Tag Archives: motivation

On humans, clowns and happiness

I’ve been thinking about eccentricity, and how people react to it. Upon meeting up with my mother recently, she just couldn’t let go of the fact that I was carrying a canary yellow, spotted umbrella, and was gently offering to get me a ‘proper’ one instead. I guess for my mom I’ll always be a weird rebellious son she’s slightly worried about, and that’s okay. I think I’ve lived long enough to know about men’s style. I’ve held jobs where I had to wear a suit, and honestly, I was good at it. I still am, if the need surfaces. So I started wondering about is why I’m carrying the spotted umbrella in the first place. I mean while it’s a perfect clown umbrella, I’m not really clowning on the street, now am I… and it hit me that in a way, I actually am.

From interviews with the greatest artists, there seem to be two distinct approaches to the idea of clowning among them. One is focused on the audience, on inspiring laughter, on masterful technique, that is, on Doing… and the other is focused on Being a clown, stating that everything else follows from that. On finding the inner clown, the inner child, and sharing the joy, freedom and emotional openness from that source. An extreme adherent of the second approach is Slava Polunin, whom I consider on of my role models. He is a true rebel artist, who used the wordlessness of pantomime to evade censorship in Soviet times, and an unwavering believer in creative human freedom, both in the theatre troupes he was part of or led, and in our lives in the outside world. Today, he’s turned clowning into a lifestyle through his “Academy of Fools”, in his words, turning the focus of his life onto finding and exploring what makes human beings happy.

And yes, that spotted umbrella makes me happy. I look at it on a rainy day, and think of sunshine and playfulness. And so do the colorful hippie clothing, the five-toed shoes, or any of the other trappings of eccentricity I consciously decide to allow myself. In doing things my body and my inner child wants to do, rather than what my superego would allow me to do. And yes, people do sometimes stare. I’m sure there is a part of them thinking how nice it must be to be so free and childish. And this is, probably, a degree of clowning. Being that reflective, joyful person that many deny in themselves for fear of societal reprisal, or in sacrifice to an arbitrary self-image of prestige, or a desired gender expression, or whatever else.

I honestly believe that performing a little in my everydays, for myself and the world around me, as an eccentric and a free human being, leads to greater happiness, motivation and potentially success in life. I mean, if I want my brain to find reasons for climbing out of bed, why not help it out a little, by making every day worth living?

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The TAZ, the Festival and the Burn

Ever since I listened to a presentation about Hakim Bey’s Anarchist philosophy at O.Z.O.R.A. festival, I’ve been quite fascinated by the idea of the Temporary Autonomous Zone. Hakim Bey is a quite controversial philosopher even in hardliner Anarchist circles, due to his preoccupation with the idea of pederasty, and his occasional rants praising illiteracy; even still, in my eyes his writings on the TAZ are fundamental to building livable systems of human cohabitation, at least temporarily free from the total alienation and commodification culture of consumer society.

As the ideator of Nonviolent Communication, Marshal Rosenberg put it, while we’re all raised with the commandment to be “good”, our reward for being “good” is depression. One suppresses one’s own desires and bliss, the very reason one might want to live for, and alienated society simply cannot provide the “good”, self-denying person with any outcomes that are worthy to pursue, and thus one falls into a state of demotivation and depression. This is a truth I have experienced many times over, and the solution I found was to find my bliss in alternative society, a society of hope.

I urge everyone interested to read Hakim Bey’s own writings on the topic; in short, the Temporary Autonomous Zone is a small event, place or social structure that exists outside mainstream society, as a separate culture and set of social norms, hidden and protected through its insignificance to the outside world, and to what Hakim Bey terms The Spectacle. On a sabbatical around freegan communities and open eco-farms, I’ve finally come to see the principle of the TAZ living and working in reality. Even now I’m writing this article sitting among hippies, ‘pirates’ and goatherds, in a location that in my former, urban life believed only exists in stories and films. A location with the sword of Damocles dangling above its head for years now, yet still living on and thriving. And that sword of Damocles is, unfortunately, unavoidable. According to theory, the Temporary Autonomous Zone is necessarily ephemeral. With time it grows, and as the outside world, The Spectacle takes notice, it needs to voluntarily disband before the forces of repression descend upon it in various forms.

