convince someone with ADHD why a skill is interesting, you can probably get them to concentrate on it.  (this works for all people – cultivate interest and intrigue)


In Flow theory by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, there is an optimum balance point between difficulty of task and skill at the task.  If this balance point is found you will be in the flow channel and having enjoyable experiences.  If a challenge is too easy for your skill level you will be bored.  In ADHD boredom corresponds to impulsive thoughts and without impulse control that means they will no longer be doing the task.

In ADHD it is possible that the “flow channel” is a lot smaller than in neurotypical people.  The balance point between hard enough and not too hard might be small or negative in size.  That is, a hard task can also be boring at the same time as causing anxiety.

I propose to always try to give an ADHD person stimulating experience.  Pay attention for signs of boredom and impulsive thoughts and inspire interest in the topics you would prefer they focus on.  It’s not that they don’t want to be doing the thing in front of them.  It’s that they might have forgotten why they want to do it.

If this working model needs clarification feel free to ask me.

I have also evaluated this model against the Adult ADHD Self Reporting Scale Question and the criteria in the DSM V and it fits.  To read the extra information with good formatting – look at this google document.

Meta: Something about talking about ADHD just lends itself to inspire me to be distracted.  I spent the better part of a 13 hour day at my computer not working on this document.  And I don’t really understand how I had that many distractions in one day.  That’s not counting the 3 hours the day before spent writing it up for the first time.

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Two kinds of Agency

Let’s talk about agency.  This week I read Transform Your Self, as reviewed by Kaj Sotala in How I found and fixed the root problems behind my depression and anxiety after 20 years.

Transform your self explains that we each carry identities, self beliefs in a kind of database.  A self identity is a completion to the phrase, “I am-“.  Separate from things that you do, “I drive a bus”, or very broad strokes, “I am a human”.  Rather things that you can answer, for example, “I am kind”.

Paul Graham talks about keeping your identity small.  As he said, “The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.”, Identity is baggage that can burden us.  But Nate Soares says, caring about something is Something To Fight For.  So which is it?  It’s both.

We both need less of the bad types of identity and more of the good types of identity.  This is a class of problem of Joint over and under-diagnosis by Scott Alexander.  Which is also that we can’t simplify this model to “identity is good” or “identity is bad”.  If we do, we can no longer explain what is going on.  We’ve lost information.

Jointly we need less, “I feel bad because I didn’t get the assignment in on time” and more, “I feel good because I did the tasks that I care about”.  As per usual, Advice should come on a spectrum.  And sometimes you have to hear the opposite advice for it to be applicable to your situation.

I’ve been working on the self concept of “agency”.  Building a personal database of examples of me exercising my agency.  I seem to come up with two types of agency:

Agency Over Your Own Brain

This is the agency where:

  • In your head you can be anxious about making a phone call but “do it anyway”.
  • You can feel grumpy but not dump that onto other people.
  • You can feel angry but not punch someone in the face.
  • You know you don’t like taking tablets.  So you bargain with yourself and decide you are allowed chocolate with the tablets and only if you take the tablets.  Not at other times.
  • You don’t like exercise so you throw away your bus pass so that you have to walk to work.
  • You know you will usually chicken out of social obligations, so you create a sunk cost by paying for a night course for 10 weeks up front.  Then you will feel bad if you don’t attend.
  • You know you hate wastage and love cooking.  So you make plans to cook for other people so that you don’t have to eat the foods and ruin your diet.

For some, having agency will mean that they are able to manipulate their squishy brain.  There’s a debate that could be opened here.  Are “you” the Squishy one?  Or are “you” the one convincing the squishy one to do things.  Are you the one who wants to play video games all night?  The one failing with abandon.  Or are you the one who wants to get a good night’s rest?  The agent who knows you don’t have to fail with abandon.

Agency is the ability to pull levers and push buttons so that your body does the diet thing even when you are hungry.  So that you get to the distant goals even when you didn’t find them initially salient.

Agency over your surroundings

Also known as a Munchkin.  If someone were to offer me a cheat code, but over the real world – I’d take it in a heart beat.  There is no such thing as cheat codes for life.  If there were, life would be a bit more like Unsong (Where the right syllables cause kabbalistic super powers).  Life would be a bit less bound by physics and a lot more bound by whatever made the rules and the cheat codes for those rules.

Surrounding agency is to realise, sitting in the meeting, hot and sweaty – you can stand up and turn on the fan (and other people might thank you for it).  Agency is deciding to ask, “Am I in the right cue” before waiting to get to the front of the line to find out if that is the case.

Agency is asking for a discount when one might not be publicised.  Agency is calling up a store to ask if they have a product before you get there to find out they are sold out.

Agency is asking someone what they want as a gift before you buy it (debatable and complicated).  Agency is taking the boring advice.  Agency is setting up birthday messages on automated timers a year in advance and reaping the benefits in the future.  Agency is finding very social friends and tagging along to their social life.

If you want to become more of an agent.  build a database of examples in your head or written down:

  • Times when you acted with agency
  • Times when you saw people acting with agency that you liked
  • Times when people (or you yourself) acted without agency that you didn’t like
  • Times where you might want to act with agency in the future

Try to get 3-4 or more of each.  The pository examples are more important than the negatory. Think about being connected to these memories as a part of your identity.  Bring more agency to your life.

