Starting And Finishing Things

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#0 Outline

Within a year, I start about 400 things and finish about 4. Drawings, pieces of music, books, projects, habits, everything. 

I want to be able to finish what I start, when I decide to. I don't know how far I want to train this ability. For now, I just know that want to get some of it at all. That's what I want to learn through this journal. 

So here's the idea: I start by setting out a goal. Then, I will try to act it out. When I make progress, I will report and celebrate that progress. When I struggle, I will report and reflect on that struggle. At some point, I hopefully reach the goal. Then ,I will set a new one and start again. 

Maybe sometimes I will decide to drop a goal, maybe none of this will amount to anything. But then at least I want to see where I get stuck and why, so I can try to fix it from there.

That's the outline, let's see where it's gonna take me.


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#1 How Emotions Are Made

So here's the first goal: Reading (AND FINISHING!) the book "How Emotions Are Made" by Lisa Feldman Barrett.

The title is pretty self-explanatory, it's a book about how emotions are made. I stumbled upon it on this forum by accident, it was recommended in this book review by @Oliver Saavedra

I don't know if it is a smart move to set this out as the first goal, because It's not really connected to any of the main things I want to do in my life these days. But there are other people who also do a lot of things and still read everyday and I also read at least something almost everyday. So there's no real reason why I shouldn't be able to find the time to read this book. It's not a small book and I don't know when I last finished a book this size, but it's not like it's 1000 pages long, so it should be doable for me. I mean come on, I should be able to read a goddamn book :D 

So, first question will be: Can I finish this book, when I decide to, or will I let other things get in the way and thereby find out that I should choose my goals more wisely?

This evening I will have some time for it, but next week there will be a few days where I won't be at home and there will be some events which might bring in new priorities. So we'll see if I can pick up this goal again afterwards. 


Mainly this is really just an exercise to finish something I started. But I also hope to make practical use of the content, so that I'm not just getting some sort of abstract "understanding of an aspect of the world". That has been my motivation for reading for a decade now, but these days I'm not satisfied with this anymore. But since emotions are pretty damn important in life, there should be some use for this book, if it is any good. To make sure I'm actually getting something out of it, I will also report on this here.

Second question: What practical use can I make of the content?

I already read the introduction and the first two chapters and made notes in my OneNote (I also got infected by the Commonplace Book video). After each chapter, I just write a very short reminder of what has been said, trying not to get lost in a detailed summary of the content. This way, I hope to get a good overview of the book in the end. If any thoughts occur to me that I would like to contemplate further, I will add them. 

Until now, my notes look like this:

Chapter 1:

Meta-analyses suggest:
Emotions do not correspond to one distinctive physiological pattern or brain pattern.
However, a statistical "average/meta brain pattern" can be extracted, which can then reliably match new brain patterns to the corresponding emotions.

Emotions are better thought of as categories instead of universals.

Chapter 2:

Emotions are constructed by "the mind" ascribing meanings to sensations.
(Does "the mind" really exist? Or is ascription of meanings to sensations just happening as a mechanism of multiple different parts working together in a process, structurally similar to the one constructing emotions?)


Last thing to mention: I will try to read the whole book out loud. I hope to get more acquainted with my voice this way. Not always, but oftentimes, I don't feel at ease when talking and I'd like to improve on that. Maybe just using my voice more by reading out loud will help a little. 

Third question: Will I notice any difference in using my voice in everyday life?

I even thought about recording myself and make it into an audiobook. But this would be a large project with a lot of work. And there already is an audiobook of this book. But I'd like to do something like this at some point in the future, maybe with something that doesn't already exist as an audiobook.

Now, I'll try to read (AND FINISH) the 3rd chapter.


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2 hours ago, HII said:

Maybe sometimes I will decide to drop a goal, maybe none of this will amount to anything. But then at least I want to see where I get stuck and why, so I can try to fix it from there.

I also regret that. That is why now I do set project: a goal with a more or less clear finish line. For example I learnt to play guitar then I stoped. Somehow nothing is left of this experience. However I learnt Russian language by myself and I did record 3 videos and shared them on YouTube. Now I have got some unexpected success - 50.000 views. That is motivating. The same for travelling during holidays - now I try to write a small blog for my family and build a nice Facebook album of pictures (I learnt some photography skills for that).

So I can totally relate to your vision of life. Start small things and make them visible is my current moto. That is so much fun and I encourage you to do so.


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#2 How Emotions Are Made

So I read three paragraphs, but then I got bored and watched a bunch of porn. 

I'm kidding, I just finished the 3rd chapter :D 

It explains how the studies which seem to support the classical view of emotions rely on culture specific concepts by demonstrating it on a few specific cases. That's basically it. 

Aside from that, my notes only include some quotes that I found worth extracting:

"When we asked our Himba subjects to freely label their piles, smiling faces were not “happy” (ohange) but “laughing” (ondjora). Wide-eyed faces were not “fearful” (okutira) but “looking” (tarera). In other words, the Himba participants categorized facial movements as behaviors rather than inferring mental states or feelings." (p. 49)

This is something that I thought of a lot in the past: People in the society I live in seem to infer all kinds of things from everything. I often ask myself why and I'm not so sure it's healthy. I was also often bothered by it and sometimes I felt it is somehow deeply unfair towards the person about whom the inference is made. Why isn't it enough to just observe what is happening? Maybe there is some use to this behavior, but I feel like it is often used in an unethical way. It's really cool for me to now read about a culture which doesn't seem to do this at all.

The next quote is taken from Paul Ekman, I've already seen it in one of his books. That's one of those books I started to read a couple of years ago and then never finished it. To be fair, the pdf I had downloaded only contained 4 of the (if I remember correctly) 7 chapters. But that is only half an excuse, even more so since I stopped in the middle of chapter 3. Anyways, here's the quote:

"I asked them to make up a story about each facial expression [photograph]. “Tell me what is happening now, what happened before to make the person show this expression, and what is going to happen next.” It was like pulling teeth. I am not certain whether it was the translation process, or the fact that they have no idea what it was I wanted to hear or why I wanted them to do this. Perhaps making up stories about strangers was just something the Fore didn’t do." (p. 53, quoted from Ekman)

Same story as above, why do we have to make up stories about other people all the time?

Last one, also interesting:

"Not all cultures understand emotions as internal mental states. Himba and Hadza emotion concepts, for example, appear to be more focused on actions. This is also true of certain Japanese emotion concepts. The Ifaluk of Micronesia consider emotions as transactions between people. To them, anger is not a feeling of rage, a scowl, a pounding fist, or a loud yelling voice, all within the skin of one person, but a situation in which two people are engaged in a script—a dance, if you will—around a common goal. In the Ifaluk view, anger does not “live” inside either participant." (p. 53)

So I'll be gone for a few days from now on. After that, I want to find out if I manage to continue the book and this journal.


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#3 How Emotions Are Made

I sort of made progress, but feel kind of stuck at the same time. I've read through the 4th chapter 3 times, used weed once as an attempt to make better sense of it and went through 6 hours of YouTube material on the book with the same intent. But I still couldn't come up with notes that I'm satisfied with. I guess I'll proceed to the next chapter anyways and decide that this one is just badly written :D 

My problem with it are two things:

1) It is purely a narration of the new paradigm, without mentioning a single piece of evidence and therefore without ever explaining anything about how these conclusions were being made. There are end notes to further literature, but that's mostly scientific articles I can't get access to. So as it's written, it's just a bunch of claims. That makes it super boring, I get no chance of questioning what is being said and I don't feel like learning anything. 

2) It's really badly structured. A ton of concepts are being introduced in an order that makes no sense and there's no concise, comprehensive overview of how they are connected. It's just a mess.


I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't explicitly declared it as a goal to finish the book, I would not have applied all that effort and instead headed towards other things and probably not picked up the book again. This shows me that making goals explicit and committing to achieving them can get me at least one step further than I usually go, namely to keep trying instead of just stopping the first time it gets difficult.

There are many things I'd rather devote my time to instead. Maybe next time I should choose a goal I care more about. 

I started my day with reading the book because I thought I'd make progress with this goal that I had set and then after 2 hours I had the whole day left for more important things. But then I ended up working on it pretty much the whole day and even leave it with a bad feeling because I didn't get where I wanted to be. So in the future, I will only devote the last 2 hours of the day to read a chapter and then that'll be it. 


Considering the outline of the book in the introduction (which says chapters 4-7 "explain" how emotions are made), the next 3 chapters are going to be just as much of a chore for the same reasons. I will try to continue anyways, because I want to see how far I can get if I persist and probably I can still make great use of the information later when I get through the whole book. 


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On 19.11.2017 at 8:25 PM, guillaumeS said:

Start small things and make them visible is my current moto.

That's what I'm trying to do as well ;) 


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#4 How Emotions Are Made

I read chapter 5 yesterday and 6 and 7 today. I'm still having trouble putting into my own words what is being said. Still having trouble with the style, it all seems very abstract and superficial and chaotic to me. It's also very repetitive, which is exhausting. I only noted one sentence or a quote which (I hope) captures the essence of the chapter and then maybe I can try to explain it in my own words later at some point. 



Chapter 4:
We experience interoception as affect.

Chapter 5:
We create goal-specific concepts, which is made easier and more efficient with words.

Chapter 6:
"Emotions are meaning. They explain your interoceptive changes and corresponding affective feelings, in relation to the situation. They are a prescription for action. The brain systems that implement concepts, such as the interoceptive network and the control network, are the biology of meaningmaking." (p. 126)

Chapter 7:
"Your brain continually predicts and simulates all the sensory inputs from inside and outside your body, so it understands what they mean and what to do about them. These predictions travel through your cortex, cascading from the body-budgeting circuitry in your interoceptive network to your primary sensory cortices, to create distributed, brain-wide simulations, each of which is an instance of a concept. The simulation that’s closest to your actual situation is the winner that becomes your experience, and if it’s an instance of an emotion concept, then you experience emotion. This whole process occurs, with the help of your control network, in the service of regulating your body budget to keep you alive and healthy. In the process, you impact the body budgets of those around you, to help you survive to propagate your genes into the next generation. This is how brains and bodies create social reality. This is also how emotions become real." (p. 151)


I noticed some sort of drive and some stubbornness (that I usually don't experience), which made me want to finish the book as soon as possible, so that I can put that energy into something else that is supposedly more satisfying. 


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#5 How Emotions Are Made

Read chapters 8 and 9. Wasn't at home for a week, that's why I didn't keep on reading for a while. Everything is going more or less as planned. 

Didn't really get the essence of the 8th chapter. The writing seems so vague to me... Not a huge deal though, I'll try again to capture the essence of each chapter when I finished the book, maybe it's going to be easier when seeing the whole picture. I noticed that writing the headline for each chapter into my notes definitely helps.


Notes on chapter 9:

Chapter 9: Mastering Your Emotions

Keep body budget in good shape:
- Eat healthy
- Exercise
- Proper sleep & rest
- Body contact (e.g. massage)
- Yoga
- Get sunlight
- Spend time in greenery
- Have houseplants
- Take care of your living space
- Read good novels, watch good movies
- Set up regular lunch dates with a friend taking turns treating each other
- Have a Pet
- Take Walks

Increase emotional granularity by increasing emotional vocabulary by:
- Taking trips
- Reading books, watching  movies
- Trying unfamiliar foods
- Try on new perspectives
- Learn new words for emotions
- Invent own emotion concepts
- Describe experiences, feelings/emotions with greater granulartiy

In the moment:
- Move your body
- Change location/situation
- Recategorize emotions into physical sensations
- Deconstruct your "self"
- Mindfulness meditation
- Cultivate awe (being in the presence of something vastly greater than yourself)



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#6 How Emotions Are Made - FINISH (sort of, final reviewing still left to be done)

Yaaaaay, I've read the last four chapters, thus finished the body of the book.

Not too enthusiastic about it though (yet), for the following reasons:

1) I couldn't come up with notes for every chapter, which were supposed to concisely summarize what was being said. For some chapters, I rather wrote down what it was about, without explaining it in a comprehensive way. For some chapters, I just quoted striking paragraphs. And for two chapters I have nothing at all. 

2) I don't feel like I really got the message of the book. I think I wasn't able to really think through in my own mind the main important processes in their entirety of how emotions are made according to this book.

3) I'm not completely done yet, as I'm about to explain. Just wanted to record this intermediate result to allow myself to take a step back and recognize it and take a little break from it to focus on other things.


My goal was to read and finish the book and I have done that. So this much is good (more than I had expected actually). I have to keep in mind that I didn't read the book for the book, I read it to learn committing to a decision. Still, I feel like I can extract more value by taking one last step, which will consist in the following points:

- There are two appendices I still want to read. Maybe they will help elicit some understanding of some points where it's still missing. 

- I feel like I should at least make another effort to come up with better notes for those chapters where I slacked. 

- Evaluating the 3 questions I set out in the beginning:
  1) Can I finish this book, when I decide to, or will I let other things get in the way and thereby find out that I should choose my goals more wisely?  - Yes, I could actually finish it. Choice of goals will be addressed in the final review.
  2) What practical use can I make of the content? - So far none that I could think of. It changed some beliefs I held about emotions, but I don't see any practical benefits from this yet. 
  3) Will I notice any difference in using my voice in everyday life? - I can kind of make myself believe that I notice slight gains, but I've also spent some time in a community of climate activists lately, which probably has more effect on this than reading a book out loud. I will still do this more in the future.

- One more thing I could do: Asking other people who have also read the book certain questions that are still left unanswered for me. 

- One more thing I wanna do: At least once, I want to think through in my mind the whole process of how emotions are made according to this book, with a clear image on an ontological level for each component that is asserted to be involved. If I won't be able to pull that off by the time of the final review, I'd like to come back to it at some point later in the future. But way later, like weeks or months or half a year later.


After writing the above, I can see more clearly that I actually made a successful step towards learning to commit to a decision and finish something I started. Dealing with the specific content of the book is more of a bonus and not the main point here. 

I didn't expect to finish a book I don't particularly care about just because I decided to do so. And I didn't expect to write such long posts about the process of reading it. This shows me that I do have some willpower and energy and time after all. Maybe, if I learn to channel these resources correctly, I can achieve more than I currently think I'm capable of.

Edited by HII

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