Conscious Judging, Mourning, and Self-Forgiveness

One day, maybe I’ll write a post about how “judgement” (like “belief”), is one of those words that is overloaded to the point where using it at all is likely to interfere with precise communication.

But today, I’ll just use the word “judgement” as best I can.

While I was working with someone the other day, it came to our attention thats he had a bunch of unresolved, quasi-specific judgements about herself.

When I say quasi-specific, I mean that they were somewhere between “I’m not good enough” and “I would have had a more fun evening if I’d remembered to download Game of Thrones a few hours earlier.”

Judgements like these can be quite suffering-inducing because (as usual) it’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of resisting them.

One solution is to take a step back and not only noticed the judgements but make space for them, hear them out, decide whether they’re true and how you’d like to change your behavior in the future. Once you’ve done that, you can mourn the past, forgive yourself, and move on.

I’ll give an example below, using a judgment that still somewhat lands for me, that “I’m lazy.”

[Read more…]

IFS and Learning to Visualize

Last week, I did some first-time IFS with someone whose experience reminded me a lot of mine when I first got started. I used to be one of those people who said I had trouble visualizing. I don’t think I quite said that I couldn’t visualize, but it seemed hard to do so. When other people described stable, vivid imagery I couldn’t relate. I found forward digit span much easier than backward, because I could use auditory memory for the former and not easily for the latter. I used to experience something like writing things on a mental blackboard and having them fade very quickly.

Now, I would say that I can visualize just fine. My husband has much more vivid imagery than mine, still. Often, I get to the end of books and still don’t have clear pictures of the characters in my head. My dreams are sometimes vivid and sometimes not. But my visualizations are clearer, more stable, and much easier to access.

I attribute some of the change in my ability to doing a lot of IFS.

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Self-Improvement: What It Is And Why We Care

We like to talk about this concept we call “self-improvement” a lot. On the face of it, it’s a relatively simple and easy concept to understand: we are improving our selves. End of post!

…except it’s still a little bit vague what I mean by that, even in my own mind. Let’s forget about defining the “self” for a moment and just talk about “improvement”. By what standard are we judging improvement exactly? It’s not usually that clear cut. I might think adding delicious bacon to this dish is an improvement, but a vegetarian would beg to differ. Or to make it more personal, I might become a more assertive person, but to other people around me that might be relatively more off putting than allowing them to always get what they want.

Ultimately improvement ends up getting defined by my own standards. That’s one possible meaning of self-improvement: it’s my own improvement thank you very much! This is still only a partial answer, because we’ve passed the buck to the process that is setting our standards. I suspect that in many cases, we have an idealized vision of a human being in our minds, and we are trying to make ourselves look more like that vision. This can be a great motivator, and if human values are widely shared it will produce a great person. You could think of this as the virtue ethics model of self-improvement. [Read more…]

Feeling Overwhelmed While Working?

After our recent productivity webinar, I did some one-on-one IFS work, and I (again) ran into what I think is actually a pretty common not-so-uselful belief:

“Until I’m finished, I can’t feel okay.”

I used to think this way too, that I had to feel overwhelmed and guilty until I got all my important things done. I distinctly remember the IFS I did on myself to address this issue. If you notice yourself running into the problem where you feel bad and overwhelmed even when you’re actually in the middle of doing work, I’d recommend reading on and seeing if anything I say clicks with you.

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“Did I Cause That?” Usually Comes from a Young Place

Last week, I had a very useful conversation with my own IFS therapist. She helped me sort through a whole mess of confusing thoughts I had been having and get back to a grounded place. In the course of this process, one of the thoughts that came up for me was along the lines of “Did I cause this?”

She shared one of her heuristics with me, which is that thoughts about whether we’ve caused something, or whether something is “our fault” usually come from very young parts of our psyche. 

