Emotional Training Model

Bear­lamp: Pre­vi­ous, First

Greater­wrong: Pre­vi­ous, First

Less­wrong: Pre­vi­ous, First

Life is prop­a­gated by two main clusters of emo­tions. (*Yes I know it’s more like a spec­trum but this is the poor sim­plifi­ca­tion I am us­ing for now)

The “good” feel­ings that we move to­wards, and the “bad” feel­ings that we move away from. (then there’s the neu­tral ones we hang around in some­times but that’s for an­other time).

If you spend your life always run­ning from the bad ones and always run­ning to­wards the good ones, you may have a good life. You may have a life that just gets lucky and has more good than bad. Alter­na­tively you may have hard things to do that in­volve feel­ing un­com­fortable for short or long pe­ri­ods of time. If you are for­ever run­ning away from the bad emo­tions, and for­ever ad­dicted to run­ning to­wards the good emo­tions, you are severely limited in your agency com­pared to if you have even a lit­tle bit of free­dom to do some­thing like, “avoid short term re­wards”, or “put up with scary mo­ments” on the way to other ex­pe­riences. (see also The Trauma model of men­tal health)

The car­ni­val ride example

Char­lie the five year old goes on a car­ni­val ride. Char­lie the five year old throws up. Char­lie the five year old learns that car­ni­val rides make you feel ter­rible.

In (one of many) healthy wor­lds: When char­lie turns ten, his friends ask him to go to the car­ni­val again. Char­lie re­al­ises that the car­ni­val ride might be differ­ent now, he fuels him­self with a bit of peer pres­sure and he runs a new ex­per­i­ment, push­ing back on the ter­rible feel­ing that he would usu­ally avoid and rewrites his in­cli­na­tion to avoid ter­rible things. Con­se­quently char­lie re­learns that a car­ni­val ride is only some­times ter­rible and with the sup­port of friends it can be good.

In (one of many) un­healthy wor­lds: When char­lie turns ten, his friends ask him to go to the car­ni­val again. Char­lie re­mem­bers that the car­ni­val rides feel ter­rible and de­cides not to go to the car­ni­val. This re­in­forces the ter­rible feel­ing. Char­lie feels en­tirely jus­tified in avoid­ing a ter­rible thing, his friends don’t re­ally care ei­ther way and life goes on. Char­lie keep­ing a tiny re­in­forced ex­pe­rience that he should avoid ter­rible things.

Ob­jec­tively speak­ing, a car­ni­val ride is not ter­rible or good. Sub­jec­tively, the feel­ings we at­tach to such ex­pe­riences are what guides us in fu­ture ex­pe­riences. Rightly or wrongly, all pos­si­ble fu­tures for char­lie are go­ing to be guided by the pos­si­bil­ity that those emo­tions will come up.

In an ideal world, our emo­tions, our s1 will be trained ac­cu­rately from our sur­round­ings.

In pre­his­toric times, we avoid the crocodile lake be­cause we feel scared of the dan­ger there. The hu­mans who didn’t feel scared of the dan­ger, didn’t avoid the lake, didn’t live, and didn’t pass on their genes.

Un­for­tu­nately we don’t live in an ideal world for emo­tional train­ing, and de­spite the best of in­ten­tions we can still wind up with emo­tional maps that don’t help us to win at life.

The good news is that we can re-train our early emo­tional mod­els of the world. The bad news is that it’s prob­a­bly the hard­est thing I’ve ever done, and peo­ple spend years med­i­tat­ing on moun­tain tops for equa­nim­ity to­wards all ex­pe­riences.

With that in mind—let’s be­gin.


Practice

The des­ti­na­tion is the abil­ity to feel un­com­fortable feel­ings. The re­sult is to get to the other side. Un­for­tu­nately like all cryp­tic jour­neys, you can’t be too fo­cused on the re­sult or you will miss the whole “value in the jour­ney” thing that all those wise peo­ple talk about. You can think of this prac­tice as a med­i­ta­tion on feelings

(This looks similar to ACT, that’s be­cause it is.)

