Would most people benefit from being less coercive to themselves?

by Matt Goldenberg4 min read21st Jan 20217 comments

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Non-coercive motivation is a motivation system that doesn't rely on forcing yourself, pressuring yourself, shaming or guilting  (I explain more of what it means here).

Would most people benefit from being less coercive to themselves?

I sort of want to start answering straw versions of the question, because I think that they do answer real fears that people have when they hear about non-coercion and have the immediate reaction "You want me to just drop everything and do what I feel like!?"

Should you drop everything and focus on non-coercion?

So the first answer to the question as it is posed is "Of course not!" Goals are highly contextual. If you're the president of the United States, I think the goal of running the country is probably more valuable then processing non-coercion. Similarly, if you're living paycheck to paycheck at a grueling job you hate, it's probably not a good thing to try to mess with your fundamental motivation systems, it could very well lead to negative consequences if you don't find a new positive/stable motivation system. 

Should you focus on non-coercion if you have enough slack to do so?

Now let's answer a less straw version of the question. Let's say a person has lots of slack and there won't be any immediate negative consequences to themselves or others. In that case, do I think it would be beneficial to switch to non-coercive motivation? It depends. Firstly, what do you care about? If it's mostly just about feeling good and having a good state (I often call this an enlightenment orientation) then yes, I do think this would be a good use of your time.

If instead, you mostly care about achievement/saving the world (I often call this a heaven orientation), then you have to look at at your current productivity. If you're already highly productive, it takes a significant investment to switch your strategy for little or no gain.Elon Musk should not focus on non-coercion. On the other hand, if you are a frequent procrastinator, or find you have wildly oscillating motivation, non-coercive motivation could be a highly effective strategy to make you more productive.

Now what if what mostly care about is shaping yourself and becoming your version of the ideal (I sometimes call this an actualization orientation). In that case, it's going to depend quite a bit on your vision of your ideal self. In some cases it will be worth it, others not.

Would most people benefit from non-coercion if it didn't take any effort?

But lets take an even crazier hypothetical. What if instead of people having to work to get to a non-coercive state, I could just press a button that would remove everyone's self coercion immediately without having to work for it. Would I do that? Nope! But I asked myself a trick question. 

When we say "non-coercive motivation" it sounds like, you're talking about a simple lack of coercion. But it turns out a lack of self-coercion isn't enough. If all it did was remove people's coercion, they would be worse off. Instead, when I talk about "non-coercive motivation" I'm talking not only about removing people's coercive motivation structures, but replacing them with positive motivation structures that work as well or better. Only if the button did both would I press it.

Common Objections to Non-Coercion

And as soon as I talk about pressing that button, I can almost hear the fearful objections of people who are worried their lives will be ruined, so I want to make sure to address them before pressing it.

The first one I hear is: "Wait, a bunch of us are just going to end playing video games and vegging out for the rest of our lives." And it's true, if I had pressed the first button, that would likely happen! But the second button gives you strategies to connect with your long term desires using creative tension. Tools like vision contrasting that motivate you for long term goals.

"Ok, but what about things I just don't like to do? Surely without coercion, my house will become a mess and my taxes will lay undone." That's a legitimate worry. I can see how "non-coercive motivation" might sound like "not doing anything you don't like" but it's more nuanced. There's a mode where the dislike is still there, it has no effect on your taxes.. you've fully accepted you want them anyway.

"Yeah, but that just sounds like coercive motivation with extra magical thinking."  Maybe, it could totally just be mindgames. But it's mindgames that makes your taxes 10x easier and more enjoyable. If you could press a button to make that happen wouldn't you?

"Ok, but what about challenge? The thrill of pushing yourself and pushing your limits? You want to get rid of that?" No, in fact I'm a huge fan of challenge and pushing yourself! But I don't think you need internal challenge to do that! The world will give you plenty of challenge without you having to fight yourself as well. I do think that it's probably easier to learn "Pushing yourself" to get through that challenge from a frame of coercion first. "Pushing yourself non-coercively" is an advanced move. So if you tend to avoid challenging yourself, it may behoove you to spend a period of time deliberately forcing yourself to do challenging things in order to learn that muscle, before switching over to non-coercion. But, it's still possible to do it non-coercively, simply pushing against the challenges the world gives you while being 100% behind that pushing.

"Sure ok, you can be productive and challenge yourself, but what about the moral dimension? Surely without people holding themselves back the world would see unbridled evil." Ok, I'm gonna say some stuff here that may be the biggest leap yet if you haven't experienced it, but fuck it, we've made it this far. I've done a lot of work with practices like CT Charting and Core Transformation that use non-coercive practices to try to get to people's underlying motivations... and I think most people (75%+) fundamentally want themselves and others to be happy (but like, REALLY happy). When people act in ways contrary to that, it tends to be because they feel threatened in a way that if they don't do something "evil/rude/bad/wrong," the thing in front of them will be a threat to making themselves and others happy.

A huge portion of the time( although not always) this is due to trauma, which causes them make gross generalizations about what counts as a threat. Trauma that would be healed in a truly non-coercive environment. Other times, that assessment could actually be accurate due to scarcity of resources, or they could have an ontology in which the "other people" in "making other people happy" doesn't include certain ethnicities or something. And sure, pressing this button could make some of these people more effective in their evil. BUT, a huge majority of trauma-related evil would clear up by pressing that button, and I think that would vastly outweigh other effects on morality.

Do you have to force yourself to be non-coercive?

"Yeah ok, I guess I'll just have to take your word that people are fundamentally good. And I think I'm convinced that non-coercion is good for most people. But for me there's this one thing I KNOW I won't do if I don't coerce myself, and I DO NOT WANT THAT!"

So, what you're saying is, you feel the need to fight against the way you imagine implementing non-coercion? If you're fighting against it, I think that shows it's not a true form of non-coercion. It might be a lot of work to fully integrate to the point where you have a coherent non-coercive motivation system that you're not resistant to, but it is possible.

"Ok sure, but that sounds like a lot of work! I'm not sure if it's worth it!"

You know what, I 100% agree with you, it might not be worth it, I'd refer you to this post on when non-coercive motivation might benefit you or not benefit you.

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There's one sense in which self-coercion is impossible because you cannot make yourself do something that at least some part of yourself doesn't endorse. There's another sense in which self-coercion is an inescapable inevitability because some particular part of you will always dis-endorse any given action.

It's definitely worth it to seek to understand yourself well enough that you can negotiate between dissatisfied parts of yourself, pre-emptively or on-the-fly. This helps you generate plans that aren't so self-coercive that they're preordained to fail.

In my framing, the effective approach isn't to find a non-coercive plan, but rather a minimally-coercive plan that still achieves the goal. This turns it from an exercise of willpower to an exercise of strategy. Plus, the only way you can really learn where plans sit on the coerciveness landscape is to attempt to execute them.

There's one sense in which self-coercion is impossible because you cannot make yourself do something that at least some part of yourself doesn't endorse. There's another sense in which self-coercion is an inescapable inevitability because some particular part of you will always dis-endorse any given action.

 

Yeah, I think aiming for 100% endorsement in every situation is impossible. But endorsement is different from "acceptance".  I think it's definitely possible to get either endorsement or acceptance from every part for, many actions and goals.

 I think feeling this for EVERY action in every area of your life is fairly hard (is this what enlightenment is?) but certainly for a given task or goal it's achievable.

In my framing, the effective approach isn't to find a non-coercive plan, but rather a minimally-coercive plan that still achieves the goal. 

That seems like a decent framing! One of the things I mentioned in my last post is that coercion can BUILD over time, so if that's your goal you'll want to check that you're not consistently ignoring the same part or value.

Plus, the only way you can really learn where plans sit on the coerciveness landscape is to attempt to execute them.

There are definitely introspective strategies here that can help without doing the action. I especially recommend these for bigger goals or visions, because you may not run into the resistance for a bit. For smaller actions I agree it often makes sense to just start and deal with resistance if and when it occurs.

Please define your terms at the beginning of the post. I see you have a link, but it’s broken and it’s better to have a concise definition integrated into the post rather than hoping people will click through.

Fixed the link!

 

Edit: Added a short definition.

I'm holding my judgment for now on whether this whole non-coercion business, but I'd like you to know that I appreciate you writing about it and I'm looking forward to the continuation so that I can evaluate whether it sounds like a worthwhile experiment :)

You know what, I 100% agree with you, it might not be worth it, I'd refer you to this post on when non-coercive motivation might benefit you or not benefit you.

OP, did you intentionally end the Original Post with a link to the Original Post?