What he writes much less about is what comes after. Most festivals start out as a TAZ of sorts, a small group, much like ancient band societies, coming together to celebrate. They cannot, however, stay that way for long. The O.Z.O.R.A. Festival, a psychedelic cultural event in Eastern Europe with more than 50 thousand participants every year, is no Temporary Autonomous Zone, no matter how some may want to make it look like one. Its last claim to the title ended years ago, when police descended on it in a massive raid, and its continued existence could only have been assured through a lucrative contract with the security firm owned by the Minister of Internal Affairs himself. It’s no TAZ, but the mummified corpse of one, dressed for the grave with mugs of chai sold for 5 Euro each, and (faux) Nepalese clothing overpriced 3-5 fold.

Now the question is whether that makes the festival unworthy of attention, or an event of a lower order, and it is my strong opinion that the festival, while heavily commodified, taken over by the Spectacle, and sold as a canned-and-sterilized uprising for the tired office worker, definitely has its place in the world as a learning ground and an embassy for alternative society, for the Web of Temporary Autonomous Zones. It was, for me, the first exposure, and an experience in immediacy, a gateway toward finding my way to communities one can never find or connect with through Facebook Search.

The Rainbow Gatherings, a surviving stream of the original hippie movement from the 1960s, choose a different approach. Gatherings are intentionally limited in time, and locations where a periodic gathering has grown too well known, too large, and too damaging to the local systems, are intentionally abandoned forever. Keeping with TAZ theory, the Gathering is temporary in one place, but the chain of Gatherings is unbroken, and the movement, the Rainbow Family of Living Light, has held up and thrived throughout the disillusionment of the 1980s and the capitalistic hurrah of the 1990s and early 2000s. The Gatherings have serious issues however, relating to their Anarchistic way of (non)governance, and a reach too large for optimal functioning as a true band society, something people often complain about, but the only proposal to handling it had been smaller, more remote and less public Gatherings.

What I find quite unique about the Burn is that it has taken a different approach. The controversies about some practices of “BMOrg”, the non-profit behind the original Burning Man gathering in Black Rock Desert notwithstanding, the philosophy of the Burn took a separate, and quite noteworthy path. Most burns start out small, as true Temporary Autonomous Zones; Burning Man itself started out as one; however, their growth and reach necessitates a level of integration with outside society that eventually removes most TAZ characteristics. The really noteworthy thing, compared to the Festival, is the specifics of how this happens.

Contrary to the Festival, the Burn doesn’t invite in the Spectacle and the systems of the outside world. There are no outside security forces checking cars, nor profiteering landlords growing rich on 5 Euro chai and 300 Euro entry tickets. The Burn becomes an alternative society, creating a tribe government capable of maintaining security and order to a level where the outside world is content leaving its hand off the event. Burns tend to have low or no police presence, due to the highly professional volunteer force of Rangers, who have over the years kept injuries, deaths and similar incidents low, and due to the principle of Leaving No Trace, a strict and quite literal approach to leaving the environment in just as clean and untouched a state as we arrived in.

Now this means, of course, that the Burn is no longer Anarchistic. It is governed, it has strict rules, it maintains close ties with the outside world in order to maintain its existence and safety, it even has a “policing” force of its own. Which, in a way, is a logical and necessary result of its size and reach. As the Rainbow Gathering struggles to maintain its standards of ecological and societal awareness due to sizes unsuitable for ancient band society governance based on consensus, the Burn faced the same issue, and moved to the next level of governance, that of the Tribe.

Through the tribal government of the Burn itself, with codified rules and roles, the smaller unit of Burning, the Theme Camp, is capable of maintaining a more informal, consensus-based governance suited to its size, while being part of a Web of similar micro-societies in the overall tribe society of the Burn itself, allowing for some form of a Temporary Autonomous Zone to come into being and exist within the manageable family unit of people living, eating and sleeping together.

The Burn is often derided for its perceived break with Anarchist ideals, and apparent marriage with Silicon Valley culture and money-flinging billionaires. However, while maintaining that all such criticism of Burning Man is, to a level, warranted and important, the Burn itself, as a model of alternative society, has succeeded in something few experiments have reached before. I’m quite excited for the future of the movement, regardless whether Black Rock City and BMOrg continues on this route, or will be forced to compromise on their ideals. The Burn, as a model, has already strewn its seeds across the globe, and is growing and multiplying.

Five years gone

It’s been five years since my last post, nearly, and now I decided I need a place to blog again. So why not here. I left the blog online, as I think there’s some important information here for the DIY tDCS crowd, and didn’t want to take that away. Too much stupid was (and sometimes is) going on in the biohacking scene, and a sane voice is always a good thing.

It’s been a long and busy 5 years for me. Things changed. I hopped countries again. Probably will do it again soon. I went through a major crisis, came out, and found new callings. I’m still a hacker, and now I’m a burner, too. The Burning Man movement and subculture has shown me that life can be worth living, and pulled out some deeply buried childhood dreams. Like that of being a clown.

I don’t feel talented at clowning, only motivated. I’ve never been very good at theater arts. That said, the very mild neuroatypia I grew up with may have the benefit that I can see humans one step removed, and I do think I have the right heart for this. So now I’m applying the stuff I blogged about in How to Be Someone Else years ago. Learning to see the world through the lens of poetic comedy, learning flow arts, and hanging out with burners and amateur circus people. And somehow I have the feeling that if I can learn to be a clown, I’ll at the same time learn to be a good human being.

As for tDCS, I started getting headaches after stimulation, so I don’t use it frequently anymore. I do want to experiment with tACS still, I just need time and energy to design and build a device I can trust. I was, and am keeping myself busy with a number of things at all times, and this kinda slid to the bottom of the product backlog of my life.

I’ll probably be blogging about more psychological, philosophical and artistic topics going forward, with some hacking thrown in.

A slump and a new tDCS montage

Over the last few months I haven’t updated this blog – I have had a slump, which left me somewhat unmotivated about self-improvement and other activities that aren’t central to staying afloat. In the end what shook me out of it was an overseas trip. Jet lags force one to look at things in a new light, waking up at unfamiliar hours, or staying up late without a hint of tiredness.

Still, about the time when I got back, I heard of an interesting new montage mentioned on the /r/tdcs subreddit. It is called a fronto-occipital, or F-O depression montage, and involves placing the anode over Fp1, and the cathode over Oz.

Here is an abstract of a paper detailing this montage. It showed a lot of promise, and the activation of the DLPFC was observed to be even higher than with the most popular bifrontal montage.

Some other data also popped up that made this montage extremely interesting. It would seem, based on animal testing, that the habenula (pineal gland) plays an important role in motivation for both bodily exercise, and the pursuit of pleasurable activities. Of course, being deep inside the brain, targeted stimulation of the habenula is all but impossible without invasive (surgical) techniques, but a front-to-back montage, which directly affects much of the brain, might likely impart some effect to such deep-seated areas as well.

I tried the montage, with a 3×3 inch electrode over Fp1, and a large, 3.5×7 inch one draped horizontally over the occipital lobe – I wanted to avoid creating a cathodal hotspot over the occipital lobe. So far, it seems extremely rewarding. I did notice a significant alleviation of passive behavioral patterns, and an improvement in my mood. Applying tDCS in the morning, as opposed to the afternoon was also a welcome change – it is definitely the superior option, and the jetlag made it a lot easier than it would normally be.

My plan is to keep at it for 7 days, and write about my observations afterwards.

Casual use of tDCS

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have some pretty good experience with tDCS. I’ll try to quickly go through the protocols I’ve been using, and my experiences.

First experiment

When I first applied tDCS, it was in the middle of a depressive episode with strange behavioral blocks. Such as, I’ve had this inexplicable dread of checking my mail, been unwilling to start or do anything productive, and similar. I have no idea about the exact neuropsychology of it (it would have been interesting to check myself with a QEEG unit if I had one), but I suppose it was some kind of over-inhibition. It’s something that’s characteristic of my basic “personality”, and something that’s caused me much grief in the past.

I applied tDCS in a bifrontal configuration with the anode over F3 (left dlPfC) and the cathode over Fp2 (right supraorbital). This is an extremely widely researched and proven configuration for treating depression, and is associated with increased conscious control over emotions and an improvement of executive functions including short term memory.

A great overview of tDCS montages and their observed effects in experiments is the TDCS State of the Art paper. Another awesome resource everyone should read are the manuals from Trans Cranial Technologies. They have a comprehensive, easy-to-understand manual on the 10-20 QEEG positioning system, proven tDCS montages, and on cortical functions for those who want to experiment with new setups.

The device was extremely simple, consisting of nothing but an array of CRDs (totaling 2.0mA) and a 1k resistor to suppress current spikes. As a bonus I managed to be the idiot I mentioned earlier, and connected my head last to a powered-up loop, so it can be said without doubt that the total current clearly has gone above 2.0mA upon turn-on (which manifested in a weird popping sensation and a feeling of electric shock – though no phosphenes).

The behavioral-cognitive effect was quite noticeable, but I still don’t know if it had more to do with the tDCS or the shock from the transients. Anyway, the behavioral blocks I mentioned were gone in about 5 minutes, and I soon caught up with all the stuff I have been putting off for days or weeks. In total I did 20 minutes of treatment, and disconnected. Upon disconnection, I experienced phosphenes. While from a subjective standpoint I’ve been successful, I decided to put off further experimentation until I’ve built a more secure device.

Following up

Later, when I completed the device described in previous posts, I decided to do a 5-day treatment regimen, using the same bifrontal configuration. This time, I always used the manual start/stop pot, and thus avoided any form of transient.

At this point I was not in any particularly bad condition psychologically (apart from a slight slump in motivation), and thus the effects of this treatment were barely noticeable from a subjective standpoint. I did observe a slight “emotional desensitization”, or increased control over my emotional responses. In a kind of Vulcan-ish way.

The treatment markedly did not help with my lack of motivation, which culminated in spending an entire weekend doing literally nothing but watching Game of Thrones. (In a rather positive mood, but that hardly counts in favor.) So it must be said that tDCS is not a magic bullet. It’s a “hardware level” tuning, and will not necessarily alleviate cognitive, “software level” problems.

A walk in the woods

I did a search over the net looking for ways to increase motivation via tDCS. What I did find was a montage based on anodal stimulation of the right dlPfC (F4), supported by some anecdotal evidence, and unsupported by experimental data. The one relevant experiment I found that used this setup failed to provide statistical data to support its effect on goal-oriented behavior. (That said, the failure might be attributed to a bad choice of measurement task, so I didn’t dismiss it out of hand.)

The protocol was 25 minutes daily for 3 days, using 2mA of total current between the anode over F4 and cathode over Fp1. Though there were no studies showing the effectiveness of this montage for motivation or goal-oriented behavior, it was proven to be without negative effects, and was being researched for alleviating alcohol and drug cravings, so I wasn’t particularly worried.

I did notice some reduction in the compulsive-repetitive behavior that is inherent to my genetic condition (there might be a link with the addictological effects of the montage), and slightly better goal-oriented planning, but nothing particularly striking, so I cannot rule out placebo effect. This slight improvement seems to have dissipated after discontinuing the regimen, though.

Refining the depression montage

I have had some worries about the bifrontal setup, as it has both the anode and cathode over areas of the frontal lobe. Later, I found some data supporting the use of an extracranial cathode. In this setup, the anode is placed over the left dlPfC (F3), and the cathode over the contralateral (right) arm.

I’ve done one 5-day regimen using this since, and I have recently started another. It does seem to help a lot – though I haven’t noticed such marked effects as the first experiment, that may also be because I haven’t experienced such marked behavioral blocks since. It’s hard to pinpoint the effect of treatment, but it’s definitely a thing. It’s not really what “is” there, but what “isn’t”. I definitely feel better and more productive when I’m using tDCS.

A practical guide on how to be someone else

The world is full of methods allowing us to mess with our heads, but in this post I’ll concentrate on something most people are looking to achieve – changing who we are, and how we act. I’ve used these techniques several times in the past to effect positive change in my life – of course, it has also happened time to time that later I fell back into negative patterns and behaviors, so it’s not a magic bullet by any means. However, it can help a lot.

When a desire to act differently comes up in someone’s life, they usually think of symptomatic, superficial changes, and fantasize about ways to “program their subconscious” to automatically work out 30 minutes a day, not to eat sweets or pizza, stop smoking, spend more time studying, etc. The greatest lure of hypnosis is the belief that someone can just tell you that “from now on, you will find the taste of cigarette smoke revolting”, and poof, life problem solved. Well it doesn’t work that way.

The simplest approach

To change how we act, we need to change who we are. Our image of self is one of the major driving forces behind our daily acts. If I see myself as an athlete, I’ll be motivated to work out every day – if I see myself as a geek and a gamer, I’ll be motivated to spend a copious amount of time playing video games.

Our current mainstream culture seems to shun the idea of changing oneself. It’s all over television, movies, etc. “Be who you are”. The fat geeky kid tries to be sporty and cool, and ends up as laughing stock. It’s the absolute worst advice you can give a child. Self-representations, and our place in society are not constant, are built and developed as we mature, and well into old age, preferably up until death. Being discouraged from a course of life because of ones self-representation is one of the most common ways people make themselves miserable.

The absolutely easiest way to change who we are is through changing what we put in our brains. I mean entertainment, media, leisure reading, etc. If someone wants to become stronger and more athletic, the best thing they can do is go and buy a bodybuilding magazine, watch the Muscle Channel on cable, go read Internet forums and watch YouTube videos about strength training.

