Unhelpful thoughts and beliefs related to PKM

Something I’ve been reflecting on lately is unhelpful thoughts and beliefs related to personal knowledge management (PKM).

One group of these thoughts I think are related to the Collector’s Fallacy. (I also see these related to bike-shedding and rabbit hole-ing.)

These thoughts might look like:

  • I need to collect everything that might one day be useful.
  • I need to collect ideas I already know because I might need them for a citation in a future book that I may one day write.
  • I don’t know if this will be helpful, so I should collect it just in case.

These thoughts are problematic because they lead you to collect too much. Soon, your PKM is overflowing.

One purpose of PKM is to provide a space with an increased signal-to-noise ratio for your future self to find information. When your PKM is overflowing, that signal-to-noise ratio decreases. Your PKM stops being helpful to your future self, and you may stop maintaining it because you don’t think it’s worth the investment.

One way to address this is to use the 12 Favorite Problems exercise from Building a Second Brain based on this quote from Richard Feynman:

You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius?”

You can avoid excessive bloating of your PKM system by using your 12 favorite problems to filter what you collect.

Another group of thoughts are those related to confirmation bias. (I also see these related to thoughts related to pursuit of an objective truth.)

These thoughts might look like:

  • I like this idea. I agree with it. It makes sense. I’m going to collect it.
  • I disagree with this. I don’t understand it. It’s wrong. It’s stupid. Why would I collect it?

These thoughts are problematic because your PKM system becomes an echo chamber for a past version of yourself.

Another purpose of PKM is to accelerate growth. However, it’s difficult to grow in an echo chamber. Everything in there pulls you back to your initial beliefs.

This reminds me of these passages from Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game:

I have a friend who is so focused on her Cause, it is as if she has forgotten that there are other points of view in the world besides her own. My friend, sadly, has labeled anyone who has a different opinion as wrong, stupid or morally corrupt. My friend suffers from Cause Blindness.

Cause Blindness is when we become so wrapped up in our Cause or so wrapped up in the “wrongness” of the other player’s Cause, that we fail to recognize their strengths or our weaknesses. We falsely believe that they are unworthy of comparison simply because we disagree with them, don’t like them or find them morally repugnant. We are unable to see where they are in fact effective or better than we are at what we do and that we can actually learn from them.

One way to address this is to integrate opposing viewpoints and opinions into your PKM. These can be valuable even if they take the form of your arguing against them. Another approach would be to write a steel man argument for those viewpoints.

One last group of thoughts are those related to metawork. (I also see these related to thoughts related to pursuit of an objective truth.)

These thoughts may look like:

  • There’s an objectively optimal PKM system set-up out there.
  • When my PKM system is perfect, I will get the results I’m looking for.
  • I’m not getting the results I want because there’s something wrong with my PKM system right now.

These thoughts end up leading you to, essentially, procrastinate. Instead of doing work that creates actual value, you do work on the system that you hope will create value.

To be clear: metawork isn’t a problem in itself. It can help with efficiency and effectiveness.

However, metawork becomes a problem when it eats up an inappropriate amount of our time or effort. It becomes a problem when it gets in the way of us moving closer to our goals.

One way to address this is to reflect and action on:

  • Am I happy with the value I’m getting out of my PKM?
  • Does the idea of a better PKM distract me from doing real work?
  • How much time do I spend trying new apps, tag/link/folder structures, or plugins?

The return of the macro-counting

For the longest time, I’ve hated playing middle/blocker in volleyball because all the jumping destroys my knees.

Well, I recently got to play left-hand/hitter again… …and my knees still hurt afterwards.

I take this as a sign that it’s probably time for me to start bringing my weight back down. Things got a bit out of control, especially with the pandemic.

Graph of Tyler’s weight in pounds from 2016 through 2022

The big swings many years ago were from when I was using MyFitnessPal to count my macros for a bulking and cutting cycle. I’d typically bulk in the fall/winter (all those holiday meals) and then cut for the summer months.

Unfortunately, macro counting is a lot of work. I would weigh all my food, typically before I cooked it. It got the job done, but eventually, I got tired of spending so much time doing all that work.

I later switched to Gyroscope because of the option to take a picture of your food and have someone else enter the nutrition information on your behalf. This saved a lot of time, but it isn’t easy to accurately estimate the nutrition information of something simply by looking at a photo.

