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Comment author: DeVliegendeHollander 03 July 2015 07:47:41AM *  0 points [-]

For such outcomes, I suggest the methods used by Allen Carr: essentially they work by systematically eliminating all the perceived benefits of the activity you wish to cease.

I have read Allen Carr's Easy Way To Stop Drinking Alcohol. I got the impression he is playing on the reader's pride basically. He did not deny alcohol numbs in the brain whatever bothers you, he said the price is that it numbs everything else to. So basically he was playing a "you don't value the everything else in you?" game and maybe it is just a quirk of mine, I don't know, but whenever people try to play my pride I charge head-in, such as "Yes, I am absolutely worthless.Now what? Your move." I don't really know why I do this. Partially sometimes really feeling like this but partially really not liking the pride play as a method... I just think building anything on people's self-worth is really fragile, right?

The trick to this kind of issue is realizing that your brain is using the wrong baseline for measurement of gain/loss. The correct baseline to use in such a scenario is not how things are now, but how they would be if you didn't have the job.

Is this related to the old saying "learn to desire what you have" or "count your blessings" or the Stoic technique of negative visualization i.e. how much it would suck to lose what you have? Visualize not having it, then having it, pass a mmm-test, that sort of thing?

The optimum use seems to be for situations that trigger an immediate and visceral conditioned response that interferes with your ability to think clearly.

I see - this is why the examples are like foods one dislikes or social anxiety for speaking or I assume approach anxiety at dating etc. I will try it with physical challenges, I remember feeling inferior when I was a child when I was clumsy at things like climbing up ropes and it is possible it is keeping me away from trying such sports.

In contrast to the feeling elimination technique, most everything I teach these days can be considered -- in one way or another -- a Ritual For Changing One's Mind.

Do you write about this i.e. new websites as TTD or DS are not maintained much lately?

Comment author: pjeby 03 July 2015 05:54:11PM 4 points [-]

I don't really know why I do this.

Any self-help technique can be trivially defeated by arguing with it. And anything can be argued with, because the whole point (evolutionarily speaking) of our critical faculties is to find things we can attack in that which we have defined as our enemy. The truth, relevance, or usefulness of the argument is beside the point.

When I read that book I didn't even notice anything about pride or self-worth, honestly. I wasn't reading it because I drink (I don't), but as research into his approach. I found it fascinating because the various arguments I noticed seemed pretty universal to almost anything one might want to quit.

Anyway, I wasn't looking for things to argue with, so I didn't find any. In general, it's not useful to read a self-help book looking for things to argue with: skim over those, and look for things you agree with, or at least things you can consider with an open mind. Carr's books explicitly point out the need for this consideration at the beginning, and you will get more value out of them if you heed that advice.

Do you write about this i.e. new websites as TTD or DS are not maintained much lately?

Mostly I do online workshops with my paying subscribers, and the occasional tweet about things I'm noticing or realizing as they come up.

Comment author: DeVliegendeHollander 02 July 2015 07:51:11AM *  0 points [-]

Yes :) But you wrote this comment and chapters 6-7 5 years ago, are there any new developments since then?

I tried them and would like to have the following comments:

  • instant motivation does not seem to work for me for the goals where you really, truly, are running away from something bad and there is no positive goal to pursue. Example: stopping smoking: the best possible outcome of not smoking is staying as healthy as today, the worst outcome of smoking is early painful death. Example: the kind of jobs one does only to pay bills. In both cases there are no possible positive outcomes to imagine: the best case outcome is things staying as they are now.

  • I tried chapter 7 on tomatoes, as I hated them since childhood. When I go back to 3 or 4 years old I simply don't remember how I felt hence I have no feeling to overwrite the current body feeling (gag reflex, sour face).

Comment author: pjeby 02 July 2015 10:31:49PM 2 points [-]

you wrote this comment and chapters 6-7 5 years ago, are there any new developments since then?

Quite a lot of them. Sadly, none of them make the overall picture any easier to understand. There seem to be an almost infinite number of "things that work" for some set of problems, but almost nothing that works for all the problems, for all of the people, all of the time. The basic idea of negative motivation is still valid, though, as is the idea that the primary negative motivations that are problematic derive from identity issues or pseudo-moral "shoulds".

instant motivation does not seem to work for me for the goals where you really, truly, are running away from something bad and there is no positive goal to pursue

Yes, that was explicitly stated as a qualifier on the technique: if you can't pass the "mmm" test, it's not going to work.

