A Framework for Internal Debugging

When I’m debugging myself or others for unproductive behavioral, emotional, or mental patterns (hereby referred to as patterns) , I use this quasi-linear framework to make sure that I don’t miss any critical steps and the issue stays solved. I’ve used this framework successfully with clients, housemates at Gentle Mesa, and hotel mates at The EA Hotel, as well as in debugging my own internal conflicts. I’m currently creating a GuidedTrack course that takes people through search of these steps and their associated techniques.

This model makes some assumptions about the underlying structure of the internal issue. It generally assumes that our patterns have internal reasons behind them, that those reasons are often coded as subconscious beliefs about the world or yourself, and that those beliefs sometimes cluster together to be understood as what we often refer to as “parts” or “subagents”.

Finally, it assumes that when we have a pattern that we consider negative, one way to understand this is a tension between the part that is causing the pattern and the part that sees that pattern as negative (hereby referred to as anti-patterns). A successful debugging is one in which that tension is dissolved, rearranged, or in rare cases, accepted.

1. Awareness

The first step to solving an internal conflict is recognizing that you have it. In this stage, you use awareness of self-talk, mental imagery, and bodily sensations to notice that there’s something “off”.

Associated Techniques

  • Mindfulness

  • CFAR’s Bug List Prompts

  • CFAR’s MurphyJitsu

2. Introspection

In this stage, you work to understand the cause of the pattern. You’re trying to make explicitly conscious the beliefs that underlie the pattern. On the flipside, you’re working to understand the cause of the anti-pattern, and the beliefs that cause the pattern to be seen as problem.

It’s often useful here to not just understand the first level need being met (e.g. “I don’t want to procrastinate because it lets me be more productive”) but to find the “deeper cut”—The deeper need or fear that is being served (e.g. “If I’m not productive than I don’t deserve anybody’s love”)

Finally, in this step, it’s important to check for “second order constructions”—that is, do I have a belief that this tension needs to exist in order to meet another need. Do I have a belief that if either of these beliefs are dissolved something bad will happen (beyond not meeting the original need the belief was obstensibly there for).

For example “I have to believe that my father is a nice person, because if I didn’t the identity based on my childhood would crumble and that would be scary,” or”It’s important to strike a balance between being productive and relaxing so that I can see myself as well rounded. If I dissolve this tension, I’ll stop being well-rounded.”

Associated Techniques

  • Gendlin’s Focusing

  • Leverage’s Belief Reporting

  • Pj Eby’s Relaxed Mental Inquiry

  • Coherence Therapy’s Radical Inquiry

3. Acceptance

In the acceptance stage, you’re working to truly integrate that you’ve been choosing this pattern over an alternative in order to get your needs met (based on the beliefs you introspected in the last step). You’re also working to accept that this pattern is not malicious or something to be destroyed, but instead honor that it’s based on it’s wisdom and beliefs. On the flip side, you’re looking to accept the deeper cut behind the anti-pattern, and the deep reasons that drove you to try to solve the problem in the first place.

There are two different flavors of acceptance. A more ‘yin’ acceptance in which you’re accepting the beliefs you had as valid and embracing them with love, which can be hard for the anti-pattern. And a ‘yang’ acceptance in which you’re taking ownership that you’ve caused the negative pattern in your life and chosen to continue it up to now, against the protests of the anti-pattern. Note that if you merely flipped which part was the pattern and the anti-pattern, the yin and yang methods flip as well.

A complete acceptance that doesn’t cause problems in the future should include both types of acceptance, which as pointed out is symmetrical to an acceptance of both parts (the pattern and the anti-pattern).

Associated Techniques

  • Coherence Therapy’s Practice of Verbalizing Beliefs

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’s Half Smile, Open Hands

  • Neuro-Linguistic Programming’s Future Projection

  • Sedona Method’s Three Questions

4. Memory Reconsolidation

In the memory reconsolidation stage, the goal is to find a way to get all needs met. This can involve the pattern and the anti-pattern both dissolving to create a third, new pattern. Or it can involve either the pattern or the anti-pattern dissolving in a realization they’re not required to get their need met. Sometimes, it can involve an add on belief that even though the pattern or the anti-pattern is not getting their need met, that’s ok temporarily.

There are dozens of techniques I’ve cataloged for working different types of reconsolidation on different types of patterns encoded in different modalities. In fact, the alignment part of the process itself a process of going through a series of different types of techniques based on the properties of the patterns until you find one that fits.

A useful distinction to have is between techniques that use reconditioning (that is, slowly building up the new belief neuron pathways over time, so they it fire instead of the old one) with techniques that use reintegration (that is, they use the process of emotional memory reintegration to change the original pathway such that they match the new belief). Reintegration techniques should be a go-to as they are much faster and more permanent, but it’s good to have both tools in your toolbox. I’ll be writing a post up about this distinction and the book I learned it from (Unlocking the Emotional Brain) at some point.

Associated Techniques

  • CFAR’s Internal Double Crux

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’s Thought Countering

  • Bryon Katie’s The Work

  • Mark Lippman’s Folding

  • My Dialectical Reprocessing Technique

5. Completeness and Creation

This is really two steps, but it’s rolled into one for the purposes of keeping the process linear. Now that you’ve made a new pattern through reconsolidation that aims to get all needs met, you need to make sure that you have everything you need to actually meet that need.

For instance, you started with a pattern that said you needed to be serious all the time to get work done, and a pattern that didn’t like being serious all the time because it didn’t help you socially. Your new pattern says that you can work in an easy, carefree joking way. However, when you use some of the “completeness checks” below, you realize that you’re missing some of the internal and external resources needed to actually act easy, carefree and joking.

  • You realize that even though you no longer have a self-image of yourself as serious, you still don’t have an image of yourself as carefree.

  • You realize that even though you imagine yourself joking around with this new belief, when you get higher resolution you don’t actually have the skill to make jokes.

So, you use the creation step to install these new supporting beliefs, habits, and skills needed to actually get your needs met.

Associated Completeness Check Techniques

  • CFAR’s MurphyJitsu

  • Neuro-Linguistic Programming’s Future Projection.

  • TRIZ’s 9 Window Technique

Associated Creation Techniques

  • CFAR’s Trigger-Action Plans

  • Steve Andreas’s Self-Image Installation

  • My Three Books Technique

  • Neuro-Linguistic Programming’s Swish Technique

6. Ecology

Now that you’ve made many changes internally, a final check of your whole life and environment is done to ensure that you haven’t created conflicts and tension elsewhere in the process of resolving your old pattern and anti-pattern. You’ll use a number of techniques to see consequences of the changes you made, and then you’ll use your awareness techniques to notice any new conflicts that arise. If any do, you’ll repeat the rest of the process.

Associated Techniques

  • CFAR’s Inner-Sim

  • Neuro-Linguistic Programming’s Perceptual Positions

  • Timeline Therapy’s Timeline Check

7. Integration

In the integration step, you’ll take the new patterns you’ve created in the reconsolidation and creation steps. and integrate them in two ways. Firstly, you’ll want to tie the new neuron pattern for the pathway to as many other paths as possible, lest you forget it. Second, you’ll want to make the new pattern as deeply as possible tied to your most fundamental values, such that it becomes core to who you are.

Associated Techniques

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy’s Mental Rehearsal

  • Neuro-Linguistic Programming’s Swish Technique

  • Connirae Andreas’s Parental Timeline Reimprinting

  • Connirae Andreas’s Core Transformation

  • My Modality Integration Technique


This is a process that has been invaluable to me in helping myself and others overcome bothersome patterns. It gives you a framework to hang many techniques on such that you know when they’re useful. And it shows you where things may not be working for you if you’re skipping or missing steps. I hope others can get some use from it.