This wasn’t sufficient to get me the results I was looking for.

So a couple of weeks ago, I switched over to using MacroFactor. I’d heard that, in many ways, it’s an improvement over MyFitnessPal, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

At the end of May, I weighed in at 212.4 lbs. More recently, I weighed in at 204.9 lbs.

This is probably progressing a little faster than I’d like, but the app is still calibrating to my weight and nutrition information.

The nice thing about this app is that it does the math each week to calculate your new macro targets for the week automatically. And because I’m currently ahead of schedule, I’ve still been getting to eat more each week despite trying to lose weight.

Some of the things I’ve been eating regularly recently include:

  • Quinoa
  • Carrots
  • Chicken
  • Hummus
  • Smoothies
  • Rye crackers
  • Nut/seed butter
  • Stir-fried veggies
  • Quest protein bars
  • Salads with hard-boiled eggs and light vinaigrettes

Unfortunately, I still get cravings all the time for sweet things. So far, I’ve staved these off decently between smoothies, Jell-O, and Quest protein cookies.

I still haven’t figured out if these cravings result from stress/anxiety or just a sugar addiction.

In any case, I’m in my coaching certification classes all weekend, and these cravings seem like the perfect opportunity for me to do some self-coaching.

I hope I’ll be able to report back with more significant results by the end of the summer. 🙂

Our self-belief creates problems

I recently sent out this tweet:

It’s amazing how many of our problems stem from an underlying belief that we are somehow unworthy, inadequate, or not enough.

I thought that for today, I’d elaborate on this idea. I will share three examples of problems I experienced this week and how they relate to this idea.

Earlier this week, I was having a conversation with someone. I was providing my perspective on something, but the way they responded, it was like they weren’t hearing what I was saying.

I felt unheard and disrespected.

But the underlying problem wasn’t that I felt unheard. Nor was it that I felt disrespected.

The problem was that I felt that I wasn’t worthy of their attention or respect. I thought that I wasn’t intelligent enough to contribute helpful ideas.

To explain this another way, suppose there’s something you’re absolutely solid on. Something you know is absolutely true. For example, you exist. Imagine someone calmly walked up to you and politely said, “I don’t think you exist,” before walking away. It wouldn’t be a problem because you know you exist.

It’s the same thing in my situation, only that I think it’s a problem because I’m not solid on the underlying belief.

Another experience I’ve had on and off for a while is feeling bored while playing volleyball.

Boredom is an uncomfortable feeling.

But feelings aren’t problems. (Even though I often think they are. 🤣)

Here, there are a few things I was struggling with:

  • The fear that I wouldn’t be worthy of being invited to play with others.
  • The thought that I wasn’t able to improve without feeling engaged in the sport.
  • The loss of my identity as a volleyball player and the belief that I’m less of a person if I lose that part of myself.

And one final example from last week: I got a new laptop at work.

I thought setting it up would be straightforward: install a few programs, run a few commands, reconnect a few things.

But as reality would have it, things went wrong. I had to read and decipher error logs. I had to try things, and those attempts would fail. So I’d try something else.

Eventually, I was able to finish setting up my laptop. But it took way more time and effort than I expected.

It felt wasteful. Inefficient.

But let’s try another thought experiment.

Suppose you’re relaxed and on vacation somewhere. You don’t have a backlog of things you want to do. It feels like you have all the time in the world.

You’re sitting on a towel on the beach and want to read a book. As you’re reading, someone yells in the distance. You look up and see somebody having fun surfing a giant wave. You return to your book. Eventually, you end up taking a break to go to the washroom. And later, you pass out while reading.

So it wasn’t the most efficient you’ve been at reading. But it wasn’t a problem. Inefficiency itself isn’t a problem.

For me, I knew I had a list of things I wanted to get done this week. Because setting up my laptop took longer than expected, I had less time and energy to finish the rest of my list.

The problem was that I didn’t think I was capable of completing everything on my list. I didn’t think I was good enough to get it all done.

I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but this is where my mind has taken me this week.

I have a feeling that I’m going to need regular reminders of this. The initial problems usually feel so real that I may not think to look at my beliefs about myself.

What problems have you experienced recently? What beliefs do you have about yourself that are creating those problems?

When not shame is shame

I first saw Brené Brown’s TEDxHouston talk back when I was at UBC.

I didn’t understand it at all the first time I saw it.

I saw it again a couple of years later. I had done some more structured and intentional personal development work by this time. And it resonated with me much more the second time I saw it.

In her talk, she made this statement:

So, where I started was with connection. Because, by the time you’re a social worker for ten years, what you realize is that connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.

So, connection is essential. But there’s something that tears connection apart: shame.

In I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Brown defines shame as:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.

For a long time, I didn’t recognize feelings of shame inside myself.

I read Brown’s Daring Greatly after her talk resonated with me. This was years ago now.

In Daring Greatly, Brown differentiates between guilt and shame.

(In brief, guilt is helpful. It tells us when we’ve done something bad. Shame is not useful. It tells us that we are bad.)

For the longest time, I could recognize guilt in my life. But I couldn’t recognize shame.

Earlier this year, I brought up something in a session with my therapist. I noticed that I frequently had recurring memories that would lead me to twitch involuntarily.

(Right before my session, I caught myself twitching on the way back from the bakery. Fortunately, my self-awareness has grown in recent years, such that I was able to notice it.)

Here’s one of them:

I was standing at a table with three other students in the chemistry classroom, painting a poster for student government.

The girl across from me tapped her paintbrush on the water bucket. In the process, black paint splashed right across my favourite hoodie.

“I’m sorry,” she said, raising her hand to cover her mouth.

I took this to be sarcastic. I thought I was being attacked, and I got angry.

And in that instant, I took my paintbrush and sprayed her shirt with paint.

A guy at the table looked at me and said, “Not cool, man.”

After chatting with my therapist, I realized that I was experiencing shame about this memory.

Again, from I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Brown writes:

Individuals, families and communities use shame as a tool to change others and to protect themselves.

In this case, I was using shame to protect myself.

Looking back at this memory, I saw that experiencing anger led to people pushing me away. AKA: disconnection.

I saw that I was flawed when I was angry.

This makes me wonder if shame is also underlying core personality traits. 🤔

Anyhow, lots of exploring to do in this realm still. But it seems I’ve recently discovered some paths I can walk around.

How do I know if my PKM is effective?

Between courses such as Building a Second Brain and Linking Your Thinking, books like How to Take Smart Notes, and the many other resources on personal knowledge management (PKM), the amount of information on building a PKM system can feel overwhelming.

But how do I know if my PKM is effective?

To answer this question, it’s essential to know the goal of having a PKM system in the first place.

One idea that resonates with me comes from How to Take Smart Notes about why Niklas Luhmann maintained his zettelkasten:

His slip-box became his dialogue partner, main idea generator and productivity engine.

Why is it valuable to think about your PKM as a dialogue partner?

As Luhmann said:

I never force myself to do anything I don’t feel like. Whenever I am stuck, I do something else.

This reminds me of an idea from David Allen’s Getting Things Done:

Mind Like Water: A mental and emotional state in which your head is clear, able to create and respond freely, unencumbered with distractions and split focus.

This is just one of the benefits of thinking of your notes as a dialogue partner: relevance. I only make notes on the things that interest me in the moment of writing. If I’m not interested in it, I’m not going to write it down.

This also brings in the aspect of play. When something starts to feel like work, I feel resistance to doing it. But I enjoy having conversations about things that I’m interested in. In this way, when my notes are a conversation partner, they bring in that fun aspect.

Beyond this, having a dialogue partner enables progress. My notes can reveal what I’ve thought about in the past. This allows me to build on past thoughts and conversations, even when significant time has passed. It can also help prevent me from going in circles by revealing where I’ve hit a train of thought that I’ve already encountered in the past.

Having my notes as a dialogue partner can also reveal and stimulate transformation. I can see in my notes where my opinions have shifted over time. It can also facilitate that shift by revealing where my thinking has contradictions or other logical flaws.

My dialogue partner can also feed into my other goals, such as creation. When I’m looking to write a newsletter, share something on Twitter, or write an email to a friend, I can easily refer to my past conversations with myself as a jumping-off point. This means I never need to start from scratch.

So as I’m reflecting on whether my PKM is effective, one of the questions I’ve started to ask myself is:

Am I having good conversations with myself?

Five reasons it’s better to minimize your number of concurrent goals

I’ve been thinking about goals after they came up multiple times in coaching and mentoring conversations this week.

More specifically, I’ve been thinking about what happens when people take on too many goals simultaneously. This is something I commonly see with New Year’s Resolutions. People have a goal of losing weight, learning a new skill, getting a raise, investing in their relationships, etc.

And in my experience, not many people complete their New Year’s Resolutions.

I think part of this reason is that they have too many goals on the go.

Here are five reasons why it’s better to minimize the number of goals you’re working on simultaneously.

Having fewer goals increases the likelihood of success

I mention this first because this is the primary reason people set goals.

When you have fewer goals, you’re more likely to succeed. The following four reasons dive deeper into why this is the case. I call this out explicitly here to keep the big picture in mind.

Having fewer goals increases focus

When you have fewer goals, you can better focus your resources.

Instead of spending a few minutes on each of your goals each day, you can spend all that time focusing only on your most important goals. Instead of distributing your energy across multiple goals, you can be all in for those that matter. Instead of juggling your attention and memory on many goals, you can ensure you’re focusing your mental capacities where they’ll produce the most impact.

You’re more likely to succeed at your goals when they get more of your time, energy, and attention.

Having fewer goals minimizes waste

You waste less of your resources when you’re working towards fewer goals.

The more goals you’re working towards, the more context-switching you’ll have to do. And context switching eats up our time and energy, which is wasteful. Having too many goals also often means that we’re less intentional about our efforts, which means that our resources are being used for less important things. And having more goals also means making more decisions. How much time should I spend on this goal versus that goal this week? I stumbled upon some free time–which goal should I focus on?

These things result in spending our resources on things that don’t move us closer to success.

Having fewer goals leverages Pareto’s principle

Pareto’s principle is the observation is that often 20% of the efforts produce 80% of the results.

When we prioritize our most important goals, we focus on that 20%. This allows us to move quickly, efficiently, and iteratively towards success. When we have too many goals, much of our effort goes towards the other 80%, which produces only 20% of the results (which is a less efficient use of our resources).

This is why being intentional in prioritizing our goals is so helpful.

Having fewer goals helps to build up positive momentum

So much of success comes from mindset.

When we have many goals, we’re more likely to encounter failures. And when we do succeed, we haven’t necessarily succeeded at what’s truly important to moving us in the direction we want to go. This can make us feel stuck–like we’re not making progress.

As we’ve discussed so far, we’re more likely to succeed when we have fewer goals. And when we succeed, we know we’re doing so at the most important goals. This makes us feel good about the progress we’re making. This gives us a sense of positive momentum.

And that positive momentum can help fuel continued success in the future.

To be successful, be intentional

Being intentional about where we focus our resources is key to success.

They talk about this in the context of wildly important goals in The 4 Disciplines of Execution. However, I see similar principles elsewhere. For example, in Building a Second Brain, they encourage people to cap their number of active projects. And a common project management practice in tech is to limit work in progress.

If you’re looking for better results, it could be helpful to look at your goals and see if you can focus on only the most impactful ones.

The allure of metawork (and changes to my reading process)

Cohort 14 of Building a Second Brain wrapped up this week.

I debated jumping back into another cohort-based course, but I’ve decided to take a break for a bit. Reflecting on recent months, I feel like I’ve been doing too much metawork and too little actual work.

Metawork is work directed towards the systems and tools we use to accomplish our goals.

Whether something is metawork or not is context-dependent. If my goal is to write a newsletter by Sunday, then re-organizing my tags in my PKM is metawork. If my goal is to host a webinar showcasing how tags can be effectively used in a PKM system, then re-organizing my tags is actual work.

Metawork can be helpful. It improves our systems and tools, enabling us to execute our goals more quickly.

Metawork becomes a problem when we mistake it for actual work. It can become a form of procrastination. It can allow us to feel productive when we’re not progressing towards our goals.

In my case, I feel like I’ve been spending:

  • too much time optimizing my system
  • too much time consuming new materials
  • too much time focusing on things that aren’t producing value in the immediate future

I want to spend more time:

  • doing targeted research toward my goals
  • writing more articles that dive deep into my areas of interest
  • putting together a few workshops or presentations that I think would be valuable for the people in my life

Earlier this week, I started moving my books into my PKM. I tagged them to mark which of my 12 favourite problems they might be relevant to. And I started making notes of their tables of contents to have some idea of the structure and ideas in each book.

This start at an inspectional reading is, admittedly, still metawork.

I aim to do just enough metawork to provide a good jumping-off point for when I start doing targeted research for my future projects.

That being said, I realized that I got sucked into the allure of this metawork. I don’t need to include that initial table of contents structure until I decide to start diving into the book. I can reduce some of this metawork by just tagging the notes and stopping there for now.

And I hope to use these tagged notes in my next attempt at reducing waste: changing how I read books.

I still find myself reading books cover to cover.

I want to try skimming a book while looking for information related to a specific question. Hopefully, this will allow me to do more efficient and diverse research for my thinking and writing.

Fortunately, I have some time this week to dedicate to this. Our quarterly hackathon is here, so I plan to do some of this metawork then. (And also taking notes on Everything Everywhere All At Once for that article I want to write.)

A couple ways we may see life through a lens of scarcity or abundance

I noticed that a lot of what I’m consuming recently is being processed through a lens of scarcity and abundance.

I recently started reading The Infinite Game for a book club at work. In The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek differentiates between finite and infinite games:

Finite games are played by known players. They have fixed rules. And there is an agreed-upon objective that, when reached, ends the game.

Infinite games, in contrast, are played by known and unknown players. There are no exact or agreed-upon rules. Though there may be conventions or laws that govern how the players conduct themselves, within those broad boundaries, the players can operate however they want. And if they choose to break with convention, they can. The manner in which each player chooses to play is entirely up to them. And they can change how they play the game at any time, for any reason.

Infinite games have infinite time horizons. And because there is no finish line, no practical end to the game, there is no such thing as “winning” an infinite game. In an infinite game, the primary objective is to keep playing, to perpetuate the game.

Finite games remind me of a scarcity mindset. Both see the world as if there’s a winner and a loser. Both fear change and uncertainty (and thus drive a need for control). Both feel stuck playing within the rules that have been described to them.

Infinite games remind me of an abundance mindset. Both see the world as if there will always be more. Both are welcoming to change and uncertainty. Both look for ways to push boundaries and challenge the status quo.

One thing in my life that reminded me of an infinite game is running.

On the Bare Performance Podcast, Jeff Cunningham shares this idea:

It’s more important to be consistently good than occasionally great.

Being consistently good reminds me of an infinite game. It’s not about a race. It’s not about a training session. It’s about being a runner.

(Note: I suspect this isn’t strictly an infinite game by Sinek’s definition because your being a runner ceases to exist when you die, but I thought some of the parallels were interesting.)

Being occasionally great is a finite game. There is a race you can win or lose. There is a personal record (PR) you can break (or not).

Again, in The Infinite Game, Sinek warns us that:

To complicate matters further, finite games are seductive; they can be fun and exciting and sometimes even addictive. Just like gambling, every win, every goal hit releases a shot of dopamine in our bodies, encouraging us to play the same way again.

It may feel good to win the next race or set a new PR. But constantly pushing can lead to ignoring the need for rest. It can lead to overuse injuries. (It can also lead to using too much energy at the beginning of a run.)

This is something that Sinek describes:

Because finite-minded leaders place unbalanced focus on near-term results, they often employ any strategy or tactic that will help them make the numbers.

And it’s not only the drive for that next dopamine hit.

It’s also the fear of failure. As Sinek writes:

Because they are playing with an end point in mind, [James] Carse tells us, finite-minded players do not like surprises and fear any kind of disruption. Things they cannot predict or cannot control could upset their plans and increase their chances of losing.

This fear can drive a need to predict or control things such as food, water, shoes, weather, heart rate, race route, body temperature, competitors, etc.

(To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with planning. But not all planning is fear-driven.)

Another book I’ve started reading recently is Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. Burkeman writes:

If I could get enough work done, my subconscious had apparently concluded, I wouldn’t need to ask if it was all that healthy to be deriving so much of my sense of self-worth from work in the first place.

This made me think about how the drive for productivity and efficiency is often symptomatic of a scarcity mindset.

We feel that we need to be productive and efficient to prove our worth, earn our right to belong, demonstrate our competence, etc.

In The Culture Map, Erin Meyer shares something revealed by her host on a trip to India:

Because we grew up in a society where currency wasn’t always stable and governments could change regulations on a whim, we learned to value flexibility over linear planning.

Meyer then shares her reflection:

I was learning that flexible-time cultures, like India, tend to emphasize leaving many boxes open and working on all of them simultaneously.

This makes me think that multi-tasking may also often be driven by a scarcity mindset. People may not feel comfortable working on just a single task because they don’t know that that task will still be valuable when they finish.

So this is something I’m starting to be more conscious of lately: where am I viewing my life through a lens of scarcity? What perspective aligns me more with an abundance mindset?

The beauty of uncertainty is infinite possibility. You don’t even know what you’re capable of. And anything is possible, y’all, so let’s fucking go.
Erika Royal

A quick tour of my notes

I thought it would be interesting to give a quick tour of my Obsidian vault this week.

To start, here is the current graph of my vault:

My Obsidian graph

Red nodes are source notes, blue nodes are temporal notes, and purple nodes are quotes.

In my left sidebar, I have my habit tracker and PARA structure pinned (filled with dummy data for illustration and privacy purposes):

A redacted version of my Obsidian sidebar

Here, I rely heavily on the Dataview plugin and transclusion.

I show a week’s worth of habits to keep my eye on overall trends. I have a lot of work to do here, though, as there’s a lot of red going on. I’ve probably got too many habits on the go right now.

I like to have an annual note for each of my projects, areas, and resources (i.e. Habit tracker2022 Projects2022 Areas, and 2022 Resources are each notes that are transcluded in my 🏡 Home note). This is useful for record-keeping and allows me to start from a blank state (and be super intentional) when the new year rolls around.

Here is an example of a source note for Building a Second Brain:

Source note for Building a Second Brain

As seen in the metadata section, I usually fill this data in on a just-in-time basis. I haven’t filled this out yet as I haven’t had a use for it; plus, it will be easier to grab it all at once after the course ends.

I also wanted to point out the tags in the metadata. I try to tag my source notes with a tag that correlates to one of my 12 favourite problems. I’m hoping this can help speed up project kick-offs in the future by allowing for the faster gathering of potentially related materials.

I struggle a lot with non-written materials. This has made note-taking from movies, podcasts, and audiobooks difficult for me. My current approach is very brute force–I try to find a written version of the material.

As seen in this source note, I have timestamps next to my notes. I quickly captured these in the transcript that accompanied the course recording. Similarly, I also can get these timestamps when using the transcript feature in Youtube videos.

Here’s an example of a source note for The Body Keeps the Score:

Source note for The Body Keeps the Score

I included this note in part because it illustrates some progressive summarization. I don’t bold or highlight nearly as much as I take original notes. I still have to work on tuning in to what resonates with me.

I also included this note because it better shows how I try to keep the structure of the source in my notes. As you can see in the various headers, the different parts, chapters, and section headings are all preserved in my notes.

I’ve been trying this ever since reading How to Read a Book. I’m not following all of the suggestions, but this is one that I found particularly useful.

Here’s a section of my source note for The Culture Map:

Source note for The Culture Map

I thought this illustrated the inclusion of figures in my source notes and my additions to these notes (in square brackets) to clarify things such as the name of who was speaking in the passage. (In this case, the author, Erin Meyer, was quoting Hirotake Tokunaga, and I thought it might be helpful to keep that clear in my notes.)

This is an example of a note I use to gather all my source notes of a specific type:

Map of source notes for courses

These notes are generated using the Dataview plugin, which parses the metadata fields you saw at the top of the source notes. I mostly use them as a quick reference when looking for specific materials.

Finally, here is an example of an atomic note:

An atomic note on the Zeigarnik effect

There’s a lot of experimenting going on in these notes right now.

I used to use footnotes to reference my source notes, but I’ve recently switched to using the callouts feature because I find they’re easier to parse and add a nice visual effect to the notes.

I’m using the drafted tag as an experiment to indicate that a note has been drafted sufficiently to be a potentially helpful atomic note. This allows me to identify notes that need further development quickly. I’m also planning to use it in some experiments with the graph view and an alternative approach to a zettelkasten implementation.

