Thought Is An Inaccurate Description

Reviewing my work on dispelling Upsets, it is remarkable how my stories of reality were the source of my stress. Mismatches between thought and I was observing was always the source of an Upset. I was inspired by a concept presented by Michael Graziano in his excellent book Consciousness and the Social Brain. Using his wording, thoughts are useful, but not accurate, descriptions of reality. What is the implication of this?

Thought Is An Inaccurate Description

Our thoughts help us steer our way through reality, but they are never totally accurate. That means every thought is ultimately wrong. Letting that sink in, what thoughts do you trust and what thought are ignored? The key to the whole concept is the word useful.

I was once told a story by a friend about the backup camera on his car. He was looking at the screen when his car lurched.  He could not understand it because he could not see anything on the screen. He got out and there was a car at an angle behind him. The owner of that car was standing  there and said, “You hit my car.” My friend said, “I couldn’t have, the camera did not show a car.” When the owner pointed out the dent in the car and my friends bumper lodged in the dent, my friend had to accept reality. In retelling the story, he said that for him the camera view was more “real” than the lurch he felt as he bumped the other car. In this case, the camera’s description of reality had not been useful.

Thought Is An Inaccurate Description

So too with thought. A thought is like the camera, an approximation of what is out there, a tool with which to steer by. And sometimes reality is the lurch and bump we feel and we hit something we did not approximate correctly. And every time, we feel that the bump cannot be right. This is the foundation of suffering.


To open the opportunity to reduce suffering I want to continue to train myself to live in the perspective that all thought is an inaccurate description of reality. Hearing this once makes sense, and moments later I can be immersed in a thought as if it accurately describes what is about the happen, or even what is happening now. What would the experience of life be like to grasp this on an ongoing basis. How would it feel to intuitively grasp this as every thought arises?

To do this I have to train myself as a thought comes up to go through a cycle of examining that thought. At first, I will step through it manually, and with repetitions speed up the process until this examination is instantaneous. When a thought comes up I want to step through these questions:

  • Is this thought an accurate representation of reality?
  • What reaction does the thought create?
  • Reverse the thought to show that its opposite is true.
  • Understand the opportunity in the situation regardless of the thought.

This structure combines work I have done previously. To ensure proper attribution, the reversal technique is one I learned from the methods of Byron Katie. If you want to practice reversals in depth I recommend her approach. The glass half full approach that I have married to the reversals I tested in an earlier experiment.

I pulled these four elements into a micro survey that I put on my iPhone. My training plan is straightforward. I will do at least 10 of these surveys a day until I have done 1000 of them. Like painted steps on a dance floor,  I will follow these steps repeatedly until I can do them quickly and instinctively as thought arises.

Thought Is An Inaccurate Description

Announcing last week that I was stepping back from quantification experiments, I now have the time to do a long term training approach and see how my subjective experience changes. It may take up to four months, it likely will take much longer. I’ll report what I find along the way and share tools and techniques as you may have an interest in them.

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Ending Two Years of Quantifying Myself

My first blog post on self-quantification was April 6th, 2014. I went pretty hard at it for the last two years spending a fair bit of money and doing experiments of various kinds to see how my body would react. My favorite was taking heart rate variability readings while having a tooth drilled at the dentist. After a fair number of insights, I’m ending two years of quantifying myself.


Ending Two Years of Quantifying Myself

It is not really a full retirement as I will continue to monitor things as I did before this two year period. As a runner and triathlete, I was monitoring my heart rate many years before entering the QS scene. So monitoring various mood states and body reactions like heart rate variability will continue. I get a lot from it.

What I am retiring is the identity of “scientific publisher of N=1 studies” and being a “quantified-self guy.” As part of this identity I was regularly publishing this blog, tweeting, leading a QS Meetup and attending the big QS conferences. There was a specific discipline around that and I’m going to let that go.

