2 posts tagged

writing things down

Resolving internal conflicts

Discovering the conflict

Internal double crux is sometimes sold as a technique for resolving internal conflicts, but in reality it’s closer to “discovering internal conflicts if the only thing you have is some very inaccurate clues”.

The idea is: if you have an internal conflict, write it in form of a dialogue and see where it leads you.

Let’s say you noticed that sometimes you want A and sometimes you want B, and they are at odds. Then the process goes like this:

— Statement by A
— Statement by B
— [while writing as A, empathize to the previous statement by B] Statement by A
— [while writing as B, empathize to the previous statement by A] Statement by B
— ...

Usually it leads to figuring out that neither A nor B were even close to how you actually feel. Here’s someone else’s experience after trying internal double crux:

The first IDC I tried started with two plainly-named sides “I should floss” and “Flossing is a waste of time.” After further focusing and felt shifts, the two sides sound more like “Flossing is a ritual of self-care showing myself I deserve love” and “Flossing is one of infinitely many impositions by which my parents want to curtail my liberty.” The underlying conflict finally emerges!

Note: writing on paper seems to work better than typing, and either is better than saying words out loud. I don’t know why, but I suspect it’s because writing is more permanent. Typing doesn’t work well because then I’m just tempted to edit myself all the time.)

Also note: after trying internal double crux several times, it turned out to be useful enough that I internalized “huh, apparently I literally can’t have some thoughts unless I write them down”, which kickstarted the process of Writing Things Down All The Time. I will talk about it in future posts, though I hinted at it in Giving advice.

Okay, now you know how the internal conflict looks. Where do you go from there?

Giving voice to the conflict

Ego Analysis as a Deeper Form of Cognitive Therapy introduces a crucial insight that sometimes arguments are silly enough that you can reject them on your own, without any outside help, if you actually try to argue for them. This is heavily in contrast with, say, cognitive behavioral therapy, where you and the therapist argue against your thoughts:

What the standard cognitive therapist (CT) does is to be an attorney in this case you are bringing against yourself. [...] Here you are in the courtroom and the case against yourself seems to have been decided. You have been found guilty, but the charges are vague and poorly substantiated, as Kafka knew. The CT shows that they demonstrate cognitive errors, like overgeneralizing, catastrophizing, all-or-nothing thinking, and jumping to conclusions.

The problem with arguing against your thoughts is that your brain is not dumb. It knows that a thought being “vague and poorly substantiated” is not a good reason to abandon it. (And it’s right.) Instead, you should bring out the thought, let it develop, and then see for yourself – is it total bullshit? Or not?

[...] What you find when you don’t try to refute the automatic thoughts or pathogenic beliefs, is that patients themselves not only have automatic thoughts, they have automatic refutations. So the patient may hear “You can’t do anything right,” but he also hears the rejoinder that “I do so do things right.” [...] Those refutations only work momentarily; we do a kind of broken-field running.

[...] Our approach is to bring out the whole internal argument. The whole courtroom scene. [...] [CTs] will argue, as your attorney in this courtroom drama, that just because you screwed up your VCR you are not a total washout. That can be very relieving. But, as I will get to, it can be even more relieving to have the person experience the full impact of the internal condemnation and of the weak internal refutations that only kept it hidden.

An example: I used to feel that I have to admit that Beethoven is great – so I tried to explain, as well as I could, why Beethoven is great. And then I explained why I felt it was a misguided argument. It took about half an hour, and what happened next is that I lost all desire to argue about Beethoven. I understand why he’s considered great, I understand why I don’t care, and I accept that I might start caring in the future. It will also be much easier to actually like Beethoven if I decide to spend more time exploring classical music, because now my values no longer depend on whether I’m right about Beethoven or not – I made up my mind.

What to google if you want to learn more about this, find a therapist, or whatever

If you need further guidance, the right keyword is coherence therapy. I have been recommended the Coherence Therapy Practice Manual & Training Guide by Bruce Ecker and Laurel Hulley (available on LibGen), but I’m not sure it can be used as a self-help book.

Gendlin’s Focusing is a somewhat different technique that additionally relies on bodily sensations. I have never tried it, but everyone recommends it.

 No comments   1 y   writing things down

Giving advice


Patri Friedman gives a very sensible hierarchy of advice. Cheap, individual experiences are useless. Right?

I think a lot of internet advice comes from the wrong place in the experience hierarchy, and that’s especially bad because advice has a power law distribution. Here is a draft hierarchy.

  1. I heard about this cool idea.
  2. I read for a few minutes about this cool idea...
  3. I actually considered trying this cool idea!
  4. I actually briefly tried this new thing!!
  5. I did this new thing for weeks or months and it so worked!!!
  6. I did this thing for years or decades and it’s deeply woven into my life.
  7. I’ve spoken with / taught a few others how to do the thing.
  8. I’ve studied most extant research about this thing & can summarize.
  9. I’ve spoken to / worked with / interviewed hundreds of people working on this thing (generally as a professional, or through net communities).

So many people preach shallow wisdom based on 1, 2, 3, or 4 (I used to do so a lot myself). But those are cheap, superficial, individual experiences. I have come to believe that 5 & 6 should usually be the minimum to give advice, and that 8 & 9 are vastly better.

Advice that has worked for someone long-term is easily 10x or 100x more valuable than 1,2,3,4,5. And advice based on a large cross-section of people is easily 10x or 100x more valuable than one person’s experience.

[...] Finally, I will admit this tweet is only a 6-7.

I will also admit that on the hierarchy of advice, this post (the one you are reading right now) is a zero. Where zero is defined as follows:

0) Based on my personal beliefs and biases, this sounds like a good idea so I would recommend it.”

That is: I already thought about “cheap, individual experiences seem useless” before and it sounds like a good thought, so here I am, quoting it at you, even though I have literally no datapoints concerning whether cheap experiences are useless or not.

Oh well.


So here is what else I think.

If people were not allowed to recommend anything based solely on their personal beliefs and biases, a lot of interesting things to try would never get recommended. Even if you are at the level 9 of expertise in some topic, what you probably learned is “half the people in my industry feel one way, and the other half feels the opposite way, and it’s a giant mess”.

And generally, in addition to advice people also need an environment in which they can generate their own thoughts – by sparring with others’ thoughts. It’s no fun to spar with “eh, maybe you should do X but I really really don’t know, sorry”. It’s also no fun to spar with “the scientific consensus is that you should do X”, because you would look stupid arguing with that.

Finally, giving advice is performative. Putting a piece of advice out there makes it easier to move on and admit that my advice is bullshit, which is kinda useful. (Hence this blog. Ha!)

Ranking these three points on the hierarchy of advice, I get 4, 5, and 6. Not that bad, but not great either. Perhaps in a few years I will be able to finally tell you whether the hierarchy of advice is good or not, but for now this is all I have.

 No comments   1 y   writing things down