emotional misattribution

(1) Threats and opportunities to a person are experienced emotionally, first. (Emotion is the felt experience of the mobilization of physiological resources for action. There is still partial mobilization even if the action is to be taken in the future.) Consider, then, that there is an “emotional” world model.

(2) Normally, then, the threat or opportunity can be identified explicitly, when doing so is adaptive.

(3) There are conditions under which the threat or opportunity is not explicitly identified. This can happen when the threat or opportunity is:

  • discounted,
  • counterintuitive,
  • “impossible” (given the current context),
  • nonnormative (unlikely, based on the kinds of things that seem like they usually happen to other humans),
  • when doing so would be non-adaptive (because of *leakiness*? Cf. self-deception.),

(4) or, finally, completely missing from a person’s explicable world model. That is, consider that, in addition to an “emotional” world model, there is also an “explicable” world model. The “emotional” and “explicable” world models can be nonoverlapping. (The emotional world model is more fine-grained.)

(5) When a threat or opportunity is registered by the emotional world model but falls under any of the conditions above, the felt emotion (that represents physiological mobilization) is more likely to be misattributed. (Cf. “delusion,” as described in phenomenological psychopathlogy and in the bridge experiment.)

(6) As a side note, the stronger the emotional reaction (expectancy x cost/benefit), and the longer it lasts, and the stronger the factors above, the greater the likelihood that misattribution will result. (The likelihood of misattribution will also increase if misattribution is locally adaptive.) [Also, other factors, such as, perhaps, the intensity of the emotion or a sense of urgency could induce misattribution for a relatively worse “fit,” that is there’s a dial for sensitivity to global coherence, and it can be turned way down. [Partial hat-tip: Emily.]]

(7) Misattribution will be the next-most-elegant explanation after the above factors are exhausted.

(8) A suspect, toy example of misattribution is the bridge experiment (fear/physiological arousal mistaken to be sexual/romantic attraction).

A more complete example:

  • Consider a person who has health problems that cause fatigue and brain fog. Appearance-wise, they look very healthy. This person is told by doctors that these health problems are “psychological,” and by this they mean not real. The person discounts the reality of said health problems, but nevertheless finds it difficult to work at a job and is accused of poor performance. The person experiences an emotional threat to their livelihood, e.g. getting fired.
  • But, if they discount the real source of their fear, then the threat is misattributed to something else: the “system,” their boss or manager, etc.
  • If the boss is “mean,” or “irrational,” etc., then the misattribution is easy or it’s not a misattribution at all but an “enhancement” of belief. If the boss is “friendly” or “reasonable” or “accomodating,” but the boss being the threat is still that most elegant misattribution, then, say, the person will experience greater and greater paranoia, concomittent with the perceived threat. Additionally, the person will have no way addressing these concerns, because they may paradoxically believe these fears to be irrational.

Other examples:

  • If you feel guilty, you must have done something very bad, but the thing you identify might not be what you actually feel guilty about, leading you to not take the correct actions that will assuage the guilt motivated by the emotional world model.

Other examples:

  • Look for cultural messages that are wrong. If culture is saying attractiveness doesn’t matter, and you’ve internalized that to some degree, but you’re receiving evidence to the contrary (people are ignoring you), you’re going to look for other explanations for your feeling of insecurity. Because of this, you can’t have a clear-eyed dialogue with your psychological and strategic relationships to your attractiveness. (If it “shouldn’t be the case, but it is… then that’s a near-perfect recipe for emotional misattribution.)

Other examples:

  • Where is the urgency, fear, irritability, etc., actually coming from?

(9) The misattribution is acted upon, behaviorally, if it makes sense [elegant] enough. Furthermore, misattributions have implications that are acted upon if they make sense [elegant] enough. This can cause further misattribution and chains of misattributions and mutually reinforcing misattributions as well as all sorts of life impacts and outcomes, downstream and ongoing.

Pith: Your goals (and your behavior and your models and identification of your behavior) exist separately (though are of course correlated and informing) from your models of your goals and your ability to model your goals. And, your models of your goals (and your behavior) produce further implications, goals, and behavior.

some influences

Daniel Ingram (meditation)

Shinzen Young (meditation)

Bruce Mangan (phenomenology)

Russell Hurlburt (phenomenology)

Herbert Demmin (phenomenology)

Steven Bartlett (philosophy, philosophy of science, phenomenology)

Stephen Robbins (philosophy, philosophy of science, phenomenology)

Brian Cantwell Smith (philosophy, computer science)

David Chapman (philosophy, meditation, computer science)

Michael L. Anderson (neuroscience)

Julie Henderson (energy work)

Jack Johnston (energy work)

Robert Bruce (energy work)

Dan Wile (interpersonal phenomenology and dynamics)

(Eugene Gendlin, Culadasa, Ken Wilber)

Major Product Release: Folding (Version 0.7 alpha)

This is my largest and most ambitious product, yet. In it, I present so-called Three-Levels theory and a technique called Folding. Three-Levels theory isn’t a rigorous theory; it’s really just an (awesome) pedagogical tool. Folding, however, is the real deal, as significant as the concept of “meditation” and, in my opinion, a novel, extremely powerful complement to techniques such as Focusing, Internal Family Systems Therapy, and Coherence Therapy.

Below are excerpts from past blog posts that frame the problem. This product is my first real solution. Below the excerpts are a table of contents (with product excerpts) and disclaimers. Then there are instructions on how to get your hands on this thing.

Please note, this product is a snapshot of my work! It is not a polished object!

Nevertheless, people are using Folding. It’s the most field-tested, by people besides myself, of anything on this blog. And it’s changing lives.

Click here to go to the Folding product page.

brief thoughts on discussions (certain kinds) and intimate relationships

i’ve facilitated hundreds of hours of small-group discussion. this is a first pass, possibly totally impenetrable, of what i think i’m doing that matters most (for discussions that are around creating things–ambience, situations, events, artifacts–where it’s more important to do it right than to just get it done).

So I do these things (stream-of-consciousness):

status management and qualifiers: continual projection of humility-and-offering vs directing (through body language, voice tone, and qualifiers). “what about this? or this?”

acknowledging what people will inject before they do, to take the urgency out of it

i think most of the “magic” is in endless verbal qualifiers, uttered after/during infinitely searching out/modeling/empathizing things that might not be ok and things that might shut people down or turn them away and then fixing those things. sussing out awesomeness and the actual best thing:

“i’m not going to touch this during the week either,” “you don’t actually have to do this…” (and having arranged everything so it’s actually true)

vast field of (opinionated) ok-ness and possibility.

maybe not all of what i do actually matters, and i’m sure i still do things that turn people off.

continually hunting down things that close down possibility as they happen in real time and viciously opening them back up

re viciously tho deep modeling of the other person’s sense of possibility and how it might be narrowing or broadening in each moment

about what’s ok and not ok, what’s possible and not possible

what’s allowed and not allowed, what’s safe and not safe

and continually signaling about that

and sending out true signals that indicate you’re truly doing deep modeling of them, actually doing the work, and not saying fake platitudes

what has to happen and what doesn’t have to happen, what will have consequences and what won’t have any consequences at all

and trying to set things up so people expend zero time and effort that they find out later to have been unnecessary

and continually applying all these things to myself too, to actually produce the actual best possible thing and not a caricature of older, past things.

metabolic phenomenology

You can learn to feel/tell if your stomach has emptied yet, if your blood has run out of fat or carbs, and if you’re dipping into either fat or carb (glycogen) storage, or if your body has decided to stop liberating something and you’re starting to lightly chew on muscle or lean tissue and/or produce ketones.

Being low or topped off on Vitamins A and B, and Choline are all distinct for me, too. I haven’t noticed anything yet from other vitamins or micronutrients.

I don’t have a good way to describe the sensations (yet?). It is like describing subtle anger or subtle sadness or happiness if those weren’t in the language.

I will say that, for the stomach emptying thing, each time your stomach empties a little bit into your small intestine, you sometimes get a spreading, fizzy warmth. The fizziness is autonomic activity. The warmth is probably a combination of things. This is very faint. When your stomach is completely empty, there’s a sense of “doneness” or “completeness,” which might be from reduced autonomic activity in the stomach as well as faint interoception of reduced stomach stretch receptor activity.

For when your blood runs out of stuff, take a slow, meandering walk for at least forty minutes. This should be after your stomach is completely empty. (If you go fast, your body will be supplementing from storage tanks at the very beginning.) Around that time, depending, you’ll run out of blood fuel and/or muscle-stored glycogen, and there will be a cutover from blood supplied fuel to fuel from storage tanks (liver, fat stores). If your body doesn’t cut over cleanly, your arms and legs will feel temporarily heavy and your walking speed will slow down. You might faint, transient dizziness. You might feel a faint uptick in anxiety, cortisol release, and fizzing autonomic activity, as your hormones and nervous system trigger fuel release. The better everything is working, the smoother the cutover is, and the less likely you are to feel anything.

For the other stuff–I’m NOT saying this is important or useful for people, necessarily!! This is just a thing!!

Noticing being low on fat:

Eat, for example, only rice and lean meats for a 12-72 hours. (Probably take a multivitamin or something during this.) Notice how you’ll eventually be wanting to sit down all the time (depending on a bunch of stuff). Notice it partially, temporarily goes away if you exercise hard (if you have the energy; this depends on your current metabolic regime). Notice how your “stamina profile” changes, what kinds of activity is harder or easier. 

Now, eat butter, lard, tallow, heavy cream, etc. Forty minutes to three hours later, what has changed? You’ll likely be almost unable to sit. You’ll want to stand up and/or walk around. Also, how has thinking changed, etc., etc.

Noticing being low on carbs:

Do “cardio” for a couple hours or simply eat “low carb” for 6-30 hours. Make sure you’re getting enough potassium. Notice mood, energy, motivation, “stamina profile.”

Noticing gluconeogenesis and ketone production:

Do the carb thing and keep going for 30-120 minutes. Or, try to sleep after eating relatively less carbs that day and then when you wake up… Your liver and muscles will be relatively empty of glycogen. Notice your bad breath, possible faint dizziness and faint nausea. Notice any uptick in sensory experience and clarity (cortisol release and partially from the ketones) and possibly anxiety. The negative stuff happens less and less the more your body is used to it. I also start to feel pain in my forearms.

If you ingest a lot of sugar or orange juice while in this state, you may eventually experience a rush of increased autonomic activity, involuntary heavy breathing, and feeling like you’re going to faint for twenty seconds to a couple minutes. Your glycogen depleted muscles and liver are sucking sugar out your bloodstream and transiently your brain is getting less glucose than it’s used to.

A Possible Way to Achieve All Your Goals: Capturing and Delivering Value at the Margin – Version 1.0 (alpha draft)

(This is super-intense and doesn’t take privilege into account, and life is hard, and everyone is fighting their private, terrible battles, and maybe this only works in first-world and zeroth-world countries, and maybe sometimes only rarely then. But “lots” of people do stuff like this, cf. lifestyle businesses and beyond. This is an insanely huge topic, and here is the first, meditationstuff spin on it.)

(Alpha draft: This is still terse and cryptic.)


Below I’ll be using extremely individualistic and agenty language. But, I want to first acknowledge the other side of this: Part of what you value probably includes fulfilling some of your duties, responsibilities, obligations, commitments, promises, etc., to some of the people, organizations, and institutions in your life. Integrating “agency” and “communion,” such that acts for the self and acts for others are in harmony, self and other in the same breath, the same stroke, is something that has no skill ceiling. There is no limit to how good you can get at that. And so we begin.


Consider what you

a) value [0]

as differentiated from

b) desires, urges, impulses, hopes, wishes, dreams, fantasies, goals,

additionally as opposed to

c) could-not-give-less-fucks and kill-it-with-fire.

