Oct 31, 2012

Developing Physicality

Socionics suggests that some types are innately more "physical" than others and are more in tune with their bodily sensations and physical interaction with the outside world. Other types tend not to register these things consciously and tend to lack physicality, focusing attention instead on verbal, emotional, or mental interaction with the world.

This is how I saw things myself, until I gradually came to a recognition of the importance of physicality and vitality in my life and realized that I must take responsibility for these things myself. My personal experiments and research have convinced me that all [basically healthy] people are designed to be athletes — regardless of personality type — and to lead a life that is much more physical than that of most modern urban dwellers. 

This subject is very broad, so I will break the post into two parts: personal history that readers will no doubt find as interesting as the information in part two, which will be about developing physicality and vitality in general. 

Part 1: adventures in health and physicality

Despite my [presumably] personality type-related inclination to neglect my physical needs, I have always been mildly physically gifted, with naturally good coordination and endurance and a good degree of trainability. While most guys seem to begin their physical decline right out of college, I had kept in the same reasonably good shape by periodically starting and giving up exercise regimens, by frequently walking in the woods, playing frisbee, and by developing my hiking and biking hobbies, which provided me with the connection to nature that I craved. 

Over the years, my attempted exercise regimens gradually evolved to something more and more appropriate to my actual needs and abilities. Things like resolving to go to the gym X times a week and perform there a certain set of exercises tended not to work for long. Trying to do a set of exercises at home on a Total Trainer was only slightly better. Taking a one-minute detour on the way home to do pull-ups worked better, and I kept that up for some months, but that was just a single exercise. More successful still was combining enjoyable activities; leave the apartment in the morning, walk or jog in the woods, sometimes taking a quick dip in the lake afterwards, and finish up at the exercise bars at a nearby school to do a set of 5 exercises. This allowed me to ease into the exercise part by first doing something intrinsically enjoyable and getting my body warmed up. Note that this worked much better when I lived 2 minutes from the forest as opposed to 5 minutes, leading me to formulate some of the principles I wrote about in Willpower as a Limited Resource.

Around 2007-2009 I began to take much more interest in diet and health and finally began to understand something about nutrition, which until then had seemed like a contradictory and structureless field. I got into what you might call "lightweight speed backpacking" and long-distance backpacking, which are essentially athletic activities. Again, the reason I pursued this was not to improve my fitness, but to experience nature on a deeper level. Keeping fit came to be almost synonymous with experiencing nature. But, as far as upper body was concerned, all I did was occasionally do strength exercises. I didn't really have intrinsically rewarding activities for the arms and torso.  

Starting in 2009-2011, I began to be aware of mild, but nagging, health issues: problems getting enough sleep, digestive issues, frequent colds, and often struggling with the blues and compulsion-like behavior. These gradually increased or remained steady for several years, though I noted that they seemed to go away during backpacking trips, leading me to believe that they had to do with aspects of my city lifestyle. 

Then, in March 2012, I passed out and could have died of carbon monoxide poisoning after a long shower as a result of a faulty gas water heater installed in the kitchen of the apartment I was renting. I eventually came to, feeling absolutely horrible, and was barely able to crawl around to find my phone and call friends and ask them to bring an ambulance with them. I was lucky and did not develop any long-term neurophysiological sequelae, which often plague victims of acute CO poisoning. 

I was extremely alarmed by this incident and began recording all the physical and emotional complaints I had after that to better discern whether my quality of life was affected by the accident. I felt I had to take better care of myself and not let something like this happen again. The CO poisoning wasn't my fault, but on that day and the preceding one I had eaten very little and at first had thought my collapse was from low blood sugar. The symptoms and my subsequent research, however, confirmed it was indeed CO. A bit later, I found a house cleaner and cook who made my life a lot easier. Eventually I concluded that it wasn't healthy for me to be living alone (for the first time in many, many years), and I moved into a room in a shared apartment and immediately recognized the subtle emotional-physical benefits — as long as there is not too much tension among house residents. 

I found this exercise of writing down how I felt very useful for focusing my attention on this side of life, and developed it further during my next visit to Ukraine. First, for a month I wrote down everything I ate, my sleep times, and how I felt that day. Then I created a sleep spreadsheet where I applied a formula for calculating my sleep deficit. (I'm a real numbers geek, so I'll give it to you: 8.5 hrs. is my observed ideal sleep duration, and 0.8 is the coefficient by which I multiply yesterday's accumulated sleep deficit before adding to it today's deficit or proficit. This means that if I sleep on average 8 hrs. a night, then I will on average feel like I'm missing about 2.5 hrs. of sleep due to the accumulation of deficits. This is not always entirely true, but it's usually a good approximation). Along with sleep times I recorded my level of alertness on a scale of 1 to 5 to see how it correlated with my supposed sleep deficit.

