The Rehearsal Machine

Your brain does not live in the moment.

It’s lives 80 milliseconds in the past but I’ll spare you that.

What I’m talking about it that your brain is trying to live in the future. It’s watching moving objects and their speed to predict if they’ll hit you and it’s monitoring your comfort level and betting against your ability to sustain it.

Ultramarathon runners do what they do by canceling out the rehearsal machine. They are in pain, no doubt, but it’s their brain telling them that the pain is going to get worse that makes people stop running.

Just like it’s our brain telling us the pain is going to get worse that makes us kill ourselves.

Our brain thinks tolerability is a sliding scale, our brain thinks we’re cooking in an oven and even though the external temperature is stable internally we’re going to keep burning up.

And if you run enough you can illustrate that your brain is wrong. Running doesn’t feel worse the longer you do it. (Unless you’re injured but follow me on this…).

Running feels good and bad in fluctuations no matter the duration yet you’re emotional system never feeds you that. It always feeds you that you must be unprepared or injured or incapable.

Your brain (your amygdala, I want to say) is just one of the roommates of your body and it’s fearful and selfish.

Well mine is. I know some people whose rehearsal and prediction machine always seems to tell them that things will turn out in their favour. Actually they broadcast that things will always return to baseline and since I’m not happy at my baseline I guess it all still makes sense.

Sam Harris makes a great point that after 3 seconds of legitimate anger to a stimuli the thing that keeps you angry is you telling yourself a story. Over and over you repeat the incident and you rehearse what you should have done, who you’re going to tell, what you’ll do next time. You instantly start living in fantasy worlds.

And it’s because your ego wants you to do something. You are so special and this slight so severe you can’t do nothing. So you rehearse. And you rehearse. And amp up your own misery for no benefit.

Same when we get depressed. It’s not that the present is unbearable, we don’t get depressed having a hand on the stove, we get depressed when we’re well fed in climate controlled rooms surrounded by likeable people and it’s the prediction, the rehearsing, of it lasting forever that makes us want to die.

As if sadness is the temperature in the oven and it’s going to more damage even as it stays stably the same. And just like running for some reason the notion, the known fact, that you will feel better again at some point has no power.

Our brains just rehearse feeling awful thinking they’re doing the house a favour by preparing for the worst. But we don’t prepare. In our culture that would be seen as giving in to pessimism. So we deny. We try to force the downer roommate into not seeing things the way they do.

We have two courses of useful action opposed to that though. One, go ahead and prepare. Engage with outlandishly bad thoughts and figure out what you’ll do should they arise. Write them down so you have to see on paper how unreasonable they really seem then come up with reasonable solutions anyway.

Like me and my couch surfing phase.

Two; force yourself to give equal time and likelihood to moderate or positive outcomes. If you have no evidence how things are going to go then treat all outcomes as equal. Because what’s the worst that can happen if you’re wrong? You get depressed? Oh no…

So your takeaway is to notice all the things that your mind is rehearsing, living in fantasy futures good or bad rather than living in the present.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, fitness, Pragmatism

Gratitude and Homelessness

Once again the idea that gratitude is the path to happiness has been rammed down my throat. The book I’m reading has the typical story of the athlete who gets injured, seems to lose everything but then he’s got a positive attitude and he recovers hurray. You can get a few books a year out of those stories but if you tallied up all the people for whom that didn’t work you’d never catch up enough to put the book out.

Anyway some of the talk about gratitude got me thinking about why I was happier when I was couch surfing. It was easier to be grateful. I had friends, evidently, and a roof over my head, clothes on my back and some food to eat and couldn’t ask for anything more.

Now, of course I have a roof over my head – I’m paying for it. I’m paying half my income for a noisy, smelly, stupid roof over my head. What bliss.

There’s a bit in Lost Connections when Johann talks about housewives in the 50s getting treated with Valium. They all sang the same refrain: they had everything a woman could want and were still unhappy. But we look back now and think yeah you had everything that a broken society told you you should want. It’s no measure of health to adapt to a sick society.

That’s why being told to be grateful rubs me wrong. I have everything a first generation immigrant from a war zone would want and I’m a spoiled millennial if I want anything else.

But I do. And I blame a society that makes people distrustful, greedy, that humiliates people and tells them to be grateful, that frames all wellness as the ability to be a worker bee.

When I was couch surfing I deserved to fall off the bottom rung of society and I didn’t. So I was grateful. Now I’m stably on the bottom rung and it’s clear there’s no way off or up. So I’m not grateful.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

We Went To High School Together

Great. If we’d been friends back then I’d know who you are now, or at least give a fuck.

