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On Human Potential

Summary:
Today is the 8th anniversary of this blog, "Confessions of a Supply-Side Liberal." My first post, "What is a Supply-Side Liberal?" appeared on May 28, 2012. I have written an anniversary post every year since then:A Year in the Life of a Supply-Side LiberalThree RevolutionsBeaconsWhy I BlogMy Objective FunctionA Barycentric AutobiographyCrafting Simple, Accurate Messages about Complex ProblemsAs I look back over the past year, other than the pandemic we are all in the midst of, the biggest shift for me in my life has been digging in ever more deeply into what I will call “human potential.” In addition to the well-known psychologists William

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On Human Potential

Today is the 8th anniversary of this blog, "Confessions of a Supply-Side Liberal." My first post, "What is a Supply-Side Liberal?" appeared on May 28, 2012. I have written an anniversary post every year since then:

  1. A Year in the Life of a Supply-Side Liberal

  2. Three Revolutions

  3. Beacons

  4. Why I Blog

  5. My Objective Function

  6. A Barycentric Autobiography

  7. Crafting Simple, Accurate Messages about Complex Problems

As I look back over the past year, other than the pandemic we are all in the midst of, the biggest shift for me in my life has been digging in ever more deeply into what I will call “human potential.” In addition to the well-known psychologists William James, Abraham Maslow, Viktor Frankl and Carl Rogers, the Wikipedia article “Human Potential Movement” lists Werner Erhard as a notable proponent. Werner Erhard was the originator of est, which is the institutional ancestor of Landmark Worldwide, which was one of my points of contact with the human potential movement. On that, see my posts:

Other points of contact for me with the human potential movement are my practice of transcendental meditation and my study of co-active coaching and co-active leadership, which I will focus on in this post. I also include in the human potential movement broadly-writ the Economics of Happiness and other well-being research (see https://blog.supplysideliberal.com/tagged/happiness) and principles such as a growth mindset and grit (see “There's One Key Difference Between Kids Who Excel at Math and Those Who Don't,” “How to Turn Every Child into a 'Math Person'“ and Visionary Grit”).

Thinking it is possible to dramatically improve human performance and human well-being, is, from another point of view, saying we are dramatically inside of a possibility frontier, doing something dramatically suboptimal. That is exactly what I believe. For example, on the purely cognitive side, we are almost all nowhere near the potential of our ability to learn things. (See “The Most Effective Memory Methods are Difficult—and That's Why They Work” and “Joshua Foer on Memory.”)

I don’t believe the old saw that “We use only 10% of our brains” But the fact that we don’t understand what a lot of our brains are doing certainly leaves open the possibility of a much greater potential than is commonly realized.

Turning to the Co-Active arm of the Human Potential Movement, I have spent an important chunk of the last 12 months becoming a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach:

On Human Potential

I describe Co-Active coaching in “Co-Active Coaching as a Tool for Maximizing Utility—Getting Where You Want in Life” and I now have a related series of blog posts on “positive mental health” to which I have collected the links so far in the most recent in the series. (Some of these are guest posts by members of my cohort or “tribe” in the Co-Active Leadership Program.) Co-Active Coaching is a very powerful technique for discovering one’s objective function and bringing one’s actions in alignment with that objective function. I have spoken quite positively on this blog about my experience with the Landmark Worldwide courses. I view Co-Active coaching as equally powerful, but tailored to an individual, where the Landmark courses focus on a few common human struggles.

Let me give two examples of what I have gained from a Co-Active approach. (Down the road, when I’m further along in it, I’ll write more about what I have gained from the Co-Active Leadership Program.)

First, I have been able to dramatically reduce the amount of unhappiness in my (already mostly happy) life using the ideas in Shirzad Chamine’s book Positive Intelligence. book Positive Intelligence has been giving me tools to tame and subdue negative and limiting voices in my head. Coaches call them “saboteurs” or “gremlins.” Using factor analysis, Shirzad has put saboteurs into a typology of ten main types. Understanding this typology makes it a lot easier to notice and intercept saboteurs. Saboteurs are a reflection of the survival-oriented part of the brain. The curiosity-and-opportunity-oriented part of the brain he calls “the sage.” One powerful principle of Positive Intelligence is that even as little as ten seconds of some kind of mindfulness exercise—which can be as simple as watching one’s breath, rubbing two fingers together with enough attention to notice the ridges, or noticing each of one’s ten toes in turn—can help shift your brain away from activation of your saboteurs to activation of your sage.

A good way to get a little taste of Positive Intelligence in very little time is to take Shirzad’s free “Saboteur Assessment” to see what some of your top Saboteurs are. There are three tools for weakening the power one’s saboteurs. One is to deepen the emotional connection with your goals so that your saboteurs don’t stop you and are sidelined. This is the tool of resonance. The second tool is to unmask your saboteurs by naming them: “My saboteur thinks I am worthless” is a statement that leads to a lot less trouble and suffering than “I am worthless.” The third tool to weaken your saboteurs is using some mindfulness practice, even if only for ten seconds.

My second simple (perhaps even mundane, but useful) example of something I have gotten from Co-Active coaching is that my own coach encouraged me to lay out the key domains of my life that I care about, in a personalized way. I have 7, which I can symbolize by a 7-pointed star:

  1. saving the world (what I hope is a lovably grandiose way of talking about the kind of thing I try to do on this blog)

  2. my marriage

  3. friends and family

  4. teaching, coaching and mentoring

  5. taking care of myself physically and mentally

  6. learning

  7. fun and self-expression. (This blog is an important part of self-expression for me! You can see that from “A Year in the Life of a Supply-Side Liberal.”

I find it has had a surprisingly important effect on how I conduct my life to periodically check in on how I am doing in each of these areas, so I can shore up any point of the seven-pointed star that is weak. My willingness to do that check-in depends a lot on the fact that I personalized the layout of these seven areas to be interesting for me.

On Human Potential
Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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