IFS Unpacked Recap

On Tuesday, Divia and I did our first webinar on Internal Family Systems, a therapeutic technique that we’ve both gotten a lot of mileage out of. We briefly covered the model and some theory about how we think it works, followed by a live demonstration, and then a Q&A.

This time we actually did record the webinar, so click here to listen. [Edit: link now broken, sadly.]

There are also written notes available again, this time courtesy of Scott Fowler.

Thanks everyone for your interest, for attending, for volunteering, for asking great questions, and for giving great feedback!

Analytical Parts in IFS

When I do IFS work, one of the first things I have to do before I can really get somewhere with the person I’m working with is to disengage the person’s analytical part. I usually start by doing this implicitly. I choose my questions with the intent of bypassing the analytical mind, and that tends to work pretty well.

Questions about emotions, visually imagery, and feelings in the body are good for this, and there are some other rhetorical tricks that also play into the process. For example, if someone doesn’t respond to the question “what does that part look like?”, I sometimes have better success with, “if that part looked like something, what would it look like?” For some reason counterfactuals often let the analytical part relax.

On the other hand, “why?” questions are very likely to activate the analytical part. [Read more…]

Lessons From (and For) the Quantified Self Movement

The very first time I heard about Quantified Self I was excited by the world of possibilities contained therein. I pride myself on my self-awareness, and it seemed like adding quantitative rigor to this process would allow me to uncover new patterns below my current awareness – and ideally, to change them. Besides, I liked what I saw from this community: the ethos of self-experimentation and optimization that pervades my own life. You didn’t have to tell me twice, I was already sold. I joined as one of the original members of the NYC QS group, and dove into this world head first.

My Self, Quantified

Seeing some of the projects people were doing was intimidating. Lots of the people involved were the ones building the tools themselves, which was impressive in its own right. Others were gathering lots of esoteric data, combined with stunning visualizations, and I had no idea how to apply this to my own life. [Read more…]

The Exploration/Exploitation Framework

We all have a variety of mental models that we use to interpret the world around us. In many cases we have very specific models, e.g. I know that turning the key in the ignition makes my car turn on, and this does not assist me very much in my understanding of the world. At the same time, the concept of different keys fitting into different locks is a metaphor that we apply to other areas of life.

One of my favorite models comes from reinforcement learning, which is particularly applicable to how our brain functions. In the most general case, assume that you have many different options, and each of these gives you a payoff randomly selected from an unknown distribution. Your goal is to maximize the payoff you receive over a fixed time horizon. This type of game is epitomized by the multi-armed bandit problem, or the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test when that distribution changes over time.

So how do you optimize these types of tasks? [Read more…]

How to Network Effectively

Networking is a critically important skill. There is a great phrase that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time around. For humans, most of our environment is the social environment. Your ability to interact with others, and who those other people are, is most likely going to be your bottleneck on what you can accomplish in the world. Even skills like programming or engineering, where you’re creating something new in the world, are enabled by the web of social interactions you are embedded in – the greatest product in the world will never be used if it cannot be discovered.

Step One: Have a Goal

[Read more…]

Reflective Relationship Webinar Notes

Last month, Will and I hosted a webinar on how we stay close and happy in relationships. Two of our friends posted awesome notes. Here they are!

Michael Smith’s summary

Jasen Murray’s notes

Ten Ways to Change Your Behavior Immediately #10: Actively Recover and Try Again

Suppose you have tried everything above and you still can’t seem to bring yourself to work.  First, I want you to repeat step two and show yourself a little compassion.  Did you do that?  Good.  I’ll bet you’re feeling better already!

So given that you can’t seem to get yourself to work, what should you do instead?  When locked in internal conflict, we will often take some form of default action (a common one these days is to browse the internet).  This form of procrastination rarely feels very fulfilling or regenerative.  This is like a drowning man treading water – you’re not getting any closer to shore!  Instead, recognize that you are refusing to work in that moment, and engage in active recovery.  Make a list of your most fun activities, the things that will leave you feeling the most energized and happy, and commit yourself to enjoying them fully and without reservation for a period of time.  After that time is up, take your renewed energy and good mood and get right back on the horse!  You will undoubtedly have an easier time than you did from a place of unhappy resistance.

Note that sometimes we are legitimately tired – most people in the United States are getting less than 8 hours of sleep a night, and artificial lighting can wreak havoc on our body’s natural circadian rhythm.  When you have a low energy level, everything in life seems harder.  In that case, the best thing you can possibly do for your productivity is to rest!  Employers are starting to realize the importance of napping at work, so if you happen to work for one of those forward thinking companies or for yourself this is an easy solution.  Otherwise, I suggest setting a timer, closing your eyes, and allowing yourself to free associate: do not think of anything in particular or try to hold onto any thoughts (especially about work), let your mind wander undirected.  Afterwards you will feel refreshed and ready to go again.

This concludes my Ten Ways to Change Your Behavior Immediately series.  I am sure that you will find one or another of these tips to be helpful – leave a comment or drop me a line and tell me how they worked for you!  Please feel free to pass these along to friends, family, coworkers, or anyone else who you think could use this advice.  And be sure to leave us a note in the comments to tell us what techniques you have come up with, so everyone can share your success!

Ten Ways to Change Your Behavior Immediately #9: Commit to One Minute

The hardest part of any task is getting started – or maybe even before getting started, while you’re still busy worrying about doing the task instead of getting it done!  Luckily inertia works in both directions: once you’re already underway with a project you realize it isn’t nearly as bad as you originally thought.  So the trick here is to overcome that activation cost, to get yourself started working at all.

Fortunately there is a very easy solution to this problem: commit yourself to working for one minute.  How bad could 60 seconds of work possibly be?  The great thing about a one minute commitment is that it is a one minute commitment – if you legitimately find the work you are doing to be that torturous, you have kept your commitment to yourself and you can stop and figure out something else to deal with the problem.  I have rarely seen people object to this level of commitment, but if that feels like too much you can choose an even shorter time period to fit your needs.

Once you have begun working, you will find that the task is rarely as bad as you anticipated.  In fact, you might even find it easier to continue working than to stop abruptly and switch to something else!  I don’t know about you, but I don’t like leaving anything unfinished, so I will persist until the task I am working on is complete.  After you master the art of starting, you can switch to a system like the Pomodoro Technique and commit yourself to working for 25 minutes or more!

Ten Ways to Change Your Behavior Immediately #8: Break it into Sub-Steps

One of the most common causes of procrastination is that the task at hand feels incredibly daunting – the project is so large that it seems impossible to complete.  Somehow even thinking about the project makes you feel tired!  When you imagine the project it feels like a giant monolith in your mind, leaving you unable to gain traction anywhere.  No wonder you don’t want to work on it!

Fortunately there is a very effective technique for dealing with this particular objection: break down the task into smaller components.  Starting from a large nebulous goal, make an exhaustive list of everything you need to accomplish to get there.  Figure out which step needs to happen first, and then break that one down into sub-steps as well.  Keep following this procedure until you get down to a single step that you can take immediately to get you closer to your goal.  This tiny step feels much more manageable now, doesn’t it?  (Note that if this sub-step still feels daunting, I’ll bet that you can break it down even further.)

Now that you have the first specific action you need to take, I want you to close your eyes and imagine doing the task.  Imagine it right down to the very motor actions that you need to execute: imagine moving your arms, your hands, speaking, walking, whatever is required to complete your task.  See yourself finish your task, and then imagine how good it will feel to have this step completed.  Once you have finished this visualization, accomplishing the actual task feels like second nature – you’re practically already done!

Ten Ways to Change Your Behavior Immediately #7: Be Mindful

The most common response to encountering resistance is to try harder, feeling a host of negative emotions about the situation, and retreating into thoughts that cycle repeatedly with no resolution in sight.  By now you may have experienced this resistance so often that it feels like is just the way the world is, that it is a necessary part of working and couldn’t be any other way.  I want you to pause for a moment and ask yourself: how do you know that you are actually experiencing resistance?

The phenomenon of resistance or effort is ultimately a sensation that resides somewhere in your body.  When we get wrapped up in our head we are diverting our limited attention towards our own unproductive thoughts – valuable attention which could be directed elsewhere.  By merely trying harder we are trying to push away that sensation, we are wishing that our subjective experience were different in that moment.  When you next notice yourself feeling resistance, I want you to pause for a moment.  Take a deep breath.  Close your eyes.  Focus your awareness onto the sensations in your body that you have identified as resistance.  Sit with that sensation for a time and observe it.  Identify exactly what is going on.  When you notice that your attention has drifted, gently release whatever thought arose and return to the sensation.

Once you have observed this sensation, you may notice it has different qualities.  Sometimes you may turn your attention to the sensation and it doesn’t actually appear to be there, in which case you can resume what you were doing without conflict.  Or maybe this sensation oscillates back and forth, sometimes it is present and sometimes it isn’t – and in fact, this can happen within a fraction of a second!  How weird, right?

The great thing about observing your resistance from the outside is that it won’t seem inevitable anymore. Once you can say, “Huh, I seem to be resisting this,” you’re more than halfway there.