The overall lessons I learned after these two years:

  • You can learn anything you want with the internet resources available. I started as a guy curious about stress readings and got pretty conversant with heart rate variability to the point of being a junior partner in presentations with friends who were PhD’s on the subject.
  • The summary finding on all my outcomes is if we human beings get a good nights sleep, drink plenty of water, eat a modest amount of calories, exercise with regularity and hang out with other people we like, we feel pretty good most of the time. My grandmother told me that years ago but I had to use  science to validate it.
  • A lot of Quantified Self is Quantified Storytelling. At QS EU #15 Doctor James Heathers coined this phrase as he pointed out that the controls are the problem. In a noisy environment achieving any level of control is extremely difficult. And doing the math with any sense of sufficient data can absorb your time for extended periods. With a lot of noise and smaller data sets, we have to push our story a bit more as not having a result is not very compelling, particularly if you are presenting to groups by blog or presentation.
  • The only negative finding I had is that I suspect the entire supplements industry is a massive exercise in commercial placebo. I did not get any meaningful results from any of the supplements I tried that were not overshadowed by sleep, water, and food (see bullet #2).
  • The body is incredibly resilient. Our story that one night out indulging will ruin our health is just wrong. I had several physically stressful periods result in heart rate variability and blood pressure readings that were virtually unchanged from non-stressful periods. The underlying physical system is very stable and completely separate from, our beliefs about it.
  • People want to read about brands and ultimately Google drives traffic to a blog, people don’t seek you out based on the quality of content. The two biggest drivers to this blog were when I indexed posts in Google that talked about Apple Watch and another service that was getting good press. Both drove big spikes in traffic and in my opinion were halfway to product reviews. That Apple Watch mention still drives traffic. It is just the facts on being a publishing type. The people want to read the reviews that helps them buy stuff.
  • Our stories and beliefs about our condition are the entirety of our experience of our condition and thus, are our condition. Quantified Self is a place of stories and beliefs with data to enrich them. Studies have to  be conceived, data gathered and the results analyzed. And if we declare success in altering heart rate variability through head position then we must have the story that a changed heart rate variability is desirable. When you get to that level, it is an arbitrary definition of what is good.  Most of my QS work lived under an umbrella of some form of story. The story is the thing.

I remain a supporter of Quantified Self and its unique place in a history of technical change and its contribution to the continued dynamic way we use technology to shape our behavior. QS as a separate and unique group was big when it was kind of hard to get the data together and you had to rig your own sensors. Now we all are starting to live with easy data capture and quantification. The QS community becomes all of us.

The study I did on my To Do List was one that really altered my perspective. When I let my to-do list go and watched what things I started doing naturally from a place of interest, QS matters were not part of the mix. My interests had moved on, and doing things from a place of fascination and interest is the story I want to write. And the story is the thing.


Reducing Suffering On Way to Airport

Recently I had a chance to use my Quantified Self work in a way that was very effective at reducing suffering from my overreaction to a situation. I was in Ojai, CA and had to drive to LAX for a long haul flight. On getting in the car I saw that I had left myself 2 hours travel time. After a quick estimate of the drive and rental car drop off, I realized that any traffic delay at all would result in me missing my long haul flight. And I was driving through LA which has notoriously bad traffic. Thus the suffering began.

reducing suffering

This suffering was imagination induced. There was no physical pain. I saw images in my head of traffic jams, rental car buses moving slowly and my flight taking off in the sky with me watching it from the ground. I saw images of me on the phone to my wife explaining I would not be joining her on time.  Though I did not measure it my heart rate variability, it was likely low and my prefrontal cortex probably offline. I was in full fight/flight mode.

I knew that enduring two hours of anxiety and worry about whether or not I would make the flight would do nothing to change the outcome. It would just be misery for the sake of misery, so I pulled some techniques from my Quantified Self kitbag.

First, I reversed the thoughts as I had done in a previous study. When I took the thought “I am going to miss the flight” and reversed it, I got “I am going to make the flight.” Looking at the thought and its reversal, I knew that both outcomes were possible. With increased possibilities I calmed down a bit.

I was travelling to a wedding in the UK, but it was not for several days. As I continued to think I realized that I would be able to attend the wedding if I made the flight or missed the flight. I relaxed even further.

I then looked at the opportunity embedded in the situation if I missed the flight, mirroring a study I had done on “glass half full” thinking. I had spent the weekend with friends in Ojai and it happened they were in LA that night. I could have connected with them for dinner. Or called my hilarious cousin in LA and visited her. Both were good outcomes. I now knew that any outcome was going to be positive. I was a pretty happy guy by that point.

reducing suffering

This whole reframing process took about ten minutes. As I drove recalled the many, many times I had not unscrewed myself while travelling. My very first QS post about a Stress Trigger Personal Survey identified travel as a huge source of Upsets. In my quest to measure the change myself and chip away at the bedrock of that stressful self, it seems I had made progress.

In a calm and balanced state, I decided to drive no more than five miles per hour over the speed limit, remain focused on getting to the airport, and see what happened. I was alert, but no longer suffering. The mechanism that decreased my suffering was the reframing the belief that making that specific flight was the only positive outcome possible.

As it happened, I was quite lucky. Traffic was unusually light, and only twice did I have to slow below the speed limit. The drive took an hour and a half and I arrived in plenty of time. I ended up standing at the gate 20 minutes prior to boarding with bags checked and being all ready to go. And I had done it without two hours of unnecessary stress.

These techniques work in reducing or eliminating imagination driven suffering. When the imagination pictures how things should be and that image clashes with what is actually happening, we suffer. With reframing simply how we see our possibilities, we eliminate this type of suffering. 

For me this is a great example of how pragmatic these techniques can be. Looking at a reversal and the opportunities in the situation allowed me to move from fight/flight to an action which put me in an alert, action-oriented state. I had several good outcomes available to me and I let things play out, using my planning for a useful outcome or potential outcomes. And that is the definition of not suffering.

GABA Dabba No Can Do

I conducted a straightforward test of a supplement that claims to help calm the nervous system. I had high expectations because I had read about the effectiveness of Gaba receptor inhibition but I found that Gaba Dabba no can do.

Gaba Dabba No Can Do

The supplement I used was Gaba Calm by Serene Science. The “calm” on the label seemed a good start. This product can be found on the web for about $20.

The site selling the supplement says, “GABA Calm combines two of the main inhibitory neurotransmitters, GABA and glycine, with N-acetyl L-tyrosine, which is a precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. In addition, taurine supports the calming effects of GABA.”

Reviews were mostly positive.  People claimed it worked well or that it had a mild and pleasant effect.

My Question

Would taking GABA increase my morning heart rate variability?

What I Did

I used morning heart rate variability as the measure of calmness. For 21 sessions, based on a randomly generated instruction, I either took GABA Calm or did not. Afterwards, I measured and recorded my heart rate variability (rMSSD). I then compared the effect on my heart rate variability for the two conditions to see if taking GABA changes my heart rate variability or not.

How I Did It

I generated a column of 35 random numbers that were either a “0” or “1.” These would serve as my instructions and control. When I was to determine whether I was to take GABA Calm or not I would consult the sheet. If the next unused number was “0” I did not take GABA Calm at 6:30am. If it was “1” I would take the supplement. Once I completed the session I would put the date next to the number used to show I had used that number.

At approximately 7:00am I used Heartmath EMWave Pro to measure my two-minute heart rate variabilty. During the reading, I used a paced breathing app to ensure my breath rate was similar in each reading. On the spreadsheet, I would record my rMSSD along with the date.

I conducted 21 sessions. When completed I sorted the spreadsheet results into two sets. I then compared them looking at their average and using a Student’s TTest.

What I Learned

The GABA Calm supplement had no impact on my morning heart rate variability. The averages for the two states were close and the p value for the TTest showed that the results may have well been random. A significant result is p under .05. The metrics:

Avg With GABA 62.1
Avg Without GABA 60.7
p TTEST 0.850

This study shows that GABA Calm does not increase heart rate variability 30 minutes after taking it. I use heart rate variability as a proxy for calm because if variability is high, the system is at rest or not stressed. The “calm” is profound enough that your breath raises and lowers your heart rate. If the body is in any state of excitement the variability goes down.

It is likely that the supplement makers at Serene Science would propose a different measure for stress. In their video stress occurs when we feel moody or worrisome. They claim their theanine product allows you to tap into your own calming chemistries. The instructions on the bottle say to take it 3 times a day, forever. That comes out to approximately $20 per month. How you measure the results is unclear other than you might feel less moody.

I am not a fan of taking a supplement forever to hypthetically feel less moody. The approach feels like “treating” for moodiness to create a revenue stream. That said, the idea of targetting a mood state with a single dose is also somewhat artificial. Either way, targeting heart rate variability with GABA Calm is likely not how it was intended to be sold, nor does it work.

Are To Do Lists Really Useful?

I was grinding through my daily “To Do” list, moving and consolidating the various seemingly urgent items, when I wondered if such a practice was really effective. I was spending a lot of time tracking what needed to be done on these lists. I was using online tools, notebooks, and scraps of paper. But I had never examined the practice itself and was wondering. Are To Do lists really useful?


These lists played a significant role in my day. I would start with a list early in the morning and use it until evening.  It seems we all have a complex relationship with our To Do lists. Psychologists study why we use them, and why we don’t follow them. In the tradition of Quantified Self, I decided to study my own relationship with my To Do lists.

My Question

Was my practice of making and following a To Do list really useful?

What I Did

Over the course of 21 days I logged my To Do’s as they arose. I captured my frame of mind as I first thought of the item and my feeling after I had explored it. I also logged what would happen if I did not complete the item, and what I thought was the underlying goal behind the item. I call these underlying goals Source Code Stories. I was looking for Source Code Stories that were driving the impulse to do something. For example, if the To Do was to get a report to my colleague, the Source Code Story could be that I wanted to be seen as responsive.

How I Did It

I used a Google Form and my iPhone to create a mini-survey. The format was similar to my Upset log that I have described here before. When I felt the urge to do something and log it on a To Do list, the first entry on the Form was my state of mind on a scale of 1 to 5. The next entry was the item. The third was what would happen if I did not complete the item. The fourth entry captured what I thought I was trying to achieve, which was the indicator of the Source Code Story. The fifth and final entry again rated my state of mind from 1 to 5. Using this simple survey I was able to capture 105 To Do impulses over the course of 21 days.

What I Learned

My habit of creating To Do lists was not really useful. The majority of impulses to get something done came from a stressed state and the impact of not following these impulses on my situation was negligible. My To Do lists were capturing non-essential impulses that were not driving big outcomes.  What was least useful is the existence of the list kept dragging my attention back to these small matters, robbing me of attention of being available for more creative, larger outcomes.

Looking at my state of mind when To Do’s arise, I found that 79.1% of the time I was in a negative mental state. That meant I was worried or in a state where my mind was racing. Only 20.9% of the time was I in a positive state considering creative things to do. Here is an image of my state during To Do’s:

Are To Do Lists Really Useful

Looking at what would happen if I did not take action on the To Do’s, I found that nearly all of the recorded To Do’s had no immediate impact on the situation if I did not do them. Over half, if not done, would have no impact at all. For a portion eventually I would be reminded to do the item by another person or I could do it later. Here is the breakdown of results if I did not pursue the To Do’s:

Are To Do Lists Really Useful

Only 3 of the 105 logged impulses would result in something creative and interesting that I was initiating coming to a halt. That meant that the creation of the To Do list was not driving big, creative outcomes at all. It was rooting action back in the long list of stress based low level tactical activity.

Looking at my state of mind, when I felt I had an obligation to another person my average start mood was 2.35. When the To Do was a mechanical item like getting a car washed, the average start mood was 2.9. There was a statistically significant difference in state of mind between those To Do’s that were obligations to a person versus getting something mechanical done.

This tied into my Source Code Stories. Looking at the most prominent of these stories, I found that having people appreciate my effort and seeing me as knowledgeable were the most numerous. Other stories like being organized or balancing my checkbook lagged far behind.

Looking at my Source Code Stories and counting the number of To Do’s by type, I saw that despite that fact that connecting with people had a disproportionate importance for me, 63% of my To Do lists were tactical, mechanical items. Are to do lists really useful? I’ve found they aren’t for me.

Chipping at the Bedrock of Self

In my last post, I talked about changing a Source Code Story, which is a story that lies beneath a series of Upsets. As our idea of being a separate identity is just an illusion, I wanted to keep working down my list of Source Code Stories in a continued experiment of chipping at the bedrock of self.

chipping at the bedrock of self

My idea is that these Source Code Stories are the drivers of how we perceive the world and how we express our “selves” to others. Our “self” is a bundle of sometimes disjointed stories, and if I can change one or many of them I can recreate myself.

My Question

Could I identify and reduce the frequency and intensity of a Source Code Story?

What I Did

Using the same mini-survey protocol I used in the first experiment, I captured the Source Code Story beneath a series of Upsets and rank ordered them to find which was the most frequent. Again, I did multiple repetitions of the exploratory protocol on that story. And throughout I was doing the mini-surveys and monitoring to see if the frequency and intensity of that Source Code Story had changed.

How I Did It

Using the same Google Forms mini-survey that I had devised in the first experiment I captured a list of Source Code Stories that lay beneath various Upsets. As a review, these surveys ask five questions. The first question is my state of mind on a scale of 1 to 5. The second was a brief description of the Upset.  The third was a brief Glass Half Full opportunity within the situation. For example, if I was Upset about waiting in line, an opporunity might be I had a chance to read an interesting book. The fourth was a text entry of what I thought I was trying to protect when I was Upset. This was the Source Code Story. The fifth and final entry again rated my state of mind from 1 to 5.

The protocol for altering the Source Code Story included a different mini-survey. This broke the story down into what sensations were present, what the story that arose from the sensations and the triggering cause of the story. As I have mentioned I learned this sequence from a Guide at Liberation Unleashed. I did this exploratory protocol 25 times over the course of a week.

What I Learned

I reduced the frequency and intensity of another Source Code Story. From the list of Source Cost Stories I had gathered in the first study I determined that the next most frequent Source Code Story was my desire to work on big, important things. This took the form of me having little or no patience with tasks I had deemed were not contributing to some large and significant issue.

From the week prior to doing the protocol an Upset related to this Source Code Story occurred eleven times. This was an average of 1.8 times a day. I was spending a lot of energy feeling that I was wasting my time on tasks that were not significant. During the week, I repeated the exploratory protocol the frequency dropped to .5 per day, and after four days Upsets from this Souce Code Story stopped completely.

As I had measured my state of mind on a scale from 1 to 5 at each Upset, I had a chance to examine how the protocol changed the intensity of the Upsets. Not only did the frequency decrease, the negative state of mind decreased. With 1 being negative and 5 being positive, my average state of mind when these Upsets occurred went from 1.8 to 2.25.

Using a free Google Form and an iPhone I have moved two Source Code Stories from active to far less present in my awareness. As part of reviewing my data I checked on the frequency of the first Source Code Story I worked with, my dislike of having my decisions challenged. In the week-long period after having reduced its presence, an Upset with that Source Code Story only occurred on one occasion. Once that Source Codes Story was gone, it seems to have stayed gone.

Subjectively the amount of time my mind has been spinning due to a Source Code Story has reduced. There have been a lot of moments of relaxation. I imagine that in moments of downtime prior to this I would kick into one of these stories. I am going to conduct the protocol on the remaining list of Source Code Stories to determine what happens when they are all removed.

How to Measure and Change Self

The word “Self” in Quantified Self demanded some investigation. According to both spiritual and scientific findings, there is no self, but rather a bundle of varied reactions that we interpret and weave into a cohesive story of self. I wanted to see how to measure and change whatever self was for me. 

Here is my personality profile on, a site that takes publicly facing information and creates a personality profile based on what a person has put online.

How to Measure and Change Self

As you can see from the underlined section, the service picked up my tendency to not like when people don’t accept my decisions or try to make them on my behalf. This one expression of “self” would be an interesting reference point as the study progressed. 

I had previously developed a method for identifying and improving my state of mind when I felt an Upset come on. I had successfully shown progress using a Glass Half Full and Reversal protocols. These techniques dealt with the irritant in the moment. What I wanted was to use this approach to dig down into the embedded stories that seem to drive my reactions, what I am calling “Source Code Stories”. 

My Question

Could I measure and change a “Source Code Story” that was driving Upset reactions?

What I Did

Using an expanded mini-survey protocol, I captured the Source Code Story beneath a series of Upsets to see which story occurred the largest number of times. Once I determined which story was the strongest, I did multiple repetitions of an exploratory protocol on that story. Once I had completed these exploratory workouts, I conducted another set of mini-surveys to see if the frequency and experience of that Source Code Story had changed.

How I Did It

Using Google Form I first captured a list of Source Code Stories that lay beneath various Upsets. Here is how that worked: When I felt an Upset, the first entry on the Form was my state of mind on a scale of 1 to 5. The second and third entries were the cause of the Upset and the Glass Half Full opportunity within the situation. The fourth entry captured what I thought I was trying to protect when I was Upset. This was the Source Code Story. The fifth and final entry again rated my state of mind from 1 to 5. This is a screen shot of the first three entries in the protocol survey:

Survey Picture

Using this protocol I captured 36 Source Code Stories of what I thought lay beneath the feeling of irritation or worry.  The list has a variety of wordings, so I did hygiene on the list to group like for like Source Code Stories came up with 5 major themes. I rank ordered these themes by frequency of Source Code Stories within. 

Once I had isolated the most frequently occurring Source Code Story, I created an inquiry to pick apart this one story several times a day for a week. I conducted this examination 15 times. It consisted of writing in a Google Form the sensations, verbal story the triggering moment that I experienced when that Source Code Story was behind the Upset. This protocol was inspired by a process I had learned working with the folks at Liberation Unleashed

Once I had done the examinations, I repeated the original protocol to map an additional 33 Upsets and their Source Code Stories. At the completion of this I could compare the story themes from before and after the examination period. 

What I Learned

I was able to isolate a Source Code Story that drove a number of Upsets and change its expression in my day to day experience. Of interest to me was that my most frequently occurring Source Code Story was having my decisions challenged which was consistent with the assessment shown above. Here were my takeaways:

  1. The most frequent story, having my decisions challenged, was the driver of upsets 57% of the time in the first period.
  2. After 15 examinations of this story, some as remembered incidents and some in real time, there was no consistent trigger of the reaction. Sometimes it was an email, sometimes a discussion and other times I reacted with no provocation. The insight is that the reaction has no consistent external trigger and therefore I was the source of the reaction.
  3. In the second period, after the examinations, this topic came up only 24% of the time and the wording went from confrontational to more generally positive. My wording went from “they challenged my decision” to “I want this decision to contribute positively.” In this shift, I was now open to feedback which I no longer saw as a challenge.

When mapping my “self”, the assumption was that I would have a large number of Source Code Stories that would be overwhelming in number and complexity. This turned out to not be true. During the first period, I had five Source Code Story themes drive all of my Upsets, the second period seven. It turned out that the negative aspect of “self” is a narrative of five to seven consistent mismatches between reality and what I thought reality should be. And I can alter them one at a time.

In my subjective experience the Source Code Story was less powerful when it did come up after I had worked on it. Both numerically and experientially I had sanded down a rough corner of my “self.” The key to this, as in any training, is repetition. I was examining the story repeatedly to have these changes occur.

The next steps are to continue altering these underlying stories which will alter the pillars of the imagined self. Over time, we’ll see if the read will change as well.


Reversing Thought Reverses Upsets

I was inspired by Josh Waitzman’s concept of building a mental trigger that he described in his book “The Art of Learning.” He describes how a repeated mental process can create calm before competing in martial arts competition.

Reversing Thoughts Reverses Upsets

The concept was easy but I had never built one. For my trigger, I wanted to see if reversing thought reverses upsets.

I had made progress finding a technique to restore a calm state of mind once I had detected an Upset with my Glass Half Full work. I decided to try and adapt the reversal technique I had learned from The Work of Byron Katie in this test.

The Work has as a central tenet that all stories we use to upset ourselves can be reversed and found to be equally true. For example, if another driver on the highway comes close to me and I think “He is driving too fast,” reversing the thought to “I am driving too fast” or “He is not driving fast enough” is found to be equally true. As my judgement about the position of our cars is entirely relative a lesson is delivered about how mutable thought and story can be.

My Question

Would reversing a thought improve my outlook reliably following an Upset?

What I Did

Over the period of almost two weeks, I measured the change in my disposition after using the Reversal protocol each time I knew I was Upset. I compared these results with the Sensations and Glass Half Full protocols I had used in earlier studies.

How I Did It

I created a short survey using Google Forms and placed a shortcut to it on my iPhone home screen. The survey was a structured set of questions that walked me through the process of reversing the thought behind an Upset once I felt one coming on.

For the protocol, I would walk through survey when I felt that I was Upset. The first question would capture my mood on a scale of 1 to 5. For the next two questions, I would write out the thought that was the source of the Upset, then write its opposite. In the final question, I would again do the mood capture. This way I could see how much my state of mind improved as a result doing the Reversal protocol.

As another example of how the reversal works, I had the story that a person I was interacting with was overreacting and creating an unnecessary emergency. When I reversed the thought I wrote that I was creating the emergency. When I did that I realized that I had called the meeting and was the source of the discussion. When I saw this reversal as true the Upset evaporated. My first mood score was 2. My second score was 4. That incident has a 2 point improvement in mood.

What I Learned

Reversing a thought was as effective as Glass Half Full thinking and significantly more effective than regrounding in Sensations. Here is a graph of the improvements delivered by the Sensation versus the Reversal protocols:

Reversing Thoughts Reverses Upsets

The average improvement in mental state when resetting to sensations was .94, when doing a reversal protocol 1.64. Doing a Student’s TTest between the two data sets gave a p value of .0034. Anything under .05 is considered a statistically significant difference. Doing the reversal protocol gave a significantly better results in the improvement of my mental state.

Looking at these results and the results of the Glass Half Full study, we see that engaging with and altering the source thought that lies beneath an Upset reduces its energy. Both finding a positive in the situation and reversing the thought’s content work successfully.

When Upset trying to divert attention to a thought not associated with the Upset or sensations, the offending thought seems to remain “stuck” in the mind and continues to source Upset state. So these protocols that do not address the underlying thought are not as effective.

When you are Upset or feeling down, addressing the underlying thought using a variety of methods will likely unwind the source of the emotion.

Glass Half Full Succeeds in Unwinding Upsets

I became interested in what mental technique could most effectively reverse an Upset. If meditation and understanding the nature of how our thoughts shape our experience is the “long game,” then having good habits around how to react at the moment of becoming upset would be the “short game.”

Defining an Upset as the moment of feeling irritation or concern about something, I compared two techniques of how to react. The first was to reground myself in my sensations in that moment. The second was to identify what was the source of the Upset and finding the opportunity in that source. I wanted to see if Glass Half Full Succeeds.


My Question

Which technique is superior, regrounding in Sensation or finding the Glass Half Full?

What I Did

I measured my mood multiple times a day for a two-week period while using a Sensations protocol each time I felt an Upset. I then measured my mood multiple times a day for a second two-week period while using Glass Half Full protocol for Upsets. When completed, I compared the two periods for mood and the results of both techniques.

How I Did It

I created two short surveys using Google Forms. I placed a shortcut to each on my iPhone home screen. One was a simple mood capture. The second was a structured set of questions that walked me through either regrounding in Sensations or finding the Glass Half Full.

For the mood capture, I set alarms on my iPhone for nine notifications a day. At each notification I would capture my state of mind on a scale of 1 (angry or worried) to 5 (very happy).

For the structured protocols, I would walk through survey steps when I felt that I had entered a state of Upset. The first question was the same mood capture scale of 1 to 5. For the next questions, I would either capture my current body sensations in a text box or write out the opportunity in the situation. The intent for this section was to move my attention to the protocol. In the final question, I would again do the mood capture. This way I could see how much my state of mind improved as a result doing the protocol.

