Our Post-Pan Future Needs Everyone To Get Better At This One Skill

Ivy Mahsciao
9 min readFeb 21, 2022

Self-Integration is a score that everyone needs to ace in the post-pan world, and there’s an evidence-based pathway that helps us train for it.

Bottom line up front aka abstract: Self-integration presents adaptive mental health implications and correlates with healthier psychological functioning.

Part 1 / Self-Integration: An Introduction

Covering concepts on
• Resilience
• Self-regulation
• Mental models
• Cognitive reappraisal
• Narrative identity

Humans are pattern-seeking. We need patterns to be able to guess outcomes, and we need to be able to understand causes to get good at scenario planning. We get worse at doing this when life is a little more traumatic than usual (aka a global pandemic). When things get complicated, the parts of our brain responsible for integrating the conceptual and functional categories of our everyday experiences get buggy. Before COVID, we all knew conceptually what a pandemic is, but it’s not until we’ve lived through the first two years of it that we’ve begun to know what it is by experiencing it personally.

As people from all over the world try to bounce back from a global pandemic, resilience has been heralded as a skill we all need to possess as the ideal outcome from the pandemic. But as highly as resilience has been touted in numerous research literature demonstrating it as a learned skill and an improvable character strength, it’s only a small layer in the stack of human flourishing (make that extra flourishing as we’re all recovering from a pandemic). What matters more is flexible self-regulation.¹

Self-regulation is the ability to manage emotions and reconcile complexity. It helps us modulate our behaviors towards a goal and respond to the ongoing demands of life, all the highs and lows we experience daily and everything in between. In mindfulness-based practices, it starts with watching our breaths to take a pause and be present. It buys us time before we need to react, and it acts as a micro-intervention for many things we’ll cover later on in the series.

But in order to regulate something, we first have to know what we’re working with. We need context. What are we dealing with here? How is this situation different than maybe another one we’ve dealt with recently that’s similar? What was the outcome of that situation? We can’t act without first knowing the context of a situation. And all that begins with integrating our past experiences into a cohesive narrative while we learn to navigate various emergent states during the integration process.

Unity and Harmony of Experience, Thought, Emotion, and Action = An Integrated Self

This should not be overly simplified by any means of implying feel-good or moral values equate to a matching outcome. For example, an experience that we like to recall might not always give us a good vibe or motivate us to act.

Image via Author — evrmore Empathy AI™️ 8 Dimensions

The flexibility for self-regulation comes from having built a repertoire of life lessons that are hard-learned and deeply meaningful to us. The most unshakable lessons that we rely on for regulating during crazy times aka the pandemic, are tied to our value and belief system. We’re all practicing flexible self-regulation when we turn fear to awe (any activities involving great speed or height, for most of us), and anxiety into exhilaration (why creative people thrive in unreasonable deadlines). We all should know what works and what doesn’t work for us. And it’s like a muscle that we can train.

Everyone’s process to self-integration is different but we all share the same starting point.

There are many names we have for this quality of being good at managing life and being prepared for what’s coming: capable, intuitive, grit, volition, wisdom. All of these names are different sources that we need to draw from to help us with self-integration, but in order to do it right, we need to first understand how our brain prepares us for actions, and more importantly, how our experiences drive those actions.

Image via Author

The scenario planning we do from the 35,000 decisions we make daily becomes a draft trajectory for our life, driven by our unique experiences. Among those intractable decisions are numerous encoding and retrieving tasks that our brains do automatically, to draw from our past experiences and to formulate the next action or judgment (hint: most biases are born this way, which is not a matter of good/bad nor right/wrong, it’s just how the brain works).

We play scenarios out in our minds for stuff like what to eat, how to make a living, who to surround ourselves with, and what aims we should have in life.

It’s a huge task and the stakes are high on a long enough timeline.

We don’t do scenario planning from scratch, even newborn babies have some evolutionary blueprints to start with for survival. And all adults have presets that we’ve built throughout our lives that we use as models for the world we live in.

However, we’re never making a model of the world, we model the information we receive from the outside world. What we see, sense, feel — everything we experience and everything we do is a response based on the mental models we’ve gathered for the world in our lifetime.

Our brains are constantly generating concepts to fit the mental models we have for specific situations so we can stay alive and be well, and it does this with the help of all our past experiences and our (always-changing) memories of them.²

No one mental model is right but they’re all useful. Our entire organism with all its various circuitries for making sense of the world goes through iterations of these mental models that we make and remake constantly.

Having useful mental models can’t help us change biological functions and affect (it’s a pretty hard feat to pull off even for a master meditator); we will still have that heart-sinking feeling or chills that make the hair stand up on the back of our neck. Mental models formed by fully integrating our senses and experiences can help us with what’s known as cognitive reappraisal in psychology or reframing; using techniques that we can all learn to help make new pathways in our brain to categorize things differently and extract a different meaning out of our experiences.³

Past Experiences + Lifetime of Memories = Different Versions of Mental Models

Some models we use serve us well. They keep us from potentially making a fool of ourselves or endangering ourselves in everyday life; from mental models that are procedure-heavy like the ones we use for keeping our living spaces livable, to models that are process-heavy like the ones we use for making new friends and deciding who to trust and who to love.

Image via Author — evrmore Empathy AI™️ for Self Integration

It takes a combination of these mental models working well for us to be well. The success rate of these mental models is based on something remarkably fundamental that more recent findings from cognitive psychology and neuroscience are spotlighting — our ability to construct more useful mental models depends on whether or not we have properly integrated all of our experiences into an evolving narrative identity.

What’s the story you keep on telling yourself (your narrative identity)?

The world has long become perpetually self-referential since the internet age. It doesn’t matter which generation you belong to, you have in one form or another posted on social media and referenced yourself by documenting your life publically. And in it lies both the problem and potential solutions.

The thing is, humans have been storytellers before fiber optics and memes. The oldest form of storytelling contains the world’s most memorable and revered mythologies and epics from the oral tradition.

Here comes the complication, though. As the transmission of information sped up exponentially over the last decade with improved compression and broadband, our innate ability to derive meaning to form a strong personal narrative has not improved … not in any order of magnitude necessary to counteract the detrimental effects of over-information that we all face today.

In our digital lives, we juggle multiple narratives. Each social media profile is a structural plot for how we act and what aspect we choose to show the world. It’s no surprise that we feel fragmented and compartmentalized. Even in the course of an hour, we could be augmenting our narratives a few different ways based on the branded profiles we use across different platforms.

This juggling act doesn’t have the same effect on people. For people who have a strong narrative identity, the mere context switching doesn’t much detract us but is definitely still effortful, adding to our cognitive load and draining energy. For those who are on shaky grounds with their narrative identity, the impact of a fractured way of being could be the root of elevated anxiety and other mental health issues.⁴

This is critically important for young people, especially the generations born into technology and growing up in the pandemic.⁵

Successful self-integration can happen in a few seconds or over a period of months or even years based on the type of life experiences we’re trying to impart meaning. For example, integrating trauma would be a much more involved process than integrating a neutral or joyful experience. George Bonanno, a professor at Columbia University who has done pioneering work in the space of bereavement and trauma, who also heads up LAB: Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab, has coined the term PTEs (Potentially Traumatic Events). In George’s parlance and research work, we can start to see trauma in a different light because trauma becomes a relative phenomenon to the person experiencing it and it isn’t inherent in the event. An experience might have the potential to be traumatic to us based on our response to it. We could either take the beaten path(way) we fall into habitually because that’s just how we’ve always responded, or we could train our mind by practicing self-integration to make new pathways that let something new arise for us to respond to things in more beneficial ways.

An action → A response. In between that, we need to let love and compassion live and take form. And with healthy self-integration, we can all learn to break cycles that no longer serve us.

NEXT - Part 2 / Self-Integration: Empathy in Digital Experiences
In Part 2 we will dive into the importance of our digital experiences, the emotional modulating effects the tech we use have on us, and how we can use tech to help us with self-integration.

¹ George A. Bonanno (2021) - The Resilience Paradox, European Journal of Psychotraumatology

² Lisa Feldman Barrett (2017) - The theory of constructed emotion: an active inference account of interoception and categorization, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

³ James J. Gross & Oliver P John (2003) - Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: Implications for affect, relationships, and well-being, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

⁴ Adler JM, Turner AF, Brookshier KM, et al (2015) - Variation in narrative identity is associated with trajectories of mental health over several years, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

⁵ Megan Vanessa Banks(2013) - Narrative Identity: the construction of the life story, autobiographical reasoning and psychological functