Introspection, Overreaching and Emotions

People have a hard time introspecting. That means they don’t understand themselves. That means they skipped steps when developing a bunch of their ideas and traits. They reached conclusions (like what kind of person to be, how to act, and what ideas to have) that they didn’t understand.

When you develop as a person, if you understand everything well as you go along, introspection is easier. You already know what your traits are and why. You already analyzed them when you created them. (You can never do this perfectly, but you can do it well, which makes a big difference compared to e.g. not trying to do it.)

Introspection is hard because you’re trying to learn things you didn’t learn properly in the past. And people don’t view introspection as a learning process. If you’d just learn about the actual topic now, then you’d understand yourself on that topic much better. People think introspection is about discovering what they’re already like, which they seem to assume actually makes sense. But lots of your ideas are nonsensical errors that you never exposed to much critical thinking. Many ideas are built on a bunch of lazy assumptions and skipped steps. Many ideas appeared to work due to your bias and dishonesty, not any objective way of checking if the idea is any good.

Some people claim the hardest thing about introspection is that it deals with subconscious and inexplicit (not in a language like English) ideas. I disagree. People also claim they don’t know how to introspect – don’t know a special method of introspective thinking – and that’s why it’s so hard. (No, special introspection methods can help but they aren’t really needed. You can use regular thinking.)

The hardest thing about introspection is that you built up complex confusions for decades and it’s a big mess to untangle your mind. There’s a lot of knowledge and error in your head. You have a lot of ideas and complexity and connections between ideas. It’s such a daunting, overwhelming mess that most people are unwilling to really even start trying. (Introspection is different for young people, e.g. five year olds or especially one year olds, because they don’t have so many ideas yet.)

This is the same problem that people have with overreaching. They built up a life of overreaching for decades already and it’s hard to untangle everything, temporarily pause stuff, clear out a bunch of their schedule, focus on the basics, sort things out, etc.

But you need to do stuff like that if you want to make progress. You need to fill in the gaps in your knowledge by going back through a bunch of stuff you never learned well in the past. You need to find some ways to untangle your existing knowledge and get your life more under control.

For example, people have tons of trouble introspecting about their emotions. These same people won’t calm down and slow down re emotions – just stop having such strong and fast emotions so much because your emotion error rate is high. They won’t take life one step at a time, in this regard, and think things through before acting (feeling, having or creating an emotion is an action).

Do people find that hard to do? Yes. OK. So do it a different way. Instead of fixing existing emotions, learn emotions from scratch or closer to scratch. Develop emotions again. Think them through as you create them and automate them as habits.

Is that hard to do, too? Yes, but, have you tried? Most people give up without trying.

People sometimes manage to change their personalities or lifestyles when they want to enough – e.g. to fit into a subculture, workplace or relationship. Change is possible.

Lots of trying to change that people do is shoddy. People pretend to try or try in dumb ways. If you don’t know how to try, that’s perfectly understandable. So learn how to try before trying. Seriously: step 1, learn how to try, step 2, try. If you skip step 1, you didn’t really try in a serious way.

So how do you learn to try? How do you learn to do or learn things? Start simpler and practice. Succeed in a bunch of easier cases to figure out some stuff that works and get a sense for what genuine success is, then work on some cases that are 20% harder, build your way up incrementally. Sure emotions are relatively hard – so don’t start there. Get good at effective methods with other topics before using those methods with emotions.

There are many ways to change. It’s not just editing code. Say it’s a function, f. You can delete f. You can delete places that call f. You can add a conditional before calling f. You can change something five steps removed from calling f so the branches of code which call f are invoked less frequently. You can put in a higher priority thing in some cases – an override. An override is like: when dealing with Joe, do X instead of my normal action of Y. If you can do that kind of override in some cases, you could do it in more cases too. If you can avoid angrily yelling at Joe because he’s your boss, you could also stop yourself before angrily yelling at anyone else, too, if you really wanted to. If you can do something as a special case or exception, you could do it in more cases too. (That’s similar to Eli Goldratt’s idea of taking solutions used in emergency situations and then tweaking them to find good solutions for non-emergency situations.)

Overrides often take some effort and are a hassle, but you can do them. And you can practice a particular override and make it more automatic and easy. People have special behaviors with their family which don’t take extra conscious effort anymore – it’s intuitive and automatic today. Another common override is when you learn a new technique. So you sometimes stop yourself from using an old approach according to an old habit, so you can do the new thing you learned to do. And if it goes well you can start using the new approach for more things, which means some old approaches are getting less use – changing is possible.

People often don’t do basic stuff to actually change their emotions. Imagine practicing watching a horror movie over and over until you can get through it without an emotional reaction. (And then moving on to other horror movies, so you get used to the genre and not just the specific scenes in one movie.) Who has ever done that? Maybe someone somewhere but it’s certainly rare. This shows that people talk about wanting to change their emotions but they mostly aren’t actually brainstorming anything to try.

But don’t start with hard cases like emotions; start with easier cases. Try increasing harder cases if you succeed. With emotions, you’re dealing with like a dozen difficulties at once. Break the problem into parts when you get to it after achieving some other successes.

People are bad at analyzing one sentence of text but wonder why they can’t analyze their own emotions. Build up your skills. Learn to analyze sentences. Learn to analyze other types of ideas like science or economics. Learn to think more logically and automate that. Learn to analyze other people getting emotional based on their sentences. Learn to analyze the emotions involved in videos of other people or stories about them. Get less naive about the incentives for emotions and the social pressures and so on. All this stuff helps and adds up even though any one part isn’t going to be a game changer. People mostly just won’t do this. Then say emotions are super hard to change to excuse their choice not to change.

Seriously, people struggle to read a book and figure out what it’s talking about, and then they talk about introspection being super hard. It’s kinda hard but the thing actually going on here is that they’re bad at analyzing anything. It’s much easier to read a book than to read the contents of your mind, so if you aren’t good at analyzing and understanding books in detail, then you shouldn’t expect to be able to do that with your own mind.