Self-Control Is A Conversation With Who You Wish To Be

Self-Control Is A Conversation With Who You Wish To Be

Situations come and go more often than we are usually comfortable admitting, in which we wish we’d done other than what we did in fact do. We may attempt to pass the behavior off as a result of hunger, sleep, another person’s actions towards us, the weather, hormones or a mental diagnosis, but all of these are simply pointers to some version of the common phrase: “that wasn’t who I really am.” In other words, we are quite comfortable with imaginatively projecting a version of ourselves who acted other than what actually happened. We empathize with, and perhaps even envy, a version of ourselves that exists only in our mind.

Explore Your Future Self

Thankfully imagination is not tied only to a past of recrimination and self-doubt. It can move into the future as well and bring with it versions of yourself that indeed do exactly what you desire to do. The same mechanism can be a tool for leaving us stuck in a past of impossibility, where we get caught up in a world that now never could be, or allow us to explore a future that we in fact do want to live in.

The nature of the present rarely allows us to consciously select what we supposedly find most important. Only in contemplating what we wish we’d done differently or in looking to how we’d like to be, does what we seemingly most highly Value come into focus. That Value is used to color an entire situation in what has become fixated as being most important.

Narrow Perspective is A Trap

There’s a trap here though, one of narrow perspective-taking. Bring to mind those occasions when something seemed to suddenly appear out of your peripheral vision. When driving and paying attention only to what’s in front of you, suddenly to have an animal dart from the side. When focused on a task and startled by someone suddenly being next to you. Perspective-taking is powerful, but it is also extremely limiting. We lose sight of what is around us. While this is great for pushing behavior in service to a goal, it is incredibly poor for keeping in mind the broader world and all its influences.

What you’re doing when using the past to pass judgment is funneling it through a present already mired in its own limitation. Values guide the selection of behavior to support them. When you say you should have done otherwise you’re effectively saying you should have cared about something differently in that moment. But that’s the problem right there, you’re no longer in that situation which existed. Further, you’re no longer the you that existed then. You’re someone new, someone who has more information than previously, someone who has the capacity to judge what has come before because there is now a ‘before’ to consider.

A Value Always Exists

The fact is that the you in the past did care about something, a Value that called out a behavior to support it. The behavior was something which, in that context, was seen as the only possible thing to do. If you pause and reflect for a moment, odds are you’ll be able to see what that Value was and perhaps acknowledge that it’s still something you care about.

Here is where the imagined you of the future can be greater than the past. It simply has more to build with. The future can be one of recognizing how in every situation is a Value that may be selected to guide behavior, yet acknowledging how there are always more Values that matter to you. Rather than getting caught in the trap of narrow perspective and risk behaving in a way that undermines or ignores a Value, you can take the time to contemplate what all there is you care about and how best to support them.

Self-control is not about control or shaming or manipulating yourself through a technique. Self-control is the flexible mental space to see the many Values that exist in a given moment and act within that greater appreciation towards the best version you believe yourself capable of being.

The future awaits the you that you want to be.

Further Reading:

Yong, Ed. Self-Control Is Just Empathy With Your Future Self. The Atlantic. December 6, 2016.

The Power of Touch, the Immediacy of Presence

The Power of Touch, the Immediacy of Presence

“Life is too sweet and too short to express our affection with just our thumbs. Touch is meant for more than a keyboard.” – Kristin Armstrong

Lamenting the loss of real relationships in light of the focus on social media and technology has become so commonplace, it’s reached that vaunted realm of yesteryear wisdom, a symbol of generational differences rather than a legitimate critique of modern behavior. Such a cultural change is not without fallout, however, as human practices taken for granted are now puzzled about. Living in a world in which “the stranger” has become synonymous with all that is perilous to children and free society, we focus less on how touch can be good or bad and more on avoiding it altogether.

How often is touch fully considered? Attempt keeping a small journal entry, making a mark each and every time an object or a person is touched, no matter how slight. Then start keeping track of personal mood. It’s practically a guarantee of human psychology that the more touch one participates in, however casual it may be and in so long as it isn’t negative, the more positive one’s mood will be. Psychology Today recently did an article on the benefits of human touch, coming up with a list connected with various research, notably that done by Dacher Keltner.

Benefits of human touch:

1. Decreased violence

2. Greater trust between individuals

3. Economic gain

4. Decreased disease and stronger immune system

5. Stronger team dynamics

6. More non-sexual emotional intimacy

7. Greater learning engagement

8. Overall well-being

Of the eight in the list, three are directly linked with communication and a case could be made for linking at least another three. What is it about touch that is so important for communication? Let’s consider that for open and honest communication to take place, indeed even when it is not, what is occurring is a communal-creation. This is more than a word gimmick, it’s a means of understanding the nature of what emerges each and every time two or more people engage in anything remotely associated with communication, from full dialogue to casual glances. Each person brings their particular background and personal interpretive narrative, combining to build a communal union  that is both and what is between.

To see what is going on, we can start from the shared reality of humanity. From within this broad circle note that each and every person is an individual instantiation of the human organism. This accounts for both how people can have varied backgrounds and yet still understand one another, albeit to varying degrees in different contexts. Were we each a sui generis, utterly unique and disconnected entity there’d be no hope for improved understanding, no reason to work at getting better in dialogue. Without a shared human experience, all the self-help guides, individual and couples therapy, would be utterly useless. All of these endeavors function, not as a means of bridging an insurmountable gap, but of enlightening each and every person to the reality of a bridge already in existence.

So it is that in touch we find a direct physical manifestation of that bridge, a visceral acknowledgment of our shared humanity. Remarkably, touch, despite our dedication to being our own person, allows for a decent level of prediction for another’s mood. As Field (2010) notes:

In the Hertenstein et al. (2006) study, the investigators assigned a group of participants to the role of encoder (sender) who was instructed to express an emotion by touching the decoder’s (receiver’s) forearm. The sender was given different emotion words including happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, anger, fear, sympathy, love, pride, envy and gratitude. The receiver was separated from the sender by a curtain to prevent any use of visual cues and was then asked to choose the emotion that was received from the sender. The results of this study showed that different kinds of touch were used to signal different emotions, and the receivers were able to identify the emotions, with accuracy ranging from 48% to 83%. This range is comparable to the accuracy of decoding facially and vocally transmitted emotions (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002).

Such levels of accuracy are rather impressive considering that other visual cues, notably the face, were inaccessible. Further, consider for a moment just what it means to pick up the emotional state of another person simply through touch. That level of communication is one often missed even between long-established friendships, yet these people in the study were strangers. Given the degree to which emotion plays a part in everything from violence to team dynamics and personal well-being, it is little wonder then that an increase in touch can help mitigate the negatives in all of those situations.

IMG_1395Much has been written about how online bullying and trolling arises out of perceived anonymity. Note the distinct separation in that social force of being anonymous, it is the passive presence of social shunning. Disconnected from the other, there is then no need to consider the shared reality of human existence, being as it is far more easily forgotten or ignored. The communal-union that emerges has less to do with any degree of honest understanding and far more to do with what each person projectively imagines the other to be, regardless of its accuracy.

The more we remove a central aspect of our humanity from our lives, we do not merely increase the negative consequences associated with violence, decreased trust and lack of social cohesion, we reside ever more fully in the internal constructs of our minds. Communication is difficult enough when actively engaged with another, but at least they are fully there to be grasped and explore the broader shared humanity each is within. The insularity provided by removing in-person contact lends itself then to a loss in understanding another but also of understanding ourselves. Given the nature of an interconnected reality and the problems faced then by an interconnected humanity, any loss makes finding solutions all that much harder.

Studies have indicated that even a small increase in social acknowledgment goes a long way towards improving ethical behavior. Merely placing a picture of eyes above a charitable donations table can increase giving. Perhaps in day-to-day communications, whether in-person or more importantly when not, reminding ourselves that the other shares a humanity more than is distant from it can encourage stepping out of preconceived biases and into a desire for exploration.



© David Teachout




Field, T. (2010). Touch for socioemotional and physical well-being: A review. Developmental Review, 30(4), 367–383.

Psychology Today

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Principles of Polyamory

Principles of Polyamory

Defined simply as multiple love, polyamory or “poly,” is the social practice of consciously and intentionally engaging in multiple relationships of which all are aware in the spirit of openness and honesty. Much has been said in popular culture in American recently on t.v. shows and magazine articles and began in no small part with Dan Savage’s non-monogamy or monogam-ish discussion. I have no desire to go into a debate concerning the roots of polyamory or get bogged down in what I consider to be ridiculous and spurious debates concerning whether or not human beings as a species are biologically prone towards polyamory or monogamy, as this almost invariably devolves into an over simplistic conflation of biology and culture. That people are capable of loving a multitude is so obvious as to be rank absurdity to deny it. We love our family members, we love our friends, we continue to love those who have passed and much to our chagrin we continue to love even those who have hurt us horribly. The particular form that love takes is of course different with all of these, from the poetic license taken to express one’s romantic emotional explosions to the other extreme of intense anger covering the still persistent love for those having done us wrong. Here and now the discussion is on just what it is to practice polyamory, not behaviorally per se but principally.

Far too often when I initially entered the hot-bed of sexual depravity (yes that’s sarcasm) that is polyamorous culture I was faced with a steady stream of debates concerning just what is and what is not polyamory. After time passed I figured out that the discussion too often made the same mistake the research on human sexual practices makes, conflating two different things. In this case, the confusion stemmed from conflating principle and action or form. Rather than deciding what was consonant with all forms, debate would center on triads and quads, living with or separate households, on and on in a constant and emotionally-charged fruitless debate. While some of this seems inevitable in a so-called counter-culture movement struggling for its own identity, after a while I just got really tired of it.

So, in an attempt to answer the question of what poly is I will attempt to do so from a stance of guiding principles. Let me first declare that I do not like and try to remove from my vocabulary the term “alternative.” Poly is simply a means of expressing love and tenderness, appreciation and joy with and for other people. This is a transcendent desire we all as human beings can and often do share, though obviously the how of it is open to a great deal of debate. For the purposes of a discussion on principle, poly here is not looked as alternative because just what is loving others an alternative to?
1. Open/honest communication.

I’ve written before on how communication is a matter of communal-creation, about communion with the intent of building a community of people involved in the practice of communication. Being open is both self-expression and self-reflection, a dedication to honestly appraising one’s actions, intents and desires, expressing them as clearly as possible and taking feedback in a spirit of humility though not abject acceptance of. That latter concerns not denying one’s own thoughts, however much some people seem to think feedback entail inevitable agreement. In other words, feedback is part of communion, it is not about declaring the “right” view and having the other obsequiously curtail their thoughts to it, though of course this in no way removes the passion of someone’s belief. What someone says about another is in no small part often about themselves and while the community created by two or more people is an emergent relational organism, it is about whole people coming together, not separate parts attempting to make a chaotic jigsaw puzzle work itself out.82e2b-human2bsexuality-maramcwilliams

2. Willingness to intentionally pursue all emotional connections within the bounds of principle one and the negotiated comfort of all parties involved.

This is a big one juxtaposing poly from monogamy as the latter, particularly in American society, puts definitive limits as to the pursuit of emotional connections with others, however foolish that may ultimately be. The number of angry conflicts over a discussion as to how a partner can care about someone else and therefore whether that means the partner is no longer cared for is a profound source of pain that has no issue being done except in light of personal anxiety and a pie-metaphor of love (where it must be given to only one person or with a piece gone there is thus less leftover for others).

This principle also indicates the difference between poly and swinging as the latter is less concerned with the deliberate pursuit of emotional connections though clearly there’s still an admission and acceptance of their occurance. The second part of this is a bit gray as the notion of comfort is nebulous, hence why I am placing these principles as one building or being nested within the other, therefore requiring the previous in fulfilling the next. Comfort is determined by open/honest communication, the communion of those parties involved and the recognition that such creates a particularly nuanced community between the relationships, one that is by necessity different than other groups as there are different people and therefore different attachments involved. This does not mean that all potential emotional attachments are of a necessary nature to be pursued, only that the intent is there to do so if desired. One of the cliches within poly is “love is infinite, time is not.” Quaint for sure but utterly true. Emotional bonds and pursuing them requires dedication and time, especially when done within open/honest communication.

3. An intentional desire to pursue the expression of relational bonds in all ways negotiated/discussed including that of a sexual bond.

This last principle is the juxtaposition between poly and monogamy, as a healthy and trust-filled monogamous couple can provide space for the deliberate pursuit of other emotional connections without damaging their own primary connection. In fact, much suffering would likely be averted if more couples would pursue love from a place of wholeness rather than anxious lack. This last principle also simply cannot exist in a healthy manner without the previous two. Without the first it just boils down to using people and manipulation. Without the second it is nothing more than rutting or swinging (I in no way want to disparage the potential ethical practice of swinging) or using others for basic physiological release. Nothing wrong with this if it’s openly acknowledged and honestly practiced but it isn’t poly. Notice here that like principle two, poly does not necessitate the pursuit of any and all expressions. In fact, it doesn’t even necessitate sex but rather the deliberate pursuit of expressing the relational bond in whatever way is comfortable as discussed between those involved. This may include sex, it may include touch or any number of other things openly and honestly dealt with in a community of communal communication.

These are principles only, they in no way necessitate the form of a relationship though certainly principle one will be helpful in creating a form that is both healthy and of benefit to all involved. Whether you practice polyamory or monogamy, the issue is to do so ethically and with the care of self and others constantly in focus. The key here throughout this all is a focus on openness, honesty and the pursuit of happiness without unnecessary pain and betrayal as we endeavor to not live a life of illusion or from any place other than our complete and whole nature as beautiful people.