Requisites for personal growth

by Toon Alfrink Feb 16 2017 updated Mar 23 2017

A mashup of models

Epistemic status: literally a shower thought. Please read with caution, and add criticism.

Accelerating personal growth: a mashup of models

I have multiple related models of this, and none of them seem to fully map conditionspace. Therefore I have decided to include them all, to provide a list of recommendations that is as complete as possible. If you have a model that seems completely different, please add it to the list.

Model 1: it all boils down to (perceived) physical safety

With “perceived” I mean that your system 1 has to agree. If you have a sense that your physical body will be well cared for in the foreseeable future, you will have an easy time focusing on long-term non-physical things. Things that bring one to this state are:

The list can go on forever, but I hope this is enough for you to be able to generate it yourself.

A few practical recommendations based on this model:

Again, this list is not exhaustive.

Model 2: reach self-actualization

You must know about Maslow’s hierarchy, and you might be aware of the positive effects of climbing that pyramid. Maslow called the first 4 needs ‘deficiency needs’, indicating that not meeting these needs has a negative effect on health. He called the 5th need self-actualization, which is the (visceral) need to fulfill one’s full potential. It seems quite helpful to actually want to improve yourself on a gut level.

Maslow’s model is great, but the specific 4 needs he pointed at have been called into question. Also the specific order of those needs have been called into question. What remains is the idea that there is a list of needs that, when met, allow a state of growth. I’d like to propose the following list (stolen from Human Givens, which is annoyingly commercial but seems to have good content):

The bold claim that is made with this list is that it is impossible to have mental health problems if all of these needs are met. This claim has been refuted (thanks Hyperclavie) but I’d still like to propose that they’re a significant step in most cases.

Practical recommendations based on this model:

Most of these recommendations could have been given with the first model. It seems to me that that’s a good thing: both models seem to be pointing at the same thing from a different angle, which makes me think they’re actually pointing at the thing we care about.

Model 3: intrinsic motivation

Quick Wikipedia definition:

“Intrinsic motivation is the self-desire to seek out new things and new challenges, to analyze one's capacity, to observe and to gain knowledge. It is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures or a desire for consideration.”

This looks like the same visceral need for growth that I referred to with Maslow. It seems to me that intrinsic motivation is related to a state of self-actualization, but when it comes to the way to get in such a state, the models depart.

According to Dan Pink, the three factors that lead to a state of intrinsic motivation are autonomy, mastery and purpose:

Practical recommendations:

Putting the first three models together

I didn’t plan to write this section, but it seems to me that these models fit together even more neatly than I anticipated.

Dan Pink talks about people at work, and in that context, it seems to me that his three factors would sum to status. This would mean that the second model is a generalisation of the third, and I feel that the first is a generalization of the second, since all the needs that are mentioned (except privacy?) eventually lead to physical safety in some way.

Yet, given just the first model, I wouldn’t have been able to generate the recommendations that the second and the third generate, so I suppose it is still useful to keep all three of them in mind, and add others.

Model 4 (addendum): a big PNS

Some CFAR alumni will remember the Againstness class, where Val tells us about the autonomic nervous system, and it's parts, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). These parts can have different levels of activation, and the point of the class is that a SNS-dominant state is generally bad for you. Interestingly, it seems to me that this goes both ways. I.e. "bad for you" is generally a SNS-dominant state. Remember that list of things that even your grandma knows are good or bad for you? Well:

Now I'm not rationalizing. I literally thought up a list of things that are commonly regarded as "bad for you" and all of them turned out to influence the autonomic nervous system in the same way. If the thing is good for you, it increases the relative activity of the PNS. If it's bad for you, it increases relative SNS. It wasn't even hard to find: most of this stuff is confirmed by papers in journals that were part of the first few search results.

That's great, but how close is "good/bad for you" to the goal of the Accelerator, which is to make people more rational/agenty? Decide for yourself:

I have the suspicion, which might not be fully justified by this data alone, that being in a PNS-dominant state most of the time might be the most important condition for growth. And here's the best part: it's measurable! We can have realtime feedback!

Practical recommendations:


Konrad Seifert

\(Security\) scout the area before deciding on a location, look for crime indicators, and have a good alarm system \(Community\) have regular gatherings where \(almost\) everyone is present \(Intimacy\) establish a culture of openness and nonjudgment \(Privacy\) have spaces where one must be quiet \(meditation rooms?\) \(Status\) have explicit rounds of appreciation and \(somewhat covertly\) make sure everyone gets a turn

I think "psychological safety", which this point seemingly implies, should be an entire model for itself. It's a rather complex issue because what works for one person, might not be necessary/sufficient for another due to different experiences, cultural backgrounds etc.

Konrad Seifert

Generally, the book Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi seems useful here. I went through my notes of the book and here are some key takeaways that I feel are relevant for this doc. I included too much rather than too little.

Physical safety:


Intrinsic motivation: