Happy new year! For those of you in NYC, it was lots of fun seeing you. =) Several people requested I follow through on fighting inner demonologues and other insecurities. Several other people requested that I “build” on earlier material in general, so I’ll start off by making a continuation to this topic that will basically dominate this WYL.
Inner Demonologue 2: Strategy
- I think the most important thing on this front is being happy to accept your flaws. Now that you rolled your eyes, there’s a difference in saying “I have flaws and I’m proud of that because that’s part of who I am” (which I think is silly and only seems useful for protecting ego) and “I have flaws and I’m working on them” (which is more proactive).
- There’s also something to be said by how much you can “fix” your flaws. I met a lot of people in the last few years who take pride in being able to identify insecurities and think they “solve” insecurities (and are happy to brag about how they “no longer” have X, Y, and Z). I think this mentality is dangerous (though I laud them for being proactive).
- Here’s an analogy: you have a company and there’s a person that’s being problematic; you don’t “solve” the person — you just induce the person to work better with others; another analogy is learning something like a tennis serve — you don’t just “learn” the backhand and “get” it. You get better and better at it through practice. In our situation, binary classifications are dangerous.
- finally, seeing insecurities as “evil” things that must be “erased” can be silly. Usually they are manifestations of some internal system that has good and bad parts. For example, being competitive both helps us and gives competition-related insecurities. Recognizing insecurities as more complex objects “to come to peace with” instead of “to kill” puts myself in a much better frame to work with them. This is very similar to treating your opponent in an argument as “someone to learn with” vs “someone to defeat.” The latter gives you pride and possibly an enemy; the former gives you knowledge and possibly a friend.
- I’ve noticed a class of insecurities where a person wants to mark an insecurity as “solved” and then gets a lot of insecurity about that insecurity coming back (and in practice doesn’t seem to have solved that insecurity anyway), which is kind of sad. I think when I hear people say “I used to be X but I’m no longer X” then around 70% of the time they’re still X. (30% isn’t bad for a success rate though! It is true that people who say such things are still better than the avg. population, I think)
- Disclaimer: I am (not “used to be,” which are words that correlate fairly well with people who think they “solve” insecurities) a person with many insecurities, including the one singled out above! I’m working on it =)
Inner Demonologues 3: Tactics – Out of Action
- I think the above realization (that I have flaws in form of insecurities, that working on each flaw is a long, slow process, that I shouldn’t try to collect trophies of how many flaws I’ve fixed, and that flaws are not pure-black-evil things) has been the most useful part of my journey of self-compassion strategically. Now some tactics:
- when learning mathematics/physics, a good technique is to realize confusion and when you do, stop and zoom in on the confusion. People trained to BS themselves through school would sense confusion and fast-forward through it because of laziness/fear. Clear thinkers take the confusion as an opportunity to learn. (another analogy would be people who generally stop to look up a word they don’t understand vs people who generally skim over words they don’t understand)
- Similarly, learning the motion “when I feel an insecurity, stop and think about the insecurity” was a really important move for me. Operationally, this involves being in touch with emotions/physical stuff (like tenseness, fear, the feeling of wanting to think about something else, etc.) and then saying “oh that’s an insecurity. Let’s look at it.” When one wants to improve at insecurities, I think this is an important habit to pick up.
- you need a way to actually face your insecurities. I had a bad moment in teaching sometime in Berkeley last semester, and I think it was really helpful to sit and say to myself: “hmm, I’m reacting badly because I am insecure that I might not be as good a teacher as I thought. I’m making all sorts of excuses to myself right now, like ‘that child is hopeless’ or ‘he started it.’ This is somewhat silly. Look, maybe you aren’t as great a teacher as you think you are Yan, but you can work on it. What can you do better in this situation?” blah blah. Anyway, the actual text is not interesting, but I think the pivotal point is setting time aside to actually sit down to work on it. I think the commonality of people I know who seem to be proactive in working with insecurities is that everyone has some sort of routine to actually confront them:
- C. has an interesting one where he meditates for like a whole day and see what things surface into his brain without provocation, identifies the things that float up the most, and work on them. I was inspired by that so a couple of times I’d just give myself 30 minutes and list some insecurities that float to mind, and see what I can do with them.
- Useful analogy (at least for me personally): Insecurities feel like family members you don’t want to talk to whom you know you really should talk to sometime (or in the short term, the family member you just had a fight with but you want to make up with sometime). This analogy has helped me be more proactive to work both on insecurities and on more dysfunctional familial relationships (yay!)
Inner Demonologues 4 – Tactics: In Action
- The above 2 tactics are for improving relationships with your insecurities in the long run. There are also tactics when I need to act instead of being paralyzed (there is doing things to learn vs doing things to perform, after all; if I get insecure doing piano practice I can stop and think; if it is a recital I need to act!) so I sample a couple of tactics here for being “in action”
- my favorite one (part of something I taught a couple of times at CFAR) is to visualize heroes who are not insecure in those situations (maybe even old versions of yourself that have performed well). When I was learning social stuff this was really useful. In most of my hobbies I have several heroes I can “channel” this way, and pretending I am them when I do things really clear all the other crap out of me. Visualization is of course a skill that needs to be practiced, but I find with a good level of ability it becomes really useful to clear insecurities. Example: say I’m tempted to take a really tricky pool shot to impress the cute girl; imagining myself as Y. (a friend of mine whose name is not Yan), a great but down-to-earth pool player, I’d realize he would simply take the shot (and then have a charming conversation with the girl anyway, but that’s besides the point =D).
- another tactic comes from my martial arts classes. There’s a very “neutral” feeling where one stands/sits with back straight, muscles loose, mind clear, breathing full, eyes closed. I find thinking of this pose as a “general clear-minded stance” instantly wipes my mental RAM of stupid stuff before sparring, but this could be moved to other disciplines (in particular, it helps me for swimming to even just visualize this stance — I’m obviously not standing up in the water but I don’t need to). The specific execution doesn’t matter, in my opinion. Another dumb example I have is a particular stupid smile that the charming main character Jane from “The Mentalist” does before he does anything insane, but he always gets away with it since he is so at ease (and NOT plagued by inner demonologues, at least when he is doing such things). The point is to cycle through your interests (I think people who do martial arts or meditate can resonate with my particular example here) and find a bodily feeling that you know puts you “at peace,” and then think about using it when you do all other disciplines when you need to clear your mind. This is getting a trigger for a form of self-hypnosis.
- VERY IMPORTANT: an interesting experience I have with “fighting” inner demonologues is again the framing; in particular, “dealing with” is better than “fighting” here. If you think of clearing your mind as a forceful “pushing” out of all the noise, then chances are a few seconds/minutes later the noise will come back to haunt you (it is like trying not to think about a blue elephant). One thing that I found consistently helpful is to clear mind by filling it with something else (so visualizing filling your mind with vaccum seems to be more effective than clearing it of things, even though those may look the same). In the martial arts example above, it seems the mind is filled with a springy potential energy that could become kinetic energy, instead of empitness; in the Mentalist example, it seems the mind is filled with confidence, not empty. In neither of these cases I found it useful to actively “push out” the insecurities; rather I found it really useful to think of it as “alright guys, someone else is taking the stage now” and gently shoo the demons off-stage while welcoming a better mental state.
Fields and Flows 2
- A.asks about my “Fields and Flows”: “is this pretty much just emphasizing the importance of the external environment and it’s large influence on our behavior?” The answer is yes. I think a term is only as useful to you as the mental state it induces. For me thinking about “environment” in terms of fields and flow seems more natural (maybe because of my Eastern history plus some basic knowledge of physics) to think about “environment.” If for you this word is not useful, I’m not going to force it onto you.
- I think this is a good general principle to glean: when we learn several ways of talking about the same thing, think what each word buys you that other words don’t. My writer friends tend to be good at this and does it automatically (and likes to compare them against each other, such as stated in the discussion about “switching” in the first WYL). My non-writer friends think it is wasteful to have several words “all talking about the same thing.” I’m going to have to go with writer friends on this one – what’s important is the relationship between the word and what it offers to the person/conversation, not just *the definition*.
- W. points out that a good manifestation of “fields and flows” / environment hacking is “choosing good defaults”. A specific example he gives is one that I actually use quite a bit: when I need to do some piece of work that I don’t like to do, just take the step of opening the piece of work. One can also think of this as a special case of “break down big tasks into small chunks,” but they are using different ways to trick your brain.
- Example: I had a programming project that wasn’t extremely time-sensitive (but should be done by some point) that I had some resistance to starting, so I opened my editor to a blank document, made some folders for the files, and opened up a webpage with a particular reference I needed. A day later I started working on it.
- Example: for SPARC I had to send some questionaires by hand; this seemed somewhat daunting, so I opened a draft and just had it sit in my gmail, taking up space. I got sick of seeing it take up space and started about 25 minutes later.
- D. points out this is not as much “What Yan Learned” as “What Yan is Learning.” Pedantic, but true (hey, I admitted words are important, right?). Knowledge is like insecurities – you don’t just either “have” a piece of knowledge or not – there are layers of your mastery of the knowledge and I think interpreting “WYL” as “What Yan is Learning” is more healthy.
- Bar names and bartending: I didn’t get to do any bartending stuff since last email. Got a few more name suggestions, but I’ll just single out “Yanimal Farm” Thanks guys. =/ Dystopian bars aside, I’ve leveled up a bit more in bartending due to lots of drinking + notetaking in NY and Chapel Hill, and am going to try to learn more about whiskey in particular.