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!

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.

Three Axes Model of Parenting?

Arnold Kling has talked about the three axes model of political views. Conservatives care about civilization-barbarism. Progressives care about oppressors-oppressed. Libertarians care about freedom-coercion.

Most people I meet in person don’t seem to be as dogmatic about parenting as they are about politics, but there seem to be distinct axes for sure. Conservative types do seem to use the civilization-barbarism axis for parenting. They’ll talk about the importance of obedience much more so than progressive and libertarian types will. Look at the copy for this book and see what I mean.

Libertarians are definitely inclined to use the freedom-coercion axis for parenting.

At first I was confused about the progressive types. I didn’t see how they were using the oppressor-oppressed language in their discussion of parenting, but I think I actually can see it. Ha! I just googled “progressive parenting”, and the first hit I got was this. The tagline begins: “Being a Parent May Be the Hardest Job You’ll Ever Have”. I do think progressive types are more likely to talk about how hard it is to be a parent, especially a mom. And how institutions these days don’t support parenthood and other such complaints. Oh, and often the argument for doing things a certain way with the kids is that, as a parent, they have needs too. So the parents are the oppressed ones.

I’ll have to think about this application of the three axes model more. Am I over-fitting? What parenting axes seem natural to you?

Summary of A Guide to the Good Life

A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy is a handbook of Stoic philosophy by professor William Irvine. He points out that Stoicism is very different than the stereotypes we have developed about unfeeling robots, and in fact it contains a lot of timeless advice for psychological well being. This is not an academic work of philosophy, it is written as a popular self-improvement book. Though he does discuss a bit of the philosophy and history behind Stoicism, the bulk of the book consists of practical and actionable advice to improve your life. My summary reorganizes the book chapters, with a brief intro in the beginning, followed by all the actionable advice and the author’s personal suggestions, and concluding with a discussion of Stoicism in the modern context and some brief notes on the history of Stoic philosophy.

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Recognize Your Partner’s Child

Have you ever had the experience that you have a discussion with your partner about something he did that upset you, and he seems to agree and be understand, but then later goes back to justifying his own actions? Feel free to switch the genders, since this is common behavior in men and women. It used to upset me when this happened. I’d think, wait–I thought he understood why it was hurtful when he criticized the way I cleaned the kitchen! Why is he now going back and talking about why he was partly justified in talking to me that way?

These days, it doesn’t get to me as much.

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Do You Feel Like an Adult?

I was doing some IFS with an old friend yesterday, and when I told her to imagine what her adult self would say to her ten-year-old child self, she said that her problem was that she didn’t feel like an adult.

I primed the pump with some wisdom I’ve heard from her over the years, and she mostly took it from there. Still, it was an interesting situation for me. I think one nugget of IFS theory that I’ve heard is that if the subject of the process doesn’t have a strong enough “Self”, the facilitator can lend his. That advice has largely informed how I’ve dealt with similar situations as well.

But, at least in her case, the problem wasn’t that she didn’t have an adult self to draw on, it was that she wasn’t in touch with it–she was too blended with the child.

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Motivated Forgetting

One of the creepier phenomena I’ve encountered as a human is motivated forgetting.

And one of the more powerful moments of my life was the first time I noticed myself doing it. I was with my boyfriend at the time. I can’t remember whether we were having an argument in the moment or I was remembering an argument we’d had somewhat earlier, but I was recording video of myself.

As I sat there, rehearsing some thoughts about how right I was, I looked into the camera and thought, “What if all of my thoughts were being recorded?” And I realized that my current mental operating system would break down if I had records of what was going on in my head, because I was sometimes throwing out data that didn’t fit my identity.

I wish I could remember what it was that I remembered forgetting. I think it had to do with whether I had said something to my boyfriend at the time during an argument. In the recording, I looked at the camera and said, “I think I just realized that accepting reality is harder than I thought it was.”

Upon realizing that I’d been trying to forget something unflattering on purpose, I also felt very ashamed. But feeling ashamed upon realizing is an excellent way to encourage further dishonesty with myself. The answer is (almost?) always to reward the behavior you want more of. 

First, consider the possibility that you may engage in motivated forgetting. Not everyone does it, as far as I can tell, but it’s also pretty common.

Second, decide that, if you were doing it, you’d want to know! You can always still decide to lie, if that’s the issue. I don’t recommend lying, but I do think that lying to others is a bit better than lying to yourself. You’ll make the best possible decisions if you stop withholding information from yourself.

Third, be on the lookout, and then be very, very pleased without yourself if you ever catch yourself forgetting on purpose. Awareness is an extremely useful first step.

(One hack you can use if you’re trying to figure out if you’re being honest with yourself is slightly changing the questions you’re asking yourself. Instead of saying, “Did I do that thing?”, try “If I found out that there were a video tape of what happened, how would I feel about watching it? Would I be shocked if I found out that I did the thing?” Accessing your true anticipations may be more involved than consulting your verbal loop and believing the first thing it says, but it’s rarely actually difficult.)