On Additive Meditation

In this essay I start by detailing my experience with additive meditation. I then connect it to a theory of emotionality that makes sense of my experience.

 

My Experience with Additive Meditation

About a month ago I unblocked the ability of playing around with meditation levers. For some reason – which I don’t fully grasp yet – I was blocked on even considering doing anything but mindfulness meditation. I am not anymore, and so it is time to push the new found levers.

I started with additive meditation last weekend. I sat and did my own thing: cleared up a space, and increased my feelings of warmth, of safety, of being held, of being loved, of being cared for over 10 minutes. As I did it I felt warmer and warmer and started to spontaneously smile.

My flatmate came in and we chatted for a bit. He was visibly enraged and I failed to get enraged. I wanted to, I wanted to sympathise, but I just couldn’t access that even though the situation described would usually make me enraged.

The next morning I talked to my flatmate again and had a very Focusing-like conversation. I felt brilliantly, acting as the resonator board my flatmate needed, and he at least made inner progress with the issues he was dealing with.

I went out of the house and went to the city center with a book. I read, and observed, and listened to street bands, and admired street dancers and interacted with people. People were notably more cheerful interacting with me. Reading was difficult because every single sentence would spring dozens of ideas. Observation was more acute: as if my field of vision was larger and more precise. I could take more pleasure out of listening and observing the street artists. This effect gradually disappeared as the day went by, having lasted for a (presumed) total of 36 hours.

It was extraordinary – one of the best days of my life in terms of how it was experience, despite their being no clear outer reason for that – , and thus I had to comprehend it.

Intellectual apprehending the experience

The Broaden-and-build theory of positive emotionality

The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotionality maintains that emotions trigger self-perpetuating cycles. For example, positive emotions lead to the building of resources, which leads to an increase in overall well-being, which leads to more positive emotions, which leads to higher resilience, which leads to increased well-being and so on. Thus, positive emotions lead to a broadening of outlook that leads to a building of resources.

In the same way you can get int downward spirals: spirals of negative emotionality which are pretty much the opposite of the one described above.

Says the author: “The varied good outcomes empirically linked with positive affect support the broaden-and-build theory, which asserts that positive emotions are evolved psychological adaptations that increased human ancestors’ odds of survival and reproduction (Fredrickson, 1998). The theory holds that unlike negative emotions, which narrow people’s behavioral urges toward specific actions that were life-preserving for human ancestors (e.g., fight, flight), positive emotions widen the array of thoughts and actions called forth (e.g., play, explore), facilitating generativity and behavioral flexibility. Laboratory experiments support these claims, showing that relative to neutral states, induced negative emotions narrow people’s momentary thought–action repertoires, whereas induced positive emotions broaden these same repertoires (Fredrickson & Branigan, 2005).”

The theory explains why I was more aware and precise, and why I had so many ideas: the broadened outlook that the positive emotionality gave me allowed me to shift attentions away from the here-and-now threats.

The theory also claims that you can have multiple spirals going on at the same time (that is multiple concurrent self-perpetuating systems acting in different directions) and that upward spirals counter downward spirals.

This general theory, of course, has added use in making sense of success spirals and the growth mindset as special cases of positive emotionality reinforcing itself.

(I am told that videogames have long discovered these spirals and call them “streak”s or “combo”s)

 

Conclusion

I am all for a varied emotional repertoire and adequate emotional responses. I hear the criticism of positive psychology for making one stuck in and fetishising a particular shade of emotionality. I am all for being fluid and recalibrating and dynamic equilibrium. And yet I think there is space, a lot of inner space, and if you can add positive emotionality there, all the better.

And if we take assume the broaden-and-build theory, then the use of additive meditation become clear. It works as a bootstrap into a positivity spiral, a reinforcer of ongoing positivity spirals – with all the benefits that brings: resources, wellbeing, resilience.

For some (like me?) who are by nature defaulting to the stress of the here-and-now focus additive meditation is very promising. Go try it.

Evolving GTD: A life design system that takes you into account

GTD is incredible and the best thing I’ve done to increase my knowledge-work efficiency over the past 2 years. In this essay I analyse it from a cognitive function point of view and find a crucial limitation. I then suggest a way of improving GTD to deal with this crucial limitation. (This essay assumes familiarity with GTD.)