Meta: Short post.  about an hour or two to write.

Cross posted to lesserwrong: https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/7W7nfdRWWerffLgLg/two-kinds-of-agency

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Complainy and Explainy voice

To my dear friend,

I value you more than you know.  I want to share this because it’s so very important to me that you grow.  I want you to become a better person.  I don’t see the bad.  I see the infinite awesome future.  What you become.  I’m not good at communicating.  I can only hope that you hear this as a kindness and not just a criticism.  Not an attack but an opportunity to grow.  I can only hope that your filter receives this kindly.

There really isn’t much more I can say.  I honestly wish you would take this as well as I intend it.  Not as an insult.  Saying this at all, especially before we established safety of conversation (1 in the link) is something very vulnerable (16 in the link).  It’s really scary to look at someone I consider a potential new friend then Dare Greatly.  At the risk of failing to communicate in a way that might push you away…  I was inspired by Mako when they said:

I realised if I ever wanted the world around me to be halfway acceptable to me, I would have to learn to change people.

People say “you can’t change people”, but they’re just telling themselves that to absolve themselves of this very heavy responsibility we all have to take an active role in each others’ growth.

I would regret not trying to take this vulnerable leap.  To give myself an active role in your growth, and the growth of all the people around me.

I want what I have said so far to not come across as “about me”. I want this to be about you and how I want to help you.

You have two particular voices.  The Explainy Voice and the Complainy voice.  They present at the same time or in rapid succession.  I am not sure that you have noticed that there are two, because they can be used so close together and interchangeably.

Explainy Voice

Internally your behaviour would feel like, “I just found something you don’t know.  Let me teach you all about it”.  The trailing verbiage will be some kind of educational material that you deemed valuable and relevant for sharing.  I love this.  It’s an honest gift of knowledge.  It’s a chance to learn directly from yourself who feels like they are a master.  Training and guiding in “the way of things”.

Often your Explainy voice comes from a miscommunication, a lack of understanding or clarity, or a need for learning.  The sentiment behind Explainy voice can be understood as prefacing every sentence in the Explainy voice with the words, “This is really interesting, let me help you understand this thing that I know really well“.  And that’s a really valuable sentiment.  It’s how we learn as humans and it’s how we grow.

From the outside, Explainy voice sounds passionate, enchanted, optimistic, animated, inspiring, supportive (and more).  From the inside it’s like putting on a cape.  Being a superhero of truth, knowledge and all things sacred and honest in this world.

Some people call this voice “Mansplaining”.  I don’t see a problem with explaining passionately.  Especially if you can share new words, concepts or phrases that describe the topic in a cleaner and simpler way.

Complainy Voice

Dark cousin of your Explainy voice.  It’s the friend who only has critical things to say.  “did you like the movie?“, “that movie last week that was better“.  The Complainy voice is frustrated at the world.  That movie last week was in fact better and therefore deserves a mention.  That’s what it feels like from the inside.  From the inside of Complainy voice it feels completely justified to be raising the complaint.

The world is broken in many ways.  Complaining about the ways in which the worlds is broken is going to sheds light on them.  Shedding light is going to bring about change.  And change is going to make the world a better place.  Or at least that’s what it feels like from the inside.

From the outside view (people looking at you), when you use Complainy voice it makes you look bitter.  At first passionate.  Then invested.  Only people who care enough will bother to complain.  Cultivating an understanding of the nature of the problem is a major milestone on the road to solving a problem.  Einstein said;

If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes figuring out what the problem is and 5 minutes solving it.

Experiencing the thoughts that the world is broken.  Noticing exactly how, What’s gone wrong.  Then moving toward a solution, is an incredibly rewarding process.  Without being able to complain (by thinking, describing and identifying the problem), the solving could not happen.  Complainy voice is important for this reason.

When it’s only used on it’s own.  This is what I dislike about complainy voice.  It sounds angry, bitter, frightened, mistrustful, irritated, aggrivated, outraged, resentful, contemptful, upset, desparing, (and more).  It sounds ugly.  It sounds like the feelings that I don’t want to go anywhere near out of fear of being sucked in.  I want to emphasis that complaining as part of a bigger picture is crucial.  Complaining alone is dangerous and antisocial.  It’s not enjoyable to hear.

If as Jordan Peterson suggests – meaning comes from story, and your story is all complaining.  Your world is all about complaining.  That’s what will fill your identity.  That’s where your sentiment about the world will derive from.  Is the world “mostly good” or “mostly bad”?  Is the answer different coming from a complainy place to if it comes from an explainy place?

Gottman Contempt

In the Gottman book, one of the four horsemen of divorce (or relationship ending), is 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 – emotional intelligence about physiological events].  This overlaps with Inherent criticism and makes more sense with [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, otherwise he won’t know”.  Curiosity [See NVC] 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.

I have absolutely butchered the theory by squeezing it into a quick summary, but importantly I want to bring up the antidotes.  Similar to contempt, the antidote to Complainy voice is to use the Explainy voice or to be curious about why things are so Complainy-worthy.  When complaining, no amount of understanding can satiate the complaint.  When explaining, you impart the intention to be understood.

