Life is like a board game; I make a move, others make their move, repeat

I am resonating with the idea that life is like a board game. I have full agency to make my move, then others in their turn can make their own moves. One can judge, cajole, manipulate or otherwise try to influence others in their choices, but ultimately each choice is fully ours to make. And we also bear the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of our actions.

The emotion equations; a unifying theory of the importance of emotions

I'm an engineer. I like the elegance and simplicity of the math underlying the physics of our universe (like Maxwell's Equations and Euler’s formula). So, in that spirit, I present the emotion equations:

ℰ ⊂ ∫𝒰
ℰ ≠ ±
ℰ = ⓘ
𝒰(☺,☮) ⇒ {ℰ} + 𝑓(ℰ)
𝑓(ℰ) > 1
And here's what they mean:
  • Emotions exist
  • Emotions are an integral part of you
  • Emotions are neither good nor bad (so don’t judge them)
  • Emotions convey information (how you relate to the world around you)
  • Serenity requires embracing and processing all of your emotions
  • You cannot do this alone

ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) all have one thing in common: relationships

ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) are a good indicator of childhood trauma. I personally experienced 4 ACEs during my childhood. Looking down the list, they all have one thing in common: relationships.

They are either an example of unhealthy relationship behaviors (physical, emotional or sexual abuse), or they represent the loss of an important relationship (prison, death, divorce). Even drug and alcohol abuse is based in unhealthy emotional regulation and the inability to consistently connect in a meaningful way with others.

As George Vaillant—director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development*—said, “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.” I expand this to say “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships: with other people, but also with yourself.”


*For more info on the Harvard Study of Adult Development, check out this amazing TED talk by the current director of the study, Robert Waldinger.

A world without judgement

In coaching, one of the primary ways I support my clients is by offering a distinction, which is essentially just a reframing and alternate interpretation of a particular situation.

One common distinction is shifting to a perspective of curiosity without judgement. This is a concept in Buddhism known as tathātā (roughly translated as suchness or thusness or even is-ness).

For example, take asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs; was that good or bad? Compelling arguments can be made on both sides. On one hand, it caused a massive amount of suffering, death, and loss of biodiversity. But on the other, it created the space necessary for mammals to become the dominant species on the planet: a necessary step on the way to the evolution of humans.

A judgement-free perspective simply notes that this event did happen, and it did cause this chain of subsequent events. It is neither good nor bad. It just is.

Heather Lanier makes the point that good and bad are simple and incomplete stories that we tell ourselves in her TED talk, using the parable of the farmer who lost his horse.

See if you can shift your perspective next time from a place of good and bad to it just is.

(This goes hand-in-hand with the antimatter rule.)

Postel’s robustness principle applies to human interactions too (perhaps even more so)

There are a lot of similarities between computer networking and interpersonal communications.

I was reflecting on Postel’s robustness principle—Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send—and realized that the principle holds up equally well regarding interpersonal interactions.

In conversations with others (even just through body language), as long as one person can absorb negative input without returning it in kind (also known as noncomplementary behavior), that will prevent the conversation from going into a downward spiral. Of course if both can do it, all the better!

Positive, neutral, negative, none: the four types of conversation (or more generally, interpersonal interaction)

Ultimately life is all about our relationships: the ones with others of course, but also with ourselves.

Of course we all want to have positive interactions with others. But that's not always possible.

Some of us grow up in environments where there are too many negative interactions. Inter-generational trauma is passed down from parents to children. In situations like this, it's no wonder kids choose to disengage. They choose none over negative.

The admin console analogy of how to be in nonjudgemental presence with one’s emotional state

From the book Focusing in Clinical Practice, there are a number of different terms and descriptors for the statue of being in nonjudgemental presence with one’s own emotional state:

Ogden et al. connect this state with what is called “mindfulness of present-moment organization of experience.”

In Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)… the core concept is “Self,” which is a state of mind that has qualities of compassion, clarity, curiosity, and calm.

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a similar concept is known as “self-as-context”:

Helene Brenner (2012) says: My first goal in therapy is to bring a stronger self, a stronger “I,” a stronger sense of self-efficacy, of self-autonomy, that there’s a strong “I” there. A self that is coming from a place of “I” and their own experience, rather than what everybody else tells them they should feel, rather than what they think they should feel or an externalized self.

[Still other concepts include] witnessing, observing, large, compassionate, spacious, content-free, and so on.

I, of course, have developed my own term for this, which I call present sense. It’s a derivation of the term present tense, which helps make it easier for me to remember. The core idea is to be in the present moment with your sensory input, not in the past, future and not in your thoughts.

I realized there is an analogy from computer science for this state, and that is the admin console. An admin console can see how particular computers or devices are operating without getting caught up in the operations themselves. That's essentially what this state is for people. The ability to step back, be with the current situation without getting caught up in it.

Dunbar’s donut—our all-too-common lack of skill in intimate relationships creates a unfulfilled hole in our emotional lives

I previously blogged about Dunbar’s Number. I was speaking to a guy friend about this and he joked about having a “Dunbar’s donut”; he didn’t have anyone that really qualified as a member of his support clique, so the closest he really got with friends was in the sympathy group. I think this is far too common in our society—especially for males. I feel like I was there for a lot of my life. Or maybe better said that I had friends I considered in my support clique, but I didn’t really have the skills or understanding to feel entirely comfortable express myself with them.

We need to fill the hole in Dunbar’s donut so that everyone out there has a complete Dunbar Disk.