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.

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.

[Read more…]

It Is More Vulnerable to Ask for What You Want

I was talking to someone one a while back about why it can be hard for people to ask what they want. After all, it’s obvious that you’re more likely to get what you want when you ask.

As far as I can tell, the answer is that it is actually much more vulnerable to ask, especially if you’re the sort of person who typically avoids asking. 

If you habitually repress your desires, there’s a good chance there are some things that’ve been desperately wanting for a very long time that feel very scarce. It’s possible that you sometimes get these things, but you find it hard to enjoy them even when you have them, since it seems as though you can never have them to your fill. And chances are, you wouldn’t want other people to know how much you want those things.

Letting someone see where you have an unmet need is vulnerable.

If you really show someone how much you care about having something, chances are good that you’ll have a strong emotional response whether you get it or not–perhaps an unexpected one.

I can think of a time when I pushed through my discomfort, asked for something I was terrified of not getting, and felt joy and relief even when the person I was requesting it of said no!

And I can think of times when people gave me what I wanted and I cried, finally feeling the weight of all the times I’d never asked.

If you’re not comfortable having a strong, authentic emotional reaction in front of the person, then it’ll be hard to ask for what you want, and rightly so.

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…]

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…]

If You Have A Strong Feeling, It’s Yours

I’ve had a plan to blog about something related to personal growth every Monday. I’ve managed this the last two weeks, and I’m doing it again today.

I read an IFS book about relationships a couple of years ago that had an articulate explanation of why strong feelings are always about us, never the other person. Will and I just hosted an NVC webinar, where we talked about the importance of taking responsibility for all of your feelings. The basic idea is that even though there are external triggers that prompt us to feel emotions at certain times, something always happens in our head between our sensory perception of what happened and our reaction to it.

And we have control over that something that happens. We can change our narrative, and therefore change our feelings about a situation.

While this principle basically always holds true, today I’d like to focus on the specific case of really strong feelings. One heuristic I use is that if a reaction seems disproportionate, it’s because the person isn’t actually reacting to the situation at hand.

If I get a little annoyed at my roommate for eating my cheese, ask her not to do it again, and forget about the whole thing, I think it’s basically fair to say that I was annoyed about the cheese. If my roommate eats my cheese and I’m in tears (yes, I’ve done this…), there’s something else going on. I’m pattern matching my current circumstance to an unresolved incident, probably from my childhood.

If someone says or does something that makes me feel absolutely terrible, I always try to remember that whatever the trigger was can’t possibly be what I’m really upset about. It doesn’t make sense to say that I’m in a really bad mood “because my friend was late” or “because Will joked that ‘you only think of yourself’ when I didn’t unplug his power cord for him”.

It doesn’t make sense to frame it that way, because I’ll never actually be able to resolve my emotional state by focusing on the trigger. Setting up my life to avoid situations that pattern match to the past probably won’t work, and (in my opinion) would be counterproductive even if it did. Because the trigger brought my attention to some emotional pain that was already there.

My model of how this works is that actually feeling better means owning the feeling and opening up emotionally. In doing so, my mind will naturally go back to the original incident where I created a distorted narrative instead of processing the emotion. Once I can see the mental movements I’m going through, it’s not usually hard to change the pattern.

So, if you find yourself complaining, either to yourself or out loud, about how bad someone made you feel, or about how much someone is making your life difficult, try getting curious about what’s going on underneath the surface.

And if you can manage it, try feeling grateful to the other person for drawing your attention to something that already a problem.

(If the thing the other person did to you is actually huge, like killing someone you care about, then this heuristic doesn’t apply. That’s a different story.)