GTD and what it is missing

GTD claims to be an attention-management system but really it is a distributed cognition system. It externalises your memory by having Capture take care of everything, it takes advantage of situated cognition by forcing you to write down information in an actionable format and having context lists, and so on.
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Distributed cognition is the key to doing whatever you want to do. That is the way you work – according to Misnky – as a bunch of agencies each with a really small task each. This is the way that  governments and companies work, where increasingly a single agent performs a small task and an administrative bureaucracy grows to take care of agents below it at every level.
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Now, GTD is the result of trial and error and you need to use it and to learn to use it and adapt it to yourself. But there is low hanging fruit in the fact that few people comprehensively think about it and it’s results versus what they want to achieve. By doing so I believe I got a significant piece that GTD is originally missing that improves it immensely.
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The piece is that GTD is not an evolutionary system. It does not evolve. I mean it does, when you adapt it a bit, but in a totally haphazard way. What is needed is a system that forces GTD to evolve, for your needs.

The solution

Keeping in mind that everything that is needed for evolution is Variation of organisms (variation of GTD setups), Selection of organisms (selection of GTD setup characteristics) and Retention (selection of GTD setup characteristics), here is a first pass at a solution.
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Define design constraints (selection criteria). In my case these are:
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  1. Areas of concern must map to real areas
  2. Projects must move areas of concern forward
  3. Actions must move projects forward
  4. Actions must lead to a nice experience
The first constraint ensures that my written down areas of concern map to my felt senses of the things I actually care about, and not the things I could in a socially accepted fashion care about, or things that are easy to put down into words or verbalise. The second constraint ensures that projects map to the things I care about. The third constraint that my actions move projects forward. These three constraints together ensure that what I do on a day to day basis is directly relevant to my ultimate concerns. The fourth constraint limits my day to day actions to those that lead to a nice felt experience – it is a poor result either if a) I have a nice experience but the things I care about are not moved, or b) The things I care about are moved but my life (feels like it) sucks.
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The totality of these constrained are aimed at avoiding both those scenarios and moving me into the “My life is pleasant and the things I care about are being handled” scenario.
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With the constraints in place you can create a full evolutionary system. Again, recall that evolution only needs Variation, Retention and  Selection. The criteria of selection have been defined.
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Variation & Retention is taken care off by choosing (Variation) areas of concern, projects, and action; taking into account the results of the selection process (retention).
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Putting it all together, in an abstract form, the system looks like this:
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Components of an evolutionary system

  1. Variation & Retention – Hypothesis
    1. I choose (Variation)
      1. areas of concern
      2. projects
      3. actions
        taking into account the results of the selection process (Retention)
  2. Selection – Test
    1. How actions fulfil life
    2. How actions fulfil projects
    3. How projects fulfil areas of concern
    4. How the selection process is itself

Implementation

My actual implementation is as follows:
– Every day I diary on how my day was like (this keeps records of my lived experience)
– Every week I summarise my daily experience and think about how my actions mapped to projects, how projects mapped to areas of concern, and how those areas of concern are what I care about
– I save all of this knowledge in a knowledge repository (Retention)
– Then I choose action for the next week, taking into account the original constraints plus the knowledge in the knowledge repository (Variation & Selection)
– Every month I choose areas of concern and associated projects taking into account the original constraints plus the knowledge in the knowledge repository (Variation & Selection)
– Every month I review the whole system, especially the selection constraints: what is my felt sense of the past month, of the past day, of the past week? Am I moving forward in the right direction, is my life where I want it to be?

Final thoughts

Notice how powerful this system is, flowing with you, changing itself as your felt sense changes, constantly responding to new information instead of discarding it. It is not a “work system” or a “productivity system” not even an “attention management system” but a constantly-updated-respondant-to-your-felt-sense-experience-and-knowledge life design system.
It is lighter than GTD, and it evolves with you and your self-knowledge. You can see each actions/projects/areas of concern choice as a hypothesis and each daily and weekly review as a test for your set of hypothesis. Over time the system allows you to evolve theories about yourself that accurately match your desires of how life feels like and what you are about, the somethings that you do.