metainstrumentality first pass

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To increase metainstrumentality (cf. metamemory and metacognition), the papers/chapters below are all worth reading and reflecting upon. After I play around some more, I may write something up about putting the findings and principles below into practice.

(I’ve selected these papers after considering a gazilliion choices against my own phenomenological experience (:)), and sometimes more for topical emphasis than rigor*, claims, or effect size. Open to better choices.)

Also, your mileage may vary. For example, I personally haven’t found mental contrasting and implementation intentions, per se, to be useful for “cognition in the wild,” as it were. So there’s nothing (explicitly) about those concepts below, but you may well find those topics useful, and that would be excellent.)

Carlson, K. A., Tanner, R. J., Meloy, M. G., & Russo, J. E. (2014). Catching nonconscious goals in the act of decision making. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 123(1), 65-76.

Andrews, P. W., & Thomson Jr, J. A. (2009). The bright side of being blue: depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems. Psychological review, 116(3), 620.

Kruglanski, A. W., Shah, J. Y., Fishbach, A., Friedman, R., Chun, W. Y., & Sleeth-Keppler, D. (2002). A theory of goal systems. Advances in experimental social psychology, 34, 331-378.

Förster, J., Liberman, N., & Friedman, R. S. (2007). Seven principles of goal activation: A systematic approach to distinguishing goal priming from priming of non-goal constructs. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11(3), 211-233.

Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2011). Consider it done! Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals. Journal of personality and social psychology, 101(4), 667.

Patalano, A. L., & Seifert, C. M. (1997). Opportunistic planning: Being reminded of pending goals. Cognitive Psychology, 34(1), 1-36.

Sheldon, K. M., & Elliot, A. J. (1998). Not all personal goals are personal: Comparing autonomous and controlled reasons for goals as predictors of effort and attainment. Personality and Social Psychology, 24(5), 546.

*I’m aware of the whole “replication crisis” thing going on with respect to some aspects of priming.

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6 thoughts on “metainstrumentality first pass

  1. Great list, thank you. Curious: I just picked up Gendlin’s _Focusing_ and have been scanning it. It seems interesting in this context. Have you read it?

  2. I’m glad I read Focusing.

    Gendlin’s Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning is hands-down my favorite book of all time!! (Very intense and opaque, though, and fucking brilliant, genius, I could go on all day; it’s not *necessarily* practical.) I use “focusing” and “direct reference” every single day.

    Gendlin and company often comment that, paraphrasing, “focusing added to a thing makes that thing do what it’s supposed to do better.” Focusing plus coherence therapy is especially powerful. If you read some case studies they’re often explicitly used together in therapy sessions.

    I was explicitly thinking about focusing re the catching “nonconscious” [sic] goals in the act paper above. That paper essentially points to applying focusing and direct reference to “find” implicit goals that are “already active and operating” in consciousness. I’ve only been playing with doing that for a short time, but I’m finding it to be extremely productive. “Ok so these are important, diffuse, interpenetrating things that I’m trying really hard to do, that are sort of hiding behind the explicit things I’m trying to do (multifinality, so-called “goal factoring”), that don’t map well to pithy little explicit goals and they’re very tragically nuanced and niche-y and interdependent and multifaceted and always ever-so-slightly shifting and continuously obsoleting explicit representations… Fragile representations and fragile value.”

    This post is relevant, though I don’t think I mention focusing explicitly:

    I like this description of the focusing process, including the instructions on how to not follow instructions:

    (I was at an Ergo meetup, and there was a comment how when you focus on subsequent occasions you can get back different “answers” on each occasion. I think this should be emphasized more as a possible pitfall, it can trip you up, and Gendlin *does* explicitly bring it up. But, this is a FEATURE not a bug. This was not necessarily relevant to this comment, but it’s something that happened recently.)

  3. Awesome, rich response, as usual. I’m curious about several terms you use with which I’m unfamiliar:
    – Direct reference (this may be in Focusing,/i>, which, so far, I have only skimmed, lack of time to read and study being the bane of my existence)
    – Coherence therapy
    – Multifinality

    Of course I can and will Google this stuff, but feel free to unpack as you see fit.

    Would you say that the amount of time and energy you spend on introspection has strong payoffs in your relationship to the external world? This sounds to me like an idiotic question now that I’ve written it out, but I’m asking because I’m anxious that I’m spending massive amounts of time ANALYZING my life, and not nearly enough time “getting outside the building.” Of course, I shouldn’t expect that planning and goal factoring, done correctly, will be easy and efficient, and it’s quite possible that at the end of all this introspection I will find that my efforts to affect change in the world will be 100 times more effective, but it’s also possible that’s bullshit. Thoughts?

  4. Right, thinking vs doing. Yeah, I try to be very alert to when action (knowledge gained through action) can obsolete any prior thinking and analyzing. If the thinking and analyzing and planning is going to be that fragile to new information, given the on-the-ground circumstances, then it’s probably not very valuable.


    I used to use Effectuation theory for thinking about thinking about my life [sic] and I’ve more recently begun to use the depression literature. Depression is interesting because apparently it’s a gradient between bummed out (or something even more faint than that) on one side and major depressive disorder on the other. I suspect there are more dimensions to it (including life longings, so-close-yet-so-far revelations and situations, and more).

    But, anyway, it’s an interesting model because it’s people wrestling with perceived complex life problems that tap into un-ignorable deep values and perceived consequences that cut deep. Like, stuff, territory, that actually really truly matters, that cuts across the imperfect map of pop culture and concepts and worldview. Like, it doesn’t get any more “real.”

    Now, I haven’t tried to directly untangle the literature about whether depressed people see selves and world accurately or not (“depressive realism”), and I haven’t tried to untangle whether “rumination” is valuable or not valuable (“analytical rumination”). And I’m still thinking about System 2 interventions and System 1 validity, like when to take System 1 at it’s word and surrender to the validity and energy of its worldview instead of attempting to argue or to offer balanced evidence in a form that System 1 can metabolize.

    For me, it seems clear that sitting in a dark room or in front of blank text window or mind-mapping tool can be helpful.

    Some things that I’ve noticed:

    *There can be a delay. Sitting and thinking may not seemingly produce anything at the time you’re sitting down. But, 30 minutes to three hours later you might find yourself doing things you wouldn’t have done before. More often it’s upon waking that I have new direction, though plenty of the time I’ll wake up with nothing. And sometimes it’ll come to me 20-40 minutes after waking up even when I was blank upon waking.

    *At least one research paper can be interpreted as “intensity matters.” In other words, if you are going to sit and think, you should try to tie up loose ends, remove distractions, and give yourself as much uninterrupted time as possible. Figure out food, etc., beforehand. If I’m not writing something down, I prefer rooms or closets where 100% of the light is blocked out. In this way, I can leave my eyes open and move them freely in any direction (which facilitates wakefulness and cognition) and not be distracted by anything external in my visual field.

    *Along with “intensity,” I try to surrender to the emotions that my body/mind are producing, trusting them as “reality lead indicators,” like find a way to experience them completely, authentically, validly. This seems to marshal cognitive resources to the cause, even though it can be very unpleasant to acknowledge the “reality” of a situation.

    *I monitor cognition carefully for any hint of going in circles. This seems to be one of the key limitations of “rumination” and the human mind in general. I find that I go in “long sweeps” of cognition, conclusions, and behavior. Like, I’ll have any idea, and that idea won’t quite work but will lead me to the next idea, and so on, and then I’ll end up back where I started. Or external circumstances will kick off the pattern again. These can be on timescales of minutes to years. So, I’m always watching for circles like this, for any hint of a pattern or sense of recognition, as well as following cognition backwards (“what was the genesis of this, and what was the genesis of that, and what was the genesis of that…”). If I catch a circle, I try to step back with a sense of the entire circle in mind, and then I wait for something different to come, or I do something different (focusing). Of course, journaling, going back to old journals can be useful, to start getting a sense of your personal patterns, challenges, longings, that keep coming up over and over again.

    Some stuff you will solve and it will go away forever. Other stuff will be ongoing challenges because of the nature/nurture hand that you were dealt. And other stuff is simply values, deep cares and concerns, that will sort of never get satisfied, but you’ll always be hungry for more or better in terms of complexity of expression or realization in your current life situation, etc. In any case, it’s not uncommon to have the “same brilliant ideas” over and over again. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—upward spirals as opposed to going in circles is a common pattern, too. But the more you’re aware of your patterns the more you can harness and transcend them. For me, it’d be tragic to go in circles my entire life and not even realize it. Yikes.

    *With respect to “getting out of the building,” I try to maximize the value of any evidence that I get. So, no matter what situation I’m in, even if it doesn’t seem to apply to what I’m currently wrestling with, I keep an eye out for anything that seems to disconfirm my current worldview, and then I EXPLICITLY TAKE NOTE of it when it happens. I’m always, always, always watching for stuff that rocks my sense of “the way things are.”

    *I think a key thing to keep in mind, from an earlier post: “possible futures don’t come in tidy and discrete packages, paths to those future don’t come in tidy and discrete packages, and taking action changes the desirability of possible futures, the possible futures themselves, and the possible paths to those futures. All of that applies to doing, being, and having.” Reality is constrained, of course it is, but there’s still a literal infinity of choices between false choice A and false choice B. And if you want “X,” well X is also a literal infinity at infinite levels of abstraction and situated-ness.

    *And stuff like focusing and meditation help you slow down and feel into those infinities as well as help you notice when you’re going in circles.

    If action is safe, cheap, new (time, cognition, emotion, money) I throw myself in without thinking and reflect after the fact. Effectuation has this great concept: “the affordable loss principle.” And, of course, I always look for fast feedback, reality hooks, miniexperiments, iterated action, etc. And the more expensive things get or the more likely I am to repeat old, tone-deaf, unsituated behaviors, the more I think and the more meta, flexible, malleable, truly novel, and surgical I try to get. To do truly new things you have to think; it’s very hard to do truly new things in truly new contexts (or do new things on old stomping grounds), otherwise you reflexively do the old thing, or you put together old puzzle pieces in new ways, which is a step in the right direction but not as far as you might want to go.

  5. Note to self:

    Andrews, Paul W., Aadil Bharwani, Kyuwon R. Lee, Molly Fox, and J. Anderson Thomson. “Is serotonin an upper or a downer? The evolution of the serotonergic system and its role in depression and the antidepressant response.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 51 (2015): 164-188.

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