Michael Ashcroft

Thinking out Loud No. 46 // Tuesday 6 July 2021

Hello! This is Michael Ashcroft here. I have just moved Thinking Out Loud, my 'main' newsletter, to ConvertKit.

If you're a long time reader then that's why this looks different. If you have no memory of seeing this newsletter before, rest assured that you did sign up at some point. You're probably seeing it now because ConvertKit has a higher 'deliverability' than Substack. I hope you'll stay, but if you don't want to receive another one of these then you can unsubscribe from this newsletter here.*

*If you're also subscribed to Expanding Awareness, my Alexander Technique newsletter, then the link above will keep you subscribed over there. If you want to unsubscribe from all emails from me you can do that via the unsubscribe link at the bottom of this email.

1 :: Valid reasons why I want not to succeed

white painted wall

I've been dipping my toes into shadow work recently. It's something I've come across from a few angles, but it clicked for me recently on reading the book Existential Kink.

The core idea is that we have certain desires within us that we dislike, reject and ultimately hide from ourselves. These desires strongly influence our behaviours in ways that may seem confusing to us since we're not aware of their existence.

Let's say that you take pleasure in being hurt in particular ways (the book is called Existential Kink, after all). It should be no wonder then that you keep doing things that hurt you. You may think consciously that you don't like it and insist to yourself and others that you want to stop doing it, but some part of you does in fact like it and very much wants more.

Shadow work is the practice of noticing those wants, bringing them into the light and fully integrating them into who you are. A resulting benefit of this would be that this hidden desire stops causing you to behave in odd ways (from your perspective). Or put another way:

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." — C.G. Jung

I suspect that 'acknowledging them so that they go away' wouldn't work, but that's a different conversation for another time.

Existential Kink suggests using certain phrases towards oneself that capture what shadow work is about. The one that stuck with me is "I am willing to stop pretending that I don't enjoy X", where X is the thing that you might think you don't like but, actually, if you pay attention, you notice there is something of a thrill there when X happens.

For example, "I am willing to stop pretending that I don't enjoy it when my partner yells at me" (this is not one of mine, but it would be fine if it were!). Of course, if you enjoy it when your partner yells at you then you're likely to behave in ways that will encourage your partner to yell at you.

Given all that, let's bring this back to "valid reasons why I want not to succeed".

After ten years of corporate work in energy system innovation I am now a self-employed course creator and coach. So far the sales of my Alexander Technique course have been beyond my expectations, people are reporting that it works and it seems there is quite strong demand out there for it. I seem to have found product market fit.

So... why am I struggling so much to do the work to scale it?

I've been grappling with this for a while. I'm finding it hard to focus and I keep procrastinating on doing things related to the course. And during a conversation with my co-coach David MacIver (we take turns to coach each other) I realised this might be a shadow problem.

Assuming that things are the way they are because part of me wants them to be that way, the question I should be asking myself is... what do I in fact enjoy about procrastinating on and generally avoiding scaling the course?

I don't particularly want to ask this question, mind you, but my body tells me it's the right question to ask. Introspection isn't always fun and games.

A couple of answers come to mind.

  1. My current lifestyle is quite nice, actually. My schedule is very open, I spend much less time in front of the computer and I can go to the gym whenever I want. These are all great things that might be diminished if I were to 'work hard'. Remember that the logic might not be sound, but it doesn't need to be for the desire to be there, I think. Still, I don't think this is behind the shadow desire.
  2. It might turn out that all this Alexander Technique online stuff is nonsense and can't work. I've risked a lot to pursue this path and it would really suck if I worked hard and then it all fell apart because the premise is flawed. Again, though, 300 students have signed up and plenty of people are saying the right things, which indicates that it's probably working. I don't think this is behind the shadow desire, either.
  3. I could fail purely because I am insufficient and lack the required skills and competence to pull this off. DING DING DING. Found it.

Ultimately, my current life is comfortable and working hard on this thing threatens that, in a way. I tell myself that I don't want to live small, but that doesn't recognise the shadow desire, which is something like "I actively enjoy the momentary experience of avoiding situations where I might have to confront my flaws."

Dang. That one hurts to admit, but again there's that 'felt sense' shift inside me indicating that it's at least close to being right. So with that...

I am willing to stop pretending that I don't enjoy avoiding being confronted by my own insufficiencies.

Let's see what it's like to bring that desire out of the shadow and into the light.

2 :: Experimenting with new formats

assorted-color paints and paintbrushes on white tarp

I'm enjoying writing in ConvertKit! Nothing meaningful has changed — it's still a text editor, after all — but it feels like I've been given permission to try new things. Sections, images, a different tone, who knows what else.

I've said before that I had some hangups around using Proper Email Marketing Software (like ConvertKit), because people who use that kind of software tend to sound like they're Doing Marketing.

You know, short sentences.

And only one sentence per line.

Occasionally they'll throw in something punchy, <first name>, to grab your attention.

And then encourage you to click here to find out more.

I do not want to be that... and yet I still feel an urge to be more sophisticated, if not more professional. Ultimately, I like the journey that I have been on so far and I suspect that I'll enjoy it more if I continue to be me and do things my way. I also get the impression that many of you read my stuff precisely because I write like me, rather than trying to emulate some 'this is how you do email newsletters' format.

So I'll keep being me, just more and better.

3 :: Things I have made

4 :: An ask

While I'm very happy to keep writing about whatever happens to strike my fancy, I'd also love to hear from you. Is there anything you'd like to see me cover?

You can hit reply to this email - ask me anything! I'll reply to everything in some format (blog post, YouTube video, etc) and will reference it in a future newsletter.

5 :: Some links

tilt shift lens photo of stainless steel chain

Fine, fine, I'll do one thing this week that other people do in their newsletters, and share some links to things I've enjoyed recently.

📖 Read

More Dakka. This is a great post on Less Wrong, recommended by the aforementioned David MacIver, that discusses how if something you're doing works, maybe what you need to do is more of the thing so that it works even more.

🎥 Watch

A Mile an Hour: Running a different kind of marathon by Beau Miles. I absolutely loved this video, where Beau decides to run a marathon by running every hour for 24 hours and filling the day with as many little projects as possible. It's so wholesome, motivating and is just wonderfully produced. I would like to experience what it's like to be Beau for a day.

That's all for this time! See you next week.

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I publish a newsletter called Thinking Out Loud, which chronicles my journey as an online maker of things, but it's also is where I talk about whatever I'm interested in at the time.​ There are 900 of us now, come play!