Taste and Shaping

No upcoming meetings

Taste [30 minutes]

Every human is without a "self". We are bundles of individual needs all competing for limited time and energy. When one part wants to dance but another fears loss of social standing, you feel anxiety. When one part wants success, but another feels a lack of meaning, you feel apathy. When one part feels lonely but another fears being hurt, you feel depressed and hollow. This is what cognitive dissonance feels like from the inside — a confused soup of emotions and unfulfilled desires.

Negative feelings in our lives and the "yuck" reactions that CFAR mentions in Taste & Shaping indicate dissatisfaction between two (or more) parts of yourself. A lack of alignment causes us to focus on things we don't feel aligned with. In contrast, we experience "yums" and flow state when we're aligned with our actions and meet all our needs.

Check out our workshop on felt sense introspection for more information, including techniques to improve self-awareness.

Exercise 1 [30 minutes]

Take turns going around your cohort and completing this exercise.

Using the techniques from this workshop and Felt Sense Introspection and your Character Sheet, describe in detail your best future self. Then, list out at least two "yuck" factors that are holding you back from being the person you imagined. What other part of you is not having their needs met? Follow that feeling back to find the source of the yuck experiences.

Break [5 minutes]

Take a five-minute break. Stand up from your computer, stretch, get some water.

Shaping [40 minutes]

Humans have a System 2 of explicit reasoning that sits over a large System 1 of instinctual feedback loops designed for survival. System 1 is similar in all animals beyond a certain complexity. It's why Pavlovian training and positive reinforcement work on everything from dogs to people. That's good news because it means that simple techniques discovered centuries ago can effect complex behavioral changes.

The core principle of shaping is that immediate rewards are more effective than delayed rewards. (Or, in other words, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush".) In people, the most immediate way to feel rewarded is to trigger a thought or experience something that creates a dopamine rush.

Dopamine isn't just a "happy chemical". It's also our source of motivation. Your dopamine hit is proportional to the difficulty of the goal you completed. Interestingly, every step towards a goal releases dopamine in proportion to the size of the goal — not the size of the step.

Example. Let's take two people doing the same thing and see how framing changes how they experience a chore.

In our first scenario, we have a young person moving to a new city and needing new car insurance. This has a large yuck feeling to it because some part of them doesn't want to do the paperwork. In fact, they don't want to think about it at all.

In the second scenario, we have another young person in the same situation. When they see the insurance letter, they're excited because they've been planning out fun trips with their friends. They rip the letter open and get their insurance done immediately because they can't wait to start driving.

Both people had to get car insurance, both were in the same city, and both could have taken the other’s view. Their difference was their frame and their expectations. The second person framed the insurance as one step towards a larger goal instead of "something they had to do". Also, the visualization of a successful future where they are adventurous and taking people out to have fun is motivating for the second person. That vision happened because they filled out the paperwork.

If you want to reinforce a behavior, imagine yourself accomplishing the most satisfying possible thing in your life. Then, create a connection between your behavior and that vision. The loftier the goal and the clearer your vision, the more motivating it is. Going to the gym to "get healthy" is a foggy vision. Going to the gym to lose body fat and gain muscle mass to end up at 22% body fat is specific and measurable — but that's not enough. What will motivate you is imagining yourself lounging on the beach in the sun and getting admiration from your friends.

To summarize, taste techniques are about finding inner harmony between the different facets of ourselves. The more your facets align, the less energy needs to be spent "making" the various parts of yourself do something that is out of alignment for them.

Shaping techniques create a Pavlovian response in you between an action and an attitude. The shorter the time between action and reward the more effective. The shortest time reward a person can give themselves is the rush of feeling that the actions they are taking are ones that align with all of who they want to be. So to remove akrasia, picture how completing the task moves you toward your long term goals and/or needs.

Exercise 2 [40 minutes]

Take turns going around your cohort and completing this exercise.

With your cohort's help, come up with ways to effectively tie the behavior from Exercise 1 into your future self in a clear causal relationship. Then, figure out a way you can reinforce the tie by creating a small burst of dopamine as a reward when you begin or accomplish the task. Remember, the closer the reward to the action, the better.

Example. Having a bowl of skittles on your desk and eating one when you answer an email.

Exercise 3 [remaining time]

Repeat Exercises 1-2 for a different aspect of your imagined self.

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