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Ureshiku Naritai

113 Post author: Alicorn 08 April 2010 08:08PM

This is a supplement to the luminosity sequence.  In this comment, I mentioned that I have raised my happiness set point (among other things), and this declaration was met with some interest.  Some of the details are lost to memory, but below, I reconstruct for your analysis what I can of the process.  It contains lots of gooey self-disclosure; skip if that's not your thing.

In summary: I decided that I had to and wanted to become happier; I re-labeled my moods and approached their management accordingly; and I consistently treated my mood maintenance and its support behaviors (including discovering new techniques) as immensely important.  The steps in more detail:

1.  I came to understand the necessity of becoming happier.  Being unhappy was not just unpleasant.  It was dangerous: I had a history of suicidal ideation.  This hadn't resulted in actual attempts at killing myself, largely because I attached hopes for improvement to concrete external milestones (various academic progressions) and therefore imagined myself a magical healing when I got the next diploma (the next one, the next one.)  Once I noticed I was doing that, it was unsustainable.  If I wanted to live, I had to find a safe emotional place on which to stand.  It had to be my top priority.  This required several sub-projects:

  • I had to eliminate the baggage that told me it was appropriate or accurate to feel bad most of the time.  I endorse my ability to react emotionally to my environment; but this should be acute, not chronic.  Reacting emotionally is about feeling worse when things get worse, not feeling bad when things are bad for months or years on end.  (Especially not when feeling bad reduces the ability to make things less bad.)  Further, having a lower set point did not affect my emotional range except to shrink it; it reduced the possible impact of real grief, and wasn't compatible with the "react emotionally" plan.  The low set point also compromised my ability to react emotionally to positive input, because it was attached to a systematic discounting of such positivity.
  • I had to eliminate the baggage that told me it was not possible to cognitively change my mood.  Moods correspond to thoughts, and while it can be hard to avoid thinking about things, I can decide to think about whatever I want.  A decade of assorted antidepressants had wreaked no discernible change on my affect, which constituted strong evidence that chemicals were not my problem.  And it was easy to see that my mood varied on a small scale with things under my complete or partial control, like sleep, diet, and activity.  It did not seem outrageous that long-term, large-scale interventions could have similar effects on my overall mood.
  • I had to decide, and act on the decision, that my happiness was important and worth my time and attention.  I had to pay attention, and note what helped and what hurt.  I had to put increasing the helping factors and decreasing the hurting factors at the top of my list whenever it was remotely feasible, and relax my standards around "remote feasibility" to prevent self-sabotage.  And I had to commit to abandoning counterproductive projects or interactions, at least until I'd developed the stability to deal with the emotions they generated without suffering permanent setbacks.

2.  I re-labeled my moods, so that identifying them in the moment prompted the right actions.  When a given point on the unhappy-happy spectrum - let's call it "2" on a scale of 1 to 10 - was labeled "normal" or "set point", then when I was feeling "2", I didn't assume that meant anything; that was the default state.  That left me feeling "2" a lot of the time, and when things went wrong, I dipped lower, and I waited for things outside of myself to go right before I went higher.  The problem was that "2" was not a good place to be spending most of my time.

  • I had to label the old set-point as subnormal, a problem state that generated a need for immediate action from me to fix it.  It was like telling myself that, unbeknownst to me, my left foot was in constant pain and needed medicine at once: kind of hard to swallow, given that my left foot always felt pretty much the same unless I'd just stubbed a toe or received a massage.  But eventually, I attached urgency to the old set point.  It was not just how things were normally; it was a sign that something was wrong.
  • I had to make sure that I had many accessible, cheap excuses to cheer up, so I didn't ever fall into the trap of "just this once" leaving myself at a "2" state instead of acting.  I designated a favorite pair of socks and wore them whenever I woke up on the wrong side of the bed; I took up the habit of saving every picture of a cute animal I found on the Internet so I could leaf through the collection whenever I wanted; I threw myself into developing the skill of making friends on purpose so I'd have lots and if I happened to log onto my IM client, someone would be there who would talk to me; I became very acquisitive of inexpensive goods like music and interesting websites.  When one of these interventions failed to work, I forced myself to try something else, rather than falling into the self-talk disaster of "well, that didn't help; I guess something must really be wrong and I should feel like this until it goes away by itself."  I also harnessed my tendency to feel better after a night's sleep - if I felt suboptimal close to bedtime, I'd turn in early and reasonably expect to wake up improved.
  • I stopped tolerating the minor injuries to my affect that I identified as most consistent and, therefore, most likely to contribute to my poor set point.  For instance, I noticed that I always slept better when I didn't go to bed expecting to awaken to the sound of an alarm, so I aggressively rearranged my schedule to give me morning leeway, and found alarm software that would wake me more gently when an early start was absolutely necessary.  I identified people with whom interaction was frustrating and draining, and I limited interaction with them both by reducing opportunities to start, and by dropping my standards for abandoning the exchange midway through so I could leave before things got very bad.  I practiced, in general, "writing things off" and rehearsed internal monologues about how I no longer needed to worry about [thing X].  ("I cannot control the speed of the bus.  I caught it, and it will get there when it gets there.  There is no point in further fretting about being late until I'm moving under my own power again - so I'll stop.  To manage my strong, intrusive desire to be on time, I will start thinking about how to choose an efficient path to walk once I get off the bus.")
  • I labeled my new desired set point - a safe spot on the spectrum, call it "5", which was ambitious yet felt attainable - as "normal".  When asked how I was in this state, I consciously chose to say that I was "fine" or "okay" instead of something more enthusiastic, like "great", that I might have said before - the energy I felt at "5" was no longer to be considered extra.  Similarly, these were not suitable occasions to do displeasing things.  I didn't have happiness to burn at "5" - I waited until I was even better before I relaxed my emotional avarice.  Instead, "5" was a good place from which to undertake more expensive entertainments that offered net improvement.  (More difficult than choosing a specific pair of socks to wear is starting a D&D game, or walking around and exploring a new location, or working on a piece of artwork or fiction; the lag time and effort makes them poor "cheer up" activities, but excellent ways to get from "5" to "6" or "7".)
  • I made a point of noting non-sadness deficiencies in my status like boredom, hunger, tiredness, or annoyance.  These weren't directly related to the set point I was trying to affect, but they could exacerbate a bad influence or limit the power of a good one.  Additionally, at the level of luminosity I then had to work with, they could also mask moods that were actually sadness, in much the same way that sometimes one can feel hungry when in fact just thirsty.

3.  I treated my own mood as manageableThinking of it as a thing that attacked me with no rhyme or reason - treating a bout of depression like a cold - didn't just cost me the opportunity to fight it, but also made the entire situation seem more out-of-control and hopeless.  I was wary of learned helplessness; I decided that it would be best to interpret my historically static set point as an indication that I hadn't hit on the right techniques yet, not as an indication that it was inviolable and everlasting.  Additionally, the fact that I didn't know how to fix it yet meant that if it was going to be my top priority, I had to treat the value of information as very high; it was worth experimenting, and I didn't have to wait for surety before I gave something a shot.

  • Even if I determined that my mood reacted to my environment in some way, that only removed my power over it one step: I could control my environment to a considerable degree, and with a strong enough reason to do so, I committed to enacting that power.  (This sometimes has had unexpected and dramatic consequences.  For example, once I determined that grad school was no longer compatible with my happiness, I dropped out as soon as I had something promising to switch to - mid semester - and moved across the country.  To excellent effect, I might add.)
  • Even if I have a lot on my plate, being happier will help me do it.  It's like sleep: it's easy to keep staying up and staying up, because sleep just seems so unproductive, and you can get some work done however tired you are.  But over the long term, getting to sleep at a sane hour every day will let you accomplish more; and so with maintaining a good affect consistently.  Mood maintenance is typically not the most immediately productive thing I could be doing, but treating it as my top priority save in dire emergency has let me be more effective than I was before.
  • I had to be willing to expend resources on my project.  This involved working around some neuroses, like my unwillingness to spend money, and overcoming some background reluctance to try new things.  Also, I had to allow myself to be somewhat subject to my whims.  I still don't know what makes the mood to, say, do artwork strike me, but when it strikes, I have to do art or lose the inclination.  Efficacious inclinations to do fun things are precious to me, and so whenever possible, I don't restrain them - even though this costs time and occludes other activities.

Comments (145)

Comment author: Morendil 09 April 2010 06:40:33AM 23 points [-]

A friend of mine once sent me the following in an email conversation, when she mentioned how happiness was for her a matter of deliberate choice and I'd asked something like "How do you do that?"

It's relatively easy, once you know the trick. The trick is to remember how you feel when you feel really good. Consciously see what you see when you feel good, hear what you hear, notice the body sensation. Then, to start, imagine each one of them. When you feel good, rev it up by making it bigger and brighter and louder and more intense. Send the feeling through your whole body, then let it leave (it will want to leave from a specific place, just like the feeling will want to start in a particular space... as the feeling leaves (say through your toes) circle it around and let it come in again where it started.

The specific sensations I found to attach to that advice were those I associated with walking slowly in fresh air with bright sun warming my eyelids, face, shoulder and back, just basking in that spring sun, doing what I call my plant impression...

I'm not really conversant with NLP but that's where she said she got this from, and I do credit that single paragraph with significant contributions to improving my mood over the seven years since that conversation. (Even though, rereading it just now, I realize I rarely do much more than just recalling that happy feeling; the circling stuff around I've usually skipped.)

Comment author: MattPrather 13 April 2010 07:52:46PM *  8 points [-]

I am new to the site in the sense that last week I didn't know the names of anyone who posts here, but I have been putting in the time to try to "catch up" on the issues that current posters and commenters think important.

As the top-scoring post is currently about the limitations of generalizing from one's own mind, I thought Alicorn was quite savvy to admit she was predicating her post upon lots of gooey self-exposure, and that admission primed me to read the rest of the post must less skeptically.

Even as posters may most often strive to say things that are true beyond the doubt of bias, I found this post very illuminating in its own right, because it is an account of a person fighting and gaining ground in her battle to live fruitfully as a mind which strives to be rational yet is fundamentally not so.

Now, to go get acquainted with the rest of living luminously.

Edit: Pronouns changed!

Comment author: arundelo 13 April 2010 07:59:11PM 7 points [-]
Comment author: Matt_Simpson 08 April 2010 09:31:29PM *  8 points [-]

I did something similar, though less conscious and systematic, to combat what would probably be referred to as social anxiety. I just couldn't interact with people. At least people who weren't my close family. So at some point I started telling myself that it wasn't ok to always feel awkward in social situations and I decided to fight the feelings I had - which resulted in some self administered exposure therapy. And it worked pretty well.

When I suggest that someone try something like this and cite my own experience, they usually scoff and say something like, "You were just lucky to be able to control your emotions. I certainly can't control mine. Do you think I choose to feel like this all the time?" It seems they never tried to fight their feelings.

Comment author: Alicorn 08 April 2010 09:48:00PM *  17 points [-]

I think it's easy for people to conflate "I did not consciously cause myself to have this emotion" with "I cannot consciously cause myself to not have this emotion".

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 09 April 2010 04:33:41AM 8 points [-]

That's probably right. I think most people also think it will be easy - like they just have to think it, and it will happen. So when they think to themselves, "I don't want to feel depressed anymore" or something similar, and nothing happens, they conclude that it must not be under their control.

Of course, it is a rather long, arduous process to change your mental habits (depending on the degree of change).

Comment author: Alicorn 09 April 2010 05:35:40AM 10 points [-]

Right. And it's not transparent how arduous any given hack will be until you have lots of general mind hack practice. I can now pretty well estimate how long and unpleasant any given change will be and make a cost-benefit evaluation, but in the beginning I had to decide that becoming happier was my top priority and was therefore worth as long as it took, and as much effort as it called for, however long and effortful that was.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 December 2010 01:48:02AM 3 points [-]

Yes, exactly.

Another way this can work is for the external situation to get bad enough that changing one's habits, however unpleasant, still feels like an improvement over the status quo. I'm told recovering addicts call this "hitting bottom."

In my own case, this happened a couple of years ago when I suffered a stroke... the status quo was no longer remotely tolerable; I had to change my habits (both mental and physical... they aren't cleanly separable).

The end result was a much better baseline mood than I had before the stroke, which still seems an implausible win.

Still, on balance, I suspect that your approach was way better. :-)

Comment author: homunq 27 April 2012 12:30:45PM 1 point [-]

I like this way of talking about "hitting bottom"... as if it's just reality doing the priority-setting work for you, but if you were a little smarter, you would have done it for yourself. I have found that thinking of "hitting bottom" as a prerequisite to getting better is SPECTACULARLY counterproductive; but until you said that, I didn't have a compact alternative (besides just not thinking that way, which works about as well as not thinking of bears).

Comment author: Torben 10 April 2010 08:41:09AM 2 points [-]

I think it's easy for people to conflate "I did not consciously cause myself to have this emotion" with "I cannot consciously cause myself to not have this emotion".

I have little trouble with happiness, but some with sudden anger bouts. Trouble is, when I'm in one, I kinda like it and don't really want to get out of it.

Thanks to your series I'll try to consciously attack it next time.

Comment author: ChrisHibbert 11 April 2010 05:44:08PM 0 points [-]

Was it Yoda who said "There is no try, there is only do"? The point is Alicorn's point about making it a top priority. You may have meant to be this positive, but you didn't sound this positive.

Comment author: passive_fist 15 January 2013 07:26:11AM *  3 points [-]

Having social anxiety myself, I have come throughout the years to somewhat being able to manage it. However, I have realized that I haven't eliminated it or even made it weaker - it's always there and it's exactly as strong as before, I'm just consciously trying to suppress it.

Does this correlate with your experience? Or did you actually manage to make the Fear (you know what I mean) go away?

Also, about awkwardness, I'm gradually coming to realize that I am not innately awkward or stupid in social situations, it's just that the Fear clouds my judgement and preoccupies my thought processes so that when I am in the presence of someone unfamiliar I am significantly less intelligent than I would be otherwise. Imagine trying to be funny and witty while in the presence of a growling tiger or with a gun to your head, and you begin to see what I mean :)

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 15 January 2013 04:11:08PM 3 points [-]

Does this correlate with your experience? Or did you actually manage to make the Fear (you know what I mean) go away?

I've made the Fear, as you call it, go away. At least selectively. The Fear seems to be positive correlated with situations where I feel low status. E.g. at minicamp I had a bit of it once I realized just how frickin' smart everyone else was. Confidence, based on reality or imagined, seems to be the cure-all for me.

... it's just that the Fear clouds my judgement...

Alright Yoda ;)

Comment author: passive_fist 15 January 2013 06:25:17PM 0 points [-]

About 'clouding my judgement', I meant that I'm led into making irrational decisions just to make it go away.

I suppose I can see how having increased confidence can lead to being much better able to handle social situations.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 15 January 2013 09:56:36PM 2 points [-]

I know exactly what you mean about your judgment being clouded. Your brain is so busy worrying about how you'll be perceived that you can't concentrate on actually holding a conversation - there's just no computing power left over! But I was just making a joke about the particular turn of phrase you used. You basically quoted Yoda and this made me giggle.

It occurred to me one useful way to get rid of the Fear for some people (including me) is the "just fuck it" mentality. So named because often to induce the mentality I, and others I'm sure, tell myself "Fuck it! I don't care about what they think anyway. I'm just going to screw around." And suddenly, I'm goofing around in the conversation as if it's for my own amusement rather than worrying about what others think. This is a particularly useful strategy for interacting with females (in fact I've read PUAs talking about it often in the context of "fake it til you make it"), but it seems be useful in a wide range of situations. Your mileage may vary.

Comment author: Liron 09 April 2010 06:01:55AM 17 points [-]

Writing about your personal experience made the post more clear, meaningful and engaging.

Comment author: ed-pro 09 April 2010 06:34:03AM 6 points [-]

The article was very good.

A few points:

A book that helped me very much was Being Happy by Andrew Matthews. It was an easy read, and helped me to create synthetic happiness.

I still don't know how to cure the acute pain of loneliness, or the panic attacks regarding the meaning of life. I wish I knew the answer, and thinking there is no cure, and the remaining self-rationalization (It's genetic etc.), leads me back to the original negative loop thinking that I thought I solved in the first place.

Thanks for the post.

Comment author: TimFreeman 10 May 2011 08:31:52PM 1 point [-]

I still don't know how to cure ... panic attacks regarding the meaning of life

At one point, perhaps during grad school, I decided that meanings are chosen rather than discovered, which helped me to stop ruminating about the meaning of life.

I don't know if that helps.

Comment author: CronoDAS 16 April 2010 06:01:58PM 5 points [-]

For some reason, I tend to experience sleepiness and sadness as very similar feelings, to the point where I frequently have a sensation that I can't clearly identify as either one. Is this unusual, or does it match the experience of other people here?

Comment author: Swimmer963 10 May 2011 08:56:40PM 2 points [-]

Lack of sleep makes my mood extremely unstable, mainly in the downward direction. When sleep deprived, pretty much any negative stimulus will affect me many times more than if the same thing happened when I was well rested. When I'm tired, I feel "blah": fuzzy-brained, slow, and stupid. Is this the feeling that to you feels like sadness? (To me, sadness has a "clarity" that sleepiness doesn't, and feeling sad tends to make my thinking sharper, albeit negative). I need about 8 to 9 hours of sleep per night; 2 nights in a row of sub-7 hour sleep, and my moods become completely unpredictable.

Comment author: TimFreeman 10 May 2011 08:23:08PM *  1 point [-]

According to http://www.clinical-depression.co.uk/cycle-of-depression-diagram/, depression is a cycle of cause-and-effect, and one of the steps in the cycle is a sleep disorder. The list multiple places to break the cycle. I've had some luck with this -- Pennebaker's confession technique seems to get rid of rumination pretty well. (Specifically, sit and write about the issue daily for maybe 30 minutes per session, until it gets boring and you don't want to think about it any more. The eventual goal of the writing is to create a coherent narrative that explains both the facts and how you feel about them, but the essential part of the writing process is that you must keep writing; don't edit.)

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 16 April 2010 06:10:08PM *  1 point [-]

I have no memory of ever having a sensation that might be sadness, might be sleepiness, but cannot be identified as either one, Doug. One of the most salient differences between the two states for me is that (unless circumstances demand I stay awake) I enjoy being sleepy: for me to say to myself, "Oh, goodie, time for some sleep," would be an entirely typical response to my discovering I am sleepy. In contrast, when I am sad, I am almost certainly unable to think of anything to look forward to in the immediate future (not anything as nice as some sleep when I am sleepy at least), and if I were to discover something as nice as sleep to look forward to in the immediate future, then more likely than not my sadness would immediately lift.

Do you find it hard to get enough sleep to optimize your mental state?

Do you find it hard to get to sleep even when you know sleep will help?

Comment author: CronoDAS 16 April 2010 06:19:59PM *  3 points [-]

Perhaps more precisely, I seem to have three distinct but somewhat related mental states: normal sadness, normal my-brain-needs-sleep sleepiness, and this strange hybrid between the two that doesn't seem to have any specific cause and I can't get rid of by either trying to sleep or trying to cheer myself up.

And I almost never actually look forward to sleep - the only time I actually want to be asleep is when I've just woken up and am feeling this strange "fake sleepiness" in which I'm just lying in bed with my head in a fog, having no particular reason to get up but not actually sleeping either, conscious but not actually thinking about anything much. (It's kind of hard to describe these things.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 April 2010 06:32:52PM 1 point [-]

Is there any chance that sometimes you make yourself feel sleepy in order not to feel sadness?

Comment author: CronoDAS 16 April 2010 06:47:57PM 0 points [-]

I don't know.

I'm also taking a medication (Effexor) that seems to have some effect on my sleep; if I miss a pill, I have withdrawal symptoms related to sleepiness and sadness.

Comment author: thomblake 16 April 2010 06:06:27PM 1 point [-]

I'm pretty sure that doesn't match me. Can't imagine them feeling the same.

Comment author: Curiouskid 26 November 2011 12:57:53AM 0 points [-]

I have felt that way. Though the state dependent nature of memory is making it hard to recall details. But yeah, I can remember feeling tired/sad, logging on to surf the web, and getting sadder at how stupid the world is.

Comment author: alexflint 16 April 2010 10:21:35AM *  5 points [-]

Thank you for sharing this Alicorn, as usual a really encouraging analysis and description from you!

In my own experimentation, the knowledge that there are certain sure-fire mood-improving activities means that I can sometimes skip right over actually undertaking the activities. For example, being absolutely certain that my mood would be improved if I went walking for an hour is sometimes enough, without actually going walking, to lift my spirits. In fact, a long walk is the only sure-fire mood enhancer I've found, and it seems to be be important to have absolute certainty that it would work no matter how bad things seem in the present. Talking to friends and going for a short jog are also sometimes effective, but, at least for me, not always.

I think these fall into the "favourite pair of socks" category of short-term "emergency" mood enhancers.

Comment author: Swimmer963 10 May 2011 08:58:45PM 1 point [-]

In fact, a long walk is the only sure-fire mood enhancer I've found.

A nice hard swim does the same trick for me. Unfortunately, my ex-swim-team baggage means that if I go for a swim to feel better, and end up going slower than my usual speed, I feel like I've failed at something and my mood is worse, although physically I feel better.

Comment author: gwern 11 May 2011 02:02:27AM 5 points [-]

...if I go for a swim to feel better, and end up going slower than my usual speed, I feel like I've failed at something and my mood is worse, although physically I feel better.

I recently read through one of the Ericsson papers on expert performance (looking for sleep-related statistics for my melatonin article), and saw in http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel/EricssonDeliberatePracticePR93.pdf the following (emphasis added):

'In a longitudinal study of visual artists, Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi (1976) found that most artists were drawn to painting be- cause it allowed social isolation. However, aspiring painters have to promote social relations with art dealers, art critics, and buyers to gain notoriety, increase the demand for their art, and generate sufficient sales for full-time artistic activity. Failure to do so forced many of the best artists to take another job unrelated to painting. Once these artists could no longer commit sufficient time and energy to maintain and improve their performance they stopped painting completely because they could not accept performing at a lower level.'

Comment author: Swimmer963 11 May 2011 02:09:28AM 1 point [-]

Yup sounds like me, although I don't think I would be capable of giving up swimming entirely without becoming seriously depressed. (I'm somewhat addicted to exercise, and I have bad knees which make it difficult to run, and cycling just isn't the same full-body cardio workout.)

Comment author: Curiouskid 26 November 2011 12:59:55AM 0 points [-]

Ditto for running. I just tell myself that compared to others I'm still extremely fit and that it's completely irrational to expect myself to be able to run at the same speed if I'm running 30min a day compared to 2-3 hours.

Comment author: CronoDAS 16 April 2010 05:50:10PM 1 point [-]

Should we share our "sure-fire mood-improving activities" here?

Comment author: Curiouskid 26 November 2011 01:01:45AM 0 points [-]

Sleep and feeling like I'm making intellectual progress as opposed to spinning my wheels.

Comment author: benjamin 09 April 2010 11:16:55PM 5 points [-]

One problem I always seem to have is that I'm unable to evaluate what mood I'm in. The concept of a 1-10 scale of happiness is something I can't relate to. There are times when I recognize that I'm feeling better than usual, but it's always because I'm excited about a specific occurrence or new thing I've learned.

It seems to me that I'm always just... living. I don't feel any sign that there are these foreign constructs called 'emotions' that arbitrarily have their way with my consciousness. That's why when I've experienced with my own bouts of 'suicidal ideation', I've found it impossible to label them as 'depression', 'destructive', or anything other than just that: ideation. My thoughts are my thoughts. If something makes sense and sounds appealing, at what point does one blame 'emotions' for affecting his/her conclusions. I don't understand how these things work.

Comment author: zero_call 10 April 2010 01:10:59AM 2 points [-]

I can kind of identify with this and I think there's just a broad range of sensitivity when it comes to emotion. Some people have these "feelings" way more than others. There have been times when people have reacted incredibly strongly to certain things (crying, etc) when I have had basically no reaction whatsoever.

However, I can personally identify emotional constructs through many particular examples of experiences. If you're a younger individual, I suspect it takes a longer time to build up these examples.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 April 2010 06:44:20AM 5 points [-]

I think strength of emotional reactions and ability to distinguish between them are independent variables.

Comment author: Swimmer963 10 May 2011 09:11:11PM 0 points [-]

Agreed. Also I don't think the ability to control emotions is linked to their strength necessarily. Strength of emotions seems to be a innate facet of someone's personality, whereas control is improved by practice.

