xuenay: (Default)
Recently I've been trying to become consistently more happy and suffer less. An important component of this involves reaching a state of equanimity - "a state of mental or emotional stability or composure arising from a deep awareness and acceptance of the present moment", to use the Wikipedia definition. Although I have several techniques for overcoming negative feelings, it often happens that I'm simply not motivated enough to use them. In other words, I feel bad, and I know I could make myself feel better with some effort, but I just don't feel like mustering that effort.

By contrast, if I've managed to reach a state of equanimity, managing and dissolving negative feelings is something that happens almost on its own. While I'm not immune to emotional hurt, say, it's much easier to take care of. Things like practicing mindfulness on any sort of discomfort becomes almost automatic when in equanimious.

Getting into equanimity isn't always easy, even when I want to. Exercise and cold showers help in making me feel physically good, which helps. Ultimately, though, I need to think the right way.

There are a number of thoughts that I've noticed help me get into a state of equanimity. Not every one always works, which is why I've developed a number of them. If I have access to them all, usually at least one will work.

During the last month or two, my Enlightenment progress has stalled, and on most days I haven't been equanimious at all. Part of this, I think, has been because I forgot pretty much all of these thoughts. Every now and then some of them has come back to me, and sometimes it has helped for a day or two before it stopped working again. I finally realized I needed to compile a list of all such thoughts that I've used. This should help me to always have available *some* thought that might work in that state of mind.

I've divided these in three categories.

No self: Negative emotions arise from drawing a boundary between self and non-self. When one abandons the thought of a separate self that has to be defended from a hostile external world, emotions such as fear or uncertainty vanish.

No time: The need to defend yourself only exists if there is a chance that things will get worse in the future. Likewise, being impatient about something, or wanting desperately to experience something, only makes sense if it is combined with a notion of time passing. When one abandons a time-centered perspective and concentrates on the present, emotions such as fear or impatience vanish. When the present is the only moment that exists, my thought often goes, I should take heed and enjoy it.

No care: Suffering arises from identifying so strongly with your emotions that you cannot resolve attention-allocation conflicts. If you have a strong emotional attachment to eating expensive chocolate bananas on one hand, and on principle avoiding all chocolate on the other, you cannot reason your way out of such a conflict. When one stops identifying with their emotions but instead embraces them as useful feedback, the suffering related to negative emotions vanishes.

And here are the actual thoughts. Although listed as separate, some of these are overlapping and some build on each other. In particular, several of the "no time" theories presume parts of the "no self" theories. Some might also seem to somewhat contradict each other, but I don't think they ultimately do: they're simply based on different levels of analysis.

I don't really have the space or energy to comprehensively explain these all, so I'm not sure how much sense they will make to people. Still, maybe someone will find something useful here nonetheless.

- No self, psychological: There is no Cartesian Theater or homonculus, sitting in the center of the brain and running things. To take some specific part of the brain and call it "THE self" is not scientifically justified. Instead, there is only a vast collection of different subsystems, producing quite a variety of selves.

- No self, Occam's Razorical: It makes little sense to talk of an observer in the brain that is the one that observes everything. What would the positing of such an observer add to any theories? It makes more sense to say that there are various cognitive algorithms, which produce qualia as a side-effect of being run. Instead of there existing somebody who observes all the qualia produced by the brain, there are only the qualia which observe themselves and then cease to exist. If so, it makes little sense to identify with the qualia produced by my brain in particular. Instead I can identify with the qualia of all life everywhere. (I previously wrote about this view here, under "the self as how the algorithm feels from the inside".)

- No self, system-theoretical: To speak of a 'self' as separate from the environment makes little sense. My identity is defined by my environment. If all of my physical properties were held constant, you could make me think or do anything by choosing an appropriate environment to match. I'm part of a vast distributed cognitive system, and drawing the boundaries of self strictly around the physical shell housing my body makes little sense. (I previously wrote about this view here, under "the self as lack of personal boundaries".)

