How to reliably signal internal experience?

post by df fd (df-fd) · 2020-12-27T11:18:14.451Z · LW · GW · 15 comments

This is a question post.

So my friends told me that they think I was being defeatist and not trying the best I could to do what I said I want to do. 

So I shrugged,  Akrasia, am I right? And take on more work toward my professed goals.

Almost immediately, I meet severe internal resistance. A general sense of vague fatigue and tiredness, running out of spoons.

I reported this to my friends who continue to believe that I was standing in my own way to success. 

I shrugged, inside-outside views time, I trust my friend's rational ability as much as mine, and if I look from the outside as if I am shirking it, how likely is it that I actually am?

I continue the intensified schedule until I got heartburn, which I assume to be from the stress since I haven't changed eating habit. I took it to mean that the intensified schedule is unsustainable long term. 

eh have to try it to know it.

Looking back, however, it struck me how easy it is to explain to my friends that I am already at the limit by citing stress-induced heartburn compare to a vague sense of fatigue and tiredness, an insufficiency of spoons.

I would assume that it is better for me to stop before actual stress-induced anything happened since they would also sap at the already depleted willpower, take time to heal, and bad for health. But I also want my friends to spur me on when I appear to be slacking, social motivation is a thing you know?

The question is: is there any way I can signal "I am at my limit" without having to wait for my body to actually break down and report that?

[related "pain is not the unit of effort" and "pain is the unit of effort"]

a few solutions:

Unrelated, I am also wondering if I am teaching my body some bad habits, [i.e. body see: stress->report breakdown->stress goes away. body learns to report breakdown when stress regardless of breakdown]. I am also wondering if I should view my body so adversarially.

Answers

answer by Liriodendron · 2020-12-27T16:45:02.574Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can say:

"My body's telling me I'm stressed."

"My body's telling me this isn't sustainable."

"My body's telling me no."

Internal experience is very important for things like this. Citing it is a valid response, and your friends ought to respect that, even in an "ask culture" where they are welcome to push you and ask hard questions.

Personal effort does generate stress (sometimes distress, sometimes eustress). Although a doctor can use crude tools like e.g. checking your blood pressure, you have a much more sensitive ability to understand your body and stress level than anyone else. Most of us have less of that ability than would be ideal, so we should value and cultivate what we do have.

That said, "this is stressful/unsustainable" doesn't mean that it was a bad idea to give that thing a try. Like you said, "have to try it to know it." Nor does it necessarily mean that it would continue to be equally stressful/unsustainable if you were to continue. New routines come with a transaction cost of added stress. Sometimes if you can get over that hump, it gets better. Sometimes not.

Even "my body is telling me no" about something that would not in fact get easier with practice doesn't necessarily mean that your productivity is capped at that level. It just means your "working harder" is capped at that level, currently. "Working smarter" is sometimes an option. And your personal budget for stress will wax and wane depending on outside factors. E.g. sleep, nutrition, security, social affirmation, etc. We are still in a pandemic, and many coping methods for replenishing ourselves have been unavailable for a long time. So maybe now just isn't the time.

I think it was good that you listened to your body, and good that you're asking these questions about the value and nature of personal experience and how to communicate it.

comment by df fd (df-fd) · 2020-12-28T04:59:41.558Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

this makes sense, but I am also in the reverse position where I saw a friend heading down a destructive path where he is constantly complaining about his current situation and also claim that he is at the limit of will power to change [even before the covid thing]. 

I am at a loss as to how I should evaluate his statement to determine my action. i.e. should I take his statement at face value and let him arrange his own life to suit his limited capacity or should I push him to change despite his statement otherwise?

in short, I found it hard to determine if other people actually hit their limit or not.

answer by Kaj_Sotala · 2020-12-31T19:30:26.233Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To answer the question of "how to describe internal experience": you could practice describing felt senses [LW · GW] in more detail. For example, recently when I found my mind resisting the idea of doing something, I said "when I think of doing this, it feels like there's a part of my mind that says NO, and then I have a sense of there being a brick wall in front of me and it feels like if I try to push through, I'll just end up with a splitting headache". This was literally my experience.

To answer the question of "how to reliably signal internal experience": I'd say you can't. If you are looking for something that will always convince your friends of your experience, then there is no such thing: they could always believe that you were faking, or maybe not even faking but somehow subconsciously deluding yourself. Which you could be!

To believe your report, your friends have to have at least some genuine curiosity for, and openness to, your experience. If your friends don't have that, then - as others have mentioned - it would be better to look for better friends.

To answer the question of "what to do when I think I am doing my best but an outside view suggests that I am being needlessly defeatist": I think that in this case, even if the outside view was right, the best answer would not necessarily be to force yourself forward and work harder. 

Well, it depends on the circumstances - maybe you have something left undone that really needs to be done now for you to pay your rent next month, in which case, yeah probably just push yourself.

But in general, this kind of situation means that a part of your mind has information that makes it believe it is an important priority to stop you from doing whatever it is that you feel defeatist about. If you force yourself through, that may work in the short term, but the mind will react to that by noticing that you are doing something that it perceives to be dangerous, and increase the amount of resistance until you become unable to continue pushing through the thing. (If the resistance is mild, this might not be true, especially if pushing through gets you something that feels genuinely rewarding to counterbalance it; but often it is.)

In that case, what you want to do is not to push through, but take the time to find the source of that resistance and investigate why it is that your mind considers this to be a bad idea. If it's mistaken, it can be possible to reconsolidate the emotional learning [LW · GW] that's blocking you. Though I suspect that in a lot of cases that lead to burnout, it's actually the other way around: you are doing something because a part of your mind has the mistaken belief that doing this will lead you to something that it is optimizing for, with the rest of the mind throwing up resistance because it knows that fact to be mistaken [LW · GW].

comment by df fd (df-fd) · 2021-01-03T09:56:30.638Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

huhm, I didn't realize I was asking multiples question at once, thank for clarifying, that was helpful.

your answer seems to give me something, I am not sure what. I would have to meditate on it.

I'll try out what you suggest though I am a bit foggy on the detail. Will see how it turn out.

answer by Dagon · 2020-12-31T18:58:18.478Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think "friends" is too broad a category to explore options for this.  I also suspect it's not the right question to ask.

For close, long-term friends, the question shouldn't be about signaling, but about communication with them, and with yourself.  "I am at my limit" can be a condition that you should seek professional help to figure out if that's a permanent limit, or if it can be exercised and increased.  Depending on the friends' group culture, they may or may not be able to assist in that recommendation, and are simply expressing it as "that's way less than most people can do, you're hurting yourself by accepting it before you've explored every option to increase it".

For more distant relationships, like work-friends and friend-acquaintances, signaling gets much more complicated.  Saying "I'm at my limit" is also saying 'I'm not a very good ally - my limit is low and you shouldn't invest much in our relationship".  Many people look for alternate explanations for their lack of spoons in these contexts - too busy with other things, wiped out from other obligations, etc.   These are true but misleading, but make it a lot easier to maintain the acquaintanceship without them trying to fix you without knowing you.

The specific signals and communication of your emotional and physical state and it's impact on your interactions with people can vary EXTREMELY widely.  In some groups, "I'm out of spoons, I'm going to take a bath and watch Netflix rather than our planned game night" is understood and accepted.  In other groups, it would be an affront. Many cultures allow "migraine" as a somewhat-frequent reason for canceling, many have varying limits on when you'd be expected to "suck it up".

comment by df fd (df-fd) · 2021-01-03T09:48:45.148Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

ooohhhh yes, this makes something clicked for me. I have not considered it in relation to simple acquaintances.

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comment by ChristianKl · 2020-12-27T22:39:08.864Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why do you need to signal to your friends? The point of being a friend is to over advice but not to punish you if you aren't working towards goals that you set yourself.

Replies from: df-fd
comment by df fd (df-fd) · 2020-12-28T05:09:43.824Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

uhm take the rational norm in lesswrong. But imagine for some reason people have a limit on how rational they can get, so they behave irrationally sometimes when they hit their limit. From the outside, you can't tell whether a person is behaving irrationally because they hit their limit or for other reasons. If you do nothing your community is getting more irrational, if you push all people to be more rational you risk hurting people at their limit.

replace rationality with whatever group norm that is beneficial to enforce, and that is pretty close to why I want to find a way to reliably signal limit.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2020-12-28T12:08:47.559Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you do nothing your community is getting more irrational, if you push all people to be more rational you risk hurting people at their limit.

There are many ways to interact with other people that are not about pushing them to take certain actions. 

benkuhn recently wrote To listen well, get curious [LW · GW]for general heuristics about how to interact with your friends that's not about pushing them when they have an issue.

In the more rational enviroment there are a bunch of techniques that can be used. If a fellow rationalist seems to be blocked asking them to do internal double crux is much more likely to help them putting pressure on them to push them. 

Replies from: df-fd
comment by df fd (df-fd) · 2021-01-03T10:08:47.565Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

forgive me if I misunderstand you.

but from my point of view there can only be 3 stands on looking at behavior.

encourage [or push for] 

discourage [or push against]

do not touch and stay away.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2021-01-03T13:23:33.132Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those are not the only options. I wrote Not all communication is manipulation: Chaperones don't manipulate proteins [LW · GW] on how there are moves that are space holding and not about encouraging or discouraging certain outcomes. 

Replies from: df-fd
comment by df fd (df-fd) · 2021-01-04T03:07:35.150Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I will think on this

comment by frontier64 · 2020-12-28T05:55:23.559Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think knowing about the actual object level problem here would help in crafting a suitable solution. My main question is why are you informing your friends that you're at your limit?

Are you participating in some group activity (e.g. going to the gym) that you feel you have to drop out of? If so I strongly recommend just working through the pain until what's stopping you is no longer pain winning over willpower but physical incapability to proceed. At that point you don't even need to tell your friends you're at your limit because no matter what you're going to flop to the ground unable to continue with the activity. You clearly want to do the group activity, because you haven't even posited quitting as an option, so rely on your decision to do the group activity and trust that you're not going to cause any lasting harm to yourself by working through the pain.

If you're not participating in a group activity (e.g. you had to take off sick from work and you told your friends about it the next day) I see good reasons to not inform your friends that you're at your limit at all. You know what their expected response is, and you don't think that expected response is helpful. So might as well just not go through the routine that will give you the bad response.

Replies from: df-fd
comment by df fd (df-fd) · 2021-01-03T10:06:01.690Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

for a simplified story say I am currently spending 4 hours every day consuming mindless entertainment just to make myself feel good enough to go to work.

my friends believe that it's too much and/or not typical. So I converted one hour into productive time [exercise, study, etc] which results in heartburn.

I want to be able to communicate my internal experience so my friends can suggest an alternative way I can convert that hour without hurting myself.

Replies from: AnthonyC
comment by AnthonyC · 2021-01-29T20:44:31.085Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have been in that kind of state many times, sometimes for months at a stretch, and agree that just trying to force myself to do otherwise is unsustainable. However, like others have said, I think you're overlooking a large portion of the space of possible options.

How does your job make you feel while you're there? Maybe the answer if to change jobs, change companies, change how you approach your job, or something else.

Is the mindless entertainment actually restorative, or is it just kind of acting as a placeholder that neither provides nor consumes energy? Sometimes I can get more out of a 5 minute meditation than watching an hour of TV, sometimes I need a 30 minute nap, sometimes I really do need to do something mindless, and it's hard for me to differentiate those. Also, for me, mindless chores that involve movement, like folding laundry or washing dishes, are often better than mindless entertainment.

You don't need to answer this here, but how is your mental health generally? Depression can easily cause the situation you describe, and I'm sure many other issues can, too. Therapy and/or medication can be very helpful for finding ways to navigate your life more skillfully with the mind and body you've got.