During June 7-10 we ran the first Athena Rationality Workshop at the EA Hotel. The workshop taught the Ease process, which is a mental self debugging framework developed by Matt Goldenberg. The Ease framework incorporates various things he learned and developed during his 5 years of working as a personal coach.

The Ease process is a step by step method going through

  • Awareness - noticing you thoughts, feelings and other mental objects
  • Introspection - finding the root cause of what is going on in your mind
  • Acceptance - accepting that you are who you are in the present and the choices you have done in the past
  • Alignment - creating peace between your internal parts that are involved in the issue you are trying to fix
  • Ecology - checking that whatever shift you made in you mind during the alignment step, does not create new problems elsewhere
  • Creation - building the attitude, habits and external support that you need to keep on track with your new solution
  • Integration - deeply integrate and reinforce new habits and attitude into your mind

Most of the material was taught by Matt. Ryan Thomas, Deni Pop, Toon Alfrink and Linda Linsefors (me) gave one or two lectures each and, to different extents, helped participants during exercises.

Overall the workshop went really well. We got several pieces of positive feedback during the workshop, and from the feedback form as well, although there is room for improvement (see further down). On average the participants estimated the time spent at the workshop to 9.5 times more productive compared to what they would have done otherwise, with answers ranging from 0.5 to 50.

"I was very impressed by the quality of the workshop; to be able to string together so many disparate theories, tools, and techniques into a single coherent framework, is nothing short of genius. Brilliant work!" - Olivier Maas (participant)

Who we are

Matt Goldenberg has been working intensely on self-improvement for the past 15 years, was a professional coach for 5 years and has been running applied rationality group workshops for the past 18 months.

Linda Linsefors organizes workshops. She gets the job done.

Toon Alfrink firmly decided to turn around his mental health issues once and for all. Somehow, this time, it actually worked. He visited a Zen Monastery for 3 months and hasn’t been depressed ever since. His productivity benefited just as much, going from struggling at half speed in uni to running an AI Safety startup, the LW Netherlands community, and getting good grades in uni all at once. To the extent that he has an idea how the hell all of this happened, he would like to teach you.

Denisa Pop was a licensed cognitive-behavioral therapist for 5 years and has a PhD in positive human-animal interaction. Now she uses her previous knowledge to improve human-human interaction, doing research in rational compassion and being a Community Manager at the EA hotel.

Ryan Thomas is a student of mindfulness and cognitive psychology. He’s spent the last several years traveling in order to learn and practice techniques for resolving internal conflict and solidifying self alignment.

Things that could have gone better

The first Athena Rationality Workshop was definitely rushed in several ways. We started planning the workshop just a few weeks before the event which was not enough time. The schedule was finalized only the day before the workshop.

If we had started planning earlier we would have had time to notice that the schedule was way too full and time to figure out which parts would be OK to cut out which out hurting the rest of the program. Some lessons were cut out during the workshop, but mostly the result of this mistake was that the workshop itself was rushed too. The participants did not get enough time to practice the techniques or to rest and digest what had been learned.

Another mistake that can also be traced to not having enough preparation time, is that some of us who were supposed to be around as mentors during exercises (me among others) were badly prepared. For me about two thirds of the content of the workshop was new, so I ended up spending most of the workshop just learning the stuff for myself, rather than helping others.

How to do this better next time

The reason the workshop planning was rushed is because we wanted to do it before Matt flew back to the US. Buy the time we decided to run the workshop, we could do it fast or not at all. This will not be a problem for the next workshop because we have already started the preparations.

As for Matt’s location, given the outcome of the first workshop, we are more secure in the value of the Athena Rationality Workshop, which means we can charge enough money for the event, in order to just fly Matt over when we need him.

Based on the feedback from the first Athena Rationality Workshop, we are going to cut down the content to only include the most useful and essential parts. The next workshop will be both shorter and less intense. (We are also discussing developing a more advanced week long version of the workshop, but that will take a bit longer.)

Before the next workshop, we also plan to have a few days of mentorship training, so that everyone who is mentoring during the workshop knows all the techniques, and knows what to do during the workshop.

The Next Athena Rationality Workshop

We are planning to run the next Athena Rationality Workshop some time in October or November, possibly adjacent to EA Global in London. If you want to participate, please fill in our interest form.

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We are currently deciding between:

a) Running second Athena Workshop, similar to the first one, i.e. teaching a broad range of techniques for solving internal conflicts.

b) Running a workshop specifically focused on overcoming procrastination

c) Doing both

If you have any preferences, let me know.

Very glad to hear that it was a success. What component did people find most valuable? I'm particularly interested in techniques that don't overlap CFAR.

There was a technique we taught called "turning the volume up or turning the volume down" that was surprisingly successful to me. People got it immediately, and it made some of the later techniques trivial to teach.

The section on "Questioning" was also a huge hit that people found highly valuable.

Intentions and Mental contrasting seemed to be liked by a lot of people\

Memory collection and imaginal exposure also seemed highly effective.

The Acceptance stuff was most useful for me. I don't remember any CFAR technique that focus on this.

Apparently it's been a month since the workshop. Any longer-term impressions of how useful the material turned out to be?

We haven't done any formal followups, and won't for a couple months, but initial impressions seem to be decent.

Thanks for the write up! I'd definitely be interested in seeing more detailed descriptions of the techniques, as well as any long-term plans or goals for the workshop.

Our current goal is to gather more information. Which method should we teach and how should we teach it? Is what we are teaching actual useful? To find this out we indent to:

1) Run various versions of the workshop

2) Experiment with various forms online teaching

3) Follow up with participants about what has been useful to them

We have also made a strategic decision to mostly learn from our own experiences, to hopefully find new local optimums for what and how to teach these types of things.

Because of the stage we are at, the quickest way for you to get more information about techniques would be to attend one of the workshop. We would like to eventually do something more scalable (e.g. realizing video lectures), but first we'll need to do a lot more testing.