We haven’t been in contact or even been in the same room in 12 years but you think the fact that we were in the same room 12 years ago means we need to acknowledge it now? Let’s not.

‘Cause we’re both here, being losers in the same loser bar, why the fuck acknowledge that? You didn’t feel better for a microsecond after you said it and I didn’t feel better for a microsecond after I heard it but no, let’s brutalize the next 90 seconds trying to encapsulate 10 years of friends we don’t care about anymore and hair cuts we don’t have and let’s not talk about how you seem glass-eyed drunk and pretty pudgy so your life went fucking nowhere and since I’m here too I can’t have faired much better but thanks, way to say hi and get my name wrong

Posted in Pragmatism

What I Read This Month

Technically last month, I almost forgot to do this post.

November 2018 just… depression.20181201_135233

Lost Connections – Johann Hari

Uncovering the real causes of depression and the unexpected solutions

I’ve written about this book already because it’s so spot on. Read it. Read it yourself no matter if you’re depressed or have someone in your life who’s depressed or if you don’t think you do (because statistically you must, if you think no one in your life is depressed you just have blinders on).

The most important thing to tell you about this book is that it’s not a cheat sheet for getting better. He talks about it in the final phase of the book about what to do – about knowing that you, the reader, are probably depressed and read lots of things like ten tips to feeling better and blah blah blah and this isn’t that, he says explicitly this not a book of life hacks for productivity.

So much of the ‘treatment’ around depression is just about making you a better worker bee, better to deal with the the depression rather than to be without it.

The solutions aren’t quick, they aren’t neat. Just like the causes aren’t quick or simple as we’d like them to be. Everything else is up to you to read. Go now.

The Beauty Of Discomfort – Amanda Lang

How what we avoid is what we need

I don’t have a name yet for the genre this falls into. It’s like flat inspiration porn that isn’t inspiring. This is like 48 Laws of Power if you sucked all the value out of it.

So you can tell I didn’t like it.

It’s just profile after profile of things turning out okay. Promising person, adversity, things turn out okay.

The New Mind Body Science Of Depression – Vladimir Maletic and Charles Raison

This is a literal text book which is the sort of thing Liv buys a lot. Eventually the science was just bludgeoning me and I tapped out.

Unlike a textbook it is written with some charm, at least in the beginning. It drives everything home so hard it feels like it’s filling space which to me is very textbook.

The stuff about the connection between the immune system and depression was interesting but really it was a too-deep dive into things I already knew from simplified sources.


So I’ll be doing a What I Read This Month for December and I’ll be doing my first What I Read This Year to capture all the books that enhanced my life and could enhance yours so get stoked.



Posted in books, Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

Trusting your dumbness

Ask someone to define an orgasm.

They’ll give a metaphoric description but they won’t be able to explain what it is. They don’t actually know, they’ve merely experienced.

Ask someone why murder is bad and you’ll get much the same thing. We assume that our intuitions are based on something but we never inspect that something.

We are actually quite pragmatic as a species. We don’t need to know how our phones work in order to work our phones just like most people don’t understand any anatomy yet are still utilizing functioning adult bodies.

It breaks down when it comes to the psyche though. You may know that you’re afraid of crowds but if you don’t know why then you can’t do anything meaningful about it. And it’s worse with anger, if you take for granted that the trigger of your anger is the source of your anger then you’ll spend your life berating, beating up, resenting, fearing, etc your triggers and never progressing. You’ll be stuck in a loop, susceptible forever.

And while people think anger is power, susceptibility is not. You know that, right? Intuitively?

Often when someone can inspect their anger they find the situation didn’t really warrant the amount of anger summoned but that only happens when explaining it so someone else – but if in that moment you can ask to explain your anger to yourself and see how much you’re escalating and why then you can defuse the situation, defuse the feeling of anger into it’s baser elements.

Which are almost always confusion and ego.

People don’t often respond to big, deliberate violence with anger. Anyone who protected themselves or any first responder type who has protected someone else won’t say they were furious – they just go into a cold focused panic survival mode type thing.

Yet lordy lordy if someone takes a fry off your plate without asking, or implies that you are dumb because you did something dumb – situations in which you and everyone around you are totally safe – your ego-based intuition is to put them in their fucking place.

Because we’re built to live in hierarchical troupes of 50 monkeys where hitting people is okay. That’s your intuition, that’s the grand source your ego is appealing too.