At the end of the two capture periods I had two types of data I could compare. I had my daily mood captured up to nine times a day during the period I was using the different protocols. And I had the improvement in my state of mind for each protocol.

What I Learned

Using a Glass Half Full thought process in an Upset situation far outperformed regrounding in Sensations.

During the periods I used the different protocols my overall daily moods were not significantly different.


My average daily mood while using the Sensation protocol was 3.34. and the average using Glass Half Full was 3.52. Using a Student’s TTest to compare the two data sets, p = .18. We would want to see p less than .05 for the difference in the data sets to be statistically significant. So my overall mood was not different during the two periods.

The improvement in my state of mind during Upset incidents was higher using the Glass Half Full approach.


The average improvement using the Sensations protocol was .81 and the average using Glass Half Full was 1.54. Using a Student’s TTest to compare the two data sets, p value is .002. This means the difference in approach was statistically significant.

The potential implication in this first test is that it takes thought to offset thought. Simply moving attention to sensations does not appear to rewrite the thought. Moving attention to a positive thought works much more effectively. So when irritated or worried in the future make your glass half full.

Meditate Better by Leaning Your Head Back

I had started using Heartmath again after hearing a great podcast by Damien Blankensopp on paced breathing and its positive effects on the autonomic nervous system. As a result, I had started doing paced breathing sessions each morning for 20 minutes. That morning ritual provided a great source of data for experiments on how to meditate better.

My friend Dr. Keppen Laszlo is a chiropractor and I mentioned to him my work with heart rate variability (HRV). He suggested I could improve my HRV by leaning my head back during my measurement session. As he explained it to me, this head position relieves negative pressure on the nerves that are connected to respiration.

If following this advice led to more stable respiration and respiration is the foundation for increasing HRV, it would be possible to capture the improvement during my Heartmath sessions. I decided it was worth investigating.
Meditate Better

My Question

Would leaning my head back while doing paced breathing meditation increase my Heartmath scores?

What I Did

Each morning I do a paced breathing session for twenty minutes during which I measure my heart rate variability using Heartmath. A paced breathing session means that I breath use an app to ensure I breathe in for seven seconds and out for seven seconds during each respiratory cycle.

For twenty-one sessions, during each session, I either leaned my head back at an approximately thirty degree angle from the verticle or leaned it slightly forward based on a randomly generated instruction. I measured the differences in outcomes of these two head positions by comparing the resulting Heartmath scores.

How I Did It

During the paced breathing sessions I used Heartmath EMWave Pro to measure a score based on the resonance between my respiratory rate and my heart rate. Heartmath gives a score for the amount of time the heart rate frequency is near .1 Hz. When the meditation is more focussed this “meditators peak” is more pronounced.

At the end of each session, I divided the total Heartmath points generated during the entire session by the exact number of minutes and seconds yielding a Points/Minute score. Some sessions were a few seconds longer than 20 minutes and I wanted a precise comparison.

Prior to the twenty-one sessions, I generated a “0” or “1” randomly in a spreadsheet for each day of the study. On the days that a “0” was generated I leaned my head slightly forward during the session. On the days a “1” was generated I leaned my head back during the session.

When the twenty-one days was complete I separated the head forward and head back data into two sets that I then compared using a Student’s TTest. I also looked at and compared the averages.

What I Learned

Leaning my head back during meditation significantly improved my Heartmath measured meditation scores versus leaning my head forward.  Here are the averages for the two data sets:

Meditate Better

The TTest p value was = .0337. Anything less that .05 is a statistically significant result. There was a clear advantage to leaning my head back during the paced breathing meditation.

I was struck at how conventional wisdom on the standard meditation posture could create a misunderstanding.

Meditate Better

If the novice meditator tries to create an upright posture by pushing the back of the head up (at red arrow) the net effect would be the head leaning forward. This would reduce the ability to keep the respiration stable and have the reverse effect of what is desired in the meditation.

If you are a meditator looking to improve your practice, consider your head position. While keeping your back and torso upright relax the neck and ensure you are not leaning forward. This will stabilize your respiration and the positive from this will be more time in meditators peak and a more robust autonomic nervous system.