- No time, psychological: My mind can only act in the present. I can imagine the future, or remember the past, but both of these involve thought processes that operate in the now. I live in an eternal present.

- No time, physical multiverse: Depending on which Tegmarkian multiverses are real, all physically possible worlds exist or all logically possible worlds exist. Then, no matter what I wish to experience or what I fear, in some part of the multiverse I am already experiencing it. If I identify not with a specific observer but with qualia, then I'll know that I already have everything I could ever wish for, as well as already suffering from everything I could ever dread.

- No time, physical block: In a block universe conception of time, the whole universe already exists as an unmoving four-dimensional block. Time does not pass in the sense of the current me ceasing to exist and being replaced with another me after a moment passes: instead, this me, and all the other mes, exist eternally.

- No time, logical: If I identify with specific qualia instead of specific observers, then the qualia that "I am experiencing" (rather, the qualia which I am) at this very moment is the only qualia which I can be. Anything else would be a different qualia. Therefore, the me that exists at this very moment is the only logically possible one that I can be.

- No care, psychological: Our emotional reactions to anything are just an interpretative layer imposed by our brain, our emotions in general a mechanism to guide our action. They do not exist outside our brain. There is no inherent reason for why I should react to something with anger, and to something else with fear, and to something else with joy. In principle, I can choose to feel any emotion in conjunction with anything that I do or experience. (I previously discussed this view here.)

- No care, projective: All emotions exist within me. To think that somebody external pressures me, say, is incorrect to the extent that it assumes an external force. What is happening that others are activating processes that reside within me, and to ascribe them as pressuring me is projection.

- No care, philosophical: I can dis-identify with any thoughts or emotions that come into my mind. Instead of saying "I am angry", I can say "I'm hosting a feeling of anger as a visitor in my mind right now". I have desires, emotions and thoughts, but I am not my desires, emotions or thoughts. (This is the basis of at least some sort of mindfulness practice, which I previously discussed here.)

----

These might give you the impression that nothing matters and you might as well lay in bed until you die. Not so. Even if every possible experience exists, not all of them exist in the same proportion. If it did, we would not observe the kind of a regular, ordered universe that we do, but instead a chaotic, unpredictable universe [1]. Therefore our actions still matter and have consequences - it all adds up to normality.

It is still meaningful for me to have goals which I seek to accomplish - even if were logically, psychologically and physically impossible for "this" particular entity to experience their completion, some "other" entity will still reap their benefits. (Our language is not very well designed to handle self-lessness.) And of course, if I identify with all the qualia experienced with all sentient life everywhere in the world, the fact that this particular set of qualia will only be this set forever doesn't matter. I want my efforts to be happy and free of suffering to have as big of an effect as possible.

I think I'll stop here, in case I still have the occasional reader or two who considers me somehow sane.



[1] I should be more specific here. Yes, if all possible experiences exist, then it is logically necessary that *some* of those experiences would still be about a regular, predictable universe, regardless of whether the universe actually was chaotic or not. But there would only exist a small number of such experiences, while far more of them would exist if there was a more regular weighting. Therefore, given that "I" observe a regular universe, the subjective probability that I exist in one is higher.

Regardless of what kind of a theory we select, it has to be one that still allows probability theory to be meaningful. If it didn't, then nothing we did mattered, and we don't want that, now do we? Again, it should still add up to normality.

See e.g. here or here for views on how to make probability theory function even in a Big universe.
xuenay: (Default)
Cross-posted from Less Wrong.

Follow-up to: Suffering as attention-allocational conflict.

In many cases, it may be possible to end an attention-allocational conflict by looking at the content of the conflict and resolving it. However, there are also many cases where this simply won't work. If you're afraid of public speaking, say, the "I don't want to do this" signal is going to keep repeating itself regardless of how you try to resolve the conflict. Instead, you have to treat the conflict in a non-content-focused way.