Note though that Internet forums can be a double-edged sword. If they are full of people who are either trolls and assholes, or hold totally opposing beliefs to one’s core alignments, participating in such can actually discourage one from adopting a certain identity. Say, one decides to eat healthy, and the healthy eating forums are packed with anti-science, anti-medicine, anti-vaccination conspiracy theory tinfoil-hat nutjobs, it can really really work as a motivation to just leave the whole healthy eating shit for the birds, go drop by a McDonalds right now, and kiss the website of Monsanto while thanking God for GMO soybeans. Unfortunately there is nothing one can do about people being stupid, so my suggestion is that if beliefs in a community go against your core ideas, just leave them, and try to find other sources that you find more acceptable.

The maxim that “you are what you eat” is particularly true of information. The Japanese seem to be particularly aware of this, as each year they push a plethora of children’s cartoons out the door, each showcasing a sport or activity of some kind, often in exaggerated ways that Western viewers tend to find hilarious. It’s solid fact that this sort of push from the media does manifest in an increased interest in sports. Years ago it was all over the news that after a cartoon was made about the game of Go, considered to be an “old man’s game”, with little interest from young people, suddenly Go clubs sprang up at schools country-wide, and the game enjoyed a nationwide revival.

Many of these sports cartoons do have a trick to them. The protagonist usually starts out as a non-athletic, weak kid, and through the story, progresses to be a top class athlete. This is very important, because it does not allow the viewers to disassociate themselves from the theme. It breaks down the wall of self-doubt that inevitably stands in the way of change.

Similarly in the US, television shows that cast African Americans in non-stereotypical roles, such as Lieutenant Uhura in the original Star Trek as a high-ranking officer, or the upper-middle-class Banks family in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, actively helped young African Americans change the way they looked at their future, and aim for university and well-paying careers.

In my experience, if the motivation is there to change, then it doesn’t take too much input to affect a change in self-representation. Humans naturally learn by imitating others, and if you provide yourself with plenty of role models to imitate, change will come naturally.

If the simple approach fails

Well, sometimes it’s a bit harder to adopt a new way of life, maybe the emotional motivation isn’t as strong, or one just can’t muster the strength to make the change.

There are ways to help in cases like this. The best tool, I believe, is NLP, or Neuro-Linguistic Programming. It’s a form of therapy developed years ago, which has undergone quite a lot of changes since. I do not agree with most of the tenets of old-school, orthodox NLP, but there are really good techniques there if you know where to look.

The primary goal in NLP is to change our mental representations. It can be applied by a therapist, or you can do it to yourself. Contrary to the name, it has little to do with “neuro” – it is not based on any kind of neurological or neuro-psychological research, I guess it just sounded cool. As for “linguistic”, while there’s a lot in NLP written about words and wording, I’d say the best techniques are the ones that do not use words at all.

My favorite “do it yourself” book on NLP is Anthony Robbins’ Unlimited Power. In case you’ve never heard of him (though I doubt it), Anthony Robbins is a world-famous life coach and “guru”, and this book is a crash course in his technique and approach to NLP. It’s a fun, engaging read, and extremely hands-on. I’m not advocating for everything Anthony Robbins ever said or did, but this book is really good.

As I’m no NLP expert by any stretch of imagination, I suggest you read the book, and make your own conclusions, but let me give you two examples of what you can do with NLP to help change your representations of yourself.

One is called modeling. It’s basically a conscious approach to imitating a role model. In simple terms, it entails trying to mimic their posture and facial expressions (one of the tenets of NLP is that the state of our body creates effects in the state of our mind), creating a model of what this person would live and act like, and periodically comparing our own conduct with this ideal. For example, “Would Arnold Schwarzenegger sit here and watch Office, or would he rather go down to the gym?”

The other favorite of mine is called reframing, and is one of the most basic techniques in NLP. This allows you to change your own perceptions about what’s possible or impossible, and what’s significant or unimportant. For example, you want to learn music, but all your life you’ve heard nothing but that you have to be born a musician, or at least start learning as a very small child. Of course, since you have such representations, it will be very hard to muster the will to pour energy into something you think is impossible.

To change this belief, you conjure up an image of you as a musician with people listening and enjoying your music in your mind, and then an image of something that you do know is possible. Say if you’re a great programmer, imagine yourself in the act of winning a coding competition. Then compare the two images based on modalities – how large they are, where they are in space, how colorful they are, do they have movement or sound, do you have kinesthetic feelings from them, do they have a frame or border, etc. Then you take the “impossible” image, and forcefully make it like the possible one.

By doing this regularly, over time you can change even deep-seated fears and beliefs, and set your sights on new horizons.