Example: stopping smoking: the best possible outcome of not smoking is staying as healthy as today, the worst outcome of smoking is early painful death

For such outcomes, I suggest the methods used by Allen Carr: essentially they work by systematically eliminating all the perceived benefits of the activity you wish to cease. His books are basically step-by-step persuasion walking you through the reasoning to achieve a realization that the thing you think you're getting is in fact of no value to you. (This is quite different from negative motion or deciding the act isn't "worth" it: rather, it is the systematic demolishing of any positive motivation towards the act, through deliberately induced disillusionment.)

Example: the kind of jobs one does only to pay bills. In both cases there are no possible positive outcomes to imagine: the best case outcome is things staying as they are now.

The trick to this kind of issue is realizing that your brain is using the wrong baseline for measurement of gain/loss. The correct baseline to use in such a scenario is not how things are now, but how they would be if you didn't have the job. Not having the job is the default case, since if you do nothing, that is the result you will get. ;-)

(I am, of course, omitting any details of how to do this change-of-baseline in this comment, due to the difficulty of describing it briefly, in this medium, in a way that would actually be implementable by anyone without the prerequisite skills of introspection and mind-changing.)

I have no feeling to overwrite the current body feeling (gag reflex, sour face).

You're probably overthinking the technique, which doesn't involve higher cognition at all. Certainly, there is nothing in it about "overwriting" anything. The method is simply intensifying a response long enough to trigger a refractory period, during which the response can't be re-triggered at the same intensity as before, leading to having a new experience or reaction in the context of the original triggering thought or external stimulus. (Not entirely unlike "flooding" as a desensitization technique, though I have no idea whether the mechanism is really the same.)

By the time I wrote about that technique, though, I had already mostly stopped using it, because I'd exhausted all the low-hanging fruit in my personal experience. Some people also get much more value out of it than others; I've had a few people who used it extensively and came back gushing to me about completely transforming their lives... while others are like "meh".

The optimum use seems to be for situations that trigger an immediate and visceral conditioned response that interferes with your ability to think clearly. It can be used to eliminate beliefs when the belief was formed later and as a result of the conditioned feeling, but does not work when it's the other way around.

(That is, if the feeling and belief arose at the same time, from the same event, or if the feeling is the result of a belief, then the feeling elimination technique will probably be of little value. Of course, your conscious estimation of which situation applies is unreliable, which means that until you've exhausted your own low-hanging fruit, it's better to just go ahead and try it, rather than guessing.)

In contrast to the feeling elimination technique, most everything I teach these days can be considered -- in one way or another -- a Ritual For Changing One's Mind. Or, more precisely, I recommend rituals developed by other people, and my work focuses more on identifying what it is in your mind that needs changing, and how to know what to change it to.

And unfortunately, the methods of Changing One's Mind are the relatively easy part of that. Sort of like knowing how to use an IDE (programmer's development tool) doesn't tell you what code to write or how to know where a bug is in your code.

Comment author: DeVliegendeHollander 30 June 2015 02:02:50PM 0 points [-]

Hi Eby,

I think with this refinement process you went from something clear, simple and easy to understand to something difficult and technical.

Nevertheless I think your 2008 theory is correct and probably you did not make it worse, it is just harder to understand now.

I should also like to add this: http://lesswrong.com/lw/21r/pain_and_gain_motivation/cipw

Comment author: pjeby 01 July 2015 04:22:52PM 1 point [-]

Unfortunately, "true" and "easy to understand" are not synonyms. ;-)

Comment author: pjeby 10 June 2015 07:45:10PM 3 points [-]

It might help to taboo "creativity". I know of three major schools of thought on the subject, all of whose definitions I agree with, despite certain of the group(s) claiming that other group(s) are "wrong. ;-)

One group defines creativity in terms of being able to systematically generate novel alternatives for a design problem, or within some target space.

Another defines it in terms of creating... that is, being able to formulate a desired objective in the first place, and pursue a process of bringing it into being by continually comparing and contrasting the desired state with the current state of reality.

A third defines it in terms of fluency - that the mere practice of generating different sequences of output in some medium causes one to develop an intuitive sense of what sequences are likely to be "good" or "bad". (I don't know a ton about this group, but I heard someone give a talk once on this, demonstrating how teaching children to generate sequences of the form 1-2-3, 1-3-2, 2-3-1, 2-1-3, 3-1-2, 3-2-1 would allow them to learn interesting things about music and mathematics in a very short period, by changing e.g. pitch and duration of notes.)

All three of these characteristics -- the ability to hold a vision, generate alternatives to solve specific problems, and be fluent in the low-level expression of your subject area -- seem to be important to any good definition of "creativity". But quite a lot of materials tend to take on only one of these areas, and then usually some relatively small subset thereof.

Comment author: elspood 14 May 2015 12:24:04AM -1 points [-]

Reading this reply, I was immediately reminded of a situation described by Jen Peeples, I think in an episode of The Atheist Experience, about her co-pilot's reaction of prayer during a life-threatening helicopter incident. ( This Comment is all I could find as reference. )

Unless your particular prayer technique is useful for quickly addressing emergency situations, you probably don't want to be in the habit of relying on it as a general practice. I think the "rubber duck" Socratic approach could still be useful, so this isn't a disagreement with your entire comment, just a warning about possible failure modes.

Comment author: pjeby 17 May 2015 02:14:49PM 3 points [-]

Rubber ducking is for when you're uncertain how to proceed. An incident on a military aircraft is not such a situation: there are checklists that detail precisely how you're supposed to proceed, which you'd better be following.

If you are doing problem-solving in a distressed aircraft, and that problem-solving activity is not explicitly listed on the checklist for the current issue, you are Doing It Wrong. And if you're praying in such a scenario, it had better be something like, "grant me the calm and clarity to follow the checklist, so I'm not distracted by any panicky impulses".

Comment author: pure-awesome 08 May 2015 06:14:01PM 1 point [-]

This comment resonates with me. I am also a Christian-turned-Atheist.

When something bad happens, or I feel in danger, or I don't know what to do, usually I want to send up a prayer. Then I have to catch myself and remember that yeah, that's not going to help.

Comment author: pjeby 08 May 2015 07:49:48PM 9 points [-]

yeah, that's not going to help

It won't help the situation, but it might help you to better handle the situation. The useful thing about "prayer" isn't that it actually calls down any outside help, but that it forces you to clarify your own thoughts regarding what you want and what would be useful... in much the same way that problem solving is made easier by explaining the problem to somebody else.

Verbal communication forces you to serialize your thoughts, to disassemble what may be a vague or complex structure of interconnecting impulses, ideas, mental models, etc. and then encode it in an organized stream for another mind to re-encode into a similar structure. But the process of doing this forces you to re-encode it as well.

So don't stop using a useful technique for organizing your thoughts, just because there isn't an actual mind on the other end of the encoding process (except maybe yours). Programmers have been known to "rubber duck", i.e., use a literal or figurative rubber duck as the thing to talk to. You're not going to commit some sort of atheist sin by using an imaginary sky deity as your rubber duck. Or ask the Flying Spaghetti Monster to touch you with His Noodly Appendage to grant you the clarity and wisdom you seek. The value of an invocation comes from its invoker, not its invokee.

In response to The Stamp Collector
Comment author: pjeby 07 May 2015 01:53:39PM 3 points [-]

People will tell you that humans always and only ever do what brings them pleasure.

Actually, Paul Dolan's book "Happiness by Design" offers a better theory: that humans are motivated by two broad classes of feelings that we can dub "pleasure" and "purpose", and that both are required for happiness. In practice, of course, each of these broad classes contains many, many, sub-categories of emotion.

In general, human beings are easier to understand if you don't try to treat them as utility maximizers. We don't have only one stamp counter. (Or rather, we don't have only one future-stamp-count-predictor, which is a good and correct point in your article. That is, that humans try to steer towards desirable states. I'm just pointing out that "desirable" includes a variety of metrics, many of which are better described as "purposeful" rather than pleasurable.)

Comment author: Velorien 16 February 2015 11:56:38AM 4 points [-]

More generally, a gun can be used to disable Harry in all sorts of not-necessarily-fatal ways, something Voldemort cannot do using magic.

With that said, Voldemort is also surrounded by the bodies of Harry's unconscious friends, so it's not like he urgently needs extra leverage.

Comment author: pjeby 16 February 2015 05:00:55PM 1 point [-]

More generally, a gun can be used to disable Harry in all sorts of not-necessarily-fatal ways,

And that's apparently his intent, since it's "pointed at Harry's wand arm". He's not threatening to kill Harry, but only preventing him from using his wand to do anything.

Comment author: Vaniver 11 February 2015 02:37:33PM *  4 points [-]

removing many drives that would have been better used as rocket fuel toward action.

I think this is a recipe for getting burned. Most of the time, working smarter is better than working harder, which leads us back to:

it tends to draw people into classifying nearly all problems as Type 3

So, I have not noticed this in my application of it, but I have noticed this in how she presents it. (In particular, one chapter of the work deals with death, and I remember reading thinking "hmm, I probably can't recommend this book to any rationalists without minimizing that claim somehow.") I found watching Youtube videos of her doing work with people as more effective than reading the book, I think, because there was a clear sense of "I now know the right way to go about this problem" whereas the book had more of a feeling of "I have now accepted the inevitable." (Sometimes the latter is the right way to go about the problem, of course.)

I think the two tools she presents--the "is it true?" question and the reversal--both mostly solve this problem.

First, "is it true?" separates the is from the should, which helps in classifying something as type 3 or type 5. If I say something like "my lawyer shouldn't have told the other side's lawyer fact X," and I ask myself "Is that true?" and the answer comes back "well, it's a violation of his professional code of conduct, and I can sue him for that breach," then I'm in a more useful place than I was before. If I say something like "Bob shouldn't have told Joe fact X," and I ask myself "Is that true?" and the answer comes back "well, I never actually made it clear to Bob that I wanted fact X private, and Bob never gave me the impression of being someone who was willing to keep secrets," then I'm in a more useful place than I was before.

Second, the reversal points out the many ways in which it's possible to minimize or avoid harm, which helps determine whether or not a problem actually is one you can do something about. I think pjeby's point with regards to the munching noises works well here; when you reverse "he shouldn't be making munching noises" to get "I shouldn't be making munching noises," the desired end goal is realizing that it takes one entity to make a sound and another entity to hear it. There are a vast number of unpleasant noises generated throughout the world, and you can't hear most of them, because of distance or muffling or so on. You could leave, or plug in earplugs, or ask them to stop, all of which might be better than suffering to prove how much you don't suffer!

Comment author: pjeby 11 February 2015 08:59:42PM *  2 points [-]

You could leave, or plug in earplugs, or ask them to stop, all of which might be better than suffering to prove how much you don't suffer!

Yep. This is one area where I differ in application from Byron Katie; I tend to focus heavily on self-applied judgments -- i.e. "I should(n't) X" -- rather than other-applied ones. So in AnnaSalomon's story it seemed to me the real problem was the thought "I shouldn't be petty", since there didn't seem to be any moral judgment being levied against the muncher, vs. against herself.

That being said, Byron Katie is correct that it's a lot easier to work on other-applied judgments and that it's better to learn the method using those first.

(I also sometimes find, oddly enough, that when I get to "who would I be without this thought?" on a self-applied judgment, my mind will sometimes object that if I didn't have this thought, then I'd have to stop being mad at other people for doing the same thing that I'm upset with myself about! I then have to reflect on whether on balance it actually benefits me to be upset at those other people, considering that it rarely motivates them and that the self-judgment is impairing me.)

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 10 February 2015 11:37:29PM 1 point [-]

I expect that The Work of Byron Katie will be particularly useful for your type 3 classification, as it's specifically intended for getting system 1 to update on "X should/shouldn't be/do Y" beliefs. (e.g. "that person shouldn't be making munching sounds")

Hmm... I actually read "The Work" a year or two ago, and mostly intentionally avoid recommending it to people: it seems to me that it contains powerful techniques for helping with the Type 3 classification above (as you say), but that it tends to draw people into classifying nearly all problems as Type 3, and into removing many drives that would have been better used as rocket fuel toward action.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on how Byron Katie interacts with Type 5 (worthy uses of shower thoughts and of persistent drive/energy) , or whether you think there are Type 5 cases of persistent wishing/drive that are worth keeping.

Comment author: pjeby 11 February 2015 08:51:40PM *  1 point [-]

removing many drives that would have been better used as rocket fuel toward action.

That's just it, though: a "should" is not "rocket fuel towards action", unless the most useful action to take is instinctual social punishment fueled by moral indignation.

For example, the only action that's motivated by the thought, "I shouldn't be petty", is self-directed judgment and feelings of guilt, and a futile effort to suppress a feeling of annoyance that you in fact already have.

Our brains seem to have a certain class of counterfactuals whose "intended" evolutionary function is to support the maintenance of social rules through moral indignation. When we think of things in this type of "should" or "shouldn't" mode, it makes us want to punish the entity perceived to be responsible, while at the same time rejecting any personal course of action that doesn't revolve around "setting things right" or "setting people straight".

It's this machinery that drives us to pursue "irrational" levels of revenge, and to expend lots of energy arguing for "the principle of the thing"... but not one bit of energy on actually solving the problem.

And it's deactivating this indignation machinery that the Work is actually all about. That's why all of the worksheets begin with "Judging Your Neighbor" -- specifically directing the intended user to blame some individual for the perceived problem, to amplify the judgmental aspect of the problem to make it easier to spot the implicit (moral) "should" at work

Type 5 problems generally lack such a party, or even if there is one (e.g. blaming somebody for the state of your relationship), getting that blame out of the way then clears a space for working on the actual problem and what you can do about it. (Note again the turnarounds, which highlight what things you actually control.)

I'd be interested in your thoughts on how Byron Katie interacts with Type 5 (worthy uses of shower thoughts and of persistent drive/energy) , or whether you think there are Type 5 cases of persistent wishing/drive that are worth keeping.

I can wish for something without insisting that I should already have it. In fact, I have personally found these two states to be mutually incompatible: if I am insisting I should have done something already, all my energy is tied up in mentally punishing myself for not doing it, rather than being directed towards doing it. Once the "should" is dropped, I can pay attention to whether or not I actually want to do it now, whether it would be a good idea, etc.

In System 2 thinking, there is no difference in types of "should" and "want", and there is symmetry as well. If you don't want something bad, you must want something good, etc.

In System 1, however, there are many different types of toward and away-from motivations, each with different biases for behavior. "Should" thinking biases towards punishment and away from solving the problem, because evolutionarily speaking System 1 doesn't want to clean up somebody else's mess: they should be punished for violating group norms and made to clean up the mess themselves. This makes "should"-motivation the opposite of a "rocket fuel towards action".

Luckily, because there is not only one kind of motivational drive, using a technique that shuts down only one of them does not have any negative impact on your motivation. In practical terms, it actually increases your motivation, as long as there is some consequentialist reason for you to do the thing, not just a programmed injunction regarding what's moral behavior in your tribe.

The tl;dr version: there's no moral "should" in a type 5 problem, and if there were one, then you wouldn't be thinking effectively about it anyway. You'd be stewing over how bad the problem is and why isn't it solved and does nobody recognize the importance, blah blah blah. Get rid of the "should", and as long as there's still a consequentialist reason for you to pursue the matter, you'll actually be able to think effectively about it. Getting rid of "people shouldn't die" doesn't affect "I don't like that people die" or " it would be much better if they didn't, and I'd like to do something about that".

(As a practical matter, asking "is that true?" about many shoulds leads to the insight that no, it isn't true, what's true is that I wish things were different. "I wish I were less petty" is actually more actionable than "I shouldn't be petty", and the same is true for quite a lot of things we have should-feelings about.)

it tends to draw people into classifying nearly all problems as Type 3

Is that true? How do you know? ;-)

It does seem a bit odd for a rationalist to avoid recommending a technique whose first three questions are:

  1. Is that true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that that's true?
  3. How do you act/react when you think that thought?

On the basis that people might conclude too many things they previously believed are false. ;-)

The rest of the technique consists of considering counterfactuals, e.g. "who would I be without that thought?" as a simulation, and finding reasons why contrary/alternate positions could be true... pretty much textbook countering for confirmation bias, cached thoughts, and the like.

"Should"-beliefs can't survive this gauntlet of questions, but factual ones can and do. So ISTM that the Work is a basic form of (perhaps the most basic form) of a Procedure For Changing One's Mind.

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