diminishing returns, and why keep pushing at the Focusing-type stuff

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In a previous post, I summarized the Focusing-type protocols:

[…] Recall Focusing, Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy, Emotion-Focused Therapy, Coherence Therapy, Internal Family Systems Therapy, the Lefkoe Methods, and more. These practices don’t easily fit into the meditation feedback loop framework:

You activate or find particular referents in consciousness with nonsymbolic internal structure. You engage in subtle, profound acceptance of the truth and inner logic of those referents and accompanying behaviors. You patiently, tenaciously, obliquely, humbly work to explicitly model and put words to those referents. You humbly let those referents and juxtapositions of other referents evolve in relationship to you and accordingly change the words. Sometimes it takes seconds, sometimes it takes months. And then abruptly, BAMresonance, involuntary sigh, catharsis, one-shot learning, neural protein synthesis, radical synaptic change: Starting right then and ending within twenty-four hours, you are different, better forever, effortlessly from that point on. Sometimes it’s more subtle, and sometimes it happens in steps.

In that post, I also discussed how, while they’re totally worth the learning investment, these protocols seem to have diminishing returns. You eventually need to put in more time and cognitive effort for less and less change.

I don’t fully understand why the returns are diminishing. I get that our pasts are finite, and past a certain point, it can get harder to mine our past for novel patterns and relevant juxtapositions of episodes and semantics. You process the low-hanging fruit (which maybe you found by thinking, daydreaming, journaling, and talking with friends and family). And I mentioned that a therapist can sometimes be helpful for finding medium-height-hanging fruit.

But, I feel like these limitations must be artificial.

Three years ago I’d maybe spend a half-hour doing Focusing a few times a week. Then it became an hour a couple times a week, and eventually I tapered off doing it. Then I found a Focusing-Oriented psychotherapist, and I worked with him for once a week for a couple months.

Now throughout all of this, and after, I was directly referencing nonsymbolic felt sense for all sorts of stuff, and having little microepiphanies, and all of that. And while I continue to use deliberate nonsymbolic thinking all the time, even those microepiphanies start to taper.

So, somewhere around two years ago, I discovered Internal Family Systems Therapy, and I felt like that was a structured super-charger for Focusing. IFS can be laborious, but I found that I was getting at stuff that I wasn’t able to with Focusing alone.

But, again, the time-in-use grew. At peak, for a couple weeks, I was doing three hours of IFS in a row, maybe nine-twelve hours per week. It took three hours at a time to break new ground. Now, I was on a mission. I had a sense of what could be different, and of course I was surprised by where I ended up; that’s how it works. It was profoundly worth it, and I’m grateful I had that kind of time to spare. But, after that, I used it less and less again, until I mostly wasn’t.

Finally, I discovered Coherence Therapy about a year ago. Again, I gained new insights, picked off low-hanging fruit, and worked with a non-CT therapist to come up with more fodder for the CT process. And, once again, I’m profoundly grateful and more different still, and, I used CT less and less over the past year.

So, three things. First, separate issue, psychological growth or healing does not necessarily make you happier–growth means different existential problems. I’m not even going to go into that, here. 🙂

Second, more to the point, while Focusing, IFS, and CT seem to be pretty much doing the “same thing,” I was able to get differential mileage out of each of them. Now, part of that could be just that the time and distance between each use gave me more fodder to process, or something about the order in which I found these techniques allowed me to somehow scaffold my skill, which is probably true.

But I’d like to narrow in on an explanation that seems to apply elsewhere: If you ask your brain seemingly slightly different questions, you sometimes you get very different answers. You see this in debiasing attempts, where, say, you ask yourself to meta-estimate your probability of being right, or you ask the same question phrased in different ways, or you ask “able” vs “willing.” There’s all sorts of possibilities, many of which haven’t been explored, and they change your answer.

I think something similar is going on, here, in Focusing-land, where you can get a lot of mileage out of seemingly slight variations on the technique, which makes me think we don’t really have a good model of the underlying reality.

Of course, I’ve tried to abstract out the fundamental “mental moves” that underly Focusing, IFS, and CT. I’ve tried to suss out “what’s really going on,” what the minimal necessary and sufficient steps are. And I’ve thought about how to minimize the cognitive burden of doing it to make it easier to do (or to help people attack more complicated issues than they would have otherwise been able to), and I’ve thought about how to make it take less time so people can more easily fit it into their busy schedule.

What these techniques are, no more, no less–backed by neural structure–are mostly just deliberate, sequenced, stylized versions of native “mental moves” that our minds are naturally doing hundreds of times per day…

I don’t yet really have a satisfying explanation that won’t just sound like a rephrasing of, say, Coherence Therapy’s explanation of why it works (activation, understanding, juxtaposition, memory reconsolidation…). I don’t think I can add much yet, except maybe some hair-splitting nuance to the technique that would be unhelpful to beginners.

But, I do have a novel variation of these techniques that I’ve gotten additional mileage out of, which I’ll go into in a subsequent post.

See, I keep pushing at this, because it feels like we’ve only scratched the surface of the endogenous, positive malleability of mind

I still feel like I’m limited in all sorts of ways, I still experience all sorts of little and medium-sized coulds, shoulds, ambivalences, maybes, possibilities, etc. And that’s fine. Part of it is just containing multitudes, even if they’re mostly cooperating, ego-enfolded multitudes. Got a lot going on all at once.

But I want more, I sense that more is possible. I’m just so interested in all the little ways that I limit myself and probably don’t even realize it. I see other people, in some ways, appearing to move through the world more effortlessly, more brightly. And, sure, maybe they’re fighting terrible, hidden battles. And, sure, maybe they were born on third base. And, sure, maybe their priorities and time spent are just different.

But this is about me. What am I capable of? What possibilities are as yet untapped that are within my power to influence? What ease and joy and competence and intimacy am I leaving on the table?

Sometimes you realize that, yes, you can do psycho-intense-high-pressure thing X. Sometimes you realize that, no, you should do this more sane and balanced thing Y. Sometimes you learn how to navigate between X and Y, with Z’s thrown in, or how to re-understand it all in terms of much more gratifying A, B, and C…

I still act in uncomfortable, cramped, awkward, pinched ways all the time. And what if my seven is really a three? (Yup, I just did it, I linked Steve Pavlina.)

What are the levels above my own?

And, so, in a future post, possibly the next one, I will talk about yet another technique I’ve sussed out that relates to the Focusing-type techniques. And maybe that will simultaneously unpack more about how and why these techniques do what they do.

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2 thoughts on “diminishing returns, and why keep pushing at the Focusing-type stuff

  1. Decreases suffering by improving pre-existing and ongoing relationship with self and world and moment-to-moment experience. Increases capacity for apprehension of meaning. (Meaning and happiness are separable terminal values a la Baumeister.) Meta-improves toolkit for engaging world. I’ll think about non-fluff answers.

    See maybe:

    https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/cutesy-diagrams-and-mindfucking/
    https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/the-levels-above-your-own/
    https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/how-to-meditate-one-perspective/
    https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/muscles-you-didnt-know-you-had/
    https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/suffering/

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