Focusing, Internal Family Systems Therapy, Coherence Therapy, to what end?

(General content note: A lot of my thinking has really changed since the old days of this blog. There’s some weird, mean, and polemic stuff in there.)

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Brienne Strohl (who I do not know personally) is asking on Facebook:

“People who resolve conflicts between their various parts in IFS and who cause felt shifts in Focusing are changing the way they think and feel. To what end? What is the terminal goal this is aimed at? *Why* do you want to understand yourself better, and how will you know when a new belief or emotional shift has led you toward or away from that larger goal?”

I’ve spent probably a few hundred hours using these specific techniques and related. Different people will use these practices for different reasons, of course.

Mechanically speaking, I believe these techniques can forge new neural links between system one and system two. Successful application, for a particular issue, gives you three specific gains. First, for that issue, you acquire the *energy* of system one, raw motivational drive. (Whereas, before, this energy was blocked or dissipated.) Second, for that issue, you acquire *inhibitory powers,* specifically, system one *permits* itself to be overridden by system two, with respect to that issue. Third, you unlock the possibility, though not the necessity, for instrumental and epistemic *integration.* System two is now able to chew on the issue and turn gears in a way it wasn’t able to before.

For myself, I experience self and world as vague and inchoate. Possibilities, beautiful possibilities, stirring possibilities, flicker at the edges of awareness at all times: new ways of being, new ways of relating, new ways of seeing, new means, new ends. I wrote in a previous post that one of my ultimate concerns is to have ever better ultimate concerns.

I’ve been trying to find a good analogy to what this feels like. Venkatesh Rao’s latest post resonates strongly:

“Accelerating into a crash helps you regain actual control authority and predictability. If you force a crash into unfolding faster than it naturally wants to, you gain control over it.”

These practices (Focusing, IFS, Coherence Therapy, etc.) facilitate fundamental structural changes in one’s map of the territory. They “accelerate you into the crash,” as it were. They accelerate an ontological crisis that is already happening anyway.

Some of us find old patterns, old beliefs, old habits, old jobs, old careers, old relationships, becoming stale. Yet, there’s no good way to get from old A to new B. And the very idea of A and B are becoming unglued. There never was an A; there never was a B. And I’m running out of time and money; And, what the fuck do I do now? Or, simply, I sense more is possible, and it’s eating at me, clawing at me, and it won’t let me go, and I’m so very confused. It’s like, from the very depths of your soul, you sense something on par with immortality, or godhood, or the most luminescent friendships, or the kinkiest sex you can possibly imagine, beyond imagining, and, if you don’t try to reach out and take it, it will grind you to dust and destroy your pitiful little life that you pitifully covet.

But you can’t just reach out and take it. You live in three dimensions and it’s calling to you from a 4th or 5th or Nth dimension. These practices help you reliably reach into new dimensions, into new regimes of neural phase space, that you didn’t know how to access before, that didn’t precisely exist before.

Someone once commented to me that Focusing was fishy because if you did it a second time you’d get different words. How could it possibly be used for personal or general map-making if it’s giving wildly different answers each time? (Well it can be used for this, but that’s a topic for another post.) In fact, it’s a feature, not a bug. The reason is that Focusing is about becoming; it’s a transformative protocol. You are not static, the territory is not static, and “nearby in reality-space” does not necessarily mean “nearby in word-space.” The territory exists prior to logic, prior to words, prior to understanding, and it’s alive and changing.

And practices like Focusing help you adapt to that territory, when your logical system is starting to fail you, especially when your logical system fits the territory perrrrfectly, except for this one liiiittle tiny piece, and, in fact, that liiiittle tiny piece contains an entire *universe* that structurally dwarfs your entire logical system.

And you have nothing to hold onto, and you want to do a controlled free-fall, into something new.

For me, Focusing-type practices are less about achieving goals and more about what to do when goals are globally ambiguous or disintegrating, and I want to minimize the upheaval as I try to carry my entire life forward anyway.

P.S. Are these techniques an ancestral intuition sinkhole? A way to reliably self-generate personalized insight porn? I don’t think so. And, also, these practices act on a level *beneath* the level that decides whether or not to get better at rationality techniques. That said, it’s something of a strange loop…

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Writing Resources

(General content note: A lot of my thinking has really changed since the old days of this blog. There’s some weird, mean, and polemic stuff in there.)

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Of course my blogging is stilted, cryptic, rambling, and unpublished. But some people have commented that I have my moments of clarity and power. I’d like everyone around me to be effortless, fast, fluent writers. Writing is a FANTASTIC asynchronous communication mechanism and strategic tool. Anyway, I posted a LessWrong comment about writing:

Copied, here:

Writing is hard.

Alright, here’s my list of writing resources (in no particular order):


This is an excellent article about writing:

Some more inspiration:

AI luminary Schmidhuber has written about complexity and beauty, and I’ve found his thoughts helpful:

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Diagrammatic loops: Startup tempo reduction paradigms

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[This is a guest post.]

Warning: 1st draft, half-baked ideas, poor yEds, proceed at your own peril
There are two life-or-death domains in which prediction is impossible, the actor is part of the environment and pre-set goals don’t exist. One is the startup environment. The other one is your life. I suspect that understanding startups leads to understanding your life (and when I say “understand” I actually mean: deliberately craft otherwise impossible, desirable realities). In this post I will lay out the current state of some of my thoughts about startups.



“It’s somewhat the same thing with instrumental rationality or any sort of OODA-loop, you want to be running on an internal cadence, faster than reality, not driven by reality.” 

This quote sensitized me to Venkatesh Rao’s book “Tempo”. I didn’t appreciate the book too much, but it led me to the OODA-loop and to Tempo and for that I am grateful.

The basic idea of tempo, and how it relates to winning (in non adversarial setting) is that you need to reduce your tempo, that is, your decision-making cycle time needs to get shorter and shorter. Imagine a decision-making cycle that goes like this “Desired World State -> Action -> New World State -> Compare to Desired World State -> If same, over; else, go back to “Action””. The faster you can iterate through this cycle, the faster you will reach your Desired World State, your goals. That is tempo reduction.

The genius in it is that actually adding things to the cycle can make the overall cycle be much faster: it can make it “faster than reality”.


Startup paradigms

In startups there are 2 ways to do this, here illustrateD with a sole agent (a startup can be modelled as an agent). One, focused on acting, highlights future unpredictability and thus wants to  augment certainty through various measures or contacts with reality (fail fast. think do get feedback, iterate). The other one focuses on fixing the quality of your model of the world/yourself/paths to goals/goals by thinking from first principles.


Abstract Models

Basic Model

As an illustrative model (from AI), you can see a startup as an Agent that has beliefs (about the world state), desires (of how the world state ought to be) and intentions (how to bring those about).

0 – BDI: Act, feedback

Basic Idea:

  1. Agent exists in World
  2. Agent desires Desired World State
  3. Agent Acts
  4. Agent compares Actual World State to Desired World State
  5. If equal then end, else back to 2.

one feedback


In this section I summarise increasingly complex (and with increasingly short tempo) feedback loops.

Key: feedback loops that are shorter in tempo allow more cycle iterations and therefore allow you to get more done in less time.

  1. Agent desires World State
  2. Agent imagines what particular Act would bring
  3. If particular Act would bring Desired World State then act, else, back to 2.
  4. Agent compares Actual World State to Desired World State
  5. If equal then end, else back to 2.


1- Think, feedback, Act, feedback

2 feedback

2- Think, feedback, Think about thinking, feedback, Act, feedback

3 feedback

This seems to be what is going on in industry (except you need to add competitors and all the interactions those open)


3- Think, feedback, Think about thinking, Act, feedback, think, Act, feedback

4 feedback

Science seems to follow this model (distributed over many institutions, groups, individuals)



In this section I summarise increasingly fast (and with increasingly short tempo) feedback loops.

1- Think, feedback, Act, Feedback

2 act

  • Think about how to get feedback as fast as possible.
  • Figure out better measurement/feedback methods. That is, if you want to know if A is the case it might be better to 1) use tool X instead of tool Z, 2) figure out thing A’ which is entailed by thing A which is way easier to measure.


2 – Think, feedback, Act faster, Feedback

one act

Act faster:

Note that there seem to be limited tricks you can use to get feedback faster : One is to act faster, to get a short tempo (Not sure how to design this). The other one is to get to indicators that are easy to measure that measure something you care about which is hard to measure.


Back to Reality

The Lean Startup Methodology is the epitome of faster. You have an idea, build it as fast as possible, measure as fast as possible, and learn as fast as possible. On learning faster they actually mean better: getting more information (uncertainty reduction) of the same data. The other ones do focus on going faster.


Philosophy of Startups

Notice the promise of better thinking: you don’t need self-sacrifice (which probably fails to be sustainable [might explain high burn out and failure rate] if you can just outsmart everyone by constantly going levels up.

Notice the word “Methodology”. Methodologies involve paradigms which entail epistemologies. The current lean startup be fast vs 0 to 1 think from first principles is a class instance of the empiricism-rationalism (knowledge from experience vs knowledge from thinking) debate in philosophy. (If this seems out there do remember that Peter Thiel studied philosophy and advocates thinking from first principles.)

I’m not entirely sure where I wanted to go with all this (or rather, where all this wanted to take me/us to). The model is generative: It’s value is simplifying reality to generate ideas.

Future Material To be added
  • Startups live in adversarial environment, you do not (to some extent)
  • I think that fragile, robust and anti fragile (NNT) have something else to add here.
  • Tempo explains globalisation: steal and save R&D time, reverse engineer first principles and build from there (China). This can probably be used for individuals.
  • I suspect learning effectuation thinking might be the most meta (and thus multiplicative) possible hack. (Mark seems to disagree on this)
  • Get deeper into 0 to 1
  • Get deeper into lean startup methodology
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