Most of the time your intuition is there to help you but it’s a tour guide not a personal trainer. Don’t put faith in your monkey brain to navigate, don’t think that fear of the dark is natural and therefore better than turning on the light. Don’t assume the intelligence of your dumbness, naivety isn’t purity, spontaneity isn’t sincerity.

Posted in Pragmatism

Sometimes it’s harder doing something subsequent times

The first time you do something it’s just a test, it’s just a bench mark. The first time I ran 10k was like mediation on amphetamines; watching all these thoughts and sensations rise and fall with lightning speed and intensity. All the while thinking stopping is going to hurt more than continuing and repeating the mantra you will be tested and you will win.

The next time I ran 10k I mostly wonder what more important thing I should be doing.

I just finished another 36 hour fast and it was easier and more difficult than the previous ones. Easier in that I was more confident it’s a safe, fun, healthy thing to do and harder because the urge to quit was present unlike the previous times. The why of doing it once is to see if you can do it, discovering it’s nuances. The why of doing it again is just cuz yer s’pose to.

Craving routine and novelty at all times, oh human mind you gem.

There’s a friend of mine with the habit of not preparing for things. He doesn’t even prepare to wake up in the morning, just taking a dive in and let it suck mentality to everything.

Which I think is one part of a complete athletic identity breakfast to be sure but I also think it’s a cop out. By not preparing for something you’re putting nothing on line. You’d rather something suck a lot and feel justified by not preparing than have it suck and feel bad that you had tried to prepare.

The opposite of course is the planning/preparation only type. Of whom most of my friends are. So many people one year+ into planning, discovery, projecting, and shopping for how they’re going to start training.

And then I guess there’s me. I’ve got some jump in and let it suck and as long as I get to learn from it and try again I don’t mind whatever the experience was. Mostly though I have a totally fluid rigid routine that I’m planning and executing at the same time. Once I feel like something is on lock I tend to slowly give it up so if I want to keep doing something – like exercising 14 times a week – I need to keep laying new tracks in front of the train. Research is great unless of course all you do is research.

The problem comes that modern adult life doesn’t offer much in the way of meaningful tests or meaningful growth. We mostly get okay at jobs we resent to keep a roof we don’t like over our heads. It’s a test of character with no end and no reward.

Society disdains people who drop out, do drugs, kill themselves, whatever because in a way we’re envious. Both paths suck, but one has this kayfabe reality where you have to pretend it doesn’t. I have paid to run 21k in a hailstorm and I’ve been paid to stand in a climate controlled room making nachos, I know which one actually sucks. I know which one I don’t want to do an infinite amount of times.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, fitness, Pragmatism

I sleep badly

Sleep is everything. Without it we’ll die and be miserable the whole time we’re dying. On a day to day basis even sleeping poorly (or just not enough) really fucks you up. It lowers your IQ, your will power, even just your posture. And it creates vicious cycles with all those things. People who are tired eat like crap and people who eat like crap sleep badly because of it.

Personally I have no trouble getting to sleep – I actually have trouble staying awake – but I have really stressful nights. I wake up 5 or 6 times a night and I wake up agitated, trying to raise my voice or push things away. Then I lay there exhausted, annoyed, and sad yet totally alert to small noises and the typical hallucinations of still slightly dreaming.

It’s a bad sign I’m sure to be in fight-or-flight mode while asleep. Actually it’s mentioned in Lost Connections that lonely people sleep poorly because from an evolutionary perspective someone with insecure social connection would have be waking up to prevent being killed or eaten.

Seeing the sun ever in a day might also help.

I do a good job at relaxing in the evening. I take a hot bath, I don’t watch intense shows, I don’t look at any kind of screen hours before bed, I read, I drink a potion of apple cider vinegar and raw honey, and like I said I fall asleep no problem. I’ve done due diligence so far but I guess more research is required.

I know that I have stress in my life but I think it’s realistically a very low level. Stress from work and stress from working out are the same as far as the body is concerned – cortisol is cortisol – but with all my stressors combined I doubt it’s all that much. I’m not in stress overdrive constantly. I have no problem relaxing. I just have a problem staying asleep.

It could be respiratory. Some people wake up a lot because they’ve stopped breathing. Usually a symptom of having weak muscles in the neck and face if I recall correctly, associated with obesity.

It’s easy to think that I just have bad dreams because I have a bad psyche, because I’m a broken person but that’s the start of copping out. If one were able to treat all the symptoms of depression then one wouldn’t have depression. Depression is just symptoms, it’s not a tumor.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism