Tag Archives: Glass Half Full

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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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.

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.