Archives for June 2013

What Is Submission?

This weekend, I had a good conversation with a good friend of mine about the meaning of submission. I ended up clarifying my thoughts on the concept quite a bit, in a way that I expect to be useful, despite being pretty abstract and meta.

As long as I can remember, I’ve had pretty negative affect around the concept of submission. In my mind, submission has traditionally been mixed up with fear and shame. I associate it with an authority figure trying to intimidate me and get me to behave a certain way even though it goes against my own intuition about what to do. To submit would be to decide that the other person is scary enough that it would be worth it on my part to lose some status and take action that may not be in my best interest.

I knew that when people would talk about submission or surrender in the context of (among other things) Buddhist philosophy, they were talking something a little different, but I’d never sat down and unpacked what exactly I thought they meant.

My new framing of submission is simply that it happens when a process decides to turn a certain part of its job over to a different process. It’s not all or nothing, and it happens all the time. By this definition, I’m submitting to the timer on my phone when I decided to stop tracking when I put the scones in the over and wait to hear the beep.

Will and I have been talking about the letting go of control. My new best understanding is that it’s nearly impossible to do voluntarily unless I truly believe that something else can handle the task to my satisfaction. Of course we’re sometimes wrong about which process is most effective at handling one job or the other. A common failure mode is to assume that only the verbal loop can be trusted with some task or the other. I’d say that I currently alieve that isn’t safe to experience anger without my verbal loop holding the reins, so to speak. On the other hand, I accept that subconscious processes do fine to figure out when to breathe or not.

Given that we’re often miscalibrated about what we need to “have control over” (which I think usually means inhibit behavior until the verbal loop gives an explicit okay), we can sometimes gain wisdom by forcing the loss of control and seeing what happens. Useful, but that approach has its limits.

For this week, I will meditate on the areas where I feel I am leaving “control” in the hands of a too-narrow mental process and what it would take to trust whatever I think should actually be running the show. And what is actually running the show now. It’s very common for this tight control to be more of an illusion than a reality. Maybe the verbal loop is preventing me from talking much when I’m angry, but the more relevant factor is that my emotions are evident in my body language.

It helps for me to remember my Hayekian heuristics about the failure modes of central planning. The more I can keep things distributed and let whatever has the most information act, the better the system will work.

Feelings and Needs

I’m a huge fan of Nonviolent Communication. I think I forget how much studying it has changed my life, because I take a lot of its lessons mostly for granted these days. I’m pretty good at empathizing, both with myself and others. I’m much better than I used to be at expressing what’s going on with me without mixing in too much narrative (something I was pretty good at even before reading that book).

But I see the NVC basics as a core practice that it serves me well to return to from time to time. A few years back, I memorized literally hundreds of flashcards about NVC. I used lots of lists and sentences from the book, and I also memorized the huge lists of feelings (which I cobbled together into categories myself) and needs from the book.

I remember thinking at the time that I had a very limited emotional vocabulary. I often thought of my emotional state as being either good or upset, though I knew intellectually that nuances existed. I usually had no idea when I was angry. So, I decided to memorize a bunch of words for how I might be feeling, so I could mentally consult an extensive list. And I think I was even less aware of the unmet needs that my feelings might be coming from.

It still kind of surprises me how dramatically I feel a release of tension once I can pinpoint what’s really been bothering me and why.

I think the memorizing worked. I can’t still recite all the feeling and needs in order, which I think I could have actually done once upon a time, but it got internalized, at least a bunch of it did. They stuck around in my brain and sunk in until I found myself using the words in my thoughts and conversations. I recommend trying it, whiling keeping in mind that actually being able to pull them up from memory isn’t quite the point.

I’ve updated my feelings and needs deck (all taken from here), and you can download the deck.

Play around with it. Try some fill in the blanks where you say “I am feeling ____ because my need for ____ is not being met.” Or, “I am feeling ____ because my need for ____ is being met.”

The topic of Anki and self-improvement has been on my mind lately, so expect more posts on the subject in the coming weeks.

Moving Baby Posts

I’m trying out a new blog just about parenting stuff, so, starting this week, I’m experimenting with moving the baby summaries over there.

How to Keep Going When You’re Triggered

One of the topics I get the most questions about is what to do in the moment when you and your partner are both triggered. It makes a lot of sense that this would keep coming up, because this is the hard relationship/communication situation. It’s easy to deal with situation where one person is acting like an adult and the other person is acting like a child.

So, I thought I’d throw a few ideas out there from my list of things to try.

Try something new.

