On Weird Things I Do For Reasons

(Epistemic Status: Anecdote and storytelling – this is more or less a list of stuff and the closest thing I have to an explanation of the benefits)

I’ve been noticing lately that I do some nonstandard things even in relation to my reference class. I feel like it might be interesting to list a few and explain why I do them – individually they wouldn’t really make much of a post, but together they might form a bigger picture of how I think. Generally, I’m at some level optimizing for my brain to work in a socially present way; I’m also trying to

  • Recording Ideas – If I’m in a conversation and something important comes up, I will stop, ask the person for a moment, and record the thing I think is important. If I have an idea while I’m on my own, I make sure I get my phone out to record it. I find this helps me keep things together – I don’t actually listen to the recordings frequently. The act of recording in the first place increases the salience of the idea.
  • Random Parkour – This is essentially the “interacting with the environment in an unusual manner” thing, but I find it’s really helpful for breaking negative feedback loops and diffusing my focus. This is less great if I need to talk or think about a specific thing, but if I’m just being anxious, it’s a good reset and lets me move on productively. Also useful for changing the topic if I don’t like what’s going on.
  • No Phone Zone – I don’t keep my phone near me at parties. I will sometimes grab it if I find someone who’s saying a lot of things that inspire me for recording reasons, but otherwise I keep that thing as far away from me as possible. Usually it makes for better conversations.
  • Holding Ground – I think about space a lot – I will 95% of the time not defer to someone walking the other way down a sidewalk, especially if they’re “in my lane”. This is part confidence building but also a situational awareness thing. It forces me to engage my environment such that I can project the level of “don’t fuck with me” necessary to cause someone to get out of my way.
  • Look at the Eyes – I try to pay attention to where people’s eyes are going. If there’s a singular focus and it’s unclear why, that’s interesting data about the environment. If someone else is scanning eyes the same way I am, that tells me they’re interesting. There are a few other things but eyes are interesting overall.
  • Do It Right Away – I’ve accepted that when people ask me to do things, I either need to do it right then, or ask them to tell me to do it at a time that I can do it right then. I mean, I can also set my own reminder but usually, by asking them to remind me I get some data on whether they really need me to do the thing (if it’s not clear from the nature of the thing).

I’m sure I do other weird stuff but this was what mostly came to mind at first.

Discussion Questions: What sorts of weird things do you do for optimization reasons? Do you think you can afford to do more weird things in your life? What do you stop yourself from doing because it’s kind of weird and you think it will go socially poorly, but might be really beneficial?

On How To Give a Compliment

Meta note:  A version of this post went out on 3/18/2018 that was significantly less clean and edited – I was offered thorough feedback and editing by Elo – I decided to accept the feedback and suggestions as an experiment.  I like the results.  If you were attached to the old version of the post, feel free to email me (address is in my about page) to get the draft document.  Thank you Elo!

(Epistemic status: Trivially true – there’s academic literature on feedback about this – might kind of be creating a tragedy of the commons situation, not sure I care.)

A couple days ago I was fairly depressed. I felt the kind of bad that wants to keep feeling bad.   I was stuck in the frame of my depression. However, I’ve learnt from experience that reaching out and complimenting people, as well as receiving good compliments can do a lot to fix my moods.

When I get into the depressed frame of mind, usually I’m looking for validation. I asked for some help…and I got the usual cheer crowd of “oh yeah you’re great and amazing.” I find this sort of complimenting/validation to be pretty unfulfilling and fake.  I decided I’d change things – complimenting is an art and I would teach my friends how to do it by “aggressively” complimenting them.

Compliments are an art, but not a particularly hard one to have heuristics about. A good compliment is specific, true, and comes from someone the receiver of the compliment respects as a trusted appraiser. These are generally the rules for feedback – positive or negative.  With that in mind, let’s go into what each of these mean.

Specific means the compliment is more than just saying someone is great generically. It’s saying concretely what you find complimentable – let’s say they’re a great writer.  You might say “Wow, you’re a really good writer,” but this isn’t very specific. A more specific compliment would be “The way you use words gives me vivid imagery of the scenes you’re describing” Specificity can be a difficult metric; it depends on how well you know them. It also depends on the relationship you have to them (such as if they are a coworker, or a friend you play video games with).  Being specific on dimensions of a person’s life that you don’t really know can do more harm than good, you might come off as ingenuine. If you say to a coworker, “I think you’re a really caring and gentle father who truly understands his children’s interests,” it might come off as insincere and possibly creepy because you complimented them as if you know other spheres of their life.

Compliments need to be true and plausible. If you say something that isn’t true, you’re going to get shot down and lose social capital.  Take the above example of the coworker and father – perhaps he’s actually a harsh disciplinarian to his kids even if he’s gentle at work, and your compliment just makes him feel uncomfortable.  If your compliment is not plausible given the frame that your target is in (when I’m depressed, it’s very hard to get me to accept fuzzy statements about my social skills, for example) it’s also likely to get shot down. This is why giving generic compliments is way safer.  You are unlikely to be socially punished if what you’re saying isn’t falsifiable. Generic compliments are far lower impact. A compliment that registers as untrue is going to backfire. You may even have the compliment recipient engaging in negative self talk. In my recent depressive episode, some of the compliments I received highlighted me as someone reliable. This doesn’t really fit my self image, especially when depressed – which caused me to respond that I felt generally like if someone gets an impression of reliability from me, they are being deceived.  Fortunately, we managed to negotiate the compliment to something I would accept and it actually felt pretty good. Other ways a compliment that feels untrue can backfire involve the recipient being less inclined to trust your judgment.

Compliments need to be given by someone the recipient considers a valid appraiser. If you hardly know a person, they aren’t going to expect you to have deep insight into how they think, what they care about or what they’ve invested energy into.  Let’s say you have someone who’s in a band – you’ve just met them, never heard their music, but try to tell them they play well, mirroring things they said themselves about their sound.  It’s clearly not going to a valid appraisal of their musical talent.

As a side note to valid appraisals, ingroup and outgroup dynamics can have a major impact on this dimension.  If you are regarded as outgroup by someone and you nail true/plausible, and specific, your compliment is going to be very high impact.  If you don’t hit those points, you’ll be ignored as someone who “doesn’t get it.” However, you won’t incur a social cost. On the flip side, if the recipient considers you in their ingroup, being a valid appraiser is mostly based on your reputation – i.e. do you shoot straight or do you harmonize with everyone? In the former case, you can give compliments that come off as blatant flattery, because you have a reputation for bluntness. If you’re aiming for harmony, you have to make sure you’re more specific in your compliment.  There are other cases, this is meant to be the general heuristic. Complimenting as an art is a combination of self knowledge and theory of mind. Once you get the hang of it, you can generate warm feelings and social capital rapidly.


Posting this might be a minor tragedy of the commons.  Most people know how to give halfway decent compliments… acting as if you aren’t capable of complimenting well is significantly cheaper in terms of signaling closeness. It does take effort, time, energy, and concentration to craft a well aimed compliment – and you might not want to do this every time you make a compliment. If generic compliments are devalued by knowledge of better techniques, it becomes harder to signal “I care about you” via lazily complimenting someone.

Making it clear that I am aware of how to compliment people makes my life harder.  Whenever I make a low-effort compliment people are going to say “oh, you know how to do way better than that, by giving a weaker compliment to what you would usually give, you are signaling that you don’t care much.” On the flip side, genuine, well aimed compliments feel amazing.  I like increasing the amount of amazing feeling in the world. As such, I want the common knowledge situation to prevail.

Overall, compliments are relatively easy to have heuristics for and take practice to really find the art intrinsic to them. The basic rules are to make sure that what you are saying is true, specific, and that you are being being assessed as someone valid to give the class of feedback you’re giving. There’s a meta point about whether you want to get in the habit of good compliment giving.  Being known for thoughtful compliments reduces the number of moves you can make if you want to do low cost signaling of compassion and care for someone. It’s perfectly reasonable to want to give off low cost signals, sometimes you don’t have the energy to properly do emotionally labor for someone – but the inherent illegibility to not giving decent compliments makes it easier to choose when to save that energy.  Still, compliments do feel amazing when done well, so it might be worth the tradeoff. As mentioned in the opening story, it can improve your own mood to reach out. Crafting a better compliment generates unexpected yields later in life – you won’t always be sure where it will lead, but it’s an interesting place to leap.