In a nutshell, this is just the map-territory distinction as applied to emotions. Your emotions have evolved as a feedback and attention control mechanism: their purpose is to modify your behavior. If you're afraid of a dog, this is a fact about you, not about the dog. Nothing in the world is inherently scary, bad or good. Furthermore, emotions aren't inherently good or bad either, unless we choose to treat them as such.

We all know this, right? But we don't consistently apply it to our thinking of emotions. In particular, this has two major implications:

1. You are not the world: It's always alright to feel good. Whether you're feeling good or bad won't change the state of the world: the world is only changed by the actual actions you take. You're never obligated to feel bad, or guilty, or ashamed. In particular, since you can only influence the world through your actions, you will accomplish more and be happier if your emotions are tied to your actions, not states of the world.
2. Emotional acceptance: At the same time, "negative" emotions are not something to suppress or flinch away from. They're a feedback mechanism which imprints lessons directly into your automatic behavior (your elephant). With your subconsciousness having been trained to act better in the future, your conscious mind is free to concentrate on other things. If the feedback system is broken and teaching you bad lessons, then you should act to correct it. But if the pain is about some real mistake or real loss you suffered, then you should welcome it.

Internalizing these lessons can have some very powerful effects. I've been making very good progress on consistently feeling better after starting to train myself to think like this. But some LW posters are even farther along; witness Will Ryan:
I internalized a number of different conclusions during this period, although piecing together the exact time frame is somewhat difficult without rereading all of my old notes. The biggest conclusion was probably acceptance of the world as it is, or eliminating affective judgments about reality as a whole. I wanted to become an agent who was never harmed by receiving true information. Denying reality does not change it, only decreases our effectiveness in interacting with the world. An important piece of this acceptance is that the past is immutable, I realized that I should only have prospective emotions, since they are there to guide our future behavior. [...]
More things fell into place in early 2010, during a period in which I was breaking up with Katie at the same time our cat was dying of cancer. I learned to only have emotions about situations that were within my immediate control - between calls with the vet making life-or-death decisions about my pet, I was going to parties and incredibly enjoying myself. This immediately eliminated chronic stress of any kind, which has been greatly beneficial for my overall happiness and effectiveness. I felt alive in a way that I hadn't experienced before, living every moment with its own intensity. I don't (yet) experience this state constantly, but it does seem to happen much more frequently than it used to. This moment-intensity also induces incredible subjective time dilation, which I appreciate quite a bit.
I am not sure exactly when, but sometime during this period I began to develop sadness asymbolia - sadness lost its negative affect, and so I no longer avoided experiencing it. I came to the realization that sadness was precisely the right emotion I needed to internalize negative updates! Being able to internalize bad news about the world without fear or suffering is one of my biggest hacks to date, as far as I am concerned. I think this was related to internalizing the general idea of emotions as feedback, instead of some kind of intrinsic truth about the world.
In April 2010 I came to the realization that my systematic avoidance of certain things was in fact the emotion of fear. It seems obvious when stated this way in retrospect, but for most of my life I had prioritized thought over emotion, and at that time did not have particularly good access to my emotional state. Once I came to this realization, I also realized that my fear pointed towards my biggest areas of potential growth. Although I have not yet developed fear asymbolia, I have developed a habit of directing myself straight towards my biggest fears as soon as I recognize them. [...]
...my subjective experience of the pain-sensation did not seem to change much, what changed was a mental aversion to the stimulus.
Sadness... oh such sweet sadness! My enjoyment of all emotions scales with its intensity, so I actively try to cultivate more sadness when it occurs. I long for the feeling of warm tears rolling down my cheeks, my breath and body racked with sobbing... Emotional pain now feels euphorically pleasurable to release, and in its aftermath I am left with warmth and contentment. It is almost as though the pain realizes I have incorporated its lessons through my acknowledgment and expression, and then no longer demands my attention. The sensation itself is difficult to describe... it is definitely painful, but in no way aversive.
Some other LW posters who've made considerable progress on this are Jasen Murray, Frank Adamek and Michael Vassar.

How does one actually achieve emotional acceptance? It is a way of thought that has to be learned with practice. There are various techniques which help in this: I will cover one in this post, and others in future ones.

Mindfulness practice
"Many [mindfulness exercises] encourage individuals to attend to the internal experiences occurring in each moment, such as bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Others encourage attention to aspects of the environment, such as sights and sounds ... All suggest that mindfulness should be practiced with an attitude of nonjudgmental acceptance. That is, phenomena that enter the individual’s awareness during mindfulness practice, such as perceptions, cognitions, emotions, or sensations, are observed carefully but are not evaluated as good or bad, true or false, healthy or sick, or important or trivial ... Thus, mindfulness is the nonjudgmental observation of the ongoing stream of internal and external stimuli as they arise." -- Mindfulness Training as a Clinical Intervention: A Conceptual and Empirical Review (R.A. Baer 2003, in Clinical psychology: Science and practice).
Mindfulness techniques are very useful in realizing that your thoughts and emotions are just things constructed by your mind:
"Several authors have noted that the practice of mindfulness may lead to changes in thought patterns, or in attitudes about one’s thoughts. For example, Kabat-Zinn (1982, 1990) suggests that nonjudgmental observation of pain and anxiety-related thoughts may lead to the understanding that they are “just thoughts,” rather than reflections of truth or reality, and do not necessitate escape or avoidance behavior. Similarly, Linehan (1993a, 1993b) notes that observing one’s thoughts and feelings and applying descriptive labels to them encourages the understanding that they are not always accurate reflections of reality. For example, feeling afraid does not necessarily mean that danger is imminent, and thinking “I am a failure” does not make it true. Kristeller and Hallett (1999), in a study of MBSR in patients with binge eating disorder, cite Heatherton and Baumeister’s (1991) theory of binge eating as an escape from self-awareness and suggest that mindfulness training might develop nonjudgmental acceptance of the aversive cognitions that binge-eaters are thought to be avoiding, such as unfavorable comparisons of self to others and perceived inability to meet others’ demands."
"All of the treatment programs reviewed here include acceptance of pain, thoughts, feelings, urges, or other bodily, cognitive, and emotional phenomena, without trying to change, escape, or avoid them. Kabat-Zinn (1990) describes acceptance as one of several foundations of mindfulness practice. DBT provides explicit training in several mindfulness techniques designed to promote acceptance of reality. Thus, it appears that mindfulness training may provide a method for teaching acceptance skills."
It also has clear promise in reducing suffering:
"According to Salmon, Santorelli, and Kabat-Zinn (1998), over 240 hospitals and clinics in the United States and abroad were offering stress reduction programs based on mindfulness training as of 1997. ... The empirical literature on the effects of mindfulness training contains many methodological weaknesses, but it suggests that mindfulness interventions may lead to reductions in a variety of problematic conditions, including pain, stress, anxiety, depressive relapse, and disordered eating."
I recommend the linked paper for a good survey about various therapies utilizing mindfulness, their effects and theoretical explanations for how they work.

While I haven't personally looked at any of the referenced therapies, I've found great benefit from the simple practice of turning my attention to any source of physical or emotional discomfort and simply nonjudgementally observing it. Frequently, this changes the pain from something that feels negative to something that feels neutral. My hypothesis is that this eliminates an attention-allocational conflict. The pain acts as a signal to concentrate on and pay attention to this source of discomfort, and once I do so, the signal has accomplished its purpose.

However, often I can do even better than just making the sensation neutral. If I make a conscious decision to experience this now-neutral sensation as something actively positive, that often works. Obviously, there are limits to the degree to which I can do this - the stronger the discomfort, the harder it is to just passively observe it and experience it as neutral. So far my accomplishments have been relatively mild, such as carrying several heavy bags and changing it from something uncomfortable to something enjoyable. But I keep becoming better at it with practice.
xuenay: (Default)
I previously characterized Michael Vassar's theory on suffering as follows: "Pain is not suffering. Pain is just an attention signal. Suffering is when one neural system tells you to pay attention, and another says it doesn't want the state of the world to be like this." While not too far off the mark, it turns out this wasn't what he actually said. Instead, he said that suffering is a conflict between two (or more) attention-allocation mechanisms in the brain.

I have been successful at using this different framing to reduce the amount of suffering I feel. The method goes like this. First, I notice that I'm experiencing something that could be called suffering. Next, I ask, what kind of an attention-allocational conflict is going on? I consider the answer, attend to the conflict, resolve it, and then I no longer suffer.

An example is probably in order, so here goes. Last Friday, there was a Helsinki Less Wrong meetup with Patri Friedman present. I had organized the meetup, and wanted to go. Unfortunately, I already had other obligations for that day, ones I couldn't back out from. One evening, I felt considerable frustration over this.

Noticing my frustration, I asked: what attention-allocational conflict is this? It quickly become obvious that two systems were fighting it out:

* The Meet-Up System was trying to convey the message: ”Hey, this is a rare opportunity to network with a smart, high-status individual and discuss his ideas with other smart people. You really should attend.”
* The Prior Obligation System responded with the message: ”You've already previously agreed to go somewhere else. You know it'll be fun, and besides, several people are expecting you to go. Not going bears an unacceptable social cost, not to mention screwing over the other people's plans.”

Now, I wouldn't have needed to consciously reflect on the messages to be aware of them. It was hard to not be aware of them: it felt like my consciousness was in a constant crossfire, with both systems bombarding it with their respective messages.

But there's an important insight here, one which I originally picked up from PJ Eby. If a mental subsystem is trying to tell you something important, then it will persist in doing so until it's properly acknowledged. Trying to push away the message means it has not been properly addressed and acknowledged, meaning the subsystem has to continue repeating it.

Imagine you were in the wilderness, and knew that if you weren't back in your village by dark you probably wouldn't make it. Now suppose a part of your brain was telling you that you had to turn back now, or otherwise you'd still be out when it got dark. What would happen if you just decided that the thought was uncomfortable, successfully pushed it away, and kept on walking? You'd be dead, that's what.

You wouldn't want to build a nuclear reactor that allowed its operators to just override and ignore warnings saying that their current course of action will lead to a core meltdown. You also wouldn't want to build a brain that could just successfully ignore critical messages without properly addressing them, basically for the same reason.

So I addressed the messages. I considered them and noted that they both had merit, but that honoring the prior obligation was more important in this situation. Having done that, the frustration mostly went away.

Another example: this is the second time I'm writing this post. The last time, I tried to save it when I'd gotten to roughly this point, only to have my computer crash. Obviously, I was frustrated. Then I remembered to apply the very technique I was writing about.

The Crash Message: You just lost a bunch of work! You should undo the crash to make it come back!
The Realistic Message: You were writing that in Notepad, which has no auto-save feature, and the computer crashed just as you were about to save the thing. There's no saved copy anywhere. Undoing the crash is impossible: you just have to write it again.

Attending to the conflict, I noted that the realistic message had it right, and the frustration went away.

It's interesting to note that it probably doesn't matter whether my analysis of the sources of the conflict is 100% accurate. I've previously used some rather flimsy evpsych just-so stories to explain the reasons for my conflicts, and they've worked fine. What's probably happening is that the attention-allocation mechanisms are too simple to actually understand the analysis I apply to the issues they bring up. If they were that smart, they could handle the issue on their own. Instead, they just flag the issue as something that higher-level thought processes should attend to. The lower-level processes are just serving as messengers: it's not their task to evaluate whether the verdict reached by the higher processes was right or wrong.

