Actually updating

Ac­tu­ally up­dat­ing can be harder than it seems. Hear­ing the same ad­vice from other peo­ple and only re­ally un­der­stand­ing it the third time (though in­ter­nally you felt like you re­ally un­der­stood the first time) seems in­effi­cient. Hav­ing to give your­self the same ad­vice or have the same con­ver­sa­tion with your­self over and over again also seems pretty in­effi­cient. Re­cently, I’ve had sig­nifi­cant progress with ac­tu­ally caus­ing in­ter­nal shifts, and the ad­vice.. Well, you’ve prob­a­bly heard it be­fore. But hope­fully, this time you’ll re­ally get it.

Signs you might not be ac­tu­ally up­dat­ing.

  • You do some fo­cus­ing, and you dis­cover a prob­lem and you talk to a part of your­self and work through it. Then a week later, you find your­self hav­ing the same con­ver­sa­tion with that part of you.

  • You change your mind about do­ing some­thing but find that sus­pi­ciously your be­havi­our is not chang­ing or doesn’t change for that long.

  • Some­one says “X” and you go “oh yes, X”. Then, some time passes. Then some­one else says “X” and you go “ohhh yes, X, now I get it”. Then, some time passes. Then some­one else says “X” and you go “ohhhh yes of course, X, now I re­ally get it”. Etc.

  • You feel like you be­lieve X but yet keep find­ing your­self be­hav­ing as though you don’t be­lieve X.

  • You feel like your ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tions are run­ning so deep that you can’t seem to catch them. You’re do­ing things that seem to make sense but then some­thing might hap­pen that makes you feel like your be­havi­our was ac­tu­ally driven by a ‘ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion’. To make this clearer, imag­ine some­thing hap­pens (event Y) that changes your opinion of X. Maybe you re­al­ise that the thing ‘shouldn’t’ be much ev­i­dence at all. You de­cide it will only slightly af­fect your opinion. You may end up with a cer­tain con­clu­sion by look­ing at old ev­i­dence and this thing Y (that you have ac­tively de­cided to only weight a small amount). Then, some­thing may then hap­pen that makes you re­ally be­lieve that thing Y is small ev­i­dence. Sud­denly, you are look­ing at the same ev­i­dence and this thing Y (weighted the same amount as you tried to weight it be­fore), but you have a differ­ent con­clu­sion. It’s like you are look­ing at the ev­i­dence through a differ­ent ‘lens’. It seems like you are able to ex­ploit un­cer­tainty around ev­i­dence to get differ­ing con­clu­sions de­pend­ing on this ‘lens’. This whole thing might make you feel large in­ter­nal dis­trust.

Plau­si­ble hypotheses

Plau­si­ble hy­poth­e­sis 1: Some things take longer to di­gest than other things. Maybe you just need time to ac­tu­ally up­date mod­els.

Plau­si­ble hy­poth­e­sis 2: If you change a fun­da­men­tal node in your ‘be­lief net­work’, it can be hard to change pat­terns of be­havi­our and re­ac­tions. You might not be­lieve thing X but be­have like you think thing X be­cause you are mostly work­ing on auto-pi­lot and habits are hard to break out of. This is es­pe­cially salient when a piece of ac­tual be­havi­our is ‘far away’ from the node that has been changed (so that it seems un­re­lated at a glance).

Plau­si­ble hy­poth­e­sis 3: A lot of the things peo­ple are try­ing to teach you are ‘pur­ple knowl­edge’. This may mean you may just need lots of ges­tur­ing at a thing, or to de­velop a cer­tain in­tu­ition be­fore a cer­tain thing ac­tu­ally makes sense.

I think it’s likely these hy­pothe­ses play at least some role in what is hap­pen­ing. How­ever, in my case some­thing else was play­ing a larger role.

What was go­ing wrong for me

The hy­poth­e­sis that seems right for my situ­a­tion: I was not re­ally listen­ing to some parts of me. In an at­tempt to listen to all parts of me, I was do­ing a few things that would cause the pro­cess to fail:

  • Cal­ling things ‘bi­ases’. Us­ing words like ‘anx­iety’ and ‘perfec­tion­ism’ that cause me to box up a part of my­self and be­lieve blindly that it’s do­ing some­thing wrong. Warn­ing flags should arise if you re­al­ise that you be­lieve some­thing is wrong for rea­sons sep­a­rate to the ac­tual words that part of you is say­ing. If no mat­ter what a part of you says, you think it’s wrong—you’re be­ing pretty bru­tal to your­self.

  • Say­ing “I don’t know what the right an­swer is and should listen to all parts of me” whilst in­ter­nally feel­ing like one side of me is ob­vi­ously go­ing to win

  • Look­ing at a part of my­self and be­liev­ing that it’s try­ing to help but just think­ing that it’s go­ing to be ‘silly’ be­cause it was adapted for a differ­ent situ­a­tion “which definitely doesn’t ap­ply here”.

  • Straw­man­ning a part of my­self. Be­ing quick to feel like I’ve un­der­stood a part of my­self and re­solved the prob­lem there. Want­ing to solve the prob­lem quickly and just as­sum­ing feel­ings of dis­com­fort af­ter­wards was just ‘resi­due pain’.

  • Defer­ring to “ex­perts”. Per­son Y told me X was good and I un­der­stand their rea­son­ing, so X must be good. The lit­tle part of me that dis­agrees is just be­ing stupid.

  • Us­ing words like ‘weird’ when talk­ing about any dis­agree­ment I have with an ‘ex­pert’ and feel­ing pres­sure to up­date quickly (en­courages straw­man­ning a part of my­self, and be­ing quick to think I’ve un­der­stood where a part of me is com­ing from).

  • Not fo­cus­ing enough through­out the pro­cess to make sure I’m in ac­tual con­tact with the part of me that feels a cer­tain way. It might be es­pe­cially hard to be in touch with the parts of you when talk­ing to an ‘ex­pert’.

  • Not pay­ing at­ten­tion to meta parts. Maybe I’m try­ing to de­cide be­tween X and Y. I shouldn’t just be pay­ing at­ten­tion to my feel­ings about X and Y. It’s good and worth­while to pay at­ten­tion to why I’m find­ing it hard to make this de­ci­sion. Or why I’m find­ing it con­fus­ing. There may be parts that should be in­volved in the dis­cus­sion that are miss­ing.

  • Just think­ing re­ally hard and not do­ing ex­per­i­ments. If you are un­sure about a trade­off or if some­thing is true or just a nice story, ex­per­i­ment with it in the real world. Come up with hy­pothe­ses and test them.

The thing that changed and al­lowed me to ac­tu­ally start up­dat­ing more effi­ciently was that I ac­tu­ally started be­liev­ing that all parts of me are pretty smart. I started be­liev­ing this be­cause I started ac­tu­ally listen­ing to my­self and re­al­ised that these parts of me weren’t say­ing the ‘ob­vi­ously wrong’ things I thought they were say­ing. I be­gan to stop just listen­ing to ex­perts and go­ing ‘what they are say­ing makes sense’ and started hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions where I just en­tirely let the part of me that dis­agreed say all the rea­sons it dis­agreed and ‘fight’ the ex­pert. I al­lowed that part of me to have con­tact with the world and this meant that part of me could learn. And it worked.

This whole post is some­thing you’ve prob­a­bly heard be­fore—“listen to all parts of you”, “don’t write the fi­nal line”, etc. None of this stuff was new to me, and yet, it feels like a les­son I’ve just learnt. I hope you let the part of you that might think this is all wrong ‘fight’ with me. And hope­fully that will cause one of us to ac­tu­ally up­date to­wards the truth.