The ABC’s of Luminosity

Sequence index: Living Luminously
Previously in sequence: Let There Be Light
Next in sequence: Lights, Camera, Action!

Affect, behavior, and circumstance interact with each other. These interactions constitute informative patterns that you should identify and use in your luminosity project.

You may find your understanding of this post significantly improved if you read the second story from Seven Shiny Stories.

The single most effective thing you can do when seeking luminosity is to learn to correlate your ABC’s, collecting data about how three interrelated items interact and appear together or separately.

A stands for “affect”. Affect is how you feel and what’s on your mind. It can be far more complicated than “enh, I’m fine” or “today I’m sad”. You have room for plenty of simultaneous emotions, and different ones can be directed at different things—being on a generally even keel about two different things isn’t the same as being nervous about one and cheerful about the other, and neither state is the same as being entirely focused on one subject that thrills you to pieces. If you’re nervous about your performance evaluation but tickled pink that you just bought a shiny new consumer good and looking forward to visiting your cousin next week yet irritated that you just stubbed your toe, all while being amused by the funny song on the radio, that’s this. For the sake of the alphabet, I’m lumping in less emotionally laden cognition here, too—what thoughts occur to you, what chains of reasoning you follow, what parts of the environment catch your attention.

B stands for “behavior”. Behavior here means what you actually do. Include as a dramatically lower-weighted category those things that you fully intended to do, and actually moved to do, but were then prevented from without from doing, or changed your mind about due to new, unanticipated information. This is critical. Fleeting designs and intentions cross our minds continually, and if you don’t firmly and definitively place your evidential weight on the things that ultimately result in action, you will get subconsciously cherry-picked subsets of those incomplete plan-wisps. This is particularly problematic because weaker intentions will be dissuaded by minor environmental complications at a much higher rate. Don’t worry overmuch about “real” plans that this filtering process discards. You’re trying to know yourself in toto, not yourself at your best time-slices when you valiantly meant to do good thing X and were buffetted by circumstance: if those dismissed real plans represent typical dispositions you have, then they’ll have their share of the cohort of actual behavior. Trust the law of averages.

C stands for “circumstance”. This is what’s going on around you (what time is it? what’s going on in your life now and recently and in the near future—major events, minor upheavals, plans for later, what people say to you? where are you: is it warm, cold, bright, dim, windy, calm, quiet, noisy, aromatic, odorless, featureless, busy, colorful, drab, natural, artificial, pretty, ugly, spacious, cozy, damp, dry, deserted, crowded, formal, informal, familiar, new, cluttered, or tidy?). It also covers what you’re doing and things inside you that are generally conceptualized as merely physical (are you exhausted, jetlagged, drugged, thirsty, hungry, sore, ill, drunk, energetic, itchy, limber, wired, shivering? are you draped over a recliner, hiding in a cellar, hangliding or dancing or hiking or drumming or hoeing or diving?) Circumstances are a bit easier to observe than affect and behavior. If you have trouble telling where you are and what you’re up to, your first priority shouldn’t be luminosity. And while we often have some trouble distinguishing between various physical ailments, there are strong pressures on our species to be able to tell when we’re hungry or in pain. Don’t neglect circumstance when performing correlative exercises just because it doesn’t seem as “the contents of your skull”-y. SAD should be evidence enough that our environments can profoundly influence our feelings. And wouldn’t it be weird, after all, if you felt and acted just the same while ballroom dancing, and while setting the timer on your microwave oven to reheat soup, and while crouching on the floor after having been taken hostage at the bank?

All of these things are interdependent:

  • A → B: Your affect influences your behavior most directly—affect, after all, captures what you’re thinking and feeling, and apart from purely reflexive actions, you’re going to act in response to that.

  • C → B: Circumstance also feeds very obviously into behavior. You cannot step on a gas pedal if there isn’t one in front of you; you can’t take a free sample of tapenade on a cracker if there aren’t any to be had; and I’ve found it dreadfully tricky to start twirling my skirt around when I’m wearing yoga pants.

  • A → C: Affect can change your circumstances via your behavior, but also by altering what happens to your body’s condition (we should all be familiar with how stress, for instance, can make you feel physically) and through your fellow human beings by virtue of nonverbal visibility.

  • B → C: Your behavior influences your circumstances, obviously—smash a window, and behold, there is a draft. Say something and the people around you will probably hear it and react.

  • B → A: Behavior can feed back into affect through hardwired two-way connections (smile and your emotions smile with you!) and through things like consistency effects, which make you become more like the person you seem to behaviorally emulate.

  • C → A: Your circumstances mess with your affect both consciously, through perception and knowledge (“it’s my birthday! yay!”), and subconsciously, via physical effects (if you are operating on excessive sleep debt you will not be pleased with the results).

So don’t just correlate how they appear together: also note cause and effect relationships. Until you’ve developed enough luminosity to detect these things directly, you may have to fall back on a little post-hoc guesswork for connections more complicated than “I was hungry and thinking about cheese, so then I ate some cheese”. Additionally, take note of any interesting absences. If something generally considered sad has happened to you, and you can detect no sadness in your affect or telltale physical side effects, that’s highly relevant data.

These correlations will form the building blocks of your first pass of model refinement, proceeding from the priors you extracted from external sources.