Categories (a) and (b) tightly interact, e.g. desires probably have value more often than not, but the differences matter [1, 2]. You can consider what you value explicitly, e.g. with freewriting, and you should also devote or steal intermittent series of mind moments for implicitly exploring value and valuing amidst work and play. Continue to refine your understanding of value, forever; there is no skill ceiling for the understanding of value and for understanding what is valuable to you yourself.

(If exploring value is terrifying, agonizing, soul-rending, blank emptiness, etc., consider working with tools such as Focusing, IFS, Coherence Therapy, etc. [3])

Values! What is love, power, sex, intimacy, service, compassion, beauty, communion, connection, friendship, dignity, benevolence, adventure, competence, mastery, excitement, charity, mutuality, mutual self-determination, tolerance, compassion… on your own terms, in your own words, fuck everyone and everything else, motherfuckers?



Live your values, motherfucker; destroy everything in your path in the service of your values [4].



You will encounter obstacles. You will need to create and acquire things to overcome these obstacles (thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, habits, writing, artifacts, copyrights, systems, knowledge, knowhow, relationships, money, hilarity, capital).



Capture that value that you created in STEP THREE and deliver it, at marginal cost, for a fee [5].

For example, you get good at writing complete things, relatively clearly. And, as clearly as you can, in the time you have, you write up how you solved the thing you solved, in STEP THREE, in a slightly more general way, so that it’s useful to more people than just you. And then you figure out how to get it to people who actually want it, and you figure out how to get something back for doing it.

Or, you fucking love programming video games, and you manage to extract software libraries from your games, and you figure out to license those libraries.

Or, you write your brains out because you love it. And you figure out how to get paid for some of it.

Ok. I get it.

The stuff I’m describing above is brutal. No one might care about your self-help stuff. Or, if you do mind-numbing programming for the man, you don’t have anything left at the end of the day to do the programming you actually enjoy or that gets you what you want. And you can only write for yourself so much after a day of technical writing about process widgets.

The key here is the word “marginal.” Marginal means a little bit extra. You go just a little bit beyond.

In this case, you go just a little bit beyond aiming directly at your values, to capture some of that value for other people.

You were going to do the thing anyway, the actual thing that got your closer to what you want. You had to. Because you’re going after what you want. And then you do just a little bit more.

That is, you solve some problem, and overcome some obstacle, or you make just a little progress, and then here’s this little thing you learned or this little tool you sketched. And you try to capture some of the value of that at marginal cost, like write it up. Just a little bit more work.

And, at first, of course, it’s NOT just a little bit more work:

You DON’T “just” write something up, because writing is too slow (for you), or you have no idea how to generalize what you did into something more people would want, or you don’t have a distribution system like a blog that gets at least a little traffic from real people, or you don’t know how to market your little software tool, or cleaning up the software tool and sticking it on the web and supporting it would take infinite effort, or you do slap it all together, and it’s just shit, and you wasted all this time, and nobody cares.

So be strategic, make little bets [6], incrementally advance the possible and plan ahead as best you can. Be fucking smart. This is your fucking life and you’re probably going to die so figure out how to figure out your figuring out so you can figure out your shit at the maximal edge of your strategic intelligence.



Because here’s what starts to happen. These little (or big) things you’re attempting to create and deliver, they’re lit within with the afterglow of your deepest cares and concerns. What you’re trying to share, rough around the edges–at the very center, the very seed of it, is a really real solution to a really real problem, however narrow. It’s not bullshit. And the more you strike at the heart of your concerns, the heart of your values, what you really actually, truly, deeply want, eventually in the same breath, eventually by the same stroke, creating these solutions from your struggles, these solutions take on the shape of what you actually did in a purer, more general, more accessible, more externally valuable form. People will put up with a huge amount of rough-around-the-edges crap if it actually, really, truly strikes at solving a real problem [7]. And it did for you. And, at marginal cost to you, you’re trying to expand the breadth and span of your solution so that it solves more than just your problems.

And it takes many attempts and you have to be fucking smart about it, but it starts to happen.

I’m not just talking about self-help stuff, here. You solve more and more of your personal stuff, and you start to gaze more and more out upon the world, because the path to what you want is now more out there than in here. And the field of your abilities expands and expands, always orbiting the target of aiming precisely at what you most want, on your own terms, in your own words. And you achieve things, and because you achieve things, you become hungrier for ever more bigger and beautifuller [sic] things. What do you want? All of it. The moon, the stars, world peace, that epic sexual fantasy.

And here’s what happens, now, out in the world, the domain of service and business and politics and whatever, the shape of your values, out upon the world–

You see, what used to be a marginal cost, this challenging extra work to capture and deliver value, through practice, it asymptotically approaches effortless, easy, painless–especially when you’re getting everything else you want and need at the same time. You see, you can get so good that bang stuff out with half your brain because you have bigger fish to fry, and it’s good enough to get the job done because you’re just that good. People want it, people seek it out, seek you out, people pay money for it. Because you’re world-fucking-class at this thing that you’re not necessarily super into, or maybe you are, but, in any case, it’s so quick and painless and it helps people; it just makes everything better, it makes the world turn more smoothly, in accordance with your values, and that feels good.

There is no skill limit to maximizing captured and delivered value while minimizing marginal cost. You can get better at this forever; the skill ceiling is at infinity, for less and less marginal cost to you, for greater and greater value to other people. There is no earthly limit as to how good you can get at this.

And the more value you create and deliver, to people who actually want it, the more you are renumerated without hardship to those who renumerate you, if you’re smart about it, and you can give away more and more for free because you care, if you’re into that sort of thing (and I hope you are).


STEP SIX (actually concurrent with all the others)

And, you get better and better at predicting what tools you’re going to need to create for yourself and when you’re going to need to create them: days out, weeks out, months out, years out. And, you get better and better at discerning what people want and need. And, you work to shape your value capturing–remember, at the margin of what you’re after for yourself, on your terms–in collaboration with other people, to give them what they want and to get what you want from them. And now you have allies.

And, the better you pick and coordinate with your allies, the more you can reduce the friction between what you want and what your allies want, such that the overlap between what you wanted to do anyway and how you can help your allies overlaps more and more. (No skill ceiling on this.)

And the overlap might never be perfect, but then everybody’s just doing this relatively painless, marginal, edge stuff that’s no problem for them and aiming at interrelated things overall, and of course lots of your values need other people (service, intimacy, connection, mutuality, group sex, megaprojects), and everyone’s enacting and expressing and fulfilling their values with and through each other.



  1. Know your values and know what’s gently fucking stupid (to you, you arrogant fuckface).
  2. Go after precisely what you want, all at once.
  3. Get stuck. Get unstuck.
  4. Put in a little extra effort to capture the essence of getting unstuck, and figure out how to get something back for doing that.
  5. At first it’s not just a little extra effort. So you practice until it is.
  6. You learn to predict what value you’ll capture and who will want it and what you’ll get back. And now you have allies.




[0] or what’s important to you, or what’s of (ultimate) concern

[1] “Discipline is remembering what you want.” http://deep.design/design-like-an-astronaut/

[2] The first few pages of this paper make it seem like it won’t be useful at all. And the whole paper is written in an older, challenging style. But, it powerfully and systematically explores the distinctions and interrelationships between value and desire.

Watson, Gary. “Free agency.” The Journal of Philosophy (1975): 205-220.


[3] https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/?s=focusing+IFS+coherence+therapy

[4] Alternatively, live Your Life as Art. (The book is… ok. The message is great.) Your Life as Art by Robert Fritz. http://www.amazon.com/Your-Life-Art-Robert-Fritz/dp/0972553606/

[5] http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2008/12/how-to-make-lots-of-money-during-a-recession/

[6] Sims, Peter. Little bets: How breakthrough ideas emerge from small discoveries. Simon and Schuster, 2013.


[7] http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2011/02/completion-vs-perfection/