This may be a bad idea that acted upon may do more harm than good, but I propose that we should find a way to induce a controlled and stable state of hypomania in people who are willing to enhance their functional capabilities.

Hypomania is a state that frequently occurs in people with bipolar disorder, which in various variants affects up to 3% of the population. In contrast to full-blown mania, characterized by delusions, mind racing and intense euphoria and/or dysphoria, hypomania does not incapacitate a person on the individual or social level. Instead, creative thinking and cognition as well as overall energy level are considerably enhanced, while the need for sleep and rest is reduced significantly. Mood is well above the baseline of the given individual. Often, hypomania is not even recognized as such, as the person sometimes appears perfectly healthy to the outsider who isn‘t familiar with the „normal“ state of the affected person. The major drawbacks are a tendency towards absent-mindedness and a certain loss of social inhibitions. Increased risk-taking can also pose a problem.

I have experienced hypomania myself some years ago. During that time, I experienced a motivation doing everyday chores, learning and sports like never before. I had never been as productive, creative and enthusiastic as during that few months. I had to pay a price for this: Severe psychosis followed by long depression and rehabilitation.

Now what if we could find a way to experience the benefits of hypomania without the negative consequences? Surely, this could improve the intellectual and artistic output of many people struggling, for example, with motivational issues or procrastination.

It is still a pressing and unsolved problem to find a lasting remedy against depression. I have not yet met a psychiatrist (or patient) who is satisfied with the state of the art. But from the point of view of utility, even the mentally healthy usually experience subjective shortcomings in their capabilities on an everyday basis, and improving upon what are now supposedly healthy states seems to be a worthwhile undertaking. In my opinion, it would useful to examine the mechanisms of hypomania for exploitation of this mental state.

Lacking a background in neurology and psychopharmacology, I cannot outline a research program leading into this direction. What I know is, from my subjective experience, that neuroleptics of the third generation like aripiprazol can, in many cases, inhibit the onset of hypomania and stabilize the mind toward „normalcy“ - for me, without noticable side-effects. Shouldn‘t there be a way of stabilizing the hypomanic state by fine-tuned adjustment of a person’s neurochemistry as a new default while inhibiting the descent into mania and preventing a reversal into depression?

Obviously, I don‘t know about the prevalence of bipolar disorder in the LW community, but maybe there are some among you with similar experiences and opposing attitudes toward this admittedly ambiguous state.

More questions: Is hypomania a good model for a person’s peak performance? Or is it more a distortion of the person‘s psyche?

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Viliam

Jun 13, 2023

110

Not sure if there is an "objective" definition of hypomania, or if it just means: slightly more manic than your usual state. Like, whether my hypomania could be someone else's normal. So I'm going to ignore this part and assume that your question meant: "How to increase your energy levels?"

(The following are just my guesses; I didn't do any research.)

First, check whether you have some known problem that causes low energy, such as depression, anemia, sleep apnea, etc. Get diagnosed, use the standard solutions.

(People will recommend experimenting with drugs. I suggest caution, because of selection effect: those who survive are more likely to talk about how perfectly safe it is.)

Get fit: exercise regularly, lose weight. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy food.

Spend more time outside. Install stronger lights at home.

Remove trivial inconveniences at your home and workplace. Clean up your room. Buy things that can help you be more productive. (Buy cheap things if you merely suspect that they could make you more productive. If you think that writing things using pens of three different colors can help you, you may be right or you may be wrong, but the time you would spend thinking about it is definitely more expensive than those pens.)

Having a support group can help a lot. Try pair programming. Socialize with people who share your goals. Find an accountability buddy. Discuss your dreams with friends.

...sometimes: Do a different thing. Sometimes the problem is not you, but the thing you wanted to achieve, or the environment where you wanted to achieve it.

Darklight

Jun 14, 2023

62

I would be exceedingly cautious about this line of reasoning. Hypomania tends to not be sustainable, with a tendency to either spiral into a full blown manic episode, or to exhaust itself out and lead to an eventual depressive episode. This seems to have something to do with the characteristics of the thoughts/feelings/beliefs that develop while hypomanic, the cognitive dynamics if you will. You'll tend to become increasingly overconfident and positive to the point that you will either start to lose contact with reality by ignoring evidence to the contrary of what you think is happening (because you feel like everything is awesome so it must be), or reality will hit you hard when the good things that you expect to happen, don't, and you update accordingly (often overcompensating in the process).

In that sense, it's very hard to stay "just" hypomanic. And honestly, to my knowledge, most psychiatrists are more worried about potential manic episodes than anything else in bipolar disorder, and will put you on enough antipsychotics to make you a depressed zombie to prevent them, because generally speaking the full on psychosis level manic episodes are just more dangerous for everyone involved.

Ideally, I think your mood should fit your circumstances. Hypomania often shows up as inappropriately high positive mood even in situations where it makes little sense to be so euphoric, and that should be a clear indicator of why it can be problematic.

It can be tempting to want to stay in some kind of controlled hypomania, but in reality, this isn't something that to my knowledge is doable with our current science and technology, at least for people with actual bipolar disorder. It's arguable that for individuals with normally stable mood, putting them on stimulants could have a similar effect as making them a bit hypomanic (not very confident about this though). Giving people with bipolar disorder stimulants that they don't otherwise need on the other hand is a great way to straight up induce mania, so I definitely wouldn't recommend that.

Can't check currently but IIRC there is a marked neurotoxicity cause by too much cholinergic activity during mania, leading to quicker than average dementia onset and proportional to time spent in mania. Might be controversial among specialist. Might not apply to hypomania but be a useful prior none the less. I recommend the website elicit to quickly reduce uncertainty on this question.

Edit: also related to wether putting everyone on at least a low adderall dose might be a good thing

StartAtTheEnd

Jul 07, 2023

30

I believe that mania does permanent damage, but everything between normal and slightly manic might be desirable. The closest factor I've found is confidence, which you build up by gradually overcoming resistances. Small, clear goals work the best, as that will give you the most experiences of victory.

I believe that a common problem for people on this forum might be their scope of perceiving the world. The bigger your scope, the smaller you will look. This is also a source of nihilism and helplessness (since our feeling of influence and the value of what's in front of us decrease as well). It's easier for fools to be confident because they compete with the people around them, and because they're unlikely to encounter a lot of people who are way above them.

If you want something truly sustainable, cultivate a "growth mindset", in which you give value to effort itself, rather than any outcome. It seems that all long-term optimization tends towards the best answer being something like "Make the best of the moment". Others might recommend "Suffer now to have fun later", but that "later" doesn't seem to come, and you might, like me, struggle to get anything done when your mood isn't good.

Another field of interest here is self-programming, with the goal of connecting with life by making things subjectively meaningful (rather than objectively valuable) if you for instance consider chores to be daily quests like in video games, there will only be advantages as long as it helps you forward. You mention nootropics, but rather than using drugs to make yourself like doing chores more, I think it's better to add value to the act of doing chores. This is theoretically entirely within our control, as the problem is not reality but only how we think about it (chores might bother us without bad weather bothering us, simply because the former is harder to accept), which means that all unpleasant feelings are technically something we choose for ourselves voluntarily.

I hope this helps, and that you take care of yourself. A final thing I want to add is that this is possible with any psychological state. You can make yourself entirely innocent, have faith in things you know are false, turn off your ability to feel stress, etc. (I know because I've managed these for shorter periods of time, weeks to months). As with enlightenment, it's nearly impossible to explain to others how to achieve it.

[-]MvB9mo20

Well, maybe my underlying motivation for this question was the wish for some shortcut to overcome what I perceive as personal deficiencies. Throughout my life, I‘ve hardly had to work as hard as most people around me to complete mental tasks, and that has led me to live a rather decent life by now. And I‘m still making progress in terms of achievements that secure my material situation.

But being completely honest, I feel lazy and having fallen behind what I could be. The things I value most are intelligence, knowledge and understanding, and I just know a s... (read more)

3StartAtTheEnd9mo
I've walked the same path for the most part, but I ultimately ended up elsewhere. Do you really value intelligence and knowledge, or at these things that you think other people will enjoy seeing from you? And are these core goals, or the means to something more concrete like power or influence? If your goal is actually knowledge and understanding, then my advice would be to set concrete goals, simply because vague goals confuses the brain, they prevent it from planning concrete actions, and the reward mechanism can't kick in if you don't have concrete sub-goal finish lines. You seem to be at a conflict with yourself (look up articles on 'Akrasia' for more). This problem is familiar to me, I've had to exploit my own tendency to obsess about certain things in order to get myself to study. External motivation is sort of masochistic, and rather than "pushing" yourself like this, I feel it's better to let yourself be "pulled" by something (carrot-and-stick, you know). I've got 100s of suggestions of what to do about this, and some of them are a little out there and perhaps even offensive in a way. Consinder this as a light example: https://www.lesswrong.com/tag/dark-arts You can use irrationality in a rational manner, just like you're trying to improve yourself by inducting what is technically mental illness. In any case, I feel like there's no objective sources to rely on, everything must come from ourselves. You know how you might start watching a movie which doesn't interest you at first, but then feel yourself getting carried away? Losing yourself in something specific might beat having a birds-eye view on things, in that the human sense of meaning is generally one of connectivity/immersion. I can write logical and objective advice, but there's already plently of that out there, and chances are that you've read a lot of it already with limited success. What I focus on is mostly the psychological side of things. Nietzsche said "You must have madness in you to give
2MvB9mo
This was highly unexpected, mirroring my own experiences in a somehow unpleasant way and is indeed hazardous for me right now as I‘ve become a bit mentally unstable over the last weeks. Please give me some time to think this through and adjust.
1StartAtTheEnd9mo
My bad! Take your time. I'm mostly okay myself, at least my mood is good, so if your troubles relate to my message I probably have an "antidote" or two. But I won't write anymore unprompted, just in case I make it worse. I hope everything works out for you!
2MvB9mo
Please go ahead, maybe it helps. I‘d just prefer not to give an answer before I‘ve figured out some stuff about myself.
1StartAtTheEnd9mo
Right. I'll write some different things. Apologizes in advance for writing too much - it tends to happen when I take methylphenidate. (Btw, if stimulants stopped working for you, you might be low on B vitamins. Not sure if stimulants are a good idea if you have bipolar disorder or cyclothymia, though!) I think you might be feeling guilty because you aren't motivated to do certain tasks. There's a good reason you're not doing them. Could be anxiety about the outcomes, that they're vague tasks, that they don't have personal value to you, or that you need a break or to fulfill other needs. By the way, the hardest part is getting started, dopamine seems to sort of build up over time, rather than something which you collect before starting. Do you connect your goals to things which have meaning for you? I'm using my flaws to my advantage. I'm sort of arrogant, so if a post online says that learning 60 new words in a day is the human limit, then I will teach myself 100. That's more than I learned in an entire year in grade-school (I just couldn't be bothered). What do you actually enjoy? I enjoy experiments. I've studied while timing the impulses to stop, making a graph of these. Interestingly enough, the impulses slowed down. Turns out I can torture myself if only I'm making fun doing so. You like video games, no? I do too. Finding exploits in them has helped me a lot. I think we both came up with the idea of exploiting mania because we both like video games. And don't downplay the positive effects it has had on your spatial intelligence. A lot of what I do is actually optimize myself as a video-game character, and making your own life interesting is not much different from making a video game interesting - to disguise menial actions as meaningful fun. Virtual reality and AR is going to be big in the future, so I don't think your video game experience has been wasted. If you consider self-actualization the next game to play, wouldn't that be great? I bet you're reall
1MvB7mo
Long story short, my doc and me tried methylphenidate despite my bipolar disorder. I can‘t remember ever having had such an inner calm and structured motivation. I seem to be in some weird niche of the ADHD space. Let‘s see how this proceeds, I am fairly optimistic that I am able to perform better according to my self-expectations now.
1MvB9mo
This conversation increasingly develops characteristics of group therapy, but so be it. Regarding values: Yes, the pursuit of knowledge and understanding along with the experience and creation of meaning are among what I perceive as my core values. My understanding of power has a big intersection with positive freedom and because of that, I seek more power and influence mostly as means to act upon my values. So far, so good. Now that I have thought enough about the last few weeks and my thoughts and actions, I think I have figured out what actually bothers me. My old ways of striving for self-transcendence are a bit at odds with my present life situation, leading to internal conflicts about the goals to aim at over the next years. I carry responsibility for a small family and want to live up to it, that goes along with my plans to advance my career at bit further. At the same time, I feel like I have not been able to become the person that I would like to be and that I was not able to realize my potential as an individual. Now, I have to put more energy into my most important and valued relationships than into myself as a distinct individual. The solution is easy: I just must not be an egocentric idiot and care more for my loved ones instead. Another source of conflict is my increasing inability to endure the superficiality of the average social interaction. I moved to a small village in order to keep away my child from big city madness as long as possible. Though I consider myself well-integrated (I meet and sometimes hang out with neighbours), I feel deeply estranged from most people around me. Conservation is shallow, biased, uninformed and uninspiring if it is not about the topic of cars, which I am not very interested in. My sources of deep talk consist in three people, one of which happens to be my wife, so I probably should not consider myself unlucky. Nevertheless, my longing for social belonging has paradox effects which I cannot fully escape by isolatin
1StartAtTheEnd9mo
I didn't even think about that, I just like talking about these things. I will try to be somewhat concise, if anything interest you in particular I can expand on that or refer to sources which align with it (unless it's my original research) I think power is a great thing to seek, as it's perhaps the most versatile resource in existence. The overlap with freedom is true, but there's a few important things to know about freedom. Perhaps you should try learning for a specific goal? Learning for the sake of learning is fine, but there's always so much to learn. I don't even learn knowledge much anymore, but underlying core concepts. Still, effort is best when it's focused. It would perhaps be difficult if I gave you a blank piece of paper and told you to write a 1000-word story. Writer's block, etc. But if I told you to write 1000 words about power, then I think you could do that fairly quickly. People work best under some restrictions. Rules certainly helps creativity. Explaining this phenomenon is difficult, but I will make an attempt to figure it out in case it interests you. >My old ways of striving for self-transcendence are a bit at odds with my present life situation I'll be honest, I'm in the exact same position. I've always said I liked freedom, but I just really hate the chains of commitment, especially when other people dump them on me in such a way that they will fall if I pull away. Anyway, without commitment, you will never put 100% into anything, right? But that's where you shine the brightest. It's better to aim too high than too low, you need a goal that you won't hesitate on. These goals can be unified, you can improve yourself as you improve your relationship and career, and improve those so that you can improve yourself. But at least in my own case, social obligations makes it difficult to immerse myself in any of my own projects. I used to hate most of human conversation, I considered it the most inefficient method of information transferenc
1MvB9mo
Rather than telling me something completely new, you are actually condensing many of the things I already know in a very helpful way. I appreciate that. Instead of echoing your key points, I would rather point out where I really seem to struggle: I my native language, which happens to be German, somewhere in the middle between the concepts of intelligence and wisdom, we have the idea of „Klugheit“. Klugheit is less about the theory of solving problems or knowing about what is the right thing to do in a given moment and in life, but all about putting it into practice. I know how much energy and time I have to spend in order to reach the goals I set for myself. I know how to place sufficient boundaries on myself to make use of my freedom (/power). I know how to blend into my social surroundings while staying just authentic enough to be respected and trusted. I know how to let go of intellectual OCD and have fun with the cards I am dealt in playful interaction. And yet, my implementation of this knowledge in daily life feels poor. Maybe it is a luxury problem - objectively I am doing fairly well, I guess. But my success stems from a local optimum of adaptation that I semmingly cannot leave without developing serious mental health problems. Paradoxically, I feel stuck while reaching one important life goal after the other. Maybe I should go see a therapist and work on my equanimity.
1StartAtTheEnd9mo