But at the same time, you can't cheat yourself. You really do have to resolve the issue, or otherwise it will come back. For instance, suppose you didn't have a job and were worried about getting one before you ran out of money. This isn't an issue where you can just say, ”oh, the system telling me I should get a job soon is right”, and then do nothing. Genuinely committing to do something does help; pretending to commit to something and then forgetting about it does not. Likewise, you can't say that "this isn't really an issue" if you know it is an issue.

Still, my experience so far seems to suggest that this framework can be used to reduce any kind of suffering. To some extent, it seems to even work on physical pain and discomfort. While simply acknowledging physical pain doesn't make it go away, making a conscious decision to be curious about the pain seems to help. Instead of flinching away from the pain and trying to avoid it, I ask myself, ”what does this experience of pain feel like?” and direct my attention towards it. This usually at least diminishes the suffering, and sometimes makes it go away if the pain was mild enough.

An important, related caveat: don't make the mistake of thinking that you could use this to replace all of your leisure with work, or anything like that. Mental fatigue will still happen. Subjectively experienced fatigue is a persistent signal to take a break which cannot be resolved other than by actually taking a break. Your brain still needs rest and relaxation. Also, if you have multiple commitments and are not sure that you can handle them all, then that will be a constant source of stress regardless. You're better off using something like Getting Things Done to handle that.

So far I have described what I call the ”content-focused” way to apply the framework. It involves mentally attending to the content of the conflicts and resolving them, and is often very useful. But as we already saw with the example of physical pain, not all conflicts are so easily resolved. A ”non-content-focused” approach – a set of techniques that are intended to work regardless of the content of the conflict in question – may prove even more powerful. I'll cover it in a separate post, though the example of dealing with physical pain is already getting into non-content-focused territory.

I'm unsure of exactly how long I have been using this particular framework, as I've been experimenting with a number of related content- and non-content-focused methods since February. But I believe that I consciously and explicitly started thinking of suffering as ”conflict between attention-allocation mechanisms” and began applying it to everything maybe two or three weeks ago. So far, either the content- or non-content-focused method has always seemed to at least alleviate suffering: the main problem has been in remembering to use it.
xuenay: (Default)
Cross-posted to LessWrong.

Note: this post is basically just summarizing some of PJ Eby's freely available writings on the topic of pain/gain motivation. I claim no credit for the ideas presented here, other than the credit for summarizing them.

EDIT: Note also Eby's comments and corrections to this post.

Eby proposes that we have two different forms of motivation: positive ("gain") motivation, which drives us to do things, and negative ("pain") motivation, which drives us to avoid things. Negative motivation is a major reason for procrastination and is mostly harmful for getting anything done. However, sufficiently large amounts of negative motivation can momentarily push us to do things, which frequently causes people to confuse the two.

To understand the function of negative motivation, first consider the example of having climbed to a tree to avoid a predator. There's not much you can do other than wait and hope the predator goes away, and if you move around, you risk falling out of the tree. So your brain gets flooded with signals that suppress activity and tell it to keep your body still. It is only if the predator ends up climbing up the tree that the danger becomes so acute that you're instead pushed to flee.

What does this have to do with modern-day procrastination? Back in the tribal environment, elicting the disfavor of the tribe could be a death sentence. Be cast out by the tribe, and you likely wouldn't live for long. One way to elict disfavor is to be unmasked as incompetent in some important matter, and a way to avoid such an unmasking is to simply avoid doing anything where to consequences of failure would be severe.

You might see why this would cause problems. Sometimes, when the pain level of not having done a task grows too high - like just before a deadline - it'll push you to do it. But this fools people into thinking that negative consequences alone will be a motivator, so they try to psyche themselves up by thinking about how bad it would be to fail. In truth, this is only making things worse, as an increased chance of failure will increase the negative motivation that's going on.


Negative motivation is also a reason why we might discover a productivity or self-help technique, find it useful, and then after a few successful tries stop using it - seemingly for no reason. Eby uses the terms "naturally motivated person" and "naturally struggling person" to refer to people that are more driven by positive motivation and more driven by negative motivation, respectively. For naturally struggling people, the main motivation for behavior is the need to get away from bad things. If you give them a productivity or self-help technique, they might apply it to get rid of their largest problems... and then, when the biggest source of pain is gone, they momentarily don't have anything major to flee from, so they lose their motivation to apply the technique. To keep using the technique, they'd need to have positive motivation that'd make them want to do things instead of just not wanting to do things.

In contrast to negative motivation, positive motivation is basically just doing things because you find them fun. Watching movies, playing video games, whatever. When you're in a state of positive motivation, you're trying to gain things, obtain new resources or experiences. You're entirely focused on the gain, instead of the pain. If you're playing a video game, you know that no matter how badly you lose in the game, the negative consequences are all contained in the game and don't reach to the real world. That helps your brain stay in gain mode. But if a survival override kicks in, the negative motivation will overwhelm the positive and take away much of the pleasure involved. This is a likely reason for why a hobby can stop being fun once you're doing it for a living - it stops being a simple "gain" activity with no negative consequences even if you fail, and instead becomes mixed with "pain" signals.

And now, if you’re up the tree and the tiger is down there waiting for you, does it make sense for you to start looking for a better spot to sit in… Where you’ll get better sunshine or shade or where there’s, oh, there’s some fruit over there? Should you be seeking to gain in that particular moment?

Hell no! Right? Because you don’t want to take a risk of falling or getting into a spot where the tiger can jump up and get you or anything like that. Your brain wants you to sit tight, stay put, shut up, don’t rock the boat… until the crisis is over. It wants you to sit tight. That’s the “pain brain”.

In the “pain brain” mode… this, by the way, is the main reason why people procrastinate, this is the fundamental reason why people put off doing things… because once your brain has one of these crisis overrides it will go, “Okay conserve energy: don’t do anything.”

-- PJ Eby, "Why Can't I Change?"

So how come some important situations don't push us into a state of negative motivation, even though failure might have disastrous consequences? "Naturally motivated" people rarely stop to think about the bad consequences of whatever they're doing, being too focused on what they have to gain. If they meet setbacks, they'll bounce back much faster than "naturally struggling" people. What causes the difference?

Part of the difference is probably inborn brain chemistry. Another major part, though, is your previous experiences. The emotional systems driving our behavior don't ultimately do very complex reasoning. Much of what they do is simply cache lookups. Does this experience resemble one that led to negative consequences in the past? Activate survival overrides! Since negative motivation will suppress positive motivation, it can be easier to end up in a negative state than a positive one. Furthermore, the experiences we have also shape our thought processes in general. If, early on in your life, you do things in "gain" mode that end up having traumatic consequences, you learn to avoid the "gain" mode in general. You become a "naturally struggling" person, one who will view everything through a pessimistic lens, and expect failure in every turn. You literally only perceive the bad sides in everything. A "naturally motivated" person, on the other hand, will primarily only perceive the good sides. (Needless to say, these are the endpoints in a spectrum, so it's not like you're either 100% struggling or 100% successful.)

Another of Eby's theses is that negative motivation is, for the most part, impossible to overcome via willpower. Consider the function of negative motivation as a global signal that prevents us from doing things that seem too dangerous. If we could just use willpower to override the signal at any time, that would result in a lot of people being eaten by predators and being cast out of the tribe. In order to work, a drive that blocks behavior needs to actually consistently block behavior. Therefore attempts to overcome procrastination via willpower expenditure are fundamentally misguided. We should instead be trying to remove whatever negative motivation it is that holds us back, for otherwise we are not addressing the real root of the problem. On the other hand, if we succeed in removing the negative motivation and replacing it with positive motivation, we can make any experience as fun and enjoyable as playing a video game. (If you haven't already, do check out Eby's Instant Irresistible Motivation video for learning how to create positive motivation.)

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