Personal Reflections, part 1

Table of contents

This is a compilation of personal insights I’ve obtained over the past few months. Hopefully, they will be useful to others (somehow).

I am in a much better place than I used to be

I’ve come to realize again, after a hazy train of thoughts accidentally dampening down the effulgence of everyday life, that the degree of freedom I have right now is much more than that of the previous year. I feel it is necessary to capture this realization because I sense a vague feeling of having lost and obtained something again, just for it to slip away.

An idea in psychotherapy is that the unconscious constantly attempts to bubble up thought patterns that reflect our nature and the nature of the current situation. But by the time they reach our rational mind, they get squashed and declared as nonsense very quickly, so quickly that almost none gets to be perceived consciously. I believe this was the phenomenon I experienced. I worry that without pinning it down and putting it into words, this realization will once again be fleeting, and its impact on my behaviors will quickly dissipate. My frustration is akin to the feeling of a protagonist whose memory of his most valuable person is erased from his mind. That is to say, it is very frustrating.

I have much more control of my life than I used to do. Years ago, I was subjected to a series of external circumstances and open loops that inhibited my potential. For example, my bachelor’s degree, taking care of my cousin all day, having to endure conflicts of family members. At work, I was primarily doing software development, which was close but wasn’t quite the path that I wanted to pursue. Even worse, I hadn’t realized which path I want to pursue. I still had product assignments, but I couldn’t give my 100% due to the other responsibility.

The situation now is objectively different: I obtained the degree, I no longer have to take care of my cousin nearly as much as before, my family members have much fewer conflicts. At work, I am doing product assignments all the time. I think it is worth saying again: I am in a much better place than it used to be. It’s not as good as it can be. As noble and useful it is as an ideal, it’s not healthy to long for its attainment. The pleasure is in the pursuit. Nevertheless, the fact that it got better indicates that my approach to life is working.

Expectations are necessary to get to know someone

I think expectations are necessary to the process of trying to get to know someone. The key to this personal insight is by reframing expectations as predictions.

When two people want to get to know each other, they can only work with the information each party produces. This information may be facial expressions, verbal cues, stories, or use of language, all of which provide indirect clues about the person’s nature. This information is then used to construct a model about the person’s nature.

To improve your model, you must put it to test. Initially, your approximation of the other person is very poor, and consequently, the model creates poor predictions. Reframing expectations as predictions means that we need to adjust our model when our expectations are violated. You can only see your progress in understanding someone when your model predicts successfully more and more of their behaviors.

As expectations are violated, negative feelings are produced. These negative feelings may indicate either that the two of you are not a potential match, or that your model is not sufficiently sophisticated. In the former case, you need to further compare your model of the other person to your standards of friends/partners/spouses. If your model is sophisticated enough, yet it still deviates in terms of non-negotiable fundamental beliefs, then it’s logical to terminate the relationship.

If you don’t have expectations about the other person, then you can’t test your model, which means that you’re not making any incremental progress. You can of course adopt general lines of thinking such as “people are fundamentally good/evil” to explain people’s behaviors away, but these reasonings do not constitute a real understanding of the person at all. What you work with is an entity abstracted away of all its particular personality traits and backstories. An alternative is based on your gut feeling and intuitions, which may be useful, but are unreliable.

With that said, the practice of letting go of expectations may work on a different level of abstractions. For example, presence of mind, which involves letting go of everything else except bare attention, enables strategic intuitions that allow Napoleon to win his battles. However, I think this an argument against the popular saying of decreasing your expectations to increase your happiness.

By default, thinking usually bias towards the present and the future

I only think about the past after a long period of thinking about the present and the future with no result. Th thought of being in a much better place than I used to seems so elusive, and only came after practically exhausting my thinking on the now and what’s next. There may be a mythological explanation for this.

In the story of Adam and Eve, men and women are punished by God after eating the Fruit of The Knowledge of Good and Evil against his will. This should provide a good phenomenological account of why thinking usually tends towards the future and present. God said to men: you have obtained a god-like vision, granted to you by the snake, fruit, and lover, that allows you to see far into the future.

But those who see into the future can also eternally see the future coming, and thus must prepare all contingencies and for possibilities. To do that, you have to sacrifice the present for the future, sacrifice pleasure for security. We see this tendency in men even today, where they have to constantly shoulder the responsibility of working to provide security for their family (I’m not saying that’s how it should be, that’s just how things have been).

From a mythological perspective, god condemned men for eating the fruit of Good and Evil by forever seeing troubles coming, and forever sacrificing the present for the future. The ability to evaluate our immediate surroundings and plan for the future implies that thinking is naturally future-oriented and present-oriented. This seems to indicate that thinking about the past is naturally de-prioritized.

Lifeview reflection

This is an exercise from the book “Designing your life”. It helps you identify your values and principles so that you can navigate through life more effectively. Here’s my version at the time of this writing.

The meaning of life is to manifest one’s potential to the utmost of his/her capacity. Life involves people, and surrounding ourselves with good people helps us have a good life.

But what is good, and what is not good?

I think God is not a being that oversees everything and demands us to buy bibles like college students trying to make ends meet. Instead, a more useful way to look at God is that it’s the ideal that we all strive to be. We are, for the most part, capable of distinguishing good from evil. That capacity allows us to detect intuitively whether we are in harmony with the ideal or not. When you’re in disharmony, your entire being will tell you through psychological and physiological symptoms. Good, then, is being in harmony with the ideal, and evil/bad is being in disharmony with the ideal. The principle stays the same, while what constitutes an ideal may vary from person to person.

Emotions make life worth living. Emotions such as joy and sorrow also act as signals that tell us when we’re in harmony or disharmony. They are indicators of the degree to which our behaviors are appropriate to our paths. Emotions are core components of our capacity to distinguish good from evil. Even though emotions can be fleeting and impermanent, they are necessary signals to point our minds towards the path that is good for us. However, emotions are not to be taken at literal values. Because they come and go, they make a bad basis for our actions. Wisdom is in integrating what emotions mean into our knowledge.

Friendship is a sacred type of connection that provides life with meaning. Make friends with people who want the best for you. You should want the best for your friend so that you attract the people who want the best for you. Love is a sacred, divine type of connection that provides life with meaning. If you love someone who also loves you, it brings about the most profound experience that can justify the absurdity of existence. However, not being loved back is usually the norm, because finding someone compatible with you on multiple levels is such a blessing.

In certain cases, you have to make necessary compromises, but do not compromise the principles that you choose to live by. However, always be open to criticisms, and assume the possibility that you may be wrong, including the principles that you choose to live by. The possibility for good relationships is destroyed by the inability to withstand, welcome criticisms and exchange ideas.

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