Sunday, January 31, 2010

Even More Basic

Wow, we've had a lot of discussion both on and off the blog regarding the basics of the philosophy of happiness. Thank you everyone for your comments, emails and phone calls. I thought it might be useful to look at several of the topics we've discussed.

What's the Point
One of the things that I learned from Paul Weichselbaum was to always be asking myself, "So, what?" I think that "So, what?" has become my greatest weapon in my arsenal of productivity. It keeps me from wasting time on activities that are irrelevant to what I'm trying to accomplish, it helps keep meetings on track and productive, and it lets me avoid endless hours of explanation and argument by jumping to the end and asking, "Let's say that everything you're about to explain is true; how would that change what we're doing?"

In a comment on Back to Basics, Ari offered:
I thought this might be relevant...

Bruce Di Marsico, From "Beliefs are not a problem"

"Now the only judgment and beliefs that are really going to affect your happiness are judgments and beliefs that have to do with your happiness. It might not make much of a difference to your happiness for you to make a prediction about where the stock market is going to go, as long as your money, or your lack of it, is not going to be something that you’re going to make a judgment that you’ll be happy about or not.

A person who is really being happy might not make judgments or beliefs about their happiness, but they might make them about anything else, knowing that they are only just judgments, they are only just guesses, they’re only just beliefs, which they’re doing in order to get something or to conduct some business or to negotiate or to relate to someone."
The essence of what Bruce wrote is, "So, what?" We could spend years debating the nuances of judgments versus assessments versus fact-observation, but it all comes down to the question, "why are we looking at these in the first place?"

The basis of the discussion is not the question of 'what is a judgment', it's the question of 'what beliefs have the greatest impact on our happiness' (note, happiness is another term we want to clarify in a bit).

[You might also note that whereas someone might talk about judgments being an important subset of beliefs, in the text above, Bruce DiMarsico presents them as parallel concepts (i.e., judgments and beliefs), not as super set and sub-set.]

Facts, Beliefs, Assessment and Judgments
Many of us who have learned about the Dialogue as a method of self-exploration or facilitated self-exploration have come to distinguish two basic forms of statement regarding stimuli: Fact/Observation and Belief. Those of us who learned about talk therapy in the Berkshires have further learned to segment beliefs into Assessments and Judgments.

Let's start with statements regarding the temperature of the air outside. Within the context I've described above:
  1. "It's -1 degrees" would be an example of fact/observation.
  2. "It's cold outside" would be an example of assessment.
  3. "Shit, it's friggin cold outside!" would be an example of judgment.
In all three cases, we're talking about beliefs. We don't know it's -1 degrees; we just believe it is. Still, one can see that the three statements regarding the temperature vary significantly.

Forget What You Know
Since they seem to cause so much confusion, I'm going to suggest that we abandon the terms: fact/observation, judgment and assessment, and instead look at the process in the following way. (Don't worry, we can resurrect these terms later.)

Please note that the following explanation by way of introduction presents what is ultimately a cyclical process linearly. Also, please note that the above diagram is not to scale; however, beliefs actually are green.

Our world is crowed with gazillions of stimuli which are illustrated in the diagram above in orange. Of the gazillions of stimuli only a small number fall into our awareness (we'll talk about that process later.) Our minds are crowded with zillions of beliefs (represented in green); these beliefs vary in emotional charge. Some are quite positively charged (happiness fueling beliefs), some are negatively charged (unhappiness fueling beliefs), and some don't have much charge one way or the other.

As various stimuli enter our awareness, we engage a subset of our beliefs that we consider relevant to the stimuli. For most of us, this process happens so quickly that we would call it automatic. However, I would suggest that we simply view it as really fast thinking.

As we engage relevant beliefs, they form a filter through which we experience the stimuli that have entered our awareness. It's the beliefs that actually lead to our emotional responses. If we engage happiness-fueling beliefs, then we respond happily. If we engage unhappiness fueling beliefs, then we respond unhappily. In fact, one might say that our happiness is directly proportional to the net sum of the charges on the beliefs we engage.

For example, let's say that you encounter someone you're quite fond of. Your Happiness Quotient might be computed based on several (oversimplified for the sake of illustration) beliefs illustrated below.
He's wonderful+6
I need him-3
He's not going to want to be with me-5
Happiness Quotient-2

So What?

In the end, whether or not a statement is fact/observation or belief, whether or not a belief is a judgment or an assessment is not particularly useful; I would go so far as to say it was simply intellectual masturbation.

What actually matters is what beliefs you engage and the degree to which each of them fuels either happiness or unhappiness.
Both factors are important as the same belief experienced by two different people can have completely opposite happiness fueling effects.

All the above only matters insofar as it helps us achieve our goals, which in this case are generally to become happier and specifically to guide our self-exploration in a way that helps us ask the most meaningful questions.

Working Backwards
A great way to keep yourself on track with what's most important (i.e., most relevant to accomplish your goals) is to work backwards from the goal.

If our goal is to become happier (however you want to define happier), then let's start there. Working backwards from a goal of being happier, we fundamentally have two choices, we can look at situations where we're already happy and make our happiness bigger; or, we can look at situations where we're unhappy and turn them around. The philosophy is particularly good at the latter, and not particularly good at the former (I'll explain more about this in another article.)

Working backwards as we apply the philosophy to modify our unhappiness works something like this.
  1. We look at situations in which we manifest the specific unhappiness we'd like to change
  2. Once we've identified a situation, we dig into it looking for specific stimuli that result in our unhappiness.
  3. Having isolated those stimuli, we then look at our beliefs regarding them.
  4. As we look at those beliefs, we identify ones that have particularly strong charge
  5. We then dig into the beliefs with the strongest charges becoming more and more specific
  6. As we become specific in our understanding of our beliefs, we identify gaps or flaws in our logic and/or potential faults in our assumptions
  7. As we identify these gaps and faults we can choose to keep them, fill them, change them etc.
  8. Changing the beliefs changes the charges associated with them which in turn changes our response.
Stimulus->Belief->Response or Response->Stimulus->Belief
As Iris and I talked about all this yesterday, we realized that the structured presentation of concepts and techniques as a sequence can be misleading when it comes to applying them to the real world. For example, we can talk about the process of stimulus-belief-response. Stimuli pass through beliefs that yield responses. This is a great conceptual model, but the sequence is not particularly useful in discovering why we do what we do.

The application of stimulus-belief-response in conducting self-exploration is most effective when done in the sequence: response then stimulus then belief. We start with the response that we want to change (e.g., what would you like to explore today), we identify the stimuli that seem to trigger the response (e.g., what's an example of a time when you responded that way), and then we look at our beliefs regarding those stimuli (why do you belief that...)

That's it for this morning: much more to come.

An Invitation
As you know, the Belief Makers blog is completely open to your commentary. Please let me know if you agree, disagree, see something totally off or something that's really working for you. Also, if you would like to contribute and article on this or any other relevant topic, please let Iris know via the FaceBook group and we'll get you in there.

Happy Sunday, Teflon

1 comment:

  1. I believe in the proverb, the early bird gets the 'worm,' adage.
    I believe you're an excellent example Tef ;)......completing and posting this at it seems 5:39am.

    I believe the clearest way to communicate my gratitude and love, is to offer you a hug. I celebrate your gift of writing excellence, and the obvious pleasure you purposely go for in presenting your 'gallery' and 'artistry' bw


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