Do you know Nietzsche's concepts of the apollonian and dionysian, or Jordan Peterson's order/chaos duality? I think that rationalism often tends too much towards the former rather than a healthy combination of the two. Traditional wisdom is about warning and advice, which is about slowing down. This is healthier and safer for sure, but as your experiences with mania have shown, a little bit of chaos can be good. I say this because Klugheit seems to be regarded as a virtue, and all virtues tend to have these soft, calm qualities. Could it be that you're too theoretical and not practical enough? Knowing the answer is not the final step of the process, it's around the middle. Knowing how to be social, and being social, are completely different. Your knowledge only helps you when you go from memorizing it to internalizing it, making it an automatic part of yourself that you're no longer aware of. If you thought about every step you took, walking would be difficult. The knowledge has to be digested and integrated properly. If you're just learning more and more things without this process, it will appear like you know more and more, but you'd not see much benefits, which I'm sure would be discouraging. Indeed, this lack of observable benefits might make you lose faith in the knowledge that you have, so that you go searching for other knowledge, until you know the subject from so many angles and perspectives that you won't even know where to start implimenting it, a sort of having too much knowledge. No blame if that's the case, I learned all these things the hard way myself. Can you expand on what you mean about local optimum of adaptation? And have you thought about what your feeling represent? Moving away from your goal, parallel to your goal, like you're ignoring the main quest and clearing all the subquests instead, like you're doing well but seeing your personal projects stagnate due to regular life taking up too much of your time and energy? Perhaps a branch betw
1MvB9mo
I wish I could pick up all your lines of thought, as I find most of them really interesting. Our energy levels seem to be very different at the moment, though - I am just recovering from mild depression and my thoughts are neither very associative nor creative right now, much less clear and coherent. I just cannot keep up with your stimulant-infused input right now. Nevertheless, here is what I mean talking about a local optimum. I am trying to put appropriate energy into different aspects of my life, namely: Taking care of my family, doing a good job at work, working on self-actualization, keeping a good standing with friends and acquaintances and pushing forward some projects of my own. When I am at normal energy levels, which are considerably higher than the ones I have right now, I seem to perform on my personal pareto frontier. Whenever I try to expand activity on one or two of said aspects, I fall short on the others, pushing even harder then leads to stress and regrets that in turn slow me down further on the totality of my efforts, until the point where it becomes problematic for my health. Whenever this happens, I also start to spend too much time dealing with and worrying about stuff that is beyond my control, such as politics and so on, which leads to a vicious cycle that often triggers depression. Once I have found my way out of it, the cycle repeats. For a couple of months, I hold my balance, than I try to push my limits and things start to fall apart again. It could easily be the case that I am expecting too much from myself and maybe there is no way to become better at achieving my goals than completing my side projects and not replacing them with new ones after that. Thinking about all you have said and trying to make sense of why it resonates so strongly, I have come to an intermediate conclusion that I will have to think about for some time: Perhaps it is a good idea for me to refrain from learning about the topics that I am most drawn to now, a
1StartAtTheEnd9mo
Re-reading my comments, the ideas which appeal to me are directly related to my level of arousal (dopamine level compared to baseline). It maps pretty well to the hierarchy of needs. Everything below is "boring" or "mundane" and everything above is "irresponsible" or "wasteful". You can re-read them in the future if they ever become relevant, until then you don't have to worry about them. It can help to view energy as a limited resource, but there's many kinds of energy, and fulfilling needs and building 'momentum' can give energy rather than using it. Maybe a good abstraction is the set "Physical/mental/spiritual". Your mild depression and my 10mg of ritalin don't change our actual levels of energy, but rather just our subjective feelings of energy. Worrying and stress does use energy though - thinking about work seems to use almost as much energy as actual doing the work. But stress and too much effort create waste products in the brain, which is probably why our brains make us feel tired. It's a defense against damage, like physical exhaustion. When we bypass this, with drugs or by a manic mood, we probably cause damage because we keep going without rest. It's easier said than done, but periodic effort and rest is more efficient than just the effort. The worst combination of these is pushing the accelerator and the brake at the same time. It's possible that you're pushing further and draining your limited resources (blood sugar and other cognitive resources), but there's also the possibility that you're draining other resources (neglecting seemingly less important things which help your mental health), that you're tired because of what you don't do rather than because of what you do. While the engagement in politics could stem from needless worry, it could also be an outlet for your unmet need to communicate, and the reward of correcting other people about something that you're knowledgeable about. In my own case, something drives me to websites like this o

MvB

Jun 16, 2023

32

Thinking about the responses, I have to come to the conclusion that this is a rather bad idea. The positive symptoms which I remember very intensely just don‘t make up for the decline in critical reflection of what one is actually doing, thinking and feeling. I had suppressed that to some extent, but it is clearly a major part of what I went through. Thanks for pointing out this aspect. Personally, I will probably try to work on healthy habits, routines and stay on my medication (what I would have done anyway).

RHollerith

Jun 14, 2023

30

One reason I'm skeptical is the fact that people whose mood is neutral / normal are already too optimistic, a fact that significantly handicaps their rationality IMO (especially when thinking about the risks of continuing research on AI) and hypomania will make that handicap worse.

I would be more interested in making people more perfectionistic because a large fraction of our scientific inheritance was created by people high in that trait, Newton and Darwin included.

nim

Jun 12, 2023

10

Just as almost any "is it?" headline can be answered with "no", almost any "could it" headline can be answered with "yeah probably under some circumstances".

Mental health is especially complicated in that pathologies are defined by their impairment of "normal" function and performance, for a relatively nebulous and subjective definition of "normal". Specific behaviors that might be unusual to the point of adding up to hypomania for one individual might be entirely normal for another.

IMO, you are likely to get farther by quantifying the exact symptoms you want and inquiring what induces those symptoms than by trying to redefine a relatively well-known pathology as "like that but better".

[-]MvB10mo10

I prefer to not examine this issue in a frame of pathologies. In the individual case, concrete symptoms and behaviours of course depend on the unique personality of the affected individual. Yet, when you know a person good enough, it is not that hard to recognize the changes taking place under hypomania, and from what I can tell they seem to generalize well. It is exactly not the possible impairments that interest me, but what I subjectively experienced as an improvement to my default condition.

I should have added that I have tried several proposed methods... (read more)

2nim10mo
The point I'm attempting to make is that psychiatric diagnoses, such as "hypomania", are framed through a lens of pathology. A change in behavior or experience which causes no problems for the affected person and those around them would not be defined and studied in the same way that changes associated with problems are. Working from general research focused on pathologized changes of experience (ie clinical hypomania) is likely to yield resources that include negative states you'd rather not learn from while disregarding positive states that you'd prefer to emulate. Toward the goal of tailoring subjective experience, I think you're on the right track for breaking down the desired change into component parts and contemplating the parts separately at first. Whatever you end up doing, try to avoid discounting hedonic treadmill effects when assessing the sustainable effectiveness of various interventions, and try to include ambient factors such as location, sleep quality, valence of recent news exposure, etc.