Throughout all four phases of naturalism, there are three processes that are constantly repeating in the background: Story revision, POU loops, and a few kinds of oscillation that together I think of as "breathing".



Story Revision

Story revision begins at the very start of a study. If you started with “Catching the Spark”—the orientation procedure I suggested in "Getting Started"—then articulating a story was an explicit part of the process. Otherwise, you probably encountered at least one story about your topic along the way.

I’ve presented “orientation” as something that happens only at the beginning, but that’s not really the case. Reorientation is always happening; as a mentor, I run through an abbreviated version of the orientation procedure at nearly every meeting, until I notice that a student has made a habit of asking and answering these questions on their own. In my own practice, I keep a running list of stories in my notes, a big-picture history of my studies.

There are three parts of story revision:

  1. What's your story about what's going on?
  2. Draw out the assumptions in your story that you might be able to check through direct observation.
  3. Pick according to your curiosity or your sense of what would help you understand the whole space most, and try to investigate that.

A real person's story statements often don’t make a lot of sense to onlookers, presumably because they're meant to reflect intuitions or felt senses more than rigid concepts; I often find myself reminding students, "Remember that this only needs to make sense to you." But for the sake of having some kind of illustration, here is a chronological list of story statements I recorded while studying a pattern in my learning-related actions that I called “failure, smallness, and tumbling”:

  • Sept. 15: I think that if I focus on what I'm doing wrong, I'll learn faster from my mistakes.
  • Sept. 16: When I pay attention to the outcome of a goal-directed behavior, I focus in on what I believe to have been under my control.
  • Sept. 28: I care a lot about exerting control over myself.
  • Oct. 3: I am very careful to control my words and actions so that I don't attract the attention of people who would hurt me if they knew I am different.
  • Oct. 17: Part of me thinks that if I let go, everything will fall apart.
  • Oct. 20: Part of me believes that caring in front of people about things you aren't already good at is too dangerous.
  • Oct. 22: When I get small, it's because I feel that I've been surrounded by something dangerous, and contracting is as close as you can get to running away when you're surrounded. 
  • Nov. 22: When I'm “trying really hard”, I'm afraid that if I let go, things will fall apart.

What you see in this list is how my responses to "What's my story about what's going on?" evolved over time. Each time I asked myself that question and got new response, I adjusted my study accordingly.

For most people, it’s a good idea to deliberately revisit and perhaps revise your overall story on a regular basis (often around twice a month), and whenever you’re feeling floaty or like things have shifted. It’s important for navigation: When you stay focused on the details of your experience for too long, you may not notice that you’ve come to regard a topic in a completely new way. Knowing that your overall story has shifted can lead you to reconsider your strategy, rather than continuing to investigate experiences that no longer seem relevant.


POU Loops

I discussed Predict-Observe-Update loops in “Collection”, but I’ll say a few words about them here as well. 

These are the parts of a POU loop:

  1. Predict: Vividly simulate what you expect to experience—what phenomenology you expect to encounter—when your fulcrum experience occurs.
  2. Observe: When you notice your fulcrum experience (or suspect it may be happening), make your marking gesture, then take a phenomenological snapshot of your immediate experience.
  3. Update: Take note of any differences between your prediction and your observation, and update your expectations for future fulcrum experiences accordingly.

POU Loops are a micro-phenomenological version of story revision. Rather than a story about what’s going on, you have a phenomenological prediction, a multi-sensory visualization of what you think you’ll experience in a certain type of moment. Instead of a big-picture story, it’s a phenomenological sketch that’s updated over and over.



There are four processes that oscillate back and forth from one pole to another throughout a naturalist study. Keeping the pendulum in motion is a way to protect yourself from getting stuck in one limited perspective. I sometimes refer to this constant perspectival shifting as “inhalation and exhalation”.

The four pendula are:

  • Wide Scope vs. Narrow Scope: Are you zoomed out and engaged in something like a survey, or are you zoomed in and focusing on one particular detail?
  • Observation vs. Analysis: Are you spending all your time openly observing what’s right in front of you, or are you thinking a lot about what you’ve already observed and trying to make sense of things?
  • Field Work vs. Lab Work: Are you observing things in their natural settings, just waiting around to encounter them however they happen; or are you designing artificial circumstances for observation that give you a lot of control over when and how things happen?
  • Intuitions vs. Concepts: Are you mostly following a gut sense of what seems valuable to pursue, or are you mostly making decisions using a high-level conceptual understanding of your field of study?

When someone seems stuck in their study, it often feels to me as though they’re “holding their breath”. When I think they’re holding their breath, I try to find out where they’ve been hanging out on each of these axes, so I can suggest at least one temporary swing in the other direction.

Story Revision, POU Loops, Breathing


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