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. Alignment

In the al­ign­ment 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 al­ign­ment 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 al­ign­ment 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 al­ign­ment 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.