So lots of experimentation is happening and lots of change. But I’m still having lots of fun with my notes and looking forward to seeing what comes of them in the coming years. 🙂

The subconscious messages I’ve been sending to myself about emotion

Initially, I had planned to share some notes from my vault this week.

But this morning at the gym, I was thinking about something else. So I’m going to write about that instead.

Last week, Alex and I watched Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. It’s an excellent, entertaining, thought-provoking movie, in my opinion. I will try to be very vague about it to avoid spoiling anything.

One of the big themes of the movie has to do with paradoxes and dualities juxtaposed with each other.

This brought me to a paradox in my life.

I’ve been working to become more comfortable with my emotions. But then, this morning, I started reflecting on all these ways I’m subconsciously pushing them away.

One thing that popped to mind was how I tend to find happy people attractive.

(I think I was initially reflecting on how this doesn’t make any sense sustainably. People experience a range of emotions, so if I’m only attracted to happy people, I will find them unattractive as I get to know them better.)

In any case, I don’t know why I find happy people attractive, but I have two hypotheses:

  1. I found comfort in kindness. Kids can be mean, and I suspect I developed my first crush because he was kind to me when others weren’t.
  2. I sought out a balance. When my depression was much worse years ago, I can see myself looking for a source of stability to balance out my own experience of things.

Looking at these now, I realize that they’re both attempts to experience one emotion to avoid feeling another. I still do this today when I eat a whole box of cookies to try and get rid of my anxiety.

In doing these things, I’m communicating to myself that “happy” is a good emotion; “sad” and “anxious” are bad emotions.

Another thought I had this morning was regarding my relationship.

Sometimes, my partner doesn’t say anything, but I feel he is experiencing something emotional.

And even though he’s not doing anything from my perspective except experiencing that emotion, it bothers me.

I’m not reacting to his behaviour. I’m responding to a thought I have about his experiencing non-happy emotions.

(Usually, I think I’ve done something to annoy him. Or that something terrible is going to happen because he’s angry.)

And again, I’m telling myself that emotions like “angry” or “annoyed” are bad.

I don’t think I’m the only one who subconsciously communicates these ideas.

I also thought about all the times I hear people say things like:

  • Don’t worry. Don’t feel anxiety. It’s bad.
  • Don’t be sad. Don’t feel sadness. It’s bad.
  • Calm down. Don’t feel anger. (Or excitement.) It’s bad.

When we communicate these types of things, they snowball.


I recently finished reading Mel Robbin’s The High 5 Habit.

In it, she talks about the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS is a part of your brain that determines the data that your conscious mind gets to process. Because there’s so much data coming in from our external environment, it has to filter out a lot.

What does it allow to pass through?

Things that we think are important.

And for a species that has evolved to focus on surviving (especially as part of a group), it is imperative to avoid things that are wrong (and potentially dangerous).

So the RAS feeds us information that reminds us that we get in trouble when we’re angry; that relationships can be damaged when someone is sad; that we create more problems for ourselves when we feel anxious about things.

This strengthens our belief that emotions are bad. (As per confirmation bias, we tend to see the things that confirm our existing thoughts.)

Returning to Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, it’s apparent that emotions are bad in one universe. In another universe, it’s obvious that emotions are neutral.

Both seem to be true in my universe.

I get that emotion is neutral intellectually. But evidently, this isn’t understood by my entire brain. Part of me gets that emotion is bad.

So how am I trying to deal with this duality?

  • Exposure. I’m trying to increase my awareness of my emotions. Furthermore, I’m trying to avoid doing things to avoid them (e.g. eating boxes of cookies) when I can. I’m hoping that I don’t feel the same impulse to push them away automatically through this form of exposure therapy.
  • Distancing. I’m trying to notice the separation between my self and my experience. My therapist told me about an analogy that came from the Dalai Lama. When experiencing emotions, he would imagine himself sitting on the sand under the water. He could look up and see the waves crashing about, but where he was, the water was much calmer. I’m trying to notice this separation between my thoughts, feelings, etc., more often.
  • Perspective. Instead of just jumping to the label, I’m trying to pay attention to the body sensations underlying an emotion. And I’m trying to be more curious about what my body may be needing at the time to produce those body sensations.

This is a life.