Comment author: Swimmer963 10 May 2011 09:09:41PM 1 point [-]

I think I'm the opposite of you. My emotions are easily triggered by just about anything, to the point that it's quite easy for me to recognize that they were triggered, and don't represent my beliefs/attitudes towards things. If I see a baby, I feel a strong rush of warm-fuzziness, but I can pinpoint easily that it's caused by the baby. A "foreign construct" that "arbitrarily has its way" with my consciousness is exactly what it feels like, although depending on the emotion, I may like or dislike feeling them. I think I'm also better at shutting down and ignoring my emotions than at least some people, especially when it comes to anger; if I'm paying attention, I can recognize that it's hijacking my brain into thinking things I don't want to think or doing things I don't want to do, and I can persuade myself not to be angry anymore. Sadness is probably the emotion I can control the least, just because it saps my motivations whereas anger almost strengthens them. I can occasionally mutate sadness into anger and then persuade myself not to be angry. Happiness I don't try to reduce, obviously.

Comment author: hesperidia 07 January 2012 10:22:43PM 0 points [-]

For the reference of people reading this thread in the future (most likely), there is a personality trait called alexithymia, which refers to the inability to classify one's own emotions. As the sibling comments point out, though, ability to distinguish and ability to feel emotions are probably orthogonal and the parent commenter just happened to get the short end of the stick.

Comment author: Shae 09 April 2010 05:48:00PM 5 points [-]

"I threw myself into developing the skill of making friends on purpose"

I'd be interested in a comment or post about how this is done. I've never been able to do this.

Comment author: Alicorn 09 April 2010 06:36:17PM *  37 points [-]

Some tidbits:

  • Be prompt, generous, and sincere in your compliments. Ideally, don't use plain adjectives - use descriptions. (Exceptions here are compliments on articles of clothing - "your boots are AWESOME!" is kosher.) It only feels silly from your end. If you are just trying to make friends, avoid anything that (given your and the potential friend's genders) would appear laced with sexual interest, unless you can pull it off with genuine innocence and then reliably follow up with genuine innocence instead of changing tacks midway.

  • Have a "standby" interaction prompt that you can pull out in lulls which isn't threatening, is generally well received, and provides a hook for further conversation. I usually offer people food. I'm sure there are others that would do - if you're trying to conduct an informal survey of something, for instance ("Hey, I'm trying to find out different ways people celebrate St. Patrick's Day, what do you do?), that would probably work too.

  • Learn to pick apart people's dialogue for followup questions - you can practice this on fictional dialogue; just take a good-sized sentence and write down five followup tangents. Example:

"I went out to Cape Cod last week with my friend Tess and we found some sea glass."

Followups:

"Ooh, do you go to Cape Cod a lot?"

"Neat, what else did you do there?"

"Wow! How long did you stay on the cape?"

"Cool - what are you going to do with the sea glass?"

"Hm, I don't think I know Tess - tell me about her?"

Note that these all prompt the potential friend to talk, rather than providing an excuse for you to do so (any of the above would be preferable to, for instance, "Hey, I went to Cape Cod once and had the most fantastic lobster...") Also note that each sentence started with a particle that shows interest. Eliminating these runs a significant risk of making it sound like you're just interrogating the person. And: it is quite important that you actually want to know the answer to the question you pick. If you can come up with lists of five but don't give a crap about how any of them would be answered, you're talking to supernaturally boring people, you're a misanthrope, or you're doing the exercise wrong.

  • Go ahead and be the first to suggest exchanging contact information. On the internet, this means e-mail or better, IM. In person this means a place to meet next, or possibly phone numbers or addresses (or e-mail or IM). It's scary to most everybody else, too, so don't expect them to do it. Leave a line of social retreat if they never want to hear from you again, avoid any requests for contact info customarily laced with sexual tension, but do make it clear that you think they're neat and you'd like to be their friend. You can even haul out the elementary school line "Wanna be friends?" - if it makes you feel more comfortable with it, go on a brief tangent about how "we lose so much when we leave elementary school and it's no longer socially acceptable to make friends by walking up to someone on the playground and asking if they want to be..." beat... "Wanna be my friend?".

  • Cultivate social spontaneity. This one is hard to define, so I'll give an example. I was waiting for a bus and a woman I'd never met before in an awesome homemade knitted cloak tottering along on crutches said she loved my jacket. (It was my florally embroidered denim thing, by far the loudest thing I own). I was trying to make friends, so instead of thanking her and looking away, I fired back with a compliment on her cloak and soon had her talking up a storm about knitting. When she was interested in what I did with my spare time, I didn't talk about school, even though that was most salient to me at the time - I talked about cooking, gambling that the domestic handicrafts have some overlap in their aficionados. I told her I planned to make pumpkin bread as soon as I had a can of pumpkin. Which it just so happened to turn out that she had in her cupboard, and she lived in my apartment complex. So I went home with her, accepted the can of pumpkin, went home and made bread, and brought one of the loaves over to her place, where I hung out for another couple of hours chatting about textiles, her Hassidic Judaism, and her multiple personalities. (I am no longer friends with her over differences of opinion on a political/ethical matter, but it's still a great making-friends story.) Social spontaneity is what let me go to a stranger's place for canned pumpkin and bring her a loaf of bread later.

Comment author: Morendil 09 April 2010 10:46:52PM 15 points [-]

You know what's interesting? A lot of the above is oddly reminiscent of some of the sounder pick-up advice.

My experience with mastering the processes of sales and networking convinced me, when I later came across PUA lore, that one thing that is not wrong with the PUA community is the aspiration to distill procedural knowledge that applies to the broad category of social interactions.

Comment author: wedrifid 12 April 2010 03:09:38PM 3 points [-]

You know what's interesting? A lot of the above is oddly reminiscent of some of the sounder pick-up advice.

(With a notable exception of the first paragraph, which can be approximately reversed.)

Comment author: wallowinmaya 02 July 2011 10:28:07PM 4 points [-]

Excellent comment!

If you can come up with lists of five but don't give a crap about how any of them would be answered, you're talking to supernaturally boring people, you're a misanthrope, or you're doing the exercise wrong.

Wow, this sounds really familiar to me, which probably implies that I'm a misanthrope. Do you have any remedies? To me, most people just seem to be pretty boring and I want to change that ( don't like to be a cynical asshole), but every time I start a conversation with a random student from my university I start to feel even more lonely than before. They either just don't understand what I'm talking about, or are not interested or whatever...sigh.

I believe to have pretty decent social skills ( trained them in high school) but now most of my conservations are still depressing.

Sorry, I've prattled away.

Comment author: Alicorn 02 July 2011 10:53:31PM 7 points [-]

They either just don't understand what I'm talking about, or are not interested or whatever...sigh.

Implies you're picking topics. Get them to pick a topic, and they'll be interested and they'll understand what is being talked about. If they pick a boring topic, go a little meta and do a perspective-taking exercise: what might it be like to be interested in this? What about it would fascinate you? If you were writing about a fictional character with this interest, what would you write? Or, interpret the topic through a lens/via an analogy that makes it more relevant to you (but don't change the subject to the one you had in mind when you do this; that's not the point).

Also, seek out people who share interests/intellectual levels with you in the first place. Random people can be cool, but you seem to have poor luck with them, and filtration is worthwhile.

Comment author: wallowinmaya 03 July 2011 02:40:08PM 2 points [-]

Thank you for your advice!

If they pick a boring topic, go a little meta and do a perspective-taking exercise: what might it be like to be interested in this? What about it would fascinate you?

Wow, this seems kinda hard. I think I know what you mean, but topics like soccer( or sports in general), celebrities or TV-shows ( with some exceptions ) seem to be "immune" to this exercise;)

seek out people who share interests/intellectual levels with you in the first place

I think this is the main problem. There are not many people out there in the real world who share my interests. Probably it's more efficient to start socializing on sites like LessWrong, although it feels somehow weird.

Comment author: Alicorn 03 July 2011 04:49:41PM 7 points [-]

If they pick a boring topic, go a little meta and do a perspective-taking exercise: what might it be like to be interested in this? What about it would fascinate you?

Wow, this seems kinda hard. I think I know what you mean, but topics like soccer( or sports in general), celebrities or TV-shows ( with some exceptions ) seem to be "immune" to this exercise;)

Is the person interested in sports as a substitute for war? As a presentation of the capacities of the human body? As a tribal bonding activity with eir friends? Does the person like celebrities because ey can gossip about them with impunity? Because there is more information about them than there would ever reasonably be about other people ey didn't know? Because ey respects or admires their talents at whatever they are celebrities for? Does the person like TV because of the storylines? Because of the visual effects? Because of the illusion that they are present with those celebrities that they find so interesting?

(I don't recommend asking these questions directly, but keep these curiosities in mind and ask questions that get at them obliquely: "How long have you supported Team X?" "Do you think it's more fun to hear about actors, or people who are just plain famous?" "What's your favorite thing about the show?")

I don't think any topics that humans are genuinely interested in are immune to the exercise. If you're immune to the exercise, by all means get your daily dose of socialization from places like here.

Comment author: wallowinmaya 03 July 2011 09:32:56PM 2 points [-]

Is the person interested in sports as a substitute for war? As a presentation of the capacities of the human body? As a tribal bonding activity with eir friends? Does the person like celebrities because ey can gossip about them with impunity? Because there is more information about them than there would ever reasonably be about other people ey didn't know? Because ey respects or admires their talents at whatever they are celebrities for? Does the person like TV because of the storylines? Because of the visual effects? Because of the illusion that they are present with those celebrities that they find so interesting?

But, I don't care! I will try my luck on Lesswrong, I guess;)

Comment author: Shae 12 April 2010 01:50:30PM 3 points [-]

Thanks for this. It looks like very useful advice.

Comment author: Swimmer963 10 May 2011 09:17:49PM 2 points [-]

My favourite spontaneous-friendship story: I was walking through the university centre and heard a voice singing a song that I had sung before with church choir. I tracked down the source to a girl waiting in line for the ATM, and told her enthusiastically that I really liked the song she was singing. (It wasn't faked enthusiasm. Music is one of my biggest interests right now). We ended up talking for 45 minutes about music and religion, exchanging emails, and seeing each other a fair bit over the next year.

Comment author: CronoDAS 09 April 2010 09:22:23PM 4 points [-]

Cultivate social spontaneity. This one is hard to define, so I'll give an example. I was waiting for a bus and a woman I'd never met before in an awesome homemade knitted cloak tottering along on crutches said she loved my jacket.

WARNING. If you're male and you attempt to talk to a woman on public transportation, you may very well end up making her extremely uncomfortable. This xkcd comic triggered a major backlash.

Comment author: Alicorn 09 April 2010 09:31:07PM 14 points [-]

If you do not have practice using social spontaneity to good effect it is ideal to try it in situations where the other party may both physically and socially escape, just as a general rule. On public transportation is not a physically escapable place to be.

Comment author: thomblake 13 April 2010 04:40:36PM *  13 points [-]

Yes, what I used to do was yell greetings at random people on campus. Sometimes questionable propositions. Plenty of room for escape, especially when I'm sitting and they're walking. I met several good friends that way.

ETA: "questionable propositions" here being things like "P=NP" or "multiple realizability is true"

Comment author: Curiouskid 26 November 2011 03:15:03AM 1 point [-]

Which questionable propositions? Some strange things come to mind.

Comment author: MBlume 09 April 2010 11:37:25PM 5 points [-]

Wait, seriously? Back when I was single I used to chat up girls on trains every chance I got. Never went anywhere, but never saw any signs of discomfort either.

Comment author: Alicorn 09 April 2010 11:40:05PM 6 points [-]

I'm... extremely biased... but I can't imagine getting the icky vibes from you that cause discomfort, even in a non-escapable space. You simply don't come off as remotely scary.

Comment author: steven0461 09 April 2010 11:56:35PM 16 points [-]

It's true. MBlume is the sort of person who could run up to someone while wearing a Nazi uniform, covered in blood, with swords in both hands, shouting about an imminent nuclear blast, all without coming off as threatening.

Comment author: ata 10 April 2010 12:29:37AM 24 points [-]

MBlume is the sort of person who could run up to someone while wearing a Nazi uniform, covered in blood, with swords in both hands, shouting about an imminent nuclear blast, all without coming off as threatening.

It's true. I've seen him do it.

Comment author: Airedale 10 April 2010 12:06:14AM *  14 points [-]

I'm... extremely biased... but I can definitely imagine getting the icky vibes from you, Steven, that cause discomfort, especially in a non-escapable space. You simply come across as really creepy.

[Full disclosure: I am married to Steven.]

Comment author: CronoDAS 09 April 2010 11:52:51PM 4 points [-]

I have a horrible tendency to come across as a creepy stalker. :(

Comment author: Alicorn 10 April 2010 12:01:13AM 2 points [-]

If I saw video of you I might be able to offer tips, but I can't promise they'll help.

Comment author: CronoDAS 10 April 2010 12:48:21AM 2 points [-]

Fortunately, this is one problem that I've had that I've almost completely managed to solve. (And in at least one case, outside observers agreed that it wasn't my fault.)

Comment author: oliverbeatson 10 April 2010 03:05:24AM 4 points [-]

Did it involve facial hair? Often does.

Comment author: CronoDAS 10 April 2010 07:12:52AM 1 point [-]

Did it involve facial hair? Often does.

I don't understand this post at all.

Comment author: Airedale 10 April 2010 02:07:52PM *  6 points [-]

I would guess that oliverbeatson is suggesting that other things being equal, a man with facial hair (at least of a certain type) will come across as more of a creepy stalker than one without. I have picked this idea up from friends as well.

If the facial hair idea is true, it makes MBlume's non-threatingness (discussed elsewhere in the thread) all the more noteworthy given his facial hair handicap. Although maybe if MBlume combined the Nazi uniform with facial hair in the form of a Hitler mustache, he would appear threatening.

Comment author: Blueberry 17 April 2010 09:05:35AM 4 points [-]

As I understand it, the "major backlash" was only from a few radical feminist sites, often coming from people who had their own issues such as PTSD, and is emphatically not representative of the way most people see the world. I'd advise someone dealing with social anxiety to practice talking to people in all sorts of situations and specifically not worry whether or not you make people uncomfortable.

A lot of social anxiety is just worrying that you might make someone uncomfortable, so I think this warning is actually harmful and counterproductive. The last thing someone struggling with talking to people needs is something else to worry about. In fact, one possible technique is to try to make people uncomfortable, just so you realize it's not a big deal, and don't build it up in your head as horrible.

Comment author: SilasBarta 09 April 2010 09:41:19PM *  2 points [-]

The way you avoid negative outcomes or ill will in such situations is to only approach people who will appreciate being approached by you.

And how do you determine that? Um, implementation issue. Yeah.

Comment author: magfrump 09 April 2010 07:26:53PM 3 points [-]

The specific examples here were very interesting and helpful to me.

Comment author: David_J_Balan 26 April 2010 06:27:05PM *  0 points [-]

A Hassidic Jew was willing to eat pumpkin bread baked in your kitchen?

Comment author: Alicorn 26 April 2010 06:31:48PM 1 point [-]

Yes. She didn't keep her own kitchen altogether kosher anyway; her roommate wasn't Jewish at all and didn't make any particular effort to pretend to be when selecting meals.

Comment author: CronoDAS 09 April 2010 09:15:14PM 3 points [-]

I'd be interested in a comment or post about how this is done. I've never been able to do this.

Read this site. It says everything much better than I could.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 08 April 2010 09:08:13PM 5 points [-]

This is more interesting and inspiring than your latest few admonitions to introspect and coach myself, which seemed either too obvious or too abstract for me to profit from.

Ideally, thinking about the reasons for our unhappiness rationally should lead to actions that improve our circumstances, and our habits of thought. I'm glad that seems to be the case for you - even more impressive considering that you were real-depressed enough at to want medication at times. I've never been that depressed, but at times it seems like I don't properly put to the test my belief that it works to analyze and experiment with my own life.

Comment author: Alicorn 08 April 2010 09:19:37PM *  9 points [-]

you were real-depressed enough at to want medication at times.

"Want" is probably never the right word for the administration of psychoactive medication to a first-grader. I got off the meds when I left for college and there was no realistic chance of anyone trying to enforce their consumption.

Comment author: arundelo 09 April 2010 10:07:44PM 4 points [-]

I decided that I had to and wanted to become happier;

From Nathaniel Branden's book Taking Responsibility (p. 8):

When I would ask [my wife Devers] about her resilience, she would say, "I'm committed to being happy." And she added, "That takes self-discipline."

By the way, I like all your stuff, but like many other commenters, I particularly like the posts with concrete examples from your life.

Also, the "making friends on purpose" comment was great!

Comment author: Yvain 09 April 2010 07:19:10PM 4 points [-]

Thanks; I've bookmarked this and am going to try something like it. But I'm probably greedier than you are, so I've got to ask - do you think you could use the same techniques you used to raise your set point from 2 to 5, to raise your set point from 5 to 8?

Comment author: Alicorn 09 April 2010 08:29:01PM 10 points [-]

Maybe. I haven't tried it because:

  • It'd require more maintenance work - the new set point is still artificial, just not unsustainably so, and the higher one goes the more one has to prop it up. I don't presently have a way to hack deep enough to make the new set point effortlessly native.

  • I find extreme moods in general, including nice ones, to be disabling. When I am very happy I don't want to do work, I just want to twirl around grinning like an idiot and babble about what a beautiful day it is. 5 is a comfortable and practical place for me to spend most of my time. Other people may not have this trait.

  • Greed isn't a sufficient motivation to prompt the systematic, deep changes I made. It took actual danger to my life to make this a high enough priority. I don't have a good reason to believe that the 5 set point is endangering me.

  • There are certain forms of circumstantial stability (money, family, residence) that I do not have, and while it isn't urgent to me that I have them right now, it is a very significant long term goal of mine that I eventually acquire them. Becoming significantly higher set-pointed than I am now would require either excising these goals, so their not being satisfied would cease to unsettle me in the background, or satisfying these goals, which isn't feasible or clever right now.

Comment author: Kingreaper 25 November 2010 07:07:40PM 1 point [-]

I get the impression that the technique is most effective at moving to 5, or maybe 5.5/6 also.

Not because 5 is a particular level of happiness, but because it's not. Part of the trick is likely in the labeling of your preferred position AS 5, and thereby making it the "default" state.

Comment author: Curiouskid 26 November 2011 01:07:58AM 0 points [-]

I've wondered the same thing. Have you found anything on this yet?

Comment author: Kisil 09 April 2010 01:36:48PM *  4 points [-]

Thanks for writing this article. If the feedback helps, I found your self-disclosure much more illustrative than "gooey."

I made a point of noting non-sadness deficiencies in my status

Did you formally track your mental state at any point? The luminosity series, among other things, has gotten me thinking about the fact that my overall historical impression of my mood status has been a pretty poor indicator of my day-to-moment mood status. I can get fuzzy snapshots by reading through my scattered past writing, but am missing a lot of data. So I've been working on a system to do some more regular, granular tracking, and I wondered if others here have a) found tracking effective at all, b) particular levels of granularity met your needs, c) found any particular system or tool helpful. (I'm considering building a tool for this process if I can't find one, and would happily share here if there's interest.)

Edit: This seems unclear on a re-read. I meant to say my general impression of my past moods approximates the sum of my moment-to-moment moods poorly; I'm planning to take data to get a more accurate estimate.

Comment author: pnrjulius 22 April 2012 03:43:24PM 2 points [-]

This is absolutely brilliant. It makes more sense to me---and may have a larger impact on me---than years of therapy and medication for depression. People often say that Less Wrong is useless; it is not, it makes us better. Perhaps not as efficiently as we'd like; but often as much or more than the other available interventions.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 08 October 2012 04:24:28PM *  1 point [-]

For those wondering about the article's title:

I think the most common way to say 'I want to be happy' is "shiawase ni naritai". The expression "ureshiku naritai" is grammatically correct but I don't think this is something that most Japanese people would use. (source)

Comment author: Alicorn 08 October 2012 06:39:22PM 4 points [-]

I got a friend who speaks Japanese and lives in Japan, but is not a native speaker, to confirm the translation for me; but even if I had known this I probably would have gone with "Ureshiku Naritai", since it's an allusion to "Tsuyoku Naritai".

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 08 October 2012 08:55:05PM 1 point [-]

it's an allusion to "Tsuyoku Naritai".

Ah, thanks. I missed the allusion.

Comment author: kaseja 18 November 2011 06:16:44PM 0 points [-]

i personally appreciate the self disclosure and did not find it too gooey. this is a great example of what Heart of Now (a personal growth workshop i was involved in for several years) called "vision," the concept of going for something that you have not yet personally experienced but will improve the quality of your life. I like the idea of the socks, i think i will try that. You don't mention exercise, has that had any effect in the past? Also, this was posted some time ago, i wonder where your set point is these days.

Comment author: Alicorn 18 November 2011 10:25:17PM 1 point [-]

Exercise has a negative effect on my mood. It makes me uncomfortable and that makes me unhappy.

Comment author: Swimmer963 10 May 2011 08:52:25PM 0 points [-]

Really fascinating post! I wouldn't say that I'm a sad person, and now that I've gone past the social isolation I suffered as a kid, my happiness set-point is actually quite high, maybe because my occasional episodes of self-hatred spur me to get stuff done (which I seem to be good at). Nevertheless, especially in the past few years I've maintained a work and school schedule that leaves me burnt out and exhausted by the end of first semester, with just enough time over the summer (while working 50+ hours per week) to recover my ability to feel motivated before I go back and do it to myself again. Unfortunately for me, I'm good at overriding what I actually want to do in order to do what I feel needs doing, and I'm good at getting the mandatory stuff done regardless of how unmotivated I feel, so it's never become enough of a problem to actually do anything about it.

This involved working around some neuroses, like my unwillingness to spend money, and overcoming some background reluctance to try new things.

That sounds exactly like me!

"I cannot control the speed of the bus. I caught it, and it will get there when it gets there. There is no point in further fretting about being late until I'm moving under my own power again - so I'll stop. To manage my strong, intrusive desire to be on time, I will start thinking about how to choose an efficient path to walk once I get off the bus."

So I'm not the only one who does this!

Comment author: simplicio 17 April 2010 04:55:02PM 0 points [-]

Just wanted to say, the approach outlined here seems very useful to me, thanks for posting.

I find the trickiest thing to be getting rid of wishful thinking in evaluating my mood.

Comment author: CronoDAS 08 April 2010 11:22:08PM 0 points [-]

I've heard that meditation was supposed to have this effect. I've never really put it to the test, though.

Comment author: Alicorn 08 April 2010 11:48:14PM *  3 points [-]

I have never seriously meditated. Being understimulated is intolerable to me, and I also have various practical and physical reasons to avoid holding still in one position for longer than a couple minutes at a time.

Comment author: BenAlbahari 09 April 2010 04:11:20PM 3 points [-]

Being understimulated is intolerable to me.

How can something intolerable be understimulating? Sure, I'm equivocating on the type of stimulation you're referring to here, but in the spirit of luminosity, shouldn't we be interested in exploring the places in our minds that we're afraid to go? I'm not recommending you step into a sensory deprivation chamber (or have your brain emulated without hooking up the inputs and outputs), but experimenting with meditation seems like a potentially luminous activity, even if you did it with the modest goal of simply getting a peek into what it's about.

P.S. Nice post; I also enjoyed some of the earlier posts in the sequence; I think at times I wanted to see a concrete application of the abstractions, which this post did.

Comment author: sketerpot 09 April 2010 05:46:25PM *  6 points [-]

How can something intolerable be understimulating?

When I'm in a room where you're ostensibly supposed to be listening to someone talk -- a lecture, a sermon, etc. -- I can't properly stop listening. So if the speaker is really boring, I will try to zone out, but usually with very little success. It combines the worst parts of being with other people with the worst parts of being alone, for an experience that is both understimulating and agonizing.

I once had to sit through a two-hour Southern Baptist church service. There was one guy who delivered a long, rambling, over-excited monologue about "casting out demons and devils", sounding exactly like a random street lunatic, and then another guy who spoke in a more sedate tone for about an hour on how evolution is false, society is being corrupted, and how "we did not come from monkeys!!". And then there was one man whose job appeared to be simply to sit in a chair next to whoever was speaking and periodically agree with whatever was being said. Whenever there was a pause, this guy would jump in with a "YES!" or an "AMEN!". I think the funniest thing that happened was when somebody mentioned Jesus and then stopped to inhale, and this guy blurted out "THAT'S HIM, THAT'S HIM!!".

At first it was morbidly fascinating, in a mentally painful sort of way. But as time wore on, it just became excruciatingly boring, as they covered the same ground again and again, as if their target audience was suffering from profound mental retardation. I tried to think about something else to escape from the dull horror of my surroundings, but the preacher's delusional ravings just kept impinging on my train of thought, inescapable.

So, yes, it's entirely possible to be intolerably understimulated. (I enjoy meditation, though. It's quiet enough that I don't get bored, if that makes any sense.)

Comment author: Curiouskid 26 November 2011 03:29:53AM 0 points [-]

I sometimes meditate when I'm being forced to listen to a boring lecture.

Comment author: Alicorn 09 April 2010 06:00:13PM 3 points [-]

It's not like I never tried it because I was like, "Oh, that sounds understimulating". I've tried meditating, and it was understimulating and I was in a bad mood for a considerable period afterwards trying to get the crick out of my back and haul my brain back into a more suitable level of interaction with the world.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 April 2010 06:24:08PM 2 points [-]

That backs my theory that anything which is strong enough to do good is strong enough to do harm.

Comment author: magfrump 09 April 2010 07:29:07PM 3 points [-]

Do you comment like this on things which refute your theory?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 April 2010 08:41:56PM 1 point [-]

That particular theory, no. I don't think I've mentioned it online before.

I grant that my theory would be rather hard to prove or disprove. If you want to argue that something is absolutely safe, you'd probably be giving a bunch of caveats about proper use and suitable people to use it. If you want to argue that something isn't absolutely safe, you'll be bringing up sloppy use and side effects.

Meditation is very commonly recommended as good for people. Alicorn is the first person I've heard of who reacted that badly to it.

The practical application of my theory is to take some care in how you make general recommendations of what seems like it should be good for everyone, and pay attention if something which is supposed to be good for everyone seems to be going wrong on you.

Comment author: magfrump 10 April 2010 12:21:49AM 2 points [-]

I hope I didn't come across as picking on you; I just know that when people form pet theories, they have trouble letting them go and this site tends to work towards a bit of nit-picking in that regard.

I think your response, especially the last paragraph, sums up what is good about your idea (and I agree somewhat with CronoDAS in principle that it is well-motivated). I hope that you enjoyed spelling it out explicitly in the same way that I enjoyed seeing it in more detail.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 April 2010 06:40:26AM 4 points [-]

You did come across as picking on me-- I saw your question as meaning that you didn't agree with me and that you thought worse of me for what I'd said. It was possible to deduce what you were disagreeing with, but the emotional noise made it more difficult, and left me disinclined to pursue the matter.

I was only mildly upset, but it took me a while to decide it was worth trying to address what seemed to be your point.

By the time I'd gotten to my last paragraph, I was enjoying laying things out, but other than that, not especially fun. Neither was writing this reply.

Comment author: magfrump 11 April 2010 01:16:23AM 0 points [-]

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be picking on you so and it sounds like when I tried to be a little friendlier in my later comment I didn't succeed very well.

I do think that it is important to register when a theory fails as well as when it succeeds, but I wish I had said that in a way that was less snarky.

I don't think I'm doing a very good job of being friendly in this post either so I guess I'll leave it at that.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 April 2010 09:00:44PM 1 point [-]

I forgot to mention that another implication is to pay attention if someone tells you that something which is supposed to be good for everyone is going wrong on them.

Comment author: CronoDAS 09 April 2010 08:52:55PM *  1 point [-]

That backs my theory that anything which is strong enough to do good is strong enough to do harm.

I think that is related to the theory of why idiot-proofing is misguided. If you want to make something completely idiot-proof, you have to make it impossible to make a bad decision, which, in practice, means taking away the ability to make any decisions at all - meaning that anything idiot-proof is also pretty much guaranteed to be completely useless. If something is powerful enough to do good, it has to be powerful enough to change something, and, as in the case of idiot-proofing, it's really, really hard to prevent every possible bad change without preventing all change whatsoever.

Comment author: mattnewport 09 April 2010 08:57:14PM *  2 points [-]

I think that is related to the theory of why idiot-proofing is misguided.

Good theory, but I also quite like the more traditional theory:

Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot- proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning.

--Rich Cook

Comment author: CronoDAS 09 April 2010 09:02:15PM 5 points [-]

Build a system that even a fool can use, and only a fool will want to use it.

--George Bernard Shaw

Comment author: RobinZ 09 April 2010 09:01:33PM 0 points [-]

Do you like it, or believe it?

Comment author: Peter_de_Blanc 09 April 2010 07:30:03PM 1 point [-]

This won't help with the understimulation, but to avoid the crick in your back you can try sitting in seiza.

Comment author: sketerpot 09 April 2010 08:33:26PM 2 points [-]

Seiza has got to be one of the least comfortable possible ways to sit. Unless you count things like "on top of stalagmites" as sitting methods.

Comment author: BenAlbahari 10 April 2010 02:27:06AM *  8 points [-]

Unless you count things like "on top of stalagmites" as sitting methods.

From Blackadder:

Aunt: 'Chair'? You have chairs in your house?
Edmund: Oh, yes.
Aunt: [slaps him twice] Wicked child!!! Chairs are an invention of Satan! In our house, Nathaniel sits on a spike!
Edmund: ...and yourself...?
Aunt: I sit on Nathaniel -- two spikes would be an extravagance.

Comment author: RobinZ 09 April 2010 08:36:48PM 2 points [-]

I think I smell a generalization...

Comment author: Peter_de_Blanc 09 April 2010 09:45:41PM 1 point [-]

For me, sitting in seiza is more comfortable for the upper body (compared to sitting cross-legged), but less comfortable for the lower body. The latter has been less of an issue as I've had more practice.

Comment author: arundelo 09 April 2010 09:24:56PM 1 point [-]

When I meditate I sit in a chair. I find the standard postures highly uncomfortable, and they cut off my circulation. My body had never been very flexible, and I broke my back a couple decades ago, an injury which still somewhat limits what I'm capable of.

I don't meditate regularly but I have done a fair amount at various times. (About half of my immediate family is buddhist.) The idea of calming down the internal monologue is attractive to me, but meditation has never put me in a noticeably different state of mind. I feel the same an hour into it as I do right when I sit down.

Comment author: Alicorn 09 April 2010 08:15:22PM 0 points [-]

I get a crick in my back when I try to do anything that could be described as "sitting up straight".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 April 2010 03:58:26AM 2 points [-]

Tentatively offered, but there are methods of physical luminosity (Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Cheng Hsin) which might be useful. They're all based on making the best use of the body you've got, and especially the first two are very clear about not fitting your body into a predetermined shape, but instead getting better access to your innate ability for self-organization.

Comment author: Alicorn 10 April 2010 05:29:30AM 0 points [-]

You're the second person to recommend Alexander Technique; if I run into a non-expensive way to try it, I shall.

Comment author: MrShaggy 11 September 2010 02:41:52AM 0 points [-]

Not AT but something similar and free online vids is "Intuflow", for example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsMPqP7hxRk

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 September 2010 03:22:29AM *  0 points [-]

I've done a little with IntuFlow and it looks very good to me-- I intend to do more with it. However, it doesn't strike me as much like Alexander Technique.

Feldenkrais is the easiest one to check out cheaply because there are huge quantities of solo awareness through movement exercises available.

Somatics is good, and the whole book (except for the pictures, which may not be essential) is free at google books.

Ruthy Alon's Mindful Sponteneity is excellent-- only partially available online, but there should be enough for you to see whether you're interested.

Comment author: Kevin 18 April 2010 09:27:35PM 0 points [-]

Was this Vipassana meditation or Hindu/mantra meditation? Or something else?

Comment author: Alicorn 18 April 2010 09:28:36PM 1 point [-]

On the occasion I most clearly remember, I was on a field trip to a Buddhist temple, where we sat on cushions with our backs painfully straight, inhaled nasty incense-saturated air, and repeatedly vowed to save all sentient beings.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 09 April 2010 07:52:28PM -1 points [-]

That response to under-stimulation interests me - what was it? it doesn't sound like usual boredom. My own experience is that exposure to an interesting stimulus stops boredom like turning out a light. So I'm curious what kind of a response you had that you actually had a lag time making it go away.

Comment author: Alicorn 09 April 2010 08:12:56PM *  3 points [-]

My response to understimulation is isomorphic to overload, which happens if I am overstimulated because I'm autistic. "Underload" occurs when I have no interesting sensory or conceptual data to process. I haven't unpacked it completely, but it feels sort of like my brain decides it's not wanted and it shuts down to save energy, and then takes a long time to boot back up, during which period I don't have it handy to help me do things. Having a mostly-asleep brain is not at all fun. Boredom is not like underload because boredom stimulates a search pattern to find an activity, while underload usually doesn't stimulate anything at all, and if it does, it's not for an activity I find "interesting".

I can usually avoid "underloading" myself via fairly simple mechanisms like playing with my own hair, so it's not a huge problem - it only comes up in contexts where any of the things I'd normally do are proscribed by the circumstance, like if I'm supposed to be meditating.

Comment author: CronoDAS 09 April 2010 09:07:20PM *  6 points [-]

From what I've read,

but it feels sort of like my brain decides it's not wanted and it shuts down to save energy

is the state that meditation is supposed to induce. In other words, a controlled shutdown of certain parts of the brain. Julie Taylor's description of how it feels to have a stroke is pretty much exactly the same as Sam Harris's description of how it feels to meditate.

From a transcript of Julie Taylor's TED talk:

And in that moment, my brain chatter, my left hemisphere brain chatter went totally silent. Just like someone took a remote control and pushed the mute button and -- total silence.

And at first I was shocked to find myself inside of a silent mind. But then I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of energy around me. And because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.

Then all of a sudden my left hemisphere comes back online and it says to me, "Hey! we got a problem, we got a problem, we gotta get some help." So it's like, OK, OK, I got a problem, but then I immediately drifted right back out into the consciousness, and I affectionately referred to this space as La La Land. But it was beautiful there. Imagine what it would be like to be totally disconnected from your brain chatter that connects you to the external world. So here I am in this space and any stress related to my, to my job, it was gone. And I felt lighter in my body. And imagine all of the relationships in the external world and the many stressors related to any of those, they were gone. I felt a sense of peacefulness. And imagine what it would feel like to lose 37 years of emotional baggage! I felt euphoria. Euphoria was beautiful -- and then my left hemisphere comes online and it says "Hey! you've got to pay attention, we've got to get help," and I'm thinking, "I got to get help, I gotta focus."

because I'm autistic

Have you mentioned that before? Because I didn't know that about you until now. I'm just guessing, but not being neurotypical may have something to do with your reaction to meditation.

Comment author: Alicorn 09 April 2010 09:09:07PM 9 points [-]

Interesting. So I get the right result and instead of going "aaaaahhhh..." I go "AAAAAHHHH!"

Comment author: Alicorn 09 April 2010 09:13:48PM *  3 points [-]

Have you mentioned that before?

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it. I'm not extremely autistic, but people who know what to look for spot it.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 13 April 2010 06:49:19PM 0 points [-]

I'm not extremely autistic

When did you switch from saying Asperger's to saying autism? Does it mean much? eg, did you learn something about yourself, neuro-typicals, or common usage? DSM-V?

Comment author: Alicorn 13 April 2010 08:06:59PM *  3 points [-]

I say "autistic" because a) the word is more aesthetically pleasant, b) it has better general recognition (same reason I say I'm a vegetarian than being specific and saying "pescetarian"), and c) it acknowledges for solidarity-ish reasons that it's all one spectrum.

Comment author: SilasBarta 12 April 2010 04:15:14PM 2 points [-]

Since Alicorn has politely asked that I not respond to her comments, I will reply to yours and speak in general terms:

Autism is marked by inability to pick up on social cues and form relationships that neurotypicals do naturally.

If someone repeatedly gave sincere advice on social skills which assumed away such problems, and required constant re-clarification ("just get out of the house", "strike up a conversation with random people", "meet local people on the internet -- I did, it's not hard", "just get your friends to introduce you to others"), that, to me, looks like strong advice that the person is not autistic.

Those of you who have seen me post can make your own guesses about my autism status. And, FWIW, when meditating, I've never been able to get my inner voice to shut down for more than a few seconds. The best I can do is to replace it with non-thinking thoughts (counting, observing my breathing, etc) and even then only for a short while.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 December 2010 03:26:49PM 0 points [-]

My impression from reading meditation and doing some of it is that shutting down one's internal monologue is something that happens after a practicing for quite a while. (Months? Years?) It isn't an initial goal.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 10 December 2010 03:38:42PM 0 points [-]

It's not a binary thing, either. One common technique is to be aware of one's internal monologue without investing emotionally in it or trying to suppress it; (this is described in lots of different language) this tends to reduce its intensity and ubiquity over time.

Comment author: thomblake 13 April 2010 04:25:05PM 0 points [-]

Have you mentioned that before?

several times, notably here

Comment author: JulianMorrison 10 April 2010 04:15:46PM -1 points [-]

Well yeah, but which parts of the brain? The difference in the two stories suggest very different parts of the brain were inactive.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 10 April 2010 04:22:07PM -1 points [-]

From my limited reading on meditation, I gather that one of the things you're supposed to avoid is getting dull, dopey and zoned out. Meditation is supposed to involve ongoing concentration, rather than shutdown. Were you trying to maintain concentration? What CronoDAS said aside, I'm not sure you got the intended result.

I think I have a similar thing, only in my case it activates when I'm trapped in a vehicle on a long journey. I find it hard to resist "sleep" - it isn't regular sleep, because I can "wake" on a whim, but it leaves me dopey and zoned out for a bit, although I can reduce it by deep-breathing after I wake. It feels like "nothing to do, brain shutting down now".

Comment author: Alicorn 10 April 2010 05:42:51PM 1 point [-]

Possibly relevant is that I find it virtually impossible to single-task in general. I am massively parallel, and I'm accustomed to being aware of several processors at once. I can shut one down without it being a big deal; trying to do it to all of them simultaneously gets the result I described.

Comment author: pjeby 10 April 2010 06:29:45PM 4 points [-]

Possibly relevant is that I find it virtually impossible to single-task in general. I am massively parallel, and I'm accustomed to being aware of several processors at once. I can shut one down without it being a big deal; trying to do it to all of them simultaneously gets the result I described.

Meditation isn't about "shutting down" anything, or at least certain types of zen meditation aren't. They're about shifting your awareness to a third-party perspective on those processes, rather than identifying with them as "self".

So for example, if you have a thought that comes up that the situation is intolerable and you can't handle it, then you notice it in the way you might notice that an update message has popped up on your computer, or that you've just received some email or something. Like, "Ah, that's nice."

You notice your brain's activity (and anything else happening around you) as merely information, rather than as reality. Zen meditators are advised to treat everything in this way, whether it's a vision of Hell or a glimpse into Heaven, and not to be distracted even if they seem to be growing psychic powers or having meetings with the Buddha.

The objective is both the active realization that your thoughts and experiences are neither as truthful nor urgent as they appear, and the development of your ability to act from centered awareness, rather than being tugged this way and that by your cached thoughts.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 10 April 2010 07:42:05PM 0 points [-]

That's nifty and interesting too - can you identify the "processors"? What threads are you running?

I can't multitask worth a damn on anything but one conscious thread and N unconscious threads - and those tend to drag to a crawl if one of them is important and needs monitoring.

Comment author: Alicorn 10 April 2010 08:54:44PM 2 points [-]

Luminosity in general lets me drag the "unconscious threads" into consciousness and control them better. But even before that I needed to be doing lots of things. I don't know how many processors I have and they don't have all the same features; my guess is I have two or three main ones that can do most things and another three or four that are very limited in what tasks they can do (these handle things like dealing with my sensory input). I have to do a lot of conscious handling of sensory input, which makes this less impressive than it would be.

Comment author: jimrandomh 09 April 2010 12:26:38AM 2 points [-]

Not all types of meditation involve sitting still. My preferred meditation type is one that requires you to be walking, instead. (But note that different "meditation types" correspond to very different mental states, and statements about their effects do not transfer.)

Comment author: [deleted] 13 June 2014 06:44:47AM -1 points [-]

''Self talk''? Here's how you can do that better!

"..using non-first-person pronouns and one’s own name (rather than first-person pronouns) during introspection enhances self-distancing. Studies 2 and 3 examined the implications of these different types of self-talk for regulating stress surrounding making good first impressions (Study 2) and public speaking (Study 3). Compared with the first-person group, the non-first-person group performed better according to objective raters in both studies. They also displayed less distress (Studies 2 and 3) and engaged in less maladaptive postevent processing (Study 3). Studies 4 and 5 examined how these different forms of self-talk influence the way people appraise social-anxiety-provoking events. They demonstrated that non-first-person language use (compared with first-person language use) leads people to appraise future stressors in more challenging and less threatening terms. Finally, a meta-analysis (Study 6) indicated that none of these findings were moderated by trait social anxiety, highlighting their translational potential. Together, these findings demonstrate that small shifts in the language people use to refer to the self during introspection consequentially influence their ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under social stress, even for vulnerable individual"

Comment author: David_J_Balan 26 April 2010 06:45:33PM -2 points [-]

Fantastic.