Anything works for this one. (Obviously don’t violate your ethical system or anything like that.) Give yourself permission to experiment. The thing about being triggered, is that nobody ever does anything terribly original in that state. That’s sort of the point. You go on autopilot. If you can’t think of anything that seems likely to work, just experiment. Physically move in a way you wouldn’t usually. Say what’s on your mind if you usually don’t. Keep quiet about the things you usually bring up. Change contexts. A good friend of mine once told me that “Consciousness is the ability to interrupt yourself.” Interrupt away, and don’t feel like you have to have a solution in mind. Do anything except for what feels most familiar and natural.



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The Comcast Gambit, or How to Save $35 Per Month in Five Minutes

I really didn’t expect that was going to work.

By nature I am pretty conflict averse: I don’t like to directly confront people or get angry or fight for myself. For this reason I will almost never do things like return food at a restaurant, or complain to customer service, or anything like that. I considered this a personal failing – not because I was leaving money on the table, but because I was passing up opportunities because of my own fears. I managed to convince myself that I would rather pay that money to avoid conflict.

Once I developed more of a self-improvement mindset I recognized this as a valuable growth opportunity. Even knowing that this was something I wanted to do wasn’t enough – I had absolutely no practice, I had no idea how to have these kinds of negotiations. It wasn’t until reading some of Ramit Sethi‘s work that I found myself a script. Truthfully, I didn’t need a script, just having it was enough. Just knowing that it was there gave me confidence, something to fall back on.

At this point in my life I’ve done this a handful of times, but was still afraid of getting on the phone with Comcast this afternoon. They had raised my cable bill twice in the last year, once as part of a stepped promotion that I was expecting, the second not so expected. I had seen Ramit talking about this case, and I also read this helpful article that inspired me to call.

Sure enough, his advice worked. I called their hotline, pressed the buttons to disconnect my service (3-2-1-2 if I recall correctly), and they put me through to a representative. That article claims you have to threaten to disconnect to get their best deals – I have no idea if that’s true, but I wanted to maximize my chances. I was appropriately angry, complained about the double rate hike, and told them to disconnect my service. The operator said she would look at what they could offer me, and she gave me another year long promotion at the original rate I paid before, less than half my current bill. She ended with the caveat that this would end in one year and that I should be aware of that, I told her I’d have that conversation in a year from now.

In this case, I managed to cut my bill from $65 down to $30 for a year. That’s $420 for a year, in a phone call that took me just over 5 minutes including the wait time. In terms of an hourly rate that is over $5000/hour. Mind you, this is for cheap internet service. How much could I have saved if I had phone, internet, and cable? How much could I potentially save on other areas of my life? (Ramit definitely recommends getting your APR down on your credit cards, though I pay mine every month anyway.)

I highly recommend trying this for yourself, as either a lifehack or an exercise. Let me know if you have any more tips like this, because I want to try them!

34 Weeks of Lydia

I started last week’s update by saying that Lydia’s cold was a thing of the past. Ha! That cold is long gone, but, as of today, she has a new one. Oh well. I can feel what is almost certainly the same cold in the back of my throat, and am very much hoping I don’t get it. I had a few nights in a row of not enough sleep, but I think I’ve gotten back on track now with napping and going to bed earlier, so I think I’ll likely beat it.

I saw the first inklings of this cold yesterday, so most of this week wasn’t about that. At this point, Will going to work in the morning and coming back in the evening very much feels like the new normal. Lydia’s growing and changing, but I’d still say this has been a pretty easy period for me. She’s fussy sometimes, but I haven’t been getting overwhelmed with parenting in a while.

As I think I’ve said before, I’m still a bit confused about why having an almost eight month old is so much easier than having a pretty happy newborn that sleeps all the time. I have my theories, but I’m still a bit confused by the situation. I realize it also almost certainly depends some on the individual baby. So anyway, things are good.

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Having People You Can Talk to Matters

I had a really fun weekend, mostly because we had friends over Saturday through Sunday, and we just hung out and talked. And we have another friend who’s still staying on our couch, so I was just talking to him.

One of the big things that’s been on my mind recently is just how important it is to have people around that you can really talk to. People who will get what you’re saying, maybe say something useful, maybe reflect it back well, maybe ask a good question. Or maybe just listen.

I thought I knew how much this matters, but I’m coming around to the idea that I was underestimating this factor quite a bit.

There’s a Heinlein quote I enjoy about sleep that says, “Happiness consists in getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more.”

Sleep is huge, but I think happiness is more exactly determined by how much you have people around that you feel like you can talk to. What I remember of my positive psychology class from college tells me that their research pretty much supports this conclusion.

So that’s my super-unoriginal thought for this week. Remember who you have the best conversations with–ones that you enjoy while you’re having them and come away from feeling happier. Invite them over more! Live with them if you can! Call them on the phone! Set up recurring Skype calls with them!

I’m going to be doing more of this myself.