Tags: psych



 Many of us have the habit of filling little voids of downtime with streams of trivialities on our cellphones.  Usually they're of little consequence.

Today I was in the check-out line at a supermarket, and while browsing Facebook status updates I saw a post about how the husband of a friend of mine had just committed suicide.

A moment later, the woman at the register cheerfully but robotically asked how I was doing.  I looked at her and said nothing, not even sure where to start.  She kept looking at me, expecting an answer.  No words came out.  Somewhere in the unconscious depths of my brain there probably was scenario planning going on, with analysis of recalled memories of times when I intentionally broke the social exchange script by being shockingly honest to a total stranger by describing exactly how crappy or ecstatic my day was, with a supporting detail or two.  This was too new, though, and I had no words for it yet.  Time kept passing.  I don't know how I looked to her, wrapped inside my own head of raw emotion but with my gaze transfixed on her.  Eventually I quietly said "I'm doing alright", and the world began to move again, social custom fulfilled.

I feel sorry for all those closer to the situation.  

David Deida's gender archetypes

A friend of mine posted a link to a series of Youtube videos containing a "Spirit Sex Love" workshop by David Deida. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IZrkMZyEWY (part 1 of 12)

It's interesting stuff, though I have mixed feelings about it.

He brings in a good bit of religion, but I find I can get past that by replacing "open to God" with "open to the Universe".

Where I have more issue is that he is very much pushing a one-size-fits-all application of gender roles. I will say that his masculine and feminine archetypes are very useful concepts, and it seems that a lot of the people in the audience weren't in touch with their primary masculine/feminine sides. I certainly could have gained a lot from seeing this when I was 16.

However, I think the polar extremes of gender roles should be viewed more as archetypes, raw materials for exploring different aspects of identity. As roles they are more useful in the bedroom and less useful in overall relationship dynamics. In my experience I find women more interesting if they have some of the masculine archetype (ambition, focused consciousness, drive) mixed in with primarily feminine traits. Women without a focused passion of their own are simply not as interesting. However, for me women do also need to have enough of the feminine archetype mixed in (especially visually) or I find myself less attracted to them.

To be fair, he does bring up that fact that most people do have a mix of archetypical masculine traits and archetypical feminine traits, but his solution to everyone's problem is that they're not sufficiently in touch with their primary side.  He also goes so far as to almost explicitly state that the man's goals need to be the sole driving force of the relationship, which I don't agree with.  This may work for a lot of people, but it's not my style.  I like a little more well-roundedness from both parties in the relationship.

Separately, his techniques for exposing people are effective, but are performed with such ruthless efficiency that they're a little reminiscent of a cult leader.  

Don't let any of this stop you from watching the videos though -- they are quite interesting.  


In the end, I think of it as to some degree a false dichotomy, like some of the Myers-Briggs categories. You can be both an introvert and an extrovert, or good at both sensing and intuiting.  I want to be able to fully channel masculine energy, but also be able to provide feminine energy as well.  There's nothing wrong with being goal-seeking *and* radiant.  

I know some of you are big fans of Deida, and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this.  

How to get yourself to actually meditate: Do it while walking, driving, snowboarding...

At this point there are volumes of studies showing the beneficial effects of meditation in terms of reducing various causes of malaise and mortality.  However, I still have not been able to get myself to do even a minimal amount of meditation, like 8 minutes per day.  Generally I get around 30 seconds in before the brain starts spinning up and having lots of thoughts.  I'm fairly hosed after a minute or so. 

I've heard many definitions of meditation, but they all tend to involve a few things:

- Gently suppressing analytical/abstract thought loops
- Being "present"
- Being aware of your surroundings
- Being aware of your own body
- Being aware of your emotions
- Being nonjudgemental about thoughts as they do come up

They also tend to (traditionally) be done seated, with eyes closed.

However, there are numerous ways of satisfying the above list without sitting still.  Over the last week I've found that I can extend the 30 seconds of full presence to around 4-5 minutes by doing a meditation exercise while walking or driving.  During these moving meditations, I encourage myself to be as aware of my environment as possible, and work to suppress abstract thought.  The same patterns do emerge over time -- my direct experience starts feeling less interesting and my mind starts allocating time to other things.  However, my enjoyment of a few minutes of success is likely to leave me feeling less frustrated.  As a result, I've been able to stick with a meditation routine every day this week. 

I'm starting to wonder how far this can be taken.  Snowboarding satisfies all of the above criteria -- I'm definitely present when I'm barreling down the mountain, and I'm not having abstract thoughts about what happened three years ago or what I need to get done in the next week.  One of the most fully present days of my life was the day I rented a motorcycle in Vietnam and went from no skill at all to freeway, urban, mountain curves, mud, and nighttime driving in one day.  (I did get some guidance from an Israeli dude on post-army-service holiday)  That day, statistically speaking, probably took a couple of weeks off my life, and seeking out dangerous experiences is not the most efficient or prudent way of engaging in a meditative state.  However, my mind knew what to do in this situation -- it prioritized the task at hand over everything else. 

Ideally I'd like to be able to do that any time I need to.  I do like exposing my mind to fresh experiences because it creates a childlike sense of wonder and engagement at a new and surprising world and likely stimulates mental growth and plasticity, but I would also like to become good at extracting more novelty and applying more focus in familiar experiences. 

I'm very quick to lose focus on tasks not requiring full mental attention.  My mind recognizes that the task/environment is known and starts ignoring it or allocating it the minimal necessary attention.  This happens astonishingly fast -- one reason I chose to sublet an apartment that was full of the landlord's crap is because I knew I'd stop noticing it after a few days.  However, there are also lots of tasks that part of my brain doesn't *think* need attention but are actually important, and that's part of the problem.  I become easily distractable because other stimuli are more immediately mentally engaging.  In addition, when fully mentally engaged in something, I find it difficult to let go, even if it's time to go to sleep.  

I feel that starting with something active but familiar, like walking or driving, and gradually trying to increase my present-ness is a good strategy.  It relieves stress and gives me practice at letting go of undesired thoughts or emotions in a real-world situation. 

Ironically, the distracting thoughts that come up when I'm trying to do one of my walking or driving meditations are often worth following up on. 
It also brings up the question on whether meditating at some of these times is worthwhile.  Am I better off listening to an interesting podcast while washing dishes as opposed to mindfully enjoying the process of cleaning each dish?  Am I better off pursuing the leads of new thoughts that occur to me on walks instead of suppressing them?  Part of the appeal of going on a walk is that it often gets my mind out of a rut; if I'm trying to solve a particular problem, doing something else for a while will un-stick me from my rut, and the right moment of inspiration will come during this unrelated activity.  Going forward, I'm planning on pausing the meditation if a particularly useful thought comes along.  I can always write it down and return to it later.  However, restoring calm should take priority over cramming information in my head -- I spend plenty of time driving; if I'm preoccupied I should spend the time cleaning up the preoccupation with meditation as opposed to trying to distract myself with something interesting. 

Over the last week or so, I've been rewarded by discovering things in familiar environments I had never noticed.  Among the things I've seen:
- The Bay Bridge eastbound tunnel through Treasure Island has subway-style emergency nooks every 20ft or so.  The westbound lane through the tunnel does not.  I'm guessing this is because, back in the 1930s-1950s, the lower deck of the bay bridge carried rail traffic both directions, while the upper deck carried car traffic both directions.
- There's a hidden keyhole in a fence that I've probably walked by 100 times -- it's positioned in the middle of a knot, and it's stained brown to match the wood. 
- I don't know what rules there are about how frequently retro-reflectors should be placed on the vertical side railing posts of elevated highways, but the people who built downtown SF's elevated freeways are ignoring them around intersection areas.  Or they're encoding interesting binary messages with them.
- There's lots of other stuff too, but I didn't want to bore you with a laundry list.  Generally speaking, these exercises have made me directly aware of just what a small fraction of our stimuli we actually process.  I already cognitively knew this, but feeling it on a regular basis is interesting. 


hypatia156  pointed out to me that meditation was developed during a time when people were typically on their feet for most of the day, constantly on the move.  In the modern world, we spend most of our time sitting -- sitting in front of screens of various sorts, sitting in cars, sitting in meetings, sitting at meals.  Perhaps movement should be our means of putting things right in our inner world. 


On Radical Honesty

papertygre  recently sent me this article about radical honesty, which I've heard discussed informally but never really read about.

Here are my thoughts:

I think any pop psych / personal growth movement has to go to the extreme to get noticed. "Thoughtfully tempered but clear honesty" doesn't sell as many books.  As a result, the advice given by these movements usually should be moderated or more thoughtfully applied.

