You've had those moments -- the ones where you're very aware of where you're at in the world, and you're mapping out your future and plans very smartly, and you're feeling great about taking action and pushing important things forwards.

I used to find myself only reaching that place, at random, once or twice per year.

But every time I did, I would spend just a few hours sketching out plans, thinking about my priorities, discarding old things I used to do that didn't bring much value, and pushing my limits to do new worthwhile things. I thought, "This is really valuable. I should do this more often."

Eventually, I named that state: Reflective Control.

As often happens, by naming something it becomes easier to do it more often.

At this time, I still had a hazy poorly working feeling about what it was. So I tried to define it. After many attempts, I came to this:

> Reflective Control is when you're firmly off autopilot, in a high-positive and high-willpower state, and are able to take action.

You'll note there's four discreet components to it: firmly off autopilot (reflective), high positivity, high will, and cable of and oriented towards taking action.

I also asked myself, "How to know if you're in Reflective Control?"

My best answer of an exercise for it is,

> You set aside the impulses/distractions, and try to set a concrete Control-related goal. This is meta-work, meaning the process of defining your life and what needs to happen next. You do this calmly. By setting a concrete Control-related goal successfully and then executing on it, you know you're in an RC state.

> Example: "I will identify all the open projects I've got, and the next steps for each of them."


With that definition and that exercise in hand, I was able to do something which works almost magically when I wanted to take on big challenges: I could rate myself from 1-100 on the four key elements of the component, and then set a concrete goal to achieve, and analyze a little about which factor might be holding me back. Here is an example from my journal:

> Reflective 70/100, positive 70/100, will 65/100, action 40/100… ok, I'm feeling good once a good, just some anxiety suppressing will a little and action quite a bit, but no problem. My goal is to finish the xxx outline before I leave here.

I've found this incredibly useful. Summary:

*There's a state I call "Reflective Control" where I'm off autopilot and thinking (reflective), in a positive mood, with willpower and action-oriented.

*I can put explicit numbers on this, somewhat subjectively, from 1-100. This lets me see where the link in the chain is, if any.

*By setting a concrete goal and working towards it, you can get more objective feedback and balance whichever element is lowest with some practical actions.


New Comment
12 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:35 AM

I can reliably reach this state in between the two sleep periods of a biphasic sleep cycle (several hours of sleep, a couple hours wakefulness, several more hours sleep). Unfortunately I'm not usually on this cycle.

Do you use an alarm clock for this, or just decide, "tonight I'm going to wake up in the middle of the night" and it happens?

neither, it sporadically happens. It is much more likely to happen if I allow myself to surrender to the drowsiness that accompanies a large meal post gym.

If this works for other people, too, that's potentially a really interesting lifehack. Out of interest, when you are biphasic sleep, what time do you go to bed, what time do you have your wakefulness period, what time do you end up waking up, etc? Does it stay constant from night to night, or does your sleep cycle shift forwards? What sorts of lifestyles/schedules make biphasic sleep possible?

It varies a bit. I generally sleep for 4-5 hours, am awake for 2-3, and asleep for another 3-4 hours. Up to 12 hours devoted to resting all told. This happens when I don't have a tight schedule.

To a lesser extent this has worked for me. Over the last school year I ended up sleeping biphasically by accident by staying up to finish assignments, and then sleeping early the next day, and I noticed that I had quite a lot of mental stamina and willpower (doing assignments was a lot easier) after I woke up in the evening. I would usually sleep in the early afternoon after I finished classes, and in the morning just before classes, with the morning block being slightly longer. Each block would wobble by a couple of hours day to day, perhaps due to things I had to do, but there was no persistent drift forwards or backwards.

This worked out pretty well because my university gave engineering undergrads 24 hour access to labs, so I could do lab work in the middle of the night, and because I didn't have time for most of the fun social activities I slept through in the afternoon anyway. It was pretty easy to switch between that and monophasic, just by staying up through my afternoon sleep block and then going to bed at midnight, or by going to sleep in the afternoon (or even just a few hours before monophasic bedtime), which would make me wake up early (no alarm clock necessary).

I stopped doing this over the summer because I was working full-time, which meant work days too long for this. I just started again now that I'm in grad school, it took me 2 days to acclimate to it, during which I slept not enough during the afternoon block and too much during the morning block.

Edit: The day after writing this, I was extremely tired, and ended up sleeping about 6 hours in the morning, so it took me longer to acclimate than I thought, but I seem to be stably biphasic now.

Does your scale really go from 1-100? It seems unlikely to me that you could really notice the difference between a 32 and a 33, for instance, and I notice everything in your example is an increment of 5.

Lately I've been noticing how much more reflective and strategic I am when I just open a text document and start typing out all my thoughts. Something about the act of putting characters on a screen seems to trigger my strategic planning and thinking brain modules, so instead of getting buffeted around by urges and aversions I start to analyze things explicitly and act according to my analysis. Recently I've developed the habit of opening a text document to record and reflect whenever I'm feeling substantially unproductive and it's giving me interesting results.

Incidentally, this sorta looks like the five faculties in Buddhism. There's energy for the willingness to take action and concentration for the willpower. Wisdom and mindfulness could map to the reflection part and the faith/conviction is sorta like the positivity part, starting with the attitude that you can make things work out even when you don't have a clear plan for how to do it yet.

How do the willpower and action values differ in the rating? High will and low action sounds like an akrasia situation where you want something but can't bring yourself to act towards it. But we generally call that a case of low willpower, so does high willpower and low action actually mean something different? What about a high action and low willpower situation, what does that mean in practice?

And how do you grade your reflectivity, doesn't it start going up whenever you start doing the rating exercise and thinking about how you're doing?

I interpreted "action" more or less as meaning "energy." So high energy helps you go do exercise or something, but doesn't help you avoid cookies; similarly, high willpower might help you do both, but if you are low energy and high willpower, avoiding cookies is comparatively easier than doing exercise.

I think I am currently in this state. (The inducing factor was probably going to a science fiction convention; I'm not sure why this is weirdly inspirational.) Does anybody have a roundup of appropriate posts somewhere?

New to LessWrong?