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.