Discussion questions: How was your compliment game before reading this post? What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received? What’s the best compliment you’ve ever given? Do you think that the risk of losing lower effort emotional labor options is legitimate? If so, is it worth the tradeoff to develop a habit of good compliments?

On Iterative Socialization

(Epistemic Status: The usefulness of this really depends on if you think I’m good at socializing or if I’m terrible at it. This is kind of the secret to me verbalizing and S2ing various social things – I think it’s helpful to be able to invent your own vocabulary for this stuff.)

A year ago, roughly, I had my first hypomanic episode. It was scary, intense, wonderful, and was the first time I actively decided to change my life. I had been in the Boston rationalist scene for a bit, started getting invited to parties, was slowly accumulating social capital. I was a reasonably fun and likeable nerd to be around – but I wasn’t really in control of my interactions. Some nights would go well if someone approached me and lead me around the conversational circuit. Some nights would go poorly if I weren’t attached to someone to talk to. I didn’t really know how to initiate, to keep a conversation going, to be eloquent whatsoever. I had no idea what was going on in social reality or even that it existed. In March of 2017, I started taking steps to change that.

The first thing that happened is I basically decided that I was done sitting around at parties waiting for people I already liked to show up and just getting in a cluster with them. I was gonna talk to new people and find out who was interesting and make new friends. This worked surprisingly well – as I’m sure everyone knows, people like talking about themselves if you aren’t weird about it. The second thing that happened is I became significantly more open to new experience – going to new events, doing new things, meeting people on the internet for coffee. I was fairly wild, powered by hypomania – and it pretty much always worked well. The third thing that happened is what this post is about.

So, it’s one thing to suddenly become social and talk to a lot of people – it helps to train your S1 to do interesting things, you’ll skill up by default. A lot of the whole delayed social development thing is mostly lack of opportunities in childhood due to things “clicking” out of order – at least for most of the people I hang out with. It catches up eventually. The thing that I do that might be unusual and allows me to generate weird jargon for things (and also generally causes people to think I’m “interesting” and all that entails) is posthoc analysis of almost every conversation I have.

I spent a lot of time on public transit – it turns out this works well for the way I think about things. The time between “finishing a social interaction” and “going home afterward” is usually ~30 minutes, and I don’t have to do anything active during this time. I’m just sitting and thinking. My memory is usually good enough so if I do a quick recording of my impressions of what was important in a conversation, I can capture the gist of most of it, as well as a few specific examples of things that seemed unusual or notable. I simulate what I could have done that might have gone better, I consider options that might have gone worse, and I label things that had an effect and speculate on why that effect happened. This last bit is basically half of my blog posts.

What happens after that is I integrate what I’ve derived and try it out next social opportunities. And I make sure I have a lot of social opportunities. At my peak, I was pretty much going out to something or other 6 out of 7 nights a week. I didn’t really try a lot of things at work because the cost of failure was much higher – it’s different to experiment socially and mortally offend a coworker. It’s much easier experimenting socially and accidentally offending a friend who generally will understand if you’re honest about essentially trying to power level social through experience. It’s also easier to meet someone new, mess up the interaction, and just lose the potential tie – you’ll probably never see them again or if you do, you probably won’t be remembered that discretely.

Of course, the other part of iterative socializing is “how do I actually generate 6 opportunities to socialize in a given week.” This is admittedly a bit more illegible and generally relies on being in a big city – I think it would take a different skillset to successfully bootstrap social skills in a more rural environment. In the city though? It mostly relies on going to public events and being determined to talk with at least one person. If you hit it off, invite them out one on one. If you’re really doing well, they’ll want you to meet their other friends. The thing about social interaction and social graphs is it’s a very fast moving success spiral. Your schedule can go from 0 to full in less than 3 months.

Overall, iterative socialization is a combination of skills to get good at socializing in a way that is most in line with the way you interact with people “naturally”. The skills involved are actually starting conversations, finding events to go to that interest you, and being willing to do post hoc analysis of your interactions. If you’re good with words, labeling interactions that seemed “weird” in some way, as well as labelling patterns can be helpful to give you a handle on target interactions to replicate to raise your ability to be consistent in conversation. There is a bit of a caution here, though – conversation is not a road, it is much more flowing. Having a few patterns to work with can make it easier to jump off into good conversational flow – having too many patterns or scripts mostly just leads to either having the same conversations over and over, or to being very very good at talking with one type of person and very bad at other types of people. This is in fact an error I have made thus far – I made techniques as if they were universal, and a couple of them are, but I didn’t actually tag the type of people I was talking to in a legible fashion – so I still have a lot of work to do.

 

Discussion Questions: Do you ever analyze your conversations after the fact in a useful fashion (feedback looping over how embarrassing you were doesn’t count unless you get actionable changes to the way you behave)? Does this method help explain some of the underlying mechanisms of my social style? Does this method seem like it would be useful for improving your social skills? What are the flaws of this method in your experience?

On Basic Hypnotic Scripts

(Epistemic status:  Experimental but should work.

BONUS POST! People wanted to try this without the whole “using negative sensation to break an addiction thing” so ask and ye shall receive.)

Content warning:  This is a hypnosis script – it serves a very basic function intended to cause you to feel relaxed and content.  There are no triggers or lingering suggestions – still, it is meant to put you into trance

(Read this as slowly as you need to in order to let your focus rest on my words)

Hello there.

I hope you are doing well.

Today, I would like to help you enter a state of trance

The goal is nothing but providing the experience of trance in a gentle fashion

During the trance state, you will feel content

That is the extent of what will happen during the trance

Do you understand? Say yes or no aloud.

Yes? Very good.

Before we start, I want you to focus on your breathing. Notice how you are breathing in and out.

Keep your rate steady

Breathing in

Breathing out

Breathing in

Breathing out

Keep focusing on your breathing

Notice your body. Notice the tension

In your back, in your legs, in your shoulders

Wherever that tension might be

Focus on your breathing

Slowly release the tension from these areas

Start with your legs

Focus on your breathing

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Feel them unwind, your legs untensing as you focus on your screen

Focus on your breathing

Move your attention upward, feel the tension in your hips

Let that tension go

Focus on your breathing

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Move your attention upward, feel the tension in your back and stomach

Focus on your breathing

Unclench your stomach, relax your lower back

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Move your attention upward, feel the tension in your chest and shoulders

Focus on your breathing

Relax your chest, let your shoulders fall

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Move your attention upwards, feel the tension in your upper back and neck

Focus on your breathing

Allow your shoulderblades to fall, let your neck droop

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Move your attention upwards, to your head

Focus on your breathing

You might feel tension in your head, around your temples or forehead

Release that tension – it has no place here

You feel very good and relaxed

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Focus on your breathing

You might be feeling your eyes droop – that’s ok, you only need to be able to read the text

I’m going to bring you into trance now that you’re feeling relaxed

I’ll be counting up to 10

Ready?

1 – You feel relaxed, focused on these words

2 – You feel more deeply relaxed

3 – You feel yourself falling deeper and deeper into trance

4 – You feel so relaxed and entranced right now

5 – You feel even more deeply entranced

6 – You feel yourself falling deeper and deeper and deeper into trance

7 – You feel relaxed, entranced, and focused on your screen

8 – You feel even more deeply rested and relaxed

9 – You feel yourself falling deeper and deeper and deeper into trance

10 – You are in a state of trance

Do you feel relaxed? Say yes or no aloud.

Yes? Very good. I want you to focus on this feeling

Feel how relaxed and content you are

Let yourself go deeper, into the experience of relaxation

Feel yourself going deeper and deeper

Repeat after me

“I feel more relaxed”

Repeat after me

“I feel more content”

Repeat after me

“I feel more relaxed”

Repeat after me

“I feel more content”

Repeat after me

“I feel more relaxed”

Repeat after me

“I feel more content”

Repeat after me

“I feel more relaxed”

Repeat after me

“I feel more content”

Repeat after me

“I feel more relaxed”

Repeat after me

“I feel more content”

Did you repeat? Say yes or no aloud

Do you feel more content and relaxed? Say yes or no aloud

Yes? Very good.

I want you to hold this feeling of contentment

I want you to remember what it feels like to be relaxed and content so you can go back here more easily in the future

Can you do that? Say yes or no aloud

Yes? Very good.

I’m going to wake you up now

You’ll be leaving the state of trance

But it’s ok, because you’ll still feel relaxed and content when you wake up, for as long as you want to

You can let it go whenever you like

Ready to wake up?

I’m going to count down from 5

5 – You feel yourself floating upwards, less drawn to my words

4 – You feel a little more aware of your surroundings

3 – You feel able to move, to stretch

2 – You feel more awake, aware, refreshed

1 – You feel like you’re leaving trance

0 – You are awake, aware, refreshed, as if you’ve awoken from a nap

Discussion Questions:  Did that work?  If it didn’t, what seemed to cause it to breakdown?  I don’t usually do things this way, so I’m really looking for feedback.

 

On Addiction and Hypnosis

(Epistemic Status:  Theoretical – I haven’t tested this but this post is intended to provide a tool for breaking unwanted addictions)

CONTENT WARNING: This post contains a hypnotic script – the intended effect is to install an unpleasant nausea sensation when doing a physical motion associated with an addiction that you no longer wish to have.  If this is not an effect you desire, please Ctrl-F to “End”

EDIT:  Added warning – this is probably bad for people with scrupulosity issues.  If you tend to already feel pretty bad about your use of time, this isn’t for you)

Begin

(Read this as slowly as you need to in order to let your focus rest on my words)

Hello there.

I hope you are doing well.

Today, I would like to help you with something.

Would you like my help? Say yes or no aloud.

Yes? Very good.

Before we start, I want you to focus on your breathing. Notice how you are breathing in and out.

Keep your rate steady…breathing in

Breathing out

Breathing in

Breathing out

Keep focusing on your breathing…

Notice your body. Notice the tension

In your back, in your legs, in your shoulders

Wherever that tension might be

Focus on your breathing

Slowly release the tension from these areas

Start with your legs

Focus on your breathing

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Feel them unwind, your legs untensing as you focus on your screen

Focus on your breathing

Move your attention upward, feel the tension in your hips

Let that tension go

Focus on your breathing

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Move your attention upward, feel the tension in your back and stomach

Focus on your breathing

Unclench your stomach, relax your lower back

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Move your attention upward, feel the tension in your chest and shoulders

Focus on your breathing

Relax your chest, let your shoulders fall

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Move your attention upwards, feel the tension in your upper back and neck

Focus on your breathing

Allow your shoulderblades to fall, let your neck droop

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Move your attention upwards, to your head

Focus on your breathing

You might feel tension in your head, around your temples or forehead

Release that tension – it has no place here

You feel very good and relaxed

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Focus on your breathing

You might be feeling your eyes droop – that’s ok, you only need to be able to read the text

I’m going to bring you into trance now that you’re feeling relaxed

I’ll be counting up to 10

Ready?

1 – You feel relaxed, focused on these words

2 – You feel more deeply relaxed

3 – You feel yourself falling deeper and deeper into trance

4 – You feel so relaxed and entranced right now

5 – You feel even more deeply entranced

6 – You feel yourself falling deeper and deeper and deeper into trance

7 – You feel relaxed, entranced, and focused on your screen

8 – You feel even more deeply rested and relaxed

9 – You feel yourself falling deeper and deeper and deeper into trance

10 – You are in a state of trance

Now, you asked me for some help with something earlier – do you know what you want help with?

Say yes or no aloud.

Yes? Focus in on what you’d like help with – you will be thinking of an addiction that you no longer wish to have – a behavior that you engage in habitually that you do not want. It might be something like smoking or drinking. It might be something like videos games or television. If might be something other than this – and that’s ok.

I want you to think about what you do when engaging this behavior. Visualize yourself doing this activity. I want you to physically make the motion of doing this activity. If smoking is your vice, I want you bring your fingers to your lips, like you are taking a drag of a cigarette. If it is a game you want to no longer play, I want you to go through the clicks or gestures it takes to open the application.

Now, I want you focus on what you are feeling from that experience.

I want you to focus on how the motions of your addiction make you feel.

I want you to pay attention to all of your feelings – the expectation, the joy, the guilt, anything you might have felt.

Hold that feeling.

You can take some time to hold this feeling.

Do you understand how it feels? Say yes or no aloud.

Yes?

I want you to imagine a new feeling

This feeling is a physical sensation

Think about a time you’ve felt nauseous

Feel the rolling of your stomach, the queasiness at your core

Feel the dizziness, dazedness of that nausea

Feel that sensation of being on the edge of throwing up

Do you understand how it feels? Say yes or no aloud.

Yes?

Now add that feeling to what you feel when you start your addiction – do the same physical motion you did before

Hold the feelings from before

Add that nauseous feeling you just felt

Now, I want you to do that again

Do the same physical motion you did before

Hold the feelings from before

Add that nauseous feeling you just felt

Now, I want you to do that again

Do the same physical motion you did before

Hold the feelings from before

Add that nauseous feeling you just felt

Now, I want you to do that again

Do the same physical motion you did before

Hold the feelings from before

Add that nauseous feeling you just felt

Now, I want you to do that again

Do the same physical motion you did before

Hold the feelings from before

Add that nauseous feeling you just felt

Do you understand how this feels? Say yes or no aloud.

Yes?

Now, I want you to release all the earlier feelings

Let go of the nausea, the unpleasantness

Let go of the feelings from your addiction

I want you to hold a new feeling

Focus on your breathing

Relax.

Focus on your breathing

Relax.

Focus on your breathing

Relax.

Are you relaxed? Say yes or no aloud.

If the answer is no – reread the above and focus on your breathing

Relax.

If the answer is yes – Good.

I want you to feel relaxed, refreshed, and aware again

What you did just now will stay with you

If you engage in your addiction, you will feel nauseous

I will give you something else

When you choose not to engage in your addiction, you will feel relaxed and refreshed

When you choose not to engage in your addiction, you will feel relaxed and refreshed

When you choose not to engage in your addiction, you will feel relaxed and refreshed

Very good.

Our time is coming to a close

I’m going to count down from 5

You will be leaving trance

5 – You feel yourself floating upwards, less drawn to my words

4 – You feel a little more aware of your surroundings

3 – You feel able to move, to stretch

2 – You feel more awake, aware, refreshed

1 – You feel like you’re leaving trance

0 – You are awake, aware, refreshed, as if you’ve awoken from a nap

END

The above script is meant to address object level addictions. In particular, I expect it is a tool that can counter the habits that various games and electronic media install, if you wish. You can use it for other habits – in a sense, it is installing an ugh field around an activity you’ve lost control of via simple conditioning. On the meta level, this is meant to illustrate a certain concept about human behavior.

Humans will do the thing that is easiest for them to do.

“Easiest” sometimes manages to stretch over a longer timescale, which is related to “willpower,” but most frequently, people’s speed of consciousness choices are made based on an extremely limited possibility space that is mostly directed by affect and effort. The hypnosis script above makes it harder to do an addictive thing, which makes relative costs of other actions cheaper/easier. As such –

You can make an action harder until it leaves possibility space.

The inverse is also true and possibly more interesting.

You can make an action easier until it enters possibility space.

The above statement how one creates an ugh field breaker.

 

Discussion questions: If you used the above hypnotic script, did it help you break an addiction? What other ways have you made undesired behaviors harder. How would you make desired behaviors easier? As a meta note, should I write more posts that use hypnosis to demonstrate concepts?