I liked the idea of rating aspects of life, because it meant that I paid attention to them during the course of the day. I often translate quality of life questionnaires for use in healthcare in Ukraine, so I am used to the idea of rating these kinds of things. So I started adding other aspects of life that clearly contributed to my overall wellbeing, and had them average up to produce a quality of life index for each day. 

At first these were purely physiological indicators such as alertness and presence of physical complaints (illness, pain), but soon I added psychosocial indicators such as "speech apparatus" (ease of speech and communication; voice tembre), "acceptance" (how accepted by others and free to be myself I felt), and general emotional state. These were clearly very much intertwined with health and wellbeing. Later I also added a couple intellectual indicators: "flow state" (how much of the time I was in an engrossed, pleasurable flow state) and "breadth of awareness." I realized that neglecting my personal work activities (writing and site development) for weeks or months on end had been having a subtle harmful effect on my ego and self-confidence, so I added "professional development" to the mix of indicators. In the end, I've got a set of 12-13 indicators that approximate many areas of life that actually determine how I feel — about myself and life as well as physically. In addition, I began writing notes next to the number regarding significant factors that had influenced the individual ratings that day.

Turns out I am hardly unique in this sort of quantitative approach to improving well-being. There is a whole movement that espouses these methods, called "The Quantified Self." 

I found this practice to be a massive leap forward from typical records that people keep when they have some self-development goal, which usually involves contriving a goal that you think will make your life better and writing down your results for the day. 95% of the time, the results are not what you planned, and efforts are abandoned within weeks. I sigh when I see people start up a new "watch me lose weight" or "watch me get fit" self-delusion blog that will almost inevitably contain no more than 3-5 posts. This time, rather than deciding what should make my life better, my approach necessitated from the beginning that I observe my own body and see what was happening to it, with no implicit goal in mind. And yet each of us has the same organismic goal: to increase quality of life — happiness. Finding out more about what brings you happiness causes you to do better at seeking those things out and integrating them into your life. 

When I went to Crimea for over a month, I decided to finally get serious and see some doctors and take some tests to address "everything that had ever bothered me in the past 10+ years." A lot of online research was also involved. I read about nutrition, vitamins and minerals, psychosocial factors, mood, stress, and fitness. Before that, I had read the well-researched and fascinating book The Four-Hour Body and had read about the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet, and the benefits of sprinting-like exercise and "evolutionary fitness" (listen to interview here). After some research, I began to suspect my diet was deficient in some vitamins and minerals and began to correct those by adding a variety of nuts and different foods. Turns out deficiencies tend to cause apathy and depression in addition to physiological problems, but the symptoms are often vague and can easily be confused with other things. (My hunch about the deficiencies turned out to be correct). 

While in Crimea I would go to the beach every day with my friend, going down a 170 m. high cliffside via a cement staircase. Soon we started running down and walking back up the stairs as fast as possible. Needless to say, we also swam in the Black Sea, each of us developing his own kind of bathing routine that started with just going 5 meters out in the water, taking a dip and thinking, "what do I do now?" and eventually evolved into (in my case) a 15-30 minute swim up and down the beach using different swimming strokes and enjoying the views of the beach and cliffs and the increasingly cold early-autumn water. I also spent a lot of the time minimally dressed, my skin exposed to the fresh air and sun, both on the way to the beach and back and around the house and yard. A pull-up bar is welded into the balcony, so I also did chin-ups whenever passing by, inventing stranger and stranger ways of doing them to involve more muscles. After about a week of this, I experienced a new jolt of alertness that would override any sleep deficit I had, i.e. thanks to some kind of hormone injection I was now getting from my rigorous daily physical activity. 

Then, in the midst of this idyllia, I received a large translation assignment. Over the course of the week that I was preoccupied with it, I observed — through my rating system — how my quality of life plummeted in almost every way. I had no idea this type of stress could have such a powerful disruptive effect on everything. This led me to read and reflect about stress response and what kinds of stress the body is or is not designed to handle well, due to our evolutionary past. I realized I needed to watch out for and steer away from potential negative stressors. I also managed to work out a routine that helped me deal with potentially stressful computer assignments. The solution was to inject physical stimuli and pleasure by taking breaks and doing something physical every 20 minutes, which I'll talk about more in Part 2. 

I had to give up my intense beach-swim-sprint-shirtless living routine when I left again for Georgia, but after a week of chaos I've managed to settle into a new one that's just as good except for the shirtless part (Georgians are more conservative). On the weekends I'm usually backpacking, and during the weekdays I meet a good friend every evening to go bouldering at an indoor rock-climbing place, where there are also a few workout machines and bars. We often follow this with a visit to a restaurant or bar for relaxing conversation. I also have started playing ultimate frisbee twice a week with another group of people, and other physical, but non-strenuous activities are also part of the physicality menu. Key here is that all these activities are pleasurable, playful, require skill development, and involve other people and socializing. 

I can say that at age 35 I am the fittest I have ever been in terms of both strength and endurance, and that I see physical development as an essential part of life of the same degree of importance as intellectual and social development. 

In Part 2 I will write about why all this is necessary,
and what it does for you (cascading effects and so on).

Oct 26, 2012

Highly Sensitive People and Socionics

last edit: 31 Oct 2012 (theta brain state)


I recently learned of a trait commonly termed "Highly Sensitive Person," or HSP. This is a trait I have long wondered about in myself and others and have called different names at different times (e.g. self-awareness, introspectiveness, sensitivity, etc.). I used to loosely associate it with ectomorphy; I think I was identifying a kind of ectomorphic variety of high sensitivity and ignoring other varieties. Since then I've noticed HSP traits in people of different somatotypes.

After investigating the subject, I'm convinced that it is a very influential personality trait that has important ramifications for intertype relations and personal development. So influential is the trait that HSPs may be practically untypeable socionically, having a set of traits that appears to conflict with or override typical type traits.

Further information online

In addition to the Wikipedia article, there is some really good information available in research articles on Elaine Aron's site, as well as large amounts of personal accounts and feel-good sites on the subject online. Lots of podcasts and interviews on the subject can also be found.


According to studies, 15-20% of the population is HSP, and the numbers are evenly distributed among men and women and hetero- and homosexuals. The numbers are about the same for different nationalities, though different cultures may be more (e.g. Japan) or less (e.g. U.S.) accepting of the trait. Of particular interest is that the trait is also observed in animal species.

Psychological and physiological aspects

It is speculated that roughly 50% of psychologists' clients are HSPs. HSPs are more sensitive to childhood experience and display more maladaptive behavior with suboptimal upbringing and more well-adapted behavior with optimal upbringing relative to non-HSP children.

HSPs appear to be more prone to certain mental and physical conditions, such as neuroses, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, etc. Their brains appear to spend more time in theta state — typically, a drowsy or meditative state — which may indicate more reflection/"recharging" and deeper processing of impressions received during their daily activities.

I would estimate that 30-50% of socionics aficionados are HSPs and that these are many of the same HSPs that are likely to end up in counsellors' offices.

HSP and Asperger's Syndrome

Both of these groups have their online "fans" and often resemble pop-psychology. I've seen lists of famous people who supposedly had that or the other trait, and there was quite a bit of overlap... My personal opinion is that many psychological conditions are overdiagnosed. I myself have been wrongly labled as "high-functioning autistic" by at least two non-specialists who only saw me in certain settings. Of course, this did nothing to improve our interaction... While many AS and HSP online hobbyists seem confused about which diagnosis to give themselves, this article makes a good attempt at separating the two.

Difficulties with the HSP construct

Upon learning about HSPs, a lightbulb flashes on in your mind and many things begin to make sense. Then, once you start identifying sensitivity levels in different people, you realize that each HSP has a different variety of sensitivity, making it hard to generalize. Things that you would tend to attribute to sensitivity in yourself are absent in other HSPs, and vice versa. The search for an overarching, fundamental HSP trait runs into the needle-in-the-haystack problem that plagues socionics and other personality characterizations.

The exact nature of high sensitivity is not yet entirely clear (e.g. "processing sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly"), but there are some interesting lines of research that suggest that the trait can be pinned down physiologically and/or through behavioral testing. That is much better than personality questionnaires which are subject to biases and misinterpretation.

A problem with practical application of the HSP construct is that it has no well-developed counter-category with a potentially positive image — e.g. "low sensitivity person, or LSP." People only read about HSPs and may incorrectly self-identify with it because it seems to suggest creativity or intelligence or provide justification for problems they may have experienced. HSPs, on the other hand, are probably unlikely to wrongly identify themselves as non-HSPs.

Highly Sensitive People and Personality Type

In terms of the MBTI, introverted intuiters were most likely to be HSP, followed by extroverted intuiters and lastly by introverted sensers. Most HSPs are MBTI introverts, and extroverted sensers were not found among the admittedly small sample group studied (I believe under 30). Keeping in mind MBTI type skews relative to socionics, I would expect the trait to be more evenly distributed among the socionics types. For instance, I think I have known at least two SLE HSPs and at least one LSI, two LSEs, a few ESEs, two ESIs, and probably at least one SEE, not to mention many intuiters and SEIs and SLIs.

One can take the approach of examining the trait in isolation from socionics types, or in the context of types. The second approach might help one to identify the uniquely HSP-specific characteristics that are always present regardless of the type, but the risk is becoming too conceptual about the trait. The first approach often leads people to inject too many of their own individual qualities and experiences into the trait.

Effects of sensitivity on socionic type

High sensitivity seems to have a huge effect on personality. In my experience, the HSPs I know are all psychologists in a way and are particularly sensitive to other people's emotional lives and internal experience. They are all at least a bit brooding and are introspective and focused on processing their personal experiences. This is true whether their type is IEI or SLE, EII or LSE.

Such is the sensitivity of HSPs that an HSP LSE may be far more interested and thoughtful about things like perception, trauma, and overcoming internal obstacles than a non-HSP EII (this is coming from my personal experience). Non-HSP LSEs may listen to discussions of these topics with interest, but they have relatively little to say about them or their comments lack depth.

HSP SLEs, LSIs, ESIs, LSEs, etc. tend to lack the callousness that is often attributed to their types. On a philosophical level, HSP types with extraverted sensing (SLE, SEE, LSI, ESI) may reject any form of interpersonal coercion and may be wholly uninterested in politics, power, etc. They may often seem "unsure of themselves" or hesitant, and their extraverted sensing may seem to "flicker" on and off. Of course, this is all happening in the mind of the observer, who has a construct of what extraverted sensing is and is not. Without that mental construct, there's probably nothing particularly paradoxical about an HSP's behavior.

HSP ILEs and IEEs I have known (myself included) appear less extraverted than their non-HSP counterparts. More time is spent ruminating about things within oneself, and less time is spent gathering and distributing "random," superficial information, which is more typical of non-HSP ILEs and IEEs.

Effects of sensitivity on socionics schools

The best example of this I can think of is the contrast between Yermak's hard-headed analytical socionics and Gulenko's School of Humanitarian Socionics. Both are LIIs, but the first is non-HSP while the second is HSP.

Effects of sensitivity on intertype relations

HSP-ness seriously impacts intertype relations. The "truest" form of many potentially adverse intertype relations, for instance, is when an HSP is affected by a non-HSP. In other words, an HSP SLE may be more traumatized by a non-HSP ESI than a non-HSP SLE. Put an HSP ESI in place of the non-HSP, and the "supervision" would likely be seriously altered. A HSP IEE might not be much of a "supervisor" at all to a non-HSP ESI. The effect of the supervision might be so gentle as to basically be negligible for the ESI. In fact, the "supervisor" HSP IEE might well experience more distress as a result of the interaction as the "supervisee" ESI.

An HSP child might find even virtually optimal intertype relations with parents to be "traumatic," while another non-HSP child gets by just fine with parents from a completely different quadra. HSPs seem to need things to be "just right" in order to feel good in relationships and in general in life. As a missionary at age 19-21, I experienced many varieties of poor-to-awful relationships and just a few good relationships with missionary companions, while many non-HSPs seemed to "have a great time" with just about everyone they worked and lived with. So much for intertype relations!

Duality and sensitivity

Dual relationships may be quite different depending on partners' sensitivity levels. Two HSPs will probably have higher levels of understanding, but may need to take great care to regulate personal space and autonomy in order to avoid feeling "repressed." An HSP with a non-HSP may experience less mutual understanding, but the non-HSP may provide a greater degree of emotional stability in the relationship. Two non-HSPs may have a more stable and conventional relationship and fewer problems regulating optimal emotional/physical distance.

These are just suggestions, since I would need a lot more relationship experience than I have to make any far-reaching generalizations. Elaine Aron comes to similar conclusions, saying that both combinations have pros and cons but that she believes two HSPs together is probably a better combination than an HSP with a non-HSP.


I'm particularly interested in readers' comments on this post. I'm sure people will have a lot to say.