To start—ask your­self, “How am I feel­ing?“. That will give you an en­try point. There’s always an en­try point. Even if it’s con­fused, or I feel like not do­ing this ex­er­cise right now, or I feel like be­ing dis­tracted by that other tab.

Then ask, “What is it like be­ing me right now feel­ing X?”. This ques­tion de­vel­ops a re­la­tion­ship to the thought­stream.

For our 3 ex­am­ples above:

  1. Con­fused feels like Silly

  2. Not do­ing the ex­er­cise feels rebellious

  3. Dis­trac­tion Feels ex­cit­ing or Guitly

Re­peat the ques­tion with the new find, “What does it feel like be­ing me right now feel­ing X?”. Build­ing the on­go­ing re­la­tion­ship with the thought­stream.

  1. Silly feels like A clown that peo­ple would poke fun at (this is an ex­am­ple of a metaphor­i­cal poin­ter to a feel­ing)

  2. Re­bel­lious feels em­pow­er­ing but then also scary

  3. Ex­cit­ing Feels like miss­ing out or Like be­ing stuck in the class­room dur­ing lunch time when ev­ery­one else is out­side play­ing (This is an­other ex­am­ple of the metaphor)

  4. Guilty feels like a heavy weight in my chest (this is an ex­am­ple of a phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of a feel­ing)

Th­ese paths fur­ther each might open up into other feel­ing paths.

  • A clown that peo­ple would poke fun at

  • What does it feel like to be the clown any­way?

  • What does it feel like to be the per­son laugh­ing at the clown here?

  • What does it feel like to be poked fun at?

  • Empowering

  • What does it feel like be­ing me right now, feel­ing em­pow­ered?

  • What if I did the op­po­site? How would that feel?

  • Scary

  • What does it feel like be­ing scared like this right now?

  • Miss­ing out

  • What does it feel like to miss out right now?

  • Like be­ing stuck in the class­room dur­ing lunch time when ev­ery­one else is out­side playing

  • What does it feel like to be stuck in the class­room?

  • a heavy weight in my chest

  • What does it feel like to be heavy in the chest right now?

For the pur­pose of ex­am­ple, I’ve gen­er­ated mul­ti­ple paths. In prac­tice I’d be look­ing to go down one path at a time. That might look like this:

  1. How am I feel­ing right now?

  2. I feel con­fused about the exercise

  3. What is it like be­ing me right now feel­ing con­fused?

  4. Silly

  5. What is it like be­ing me right now feel­ing silly?

  6. Like a clown be­ing poked fun at

  7. What does it feel like to be the clown?

  8. Em­bar­ras­ing …

And on­ward through sev­eral feel­ings. At some point, it be­comes use­ful to not run from a feel­ing to the next feel­ing, and in­stead sit on it for a mo­ment. That might be af­ter 10, 20 or 30+ differ­ent stops along the jour­ney.

(in the in­ter­est of be­ing brief I’m go­ing to stop at 8 in­stead of 30) At 8, that means feel­ing em­bar­rassed, but in­stead of ask­ing my­self for the an­swer of what it feels like to feel em­bar­rassed—I stop and try to feel what it feels like to feel em­bar­rassed.

In­stead of look­ing for a word un­der­neath em­bar­rassed, I feel the feel­ing of em­bar­rassed. And wait. And it’s un­com­fortable, but to get dis­tracted by the un­com­fortable feel­ing would be to leave em­bar­rassed. So I go back to em­bar­rassed. And it gets heavy. And to get dis­tracted onto heavy would be to not be em­bar­rassed any more. And it feels like some­thing is crush­ing my chest, and it’s get­ting tighter. And it might crush me, and I might not breathe. And I wait.

And then it stops crush­ing. And it soft­ens, and it eases, and it lev­els out to a differ­ent feel­ing. And I take a deep breath. And I feel calm. A very deep sense of calm. I feel like I’d be okay be­ing em­bar­rassed. As long as I re­mem­ber that there’s a sense of calm un­der­neath.

And I feel calm. And I feel re­lieved, and com­plete.


And that’s what it feels like to feel an un­com­fortable feel­ing and get to the other side. That’s what it feels like to un­train the car­ni­val ride effect.

Next post: Feed­back from emotions