Obviously, this isn’t to say that there aren’t true questions to be asked and answered about what role we played in a particular outcome. We can ask where our intentionality was pointed. We can look at the various contributing factors and wonder whether what happened was overdetermined or not. 

We can certainly look at our actions and determine whether they were in line with our values and what we would and wouldn’t do again.

But it’s also important to know that the visceral “is this my fault” feeling is most likely something leftover from being much younger.

Things IFS Teaches

A while back, I made a list of things that I think people tend to learn from engaging with the IFS process, so I thought I would post it here. (There are obviously tons of other ways to learn these things, and many people will already know a bunch of them.) These are in no particular order.

  • Curiosity and compassion are very useful for doing introspection.
  • Emotional/behavior/thought patterns can often be modified by interacting with specific memories.
  • The mind isn’t unitary. It’s very normal to have conflicting thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
  • Leaning into painful sensations is often a really good idea.
  • We (humans) mostly see what we’re expecting to see.
  • It’s possible to end long-running arguments with yourself.
  • It’s possible to look back at memories that were once very painful and be at peace with them.
  • Intense “negative” emotions aren’t always subjectively unpleasant.
  • Often emotions will go away once you’ve heard what they’re trying to tell you.
People have also reported greater awareness of the physical experience of feeling emotions and recalling memories, and more vivid visualizations.
 
IFS can give people heuristics for recognizing confabulation.
 
Leading others through the IFS process also seems to promote enhanced social awareness, and increased curiosity about others, at least in certain contexts.
 

How I Think Pathological Guilt Works

“If I do something wrong, I have to feel bad about it forever.”

I used to believe that, and that belief has been on my mind because I really don’t believe it anymore, and I was just talking to someone who expressed pretty much that exact belief.

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Heuristics for Spotting Distorted Thinking: “It Would Be One Thing If… But…”

I have a whole bunch of heuristics I use to notice distorted thinking. I’ve covered some of them here. Today, I wanted to highlight the speech pattern “It would be one thing if X, but Y,” typically used to describe why someone’s behavior is objectionable.

The language can vary a little:

“I know that she needs to do X, but Y seems like a bit much.”

“It wasn’t just X, it was Y!”

“I’m a reasonable person. I’d be okay with X. But he went so far as to do Y.” [Read more…]

Your Past is Never the Reason

I’m a huge fan of the Internal Family Systems therapy method. This method involves (among other things) digging into your past to find emotions you never finished processing and sorting them out. I’ve seen this method work very well to shift repetitive thoughts and behaviors relatively effortlessly. Doing the work is often fun and rewarding. While fake memories can come into play (it’s happened to me), my experience tells me that most of the memories people access when doing IFS relate to actual incidents.

Once those incidents are revisited and consciously processed, it’s easy to change the related story and then your behavior. [Read more…]

Beyond Rationality

I called this post “Beyond Rationality” because I wanted to move past the unfortunate connotations and bad habits associated with the word “rationality” in our culture. With tongue firmly in cheek, Divia and I often refer to the cluster of ideas I am about to present as post-rationality, and you may well encounter us using that very term. But in truth, I don’t see this philosophy as being opposed to rationality in any way. In fact, quite the opposite – I see this as rationality being properly applied. At the end of my last post, I promised to present you with a model of a rationalist human being. Not an ideally rational agent as described by mathematical equations, but how those abstract representations manifest in a living, breathing person. This is my approach to rationality, my philosophy of life, and why I think that rationality is actually an incredibly powerful meme.

Supremacy of the Instrumental over the Epistemic

In the first post in the series I presented my theory that self-described rationalists most often come to these ideas because of an aesthetic preference for truth. They are drawn to epistemic rationality, and that subsequently defines their relationship to these ideas. I found myself in the exact same boat when I first started out, the notion of systematically honing in on true beliefs was the siren’s call that left me immediately hooked. I had to understand these methods and apply them to my own cognition… and this laid the seeds for the triumph of instrumental rationality. [Read more…]