Trigger warning for mention of rape in this post.
Willpower exists to prevent you from doing things that you don’t want to do, even if you’re confused about what you want. To prevent you from sinking too much energy into social compromises that don’t suit you.
Your mental health is always more important than playing social games, and if you have to opt out of looking good to max out your mental health, that’s worth it.
I use the word “true self”, in the context of your true self’s values, to roughly mean: the actions you find it effortless or rejuvenating to take. That is, the actual set of actions which you find it effortless to take empirically, not the actions you’d expect to be effortless based on some logical model.
This post is going to consist of examples of what it looks like to follow your true self’s values. Because I use “true self” in an idiosyncratic way and need to point to what I mean. Most people are massively confused about what they really want. Also note that examples have been selected on for legality; a real set of examples might look different.
The best example I can give, is from when I was emotionally processing how I felt about my rapist, during the meditation retreat I did. I spent about forty hours on the whole process over a few days. The first part of the processing consisted of just trying to remember to keep my attention on my breath, and generally being in emotional pain for the 90% of the meditation time where my mind had wandered from my breath to think about him and how I felt about being a rape victim. Later, it became manageable but still painful to think about.
At some point, the idea occurred to me that I could kill my rapist.
I’d been very new to both processing emotions via meditation, and to trying to do what my true self wanted. But the more I consulted with myself, the more it seemed like my true self wanted him to die. I kept thinking about this, and spent a while devising a foolproof way of killing him and getting away with it. I kept getting the feeling that this was what I wanted.
Eventually, the conscious-talky-part of my mind was just like, “okay Jay, I’m fully down with killing this guy if you’re that set on it”. And the half of the negative emotions I still had about it disappeared pretty much instantly. The next hour was pleasantly emotionally quiet, maybe a little blissful.
The next day, or maybe a couple days later, my brain was looping through what I should concretely do to be able to murder my rapist and get away. I ended up re-evaluating whether I wanted to kill him, and deciding I didn’t. My true self didn’t give me a verbal reason, it had just changed its mind. I’d guess that it had wanted me to be onboard with doing whatever it wanted, and that the “am I willing to kill him” thing had been a test to see if I was on my true self’s side. (In retrospect, I had lots of trauma from being brushed off when I’d brought up being a rape victim to people I had thought were my allies, as well as trauma from the actual rape, and the “am I willing to kill him” thing helped with that part of it more than it helped with the trauma from the rape itself).
The conclusion of this, was that I never hurt him and have been stable in not planning to since, because I wouldn’t get any psychological value from doing so. As for my internal experiences? I haven’t thought about him or had any negative emotions about him or about being a rape survivor since the retreat. No more fantasies or thought-loops about becoming happy if he were finally socially discredited. No more getting disturbed and having to turn in on perfectly good days after my mind wandered to him.
That’s the best example I can give of doing what you want. I wouldn’t have processed my rape fully if I hadn’t given myself full permission to kill my rapist and been 100% willing to go through with it if that’s what my true self had wanted.
Being willing to kill someone is conventionally considered evil, but it’s important that you try to find out what your true values are, even if they’re something “bad”. Ziz says,
you have to be actually looking for the answer. Doing a thing that would unprank yourself back to amorality if your morality was a prank. You know what algorithm you’re running, so if your algorithm is, “try asking if I actually care, and if so, then I win. Otherwise, abort! Go back to clinging on this fading stale cache value in opposition to what I really am.”, you’ll know it’s a fake exercise, your defenses will be up, and it will be empty.
The deeper you are willing to question, the deeper will be your renewed power. (Of course, the core of questioning is actually wondering. It must be moved by and animated by your actually wondering. So it cuts through to knowing.) It’s been considered frightening that I said “if you realize you’re a sociopath and you start doing sociopath things, you are winning!”. But if whether you have no morality at all is the one thing you can’t bear to check, and if the root of your morality is the one thing you are afraid to actually look at, the entire tree will be weakened. Question that which you love out of love for it.
In particular, if you are running the algorithm, “try asking if I actually care, and if so, then I win. Otherwise, abort!”, this will entirely fuck up your ability to learn the skills in Part II.
My other examples are going to be shorter, so let’s do them in list format.
- The effective altruism movement, which I used to be part of, socially pressures members to take a well-paying job so they can donate money to charities. This has resulted in many effective altruists becoming depressed, because they don’t want to take a job they don’t like to give money away, so their true self revokes their willpower and they end up too depressed to work. They’d get the willpower back if they didn’t buy that the pressure to have a certain job was socially legitimate.
- When I was in university, I kept getting bored and burning out, which was an example of failing to do what I wanted. My mental health would have improved if I’d done what I wanted and dropped out. This is a good example of how you shouldn’t let big decisions or inertia keep you from doing what you want, even if it changes your life plan. Because the perfect clarity of mind is worth it, and because your emotions contain information about what’s effective for achieving your goals stored within them.
- This post is where the concept mostly comes from, and has examples like,
“I chose to do X because I’m a terrible person” is doing it wrong. “I chose to do X because that piece of shit deserved to suffer” may well be doing it right. “I chose to do X instead of work because of hyperbolic discounting” is probably wrong. “I chose to do X because I believe the work I’d be doing is a waste of time” might well be doing it right.
- Believing on a semi-intellectual level that you’re “bad”, such as for not having achieved enough, for being trans, for being an imposter etc. is purely social manipulation and not in line with your true self’s values. Keep in mind on an intellectual level that this manipulation is a result of social reality, and troubleshoot with normal mindfulness meditation.
- I now have a page dedicated solely to recent examples of me following “do what you want”. I think it’s helpful to list a lot of actual real-life examples from someone who has a lot of skill in this. Note: some of these are probably outdated/wrong; not going to update.
In general, anything that costs you willpower to do, is not something your true self wants you to do, and goes against the principle of doing what you want.
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