This might be a personal preference.  I might be mad.  I listen to complainy voice and I disconnect.  I hear stories and I don’t feel like I am being shared with.  I feel like I am being shared at.  Like a voice recorder.  This is distinctly different to the feeling of receiving explainy voice.  I love to receive explanations, I love to learn from anyone who has a passion for knowledge.  I could listen to someone teaching me things all day.  But complaining, I can listen longer than most… and far shorter than I can for explanations.

To my friend.  I don’t know if I successfully scared you away.  I don’t know if you appreciate the difficulty. It’s hard to choose to tell you words which might hurt you.  Even if they make you grow afterwards.  I would rather live in sin, than never have taken the chance.

The funny thing about writing for a friend is that in some ways that friend is me.  It’s me of a few years ago.  In my phase of angry-at-the-world teenager.  Or angry-at-the-system adult.  Or angry-at-the-universe in my yesterday.  Today I look at that version of me, with compassion for who I was.  Working with the information at hand.  And hope for a better me tomorrow. To look back at who I am today.  With compassion.

Meta: this took 4+ hours and some real life inspiration to write.  I need to get it into better words.  I only wish I knew how.

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Books I read 2017 – Part 2. Psychology, Management

This is part 2 of my book summaries, the introduction paragraph is repeated.  If you are interested in relationships and learning here is part 1.

This year I read 79 or so books.  Also there are 24 more books that I put down without finishing.  That’s a lot to summarise.  I have already spent more than 15 hours and restarted the process of summarising twice.  This is attempt number 3.

Here they are:

Before I get into the books, let me explain how this many books is possible.

In 2017 I discovered FBReader.  An app for ebooks on android phones (Natural reader is a good app for IOS).  That is FBReader and TTS plugin.  With a bit of getting used to, and tweaking of speed I have managed to read an obviously startling number of books – I even surprised myself.  So many in fact that I challenge myself to be able to remember them all and act in line with everything they have taught me.  This summary and the parts to follow are as much for me as it is for you.  For me – to confirm I took away what I wanted to take away.  For you – to use as notes and evaluations on what is worth reading.  I hope you enjoy, a review of all the books I read this year.

I get asked if I properly take in the information by audio-reading.  The answer is yes and no.  Sometimes I miss things, sometimes I read a book twice.  Sometimes even more times.  Sometimes I don’t need to re-read it.  Overall I am in a much much better position for having read books in the way that I have than not at all.

A sample of a book: Robert kegan, discerning heart


For the person functioning at Kegan’s stage 2, relationships entail the coordination of two sets of needs: what one person desires and what the other person desires.  There is a clear recognition of the other person as a separate individual with his or her own separate needs and interests.  But in a fundamental way, the stage-2 person’s experience of his partner remains an external experience.  What others think and feel may matter to them, but it doesn’t become a feature of the stage-2 individual’s sense of self. The monumental shift in perspective-taking that occurs with the advent of stage 3 is the capacity to make another’s experience of us a part of our own experience of ourselves.  The stage-3 “deep structure” that creates this new understanding of relationships is the ability to take two social perspectivessimultaneously.  We often see the first expressions of this capacity in early adolescence.  Consider the following incident.  My13-year-old daughter left for school one morning in apparent good humor.  A few minutes later I was surprised to hear her returning through the front door.  Going to see what brought her back, I discovered her in tears.  Thinking she’d probably had another encounter with the neighborhood bully, I asked her what was wrong.  Her reply was, “Everybody’s going to think my shoes look stupid.” 

217 words in 31 seconds.


Everything you need to know about how to set goals well and what does or does not work.  She researched mental contrasting and how to apply that to make yourself goal seek with realism.  How to save yourself from failure by noticing pitfalls and use S1/S2 (From Daniel Kahneman) to evaluate your plan before acting.

The pleasurable act of dreaming seems to let us fulfill our wishes in our minds, sapping our energy to perform the hard work of meeting the challenges in real life.

…dream your dreams but then visualise the personal barriers or impediments that prevent us from achieving these dreams. When we perform mental contrasting, we gain energy to take action. And when we go on to specify the actions we intend to take as obstacles arise, we energise ourselves even further.

In my studies, people who have applied mental contrasting have become significantly more motivated to quit cigarettes, lose weight, get better grades, sustain healthier relationships, negotiate more effectively in business situations—you name it. Simply put, by adding a bit of realism to people’s positive imaginings of the future, mental contrasting enables them to become dreamers and doers.

The book goes on to identify the difference between various ways that just dreaming about something will decrease your ability to get there.  The theory goes that imagining the goal will give you some of the reward you can expect to receive from achieving it.  Spending all day imagining might not just waste your time doing so but might also demotivate the goal by in some ways tricking parts of your brain into thinking it’s already got the reward.

The ancient greeks wondered about imagination, freud theorised about imagination.  The greeks noticed that imagination was endless.  You can try this.  Imagine a door leading from your room to another room.  If you travel there, then imagine there are doors in that room, one to a forest, one to a desert…  From each of these, you can imagine a cave, a birthday party, and any number of following rooms.  Imagination can take you to an entirely different world for as long as you let it.

Recent research in psychology has found that repeatedly imagining the act of eating a delicious food reduces our actual consumption of that food.

I don’t know if the research suffered in the replication crisis but you can probably try this on your own.  With various goals and plans that you have.  Only visualise the goal.

You can also try the contrasting exercise – think of not achieving the goal (something like murphy-jitsu) and the barriers that come up… Then how to solve the barriers…  Then put steps in place to make that change in your life.

Alternatively if you are sceptical about this concept I can present this differently.  You have a few building blocks in which you can think about your goals and heading towards that purpose:

  1. Imagine the goal you want to achieve
  2. Imagine not achieving that goal and the salience of failure
  3. Imagine the causes of those failures
  4. Imagine solutions to the causes
  5. Make plans for implementing the plan
  6. Repeat until satisfied

Arrange these into an exercise that is going to be effective for you.  Run experiments and see if it works.  Hone your method. Repeat until it works for you.

This also ties into the general principles in the motivation equation.  The ability to tie long distant rewards into present actions is very valuable and solves the issues of motivation that plague a lot of people.

And then there’s WOOP.  About 100 pages of it.  Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. the scientifically verified method of improving your likelihood of achieving a goal.  It’s exactly what it sounds like.  Dream up a wish you want to happen, think of the outcomes, think of the obstacles and make a plan to execute that goal.  Done.  its the other 99 pages that are going to convince you to have tried out the method on a goal that you have.

The big question I have now – According to Russel Barkley; ADHD comes with a failure to visualise outcomes.  A general failure to visualise and contrast.  How do we make it easier to do mental contrasting for someone naturally without the faculty to do so.  And does

Oliver is a great writer.  I can’t say I learnt much here but it was nice to get a second version of the story of the “date savant” mentioned here by reading Peak.  Peak suggests that Savantism is imaginary.  No one goes from zero to hero without putting in the hours.  You can be a date savant by playing with numbers and dates all day every day for years.  You don’t know much else but you have this one neat trick at the detriment of everything else.  That’s just one of the stories of patients he treats in the book.

Oliver writes very kindly about people who suffer variously through their lives.  when he talks about his patients it’s almost romanticised.  His writing is loved for the story it tells, not for the education it brings.  The lives of his patients seem like curious oddities, not torturous experiences.  In that sense the book was enjoyable because he writes so kindly, even if it was outside my usual topic of reading, and it came with limited learning potential.  If it teaches one thing it’s that brains do a lot of complicated things when processes stop working the way they used to work.  All kinds of strange exaggerations and compensations.

This book was terrible.  Do not read this book.  Half way through I was going to put it down but I decided that if I always did that for books I thought were terrible, I would never know if it were the right choice to make.  Now if I want to put a book down I do.  If you are looking for something that is 20 years behind, trapped in fixed mindset and a bullshit description of why one of introverts or extroverts are better without trying to take sides (but doing so really badly) – this is it.  Don’t waste your time.  There was nothing of value here.  Go read any of the other psychology books suggested here.

Yeah I don’t know.  This book didn’t help me.  There are lots of minds for the future.  The future is not like the past.  We have technology.  What matters today is not what mattered yesterday.  This is like NLP.  A shitty model, overfit, stretching beyond what it should.  Not actually explaining much about the world.  Skip it.

A great story about how Martin Seligman managed to get to where he is.  The psychology of what matters.  Not in the dystopic way I expected something called “the psychology of happiness” to be – AKA – make people smile more to make them happy sense but in the actual – what matters, finding meaning, and all the bits of being happy (good relationships, having meaning, playing to your strengths, appreciation/gratitude and more).  Also Martin worked with Anglea Duckworth, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Gabrielle Oettingen, Carol Dweck, Mihaly and a few others and they all have matching research areas that go together and they talk about each other in the books.  So if you start to read a few of them; ideas start to click into place and it starts making sense.

The book goes into well-being theory.

Well-being is a construct; and well-being, not happiness, is the topic of positive psychology. Well-being has five measurable elements (PERMA) that count toward it:

  • Positive emotion (of which happiness and life satisfaction are all aspects)
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Achievement

This book is packed with various well-being exercises that get you to bring better sentiments into the world by doing better things, paying attention to the good things and sharing the positive experiences you have.

Another one of Martin’s concepts is signature strengths.  Go with what you are good at.  Do that more often, and avoid the things you are bad at or don’t like doing as much as you can.  It’s not rocket science, seems obvious to get a bit more of the good fun stuff and a bit less of the boring drudgery.

There’s so much more to this book, if you care about meaning, well-being or happiness this book has clues in it for you.

Sasha created the Emotinal Quotient/Systemising Quotient.  In short he has some sweeping claims that this is the difference between boys and girls (*insert bright flashing lights for controversial ideas*).  This is also the difference in Autism.  Think, little boy has interests in trains, boy with autism is fixated on trains (trains are a system).  little girl has interest in social groups, emotions, tea parties (Emotional quotient, less systems).  Obviously it’s all a spectrum, but this is why you find less autistic girls, and anyone can take a test online that approximately guesses your EQ/SQ.  It’s also possible to view social-emotional as a system (as a high systemising person) and get some interesting results.  Anyway, big claims, not sure if I would hedgehog on this one, but you can fox it and it can be useful.

The science of getting-into-the-rhythm.  Losing a sense of time and being very happy when doing it.  Unfortunately it reads like a death-essay on the topic.  It feels like it was written as a manifesto of this thing and not a light reading psychology book on how to do it.  So if you can glean the knowledge good but this firmly falls into the category of “thinking about it” not “doing it”.  It’s a hard read and I went over it twice.  It’s got some good ideas like making sure you are in the optimum learning point, and learning is not flow because by definition you need to be matching your skill to the difficulty of the task to get into flow.

A book about the good judgement project.  It had some good pointers in here and I need to go over them to make sure I really have them in my head.  Things like regression to the mean, Fermi estimates, inside view, check/update regularly, break into sub problems and many more.  I think I preferred “How To Measure Anything” for the better feel for the idea of measuring things but they do go well together.  You could probably pass on this and read HTMA instead.

This is about Robert Kegan’s big and exciting theory built on developmental psychology that is supposed to explain levels of development of complexity of people and consequently what that means for interactions and appealing to different motives.

This book is a short run through of the stages including some examples of people interacting across stages and how they can be different.  I think this intro is promising but I need to read some of the Kegan books to get my head around it.  It’s inherently hard to model different people and ways of thinking and get them to interact in your head.  This book was a short read and worth looking at.

As said above – close to Martin Seligman’s work, Grit even gets a chapter in Flourish.  They say Showing up is 10% of everything.  Or maybe it’s 90%.  Basically if you don’t show up you don’t get anything else done.  It’s a zero-eth rule of getting anything done.  In that sense “grit” is showing up.  It’s turning up the next day over again and again.  Also these equations:

talent x effort = skill
skill x effort = achievement

Which suggest: Talent x Effort ^2 = achievement.

Grit is also correlated with life satisfaction.  Basically if you want to get anything done – you need grit.  Have grit. Get grit.

The book Right weight, Right Mind.  Was superior to this.  by the same person, talks about the same concept, ITC, in concrete terms with several worked examples.  The concept is an introspective procedure for looking at what commitments are competing for your attention.  What things you might have to give up to do the thing you want to do.  The thing I really like about this process is that it reminds you that other things matter.  If at the end of the process you find the other things matter more than this thing, and you want to focus on them and forget this one, you can make this one not your goal.  But that’s part of the process.  If you do want to pursue this goal, there is a full process for challenging your established beliefs about what is fixed.

To be concrete – If you do the process on weight loss, you will be imminently reminded that eating your mothers cooking (insert your own example), and making her happy by doing so is a conflicting and competing goal.  The great thing about ITC is it lets you choose one over the other, or get more comfortable with the balance.

Started reading for a friend of mine. This is about the good and the bad side of narcissism.  It presents a narcissism spectrum from “never enjoying feeling special” (self denying) in an unhealthy way that becomes antisocial to actively avoid the spotlight in various ways.  All the way over to people who are “addicted to attention” (self serving) in a way that becomes antisocial and manipulative in an unhealthy way.

The thing that the book really wants to emphasise is that narcissism alone isn’t a bad thing.  It’s not that wanting to be important is a bad thing.  Or wanting some attention is a bad thing.  It’s a bad thing at the extremes.  Wanting all the attention, or wanting none of the attention to the point where you avoid society to avoid attention.  These are where there are problems.

The book also includes a test for narcissism, and some of my favourite stories of where narcissism came from.  I very much enjoy the story of narcissus, echo, nemesis and the other ancient tales.

With regard to children and family:

This is the recipe for healthy narcissism: A family that encourages (but doesn’t require) dreams of greatness and a healthy model for love and closeness.

The book goes on to talk about the dynamics of unhealthy narcissism and how they play off around each other.  Also how narcissism can make your problem seem like something else when really it might be you.

The tail of the book covers strategies around combating and working with narcissism to the benefit of your life.  How to train someone to be more of a healthy narcissist and less of an unhealthy one.  It might be regular reminders, it might be a system of raising concerns that make it clear with safety (1 in the link) what you want/need from the person.

There’s a whole chapter about social media and narcissism, which if you couldn’t guess goes on to explain that social media just exaggerates everything.  It can allow more Narcissism to go unchecked but it can also be used to reinforce positive social support, making everyone feel more important and connected.  It just makes things more complicated than before.

All in all – a good book for arming yourself with confidence when working together with and around the limitations of narcissism.  I will end with the end passage of the book:

A good life balances our own self-interests with others people’s needs. That’s healthy narcissism. It’s what gives us the energy to build a life full of adventure and self-discovery. Healthy narcissism is where passion and compassion merge, offering a truly exhilarating life. And that’s a pretty great place to be.

Before reading this whole book it’s easier to watch this video where Russell Barkley talks about his theory of how ADHD works.  When I started writing these reviews I hadn’t finished this book.  I managed to go back and finish it as I was writing the reviews. But it was very nearly almost ironic that I didn’t finish the book about impulsiveness and distractability and only got about half way through.

The other thing to note is that ADHD diagnosis is a touchy and political topic, as are strategies around treatment.  Specifically the companies that make the ADHD drugs have a vested interest in getting people prescribed.  And so any researcher in the area can probably get funding around their work, but is that biased research?  It’s complicated.  As with any medicine it’s probably good to have a healthy skepticism about what the smart professional is insisting you do.

Turns out that for the most part – techniques that work for ADHD people are just the techniques that work for normal people.  But the ADHD people don’t function normally.  They never get shit done without techniques and strategies to bring them into it.  Their default is to follow whims and distractions and never really complete a task.  And of course there are things that make this easier, but they are not automatic.

The book is basically a productivity book on overdrive.  Because what works just works.  If a normal person can make use of a productivity method an ADHD person can make sweeping strides out of it.  I would recommend it as part of the general system to get things done in personal productivity.  Some highlights:

These are the six key components involved in self-control:

1. Self-control is a self-directed action.

2. These self-directed actions are designed to change your subsequent behavior.

3. This change in subsequent behavior is designed to achieve a net gain (maximization) of positive outcomes across both the short and long term for the individual.

4. Self-control depends on a preference for larger delayed rewards over smaller, immediate ones.

5. Self-control bridges the time lapse between an event, our response, and an outcome.

6. For self-control to occur, we need the capacity for both hindsight and foresight.

Also several “Rules” and object level strategies that are specific enough to try out yourself.  I Would recommend reading it.

I read this.  I swear.  I just don’t remember what I got out of it.  Maybe it’s that all the other books I have read have already taught me the same thing.  Maybe it’s because I was reading this on a plane and sleep deprived…  Or maybe it’s not worth as much as it appears to be.  It’s got a good premise, presents some simple ideas like the lenses of subjective experience that cause a single person to distort their experience and cause misunderstanding and misinterpretation.  Most of this book is about cognitive biases.  That’s the foundation of my knowledge.  If you don’t know them, maybe the book will help.  If you know them, skip this book.

If you are going for this book, consider NVC first.  Also Gottman, and a few others in the models of human relationships list.

Psychology books not finished:

It’s on my list to go back to it.  Goes with the “one word title psyc books” collection, mindset, peak, flourish, flow.

I am not sure if this one will yield anything more on the topic.  I know the concept from various other places “Growth mindset” over “fixed mindset”.  Maybe if I were unconvinced of the difference or the value I would be more keen but I am already in the choir.

I have rarely ever read such armchair drivel hypothesising rubbish in my life.  The whole book rests on a few shitty premises.  Imagine if our multi-lobed brain was actually once several separate lobes.  One of which was “god-like” which produced chatter in the form of telling the other lobe what to do.  The forebrain told the hind brain what to do, giving people the feeling that they were gifted divine insight.  If you had a time machine you might be able to go back and confirm at least an inkling of this theory but as far as I could tell – up to the page where I stopped, it was all a theory which cherry picked relevant data to the cause.  I would skip this book.

I read this for the identity of having read this.  Or I tried.  I got half way through and got annoyed at how many experiments failed the replication crisis and gave up to read things that weren’t half bunk.  I think that was a reasonable choice and I might go back to this some time.  But it’s not worth it to me for the identity alone.

Management/self work

  • Loving What Is – Byron Katie
  • This ties in very well with NVC.  4 questions for a method of therapy that tries to flip your problems on their heads, matches up with Immunity to Change, and a whole lot of other ideas.  The core of the method is to ask 4 questions:
    1. Is it true?
    2. can you absolutely know that it’s true?
    3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
    4. Who would you be without that thought?
      • Turn it around (180 degrees) and find some examples in your life.

examples of the 3 types of turn around –  “He didn’t listen to me” can become:

  • I didn’t listen to him.
  • I don’t listen to myself
  • He listens to me.

Then you need to think about what’s going on and which one fits.  It’s a good theory that fits into NVC.

I believe it works.  And I’d keep it on hand for when I get tired of other methods because it’s a novel approach.

Katie also does something I can appreciate, she refers to her process as, “The work”.  Which is an interesting and enjoyable sentiment.  Psychological healing is sometimes Just Work (Video: Rick and Morty therapist rant about “work”).

The radical concept that is given away in the title of the book, as well as on the first page.  No one ever before or after thought up the idea that maybe if you do one thing at a time, pick one thing and do it then pick one thing then do it, you will get one thing done at a time.  For better or worse a whole book to tell you to do one thing and one thing at a time.

I don’t know…  by the end of the book if I didn’t already agree with one thing I wasn’t about to be convinced now.  That’s okay I only read it because I saw it on someone else’s shelf and I had a trippy moment around Christmas where I realised like Neo learning kung fu I could read a whole book in a single sitting.  So props to my varying levels of insanity and focus because I found myself from start to finish of this book in one go.  I didn’t actually try to write one thing and stick to it, maybe if I had you would be talking to a different person by now but I actually prefer the work by Mark Forster in the book – Secrets of productive people for being the roughest version of a chapter of text literally surrounding productivity instructions harvested from basically all other sources.  I would skip this book and read that one if I had a choice.

I have to admit I read this book very fast after accidentally stumbling on it’s title while searching for Being Mortal (the next book). I don’t know how I accidentally read 360 pages but it was a fun read all the same.

Once again this book presents the radical notion that checklists are a smart idea.  It then goes on to tell some great stories about the building industry, the plane piloting profession and surgery where Atul actually earnt his name researching and advocating for surgical checklists for the one simple reason that they work and they save lives.  If you like a good story – this book is for you, similar to the way that Bill bryson – At home (and in all of his books apparently) takes many words to tell a few small details.  Admittedly Atul was battling hard-set surgeons who refused to change their ways so he actually did gods work (this is funny because surgeons are often depicted as thinking of themselves being gods playing with life).  Convincing them that they were not smart enough to escape being dumb enough to be unwilling to overcome bad-brain forgetfulness.

Turns out that checklists make sure that everyone washes their hands, every surgical instrument is in the right place and every area is swabbed before incisions are made.  And behold!  If you follow instructions, they work.  I don’t know about you but I can’t wait until my surgery is able to be done by a robot who I don’t have to ask silly questions like – did they have their coffee this morning?  Did they go out drinking last night with friends?  Can I trust them?

To avoid any doubt here, next time you are in a hospital count how many mistakes happen.  Then ask the question how many happen that you didn’t notice.  Last I heard the hospitals averaged two mistakes per patient per day.  Pretty spooky.  Better be hoping they aren’t fatal ones and they are following their checklists.

All in all – this is why you want to document your code and write instructions.  Any good coder knows that one day you will not remember all the details of the things that you have created and chances are the only way to not have to re-learn them is to write good instructions for yourself.  So do yourself a favour and write lists.

I do use lists in my life.  Definitely helps to keep track of things I don’t need to keep remembering.  Like a shopping list, recipes, and many more.

This wasn’t a book and was more along the lines of a research paper.  The bottom line is that “creativity”  – which is usually badly defined but in this case means the process of creating.  Has conditions that enable it.  Some include having a block of time set aside, removing external stresses and burdens, playing around the topic of the creation area and avoiding distraction.  No surprise it looks a lot like the book deep work but they said it in a shorter and more efficient way.  Everyone is different so if you want to be creatively successful, you need to find your enabling resources and set up the environment you put yourself in – to enable creativity to happen.

It was at this point in my life that I decided after Fix that I needed less fun in my life and more work.  That’s how I decided to do the absolutely obvious thing for myself and read the book that plenty of people were talking about called “deep work”.  Deep work has this premise in it, kind of like the way that The One Thing did as well.  Where if you don’t agree with the premise then the whole book doesn’t really hold.

Having said that it’s still a good read, and if you think the premise holds then the book holds.  The magical premise is that there are types of work like sending emails and meetings and types of work that fits the description deep work remarkably well.  Things like locking yourself in a room and writing out thousands of words of work in the hope that you get recognition as a guy who can word things together good.

Or you know, the equivalent for programming, painting, or 101 other industries that have you work and concentrate when you do.  Of course some industries don’t.  For example Taxi driving, which is an example I can use now but in 10 years will not be important because self driving cars will have taken over.  As a taxi driver you don’t need to do deep work.  That’s fine.  But for everyone else that needs to sit still and belt out the work, deep work has some good ideas about thinking about that and how to do it.

Similar to Identification of creativity, there are conditions that cause deep work, like Jung who locked himself in a cabin, Einstein who would just go on long walks and drift into thinking any time he felt like it, and plenty other people with their creative “methods” or processes that yield them creation over the void of annoying crap that otherwise clogs up our lives.  Crap like birthdays, emails, social media, distraction, and plenty more things that are not the ONE THING that you could be doing that is the most important thing right now.

Deep work explains the research on task switching cost, which if you don’t know I probably can’t summarise very well, but in short it takes some kind of activation energy to switch from thinking about one kind of thing to another kind of thing.  Doing that less or batching your tasks so that you do your emails in the evening and not at every buzz and ping that comes to your desk is a great idea.  There are other great ideas in here like keeping the morning time when you are fresh for the hardest work (see also Eat that frog).

Not a bad book, depending on if you rest with the premise or not as to whether you can agree with his conclusions.  I remain unconvinced but still willing to steal some of the good ideas and generally “find what work is important work” and do that.

Yes ’tis the second Cal Newport book I read.  Yes the book can be summarised by the title again, and yes that’s all there is to it.  See when you engage in society you generally need to go out and earn your money, worth and conceptually your survival in some way or another.  Cal is suggesting a specific strategy.  Pick one thing (lol).  Specialise in that one thing (like programming).  Train, practice, and generally improve at  that one thing until you are up the top there with the people who are the best in the world at that one thing.  Then go about extracting the value that you have built up by demanding to be paid your worth.

That’s not all there is to it.  In life it’s a big goal to be able to use as much of your time to do whatever you like with your time.  To do that you need money.  To get money you probably need to work.  And when you work you probably want to be paid as much as possible for those hours.  After all if you accept that there are in fact 168 hours in a week, and you work at a rate that converts to an hourly value.  There is basically a limit on how much you can rake in each week.  Of course if you make some quick assumptions about the efficiency of a market and “nobody would leave these $50 bills on the ground”, you get to the point where you can’t make big bucks without specialising or unless the market is inefficient in ways that only you can see, (but you are probably not that smart).

There is a limit to how much you can earn from unskilled work unless you are really worth as much as you can be and people can’t get what they want other than extracting it from you.  You might clean church bells, You might design architectural masterpieces but if you want to be paid ridiculously obnoxiously you have to be the best in the world at what you do (or some how talk yourself up as being that).  Then do what you like with your time and sell a few of the spare hours to the highest bidder.

Then retire on the winnings.  Anyways.  For a lot of people, I suspect following this strategy is going to work.  It’s a good read to understand how he justifies it and generally think about how to be so good that people throw money at you.

It was around this time of the year that I met a guy who chaismatically managed to inform me that he was essentially a gazillionaire.  As you casually might ask a gazillionaire – I asked him what books he would recommend.  To which he charismatically dodged the question.  And so five minutes later I asked again.  To which he managed to dodge the question again.  not having learnt my lesson I asked him a third time and really didn’t get anything out of him.  However I managed to meet up with him later when he mentioned he was looking for books on leadership strategies.  So I did the only thing I could do – ask around for books on leadership and then read them at lightning speed so I could tell him about them.  That’s how I found Turn the Ship Around and The Hard Thing About Hard Things.  I am pretty sure I gulped this book down in one session.  So sure – because at the same time I wrote a review and notes.

The book is about the story of how David took the worst ship in the navy and changed the culture until it was the best ship in the navy.  If you are looking to figure out how to change culture, this book definitely has some good points.  If you know someone who is not motivated to do a good job, this book can help you cultivate your strategy for giving them that self-directed attitude.

My extended notes say it better but I will include this here: The book sets out examples and questions to ask yourself to implement a model called the Leader-Leader model (they can be found at the end of each chapter).  The model is about empowering all members of a company to be making intelligent decisions and effectively be a leader.

You won’t need this book if you are surrounded by people who are already engaged in a good culture and there is a way to go over the top with “making good culture” and not actually get the real work done.If you enjoy a story about a guy failing over and over and over and fighting with every bone in his body to try not to fail.  It’s a great story.  And as for leadership?  He talks about the concern that his employees would find out about the company from the evening news.  He absolutely wouldn’t allow it.  That meant he was telling them as a priority, keeping them on board or literally firing them personally and thanking them for all their hard work.  He lived through the ugly and he won.  These days he runs a VC firm, teaching other people how to survive.

There’s also the story of how he hired the best salesman he could find because the only criticism he could find on the man was that one day he walked into a floor of sales staff and said, “I don’t give a fuck how well trained you are. If you don’t bring me five hundred thousand dollars a quarter, I’m putting a bullet in your head.”

I could spend a lot more time mining this book for value but alas, there are only so many hours in a day.

Part of me read superhuman by habit because it was shorter than other books on my list and I was feeling lazy.  Part of me just wanted my book list to be a little shorter.  This should reflect on this book insofar as the type of person who is inspired to read it.

If you want to know everything about habits and what humans know about habits – this book basically covers it.

Humans are habitual creatures – for good and bad we get into habits.  Ideally we notice the bad habits, cut them out, notice the good habits and try to get into more of them.  It’s a real game of tricking your brain into the good habits and out of the bad ones.  Still if you need ideas on how – this book is basically the god list of all things habit.

Okay this book was insane.  It’s a personal story of how Nick Winter turned all the dials up to 11 on motivating factors.  Yes.  Every factor known to science, in use.  All at once.  It’s a wonder he didn’t burn himself out.  But he did it.  And he accomplished a lot while writing the book.  Kudos to that man.  I could not do it.  Success spirals, Precommitment, Social commitment, Beeminder, hacking the motivation equation – all of the above together and more.

Motivation = Expectancy * Reward / Delay * Impulsivity

Learn the MEVID equation, apply the MEVID equation.  Win at life.

A moderately rubbish business book about how to work with people who you don’t want to work with.  The secrets include – keep talking even if it’s a stalemate, and keep trying to work it out.  Also move up and down abstraction ladders. But I knew that.  Nothing superiorly secret in this one.  Just stay at the table in the conversation and things get easier.

The one man war on Carbs.  He sets up the conspiracy that the world is against him only to tell you that he is right and you should listen because of reasons.  Is he right?  Not sure.  He seems to say a lot about insulin and how CICO (calories in/calories out) is not helpful.  But he does support the keto diet.  Which is worth trying I guess.  There was a lot of complicated discussion about insulin and how it controls things.  And I barely scraped by with understanding it.  But it’s worth a shot right?

Bill runs a course at an american university, running people through a workshop that has them consider what they want to be doing in the future and then design the idea job.  Don’t go out and find a job and work out if it’s ideal.  Find out what would be ideal and then find the job.  That includes running small experiments, talking to people already in the field and checking if that thing interests you and generally doing all that “being an agent” thing that you want to do.  Choosing your path and not waiting for it to happen to you.  It’s more rewarding that way – when you have an internal locus of control.

Guilt is an emotion that leaves you living in pain.  Why live in that torture if you can do the same as you were doing without the pain and torture of these emotions.  There is still motivation without guilt, there is still purpose, but there is no need for guilt.  I strongly subscribe and endorse this.

The guilt series is a set of blog posts adding up to about 11,000 words.  If you don’t want to live in guilt any more, this series gives you a better way to thing about it.  I cannot endorse this enough other than to say that this short set “solves” guilt.

The best summary of all other productivity books in the sense that it contains all the things.  The worst summary in the sense that it’s very dry and not easy to read.  So where you might power through a 7 habits, or a GTD, this one is harder to read BUT has significantly more value in it.  I would have liked it to be easier to read but it really is like the bible of all things productive.  And he wrote it to be that, not the story-telling feel-good book.  This book is the technical manual, not the storybook.  Approach if you dare.  But it does have all the answers.

Part 1 here: Books I read 2017; Part 1. Relationships, Learning

Meta: Part 3 coming soon.  This is a lot more work than I ever thought it would be.  And I guess I retain less of the books than I thought I did.

This took too many hours.  Possible on the order of 10-15.  Mainly because it takes flipping through the books to make sure I didn’t miss any good insights.  I basically re-read the book to summarise it.

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