Trustfall

(Better said in the Inner Game of Tennis)

When you’re doing a trust fall with a friend, you stand close to them, facing away, with your body stiff. Then you allow yourself to fall backwards towards where their arms will be, allowing them to catch you.

Relaxing is the skill.

If you decide you trust them enough to try a trust fall, the way to do it safely is to have faith. Flailing at the end can lead to you whacking your friend. You’ll stumble. If they were going to drop you, you don’t even get to learn that. At the end, all you know is that you didn’t trust them in your gut as much as you thought.

Nice, reason-loving rationalists such as myself love making sense of the world. Why did I drink coffee this morning? Because I have a habit, both physiological and mental, because I think that it helps me be more productive, because I like it, etc.

In the Elephant and the Rider metaphor of our brain, our elephant is hauling off the direction it feels like (coffee), while the Rider spits off justification for why they wanted to go in that direction in the first place (productivity!).

In the coffee case, I’ve spent time examining myself. I’ve been in contexts where getting coffee feels good, bad, and everywhere in between. I paid a lot of attention to this particular habit, and at this point I can feel reasonably confident about my inferences.

This makes the world legible. When I can understand and predict myself, everything seems so much simpler.

Sometimes we don’t have the right concepts. Maybe we’re missing something important that would make our behavior apparent (“Ohhh, I was lonely!”). It might be tempting to wait around for more information or to jump to a justification. But we may never know why, and we do not have time to wait.

The concept I want to elucidate is trustfalling with yourself. I can’t give you a complete model of how it works, but it seems like an attitude with a lot of potential upside.

Not choking up

It’s easy to walk along a beam when there’s nowhere to fall, but add a chasm and what was simple becomes a shaky ordeal. We have very little practice walking along beams while shaking and quacking.

There might be something there

I was on a bus going towards Prague, a city I’ve never been in, exhausted and without any friends or plans for where I was sleeping. Normally this would bother me. So why wasn’t I making plans? This looked like procrastinating.

Rather than push through my “procrastination,” I decided to trust it. And it worked out! I found a place to sleep by going to a talk and chatting with the people afterwards. If I had pushed through my resistance, I wouldn’t have found that out. And, worst case, if I was stuck in Prague at night with no place to sleep, I would have learned something. Finding places to sleep might be more motivating after that.

With procrastination, frustration, anger, annoyance, and host of other emotions, there’s an urge to push away. By not pushing it away, I challenged an assumption and opened up a new degree of freedom.

Reducing inner friction

If you’re talking to someone and feel a strong urge to say something rude, the normal response is to clamp down the rude words. I think this might be a bad idea sometimes.

  • That rude impulse might not actually be rude. Sometimes we’re not calibrated about these things.
  • That impulse might have important information. Maybe it’s something other person needs to hear. Or, the impulse is telling you something about your feelings and needs.
  • Blocking that impulse might also block a gift, such as a sense of humor. Blocking things too much can turn a chatty person into a hesitant, quiet person quickly.
  • That block takes energy to maintain. The impulse might get louder and the block gets thicker, until it’s exhausting to be in a conversation at all.
  • That part could learn. By allowing it to speak and get feedback (regret, joy, pain, sadness, playfulness) about how its actions impacted others.

While we’re blocking that part, we don’t know what’s in there! None of this is an excuse to go around being rude or whatnot.

Less stressful decisions

We can’t have all the information, and if we ever did, it would immediately become outdated. Even if we don’t entirely trust our decision-making process to be excellent, if we can trust that it can improve over time, going with our impulses might be the best bet.

We make choices without all the information. To keep sane, we might deliberate once, and not revisit the choice again until the circumstances or information change in a big way. Trusting past-you to have made a good decision and letting it be frees up more energy to focus on the present.

Leaving space for a better understanding

A lot of hasty justifications color or block our information gathering about the world and ourselves. If I go along with the elephant, giving up my stories and interpretations for why it does what it does, I might learn something new about elephants.


I opened this up by saying the thing to do was to relax, but in the spirit of trust falling with yourself, that’s not exactly right. The thing to do might be to trust the part of you that wants to flail. And if that doesn’t go well, that part might realize the best thing is to keep your core tight and relax.

In rock climbing, it seems like some people have more of something like “faith” than other people. The people with more faith are able to do things outside what they think is possible. Or even what you, the observer, think that they can do. On the other hand, when climbers have little faith, your words of encouragement hardly help. Even if you know they could absolutely can grab that next hold, they’ll give up anyway. Most people are in between.

The person with too much faith might get injured and the person without enough will always have the defense that they were playing it safe, when anyone asks why they didn’t reach further. I think in general we err on the side of playing it safe.

When there’s nothing to do but trust fall into the future, the first step is to trust.

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