It's clear elements of radical honesty can be very helpful, but you have to figure out how, when, and with whom to use them.   For example, if I'm feeling annoyed, tired, or despondent, someone delivering criticism to me via radical honesty will antagonize me and not get their point across. On the other hand, if I'm in a thoughtful mood, I'll likely be much more receptive.   At some level, it's clear Blanton enjoys pissing people off for the sake of pissing people off, and I think anyone being driven by that motivation is going to sometimes use radical honesty incorrectly. However, if radical honesty is delivered compassionately to people we care about, it could cut through a lot of crap and potentially enrich the relationship.

How our minds estimate the scale of scenes

It's amazing how much our vision can be fooled by lack of adequate contextual cues when looking at an image.

This really looks like a bunch of toy cars and airplanes that some kids accidentally left on a beach.

Toy cars and airplanes left on a beach

Because our minds aren't used to seeing scenes like this at full scale, there's a prior probability on the scale the leads us to think that we're looking at a bunch of toy cars.  I'm trying hard to intuitively see it as full scale, but it's just not happening. 

Awareness exercises


Sometimes when I pass old people on the street I try to imagine them in their mid-20s, wearing era-appropriate clothing and flirting with someone.


Notice all the blue objects you see.  Now notice all the green objects you see.  Continue through the rainbow.  You'll notice many things you never noticed before.  Now try the same trick with happy things, sad things etc.


Try to distinguish every specific touch sensation you're feeling right now.  I can usually get over 50. 

When you're too lazy to text your sweetie

There's been a trend for several years now to lower the minimum effort required for social interaction.  Emailing is easier than letter-writing, blogging is easier than emailing, tweeting and texting are easier than blogging.  I predicted a couple of years back that soon services would come along and automate the horrible burden of tweeting mundane details of your life.

Now there's a new service that provides scripted sexy text messaging.  This way, you don't have to actually think about what you find attractive about your partner; you just choose between message "a" and "b".  Any button-pushing monkey can do that.  The dialogue system reminds me of early 1990s adventure games.  Of course the reason those dialogues were limited is because you were dealing with a primitive NPC (non-player-character) with no artificial intelligence.  In this case, you're dealing with two humans who (presumably) love each other, or at least want to get in each other's pants.

I doubt this is the decline of Western civilization; after all, Hallmark pre-packaged sentiment cards have been around for a while.  But I think if I found myself unable to carry on an actual conversation about my sexual desires with a partner, it would be time to move on, not use a handy crutch.  

On snowboarding: Preventative measures work better if you buy them before you need them

On the ski lift today:

Me:  The fall wasn't bad. I had knee pads.
Woman: You have knee pads?
Me: Yeah.  I also have a tailbone pad and body armor -- that's wrist, elbow, shoulder, back, and chest pads -- and a helmet.
Woman: Wow... you must have been in a terrible accident.
Me:  (laughs)  No.  I want to avoid being in a terrible accident.  That's why I bought all that stuff.  
Woman:  Oh.  That makes sense.


People don't get it.  You can do more cool things in your life if you lower the cost of failure.  I was able to learn to snowboard faster because I was less afraid to fall and because the falls I did take bruised me up less, allowing me to spend more time on the slopes and less time sitting around feeling achey.  

This is one of those useful general purpose life lessons.  "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is true, but many kids are likely to ignore it because it sounds burdensome.  However, if it's reframed as "You can do more fun things if you also take care of these precautions", it's more positive and gets the point across better.  


Be honest. It's easier.

Apparently Facebook messages are a major factor in divorces now.  This isn't surprising.  If you tell your spouse you'll be in Place A doing Thing A, but you end up going to Place B and doing Thing B, it's getting easier for them to find out.  Even if you turn off Google Latitude and other location-based services and don't post about your actions, you still might run into someone else who will photograph you, put it online, and tag you.

This goes for non-relationship things as well.  If you email someone that you're too tired to go to their party, but you really aren't going because you heard about another party that you want to hit up, they're more likely to find out now.  You could tell *everyone* at the party not to post online that you went, but that's a lot of work, it requires their cooperation, and it makes you look bad.  

I imagine that relatively soon there will be "stalker" software that will track a person's appearances, actions, and movements across multiple social networks and location-based services, allowing you to synthesize all online information about them available to you into a coherent story of their actions.  However, it won't be called "StalkPro"... it will be something more like "FriendFinderPro" and will be marketed as a way of seeing what cool stuff a specific friend is up to and what you could join in on.  It will be the newest, most efficient way to catch up on what the people you care about are up to.  Everyone will love it.  

Opting out of the digital world entirely is not an option, since others will post about you.  So ultimately, the only two options are to live honestly or quickly acquire a reputation for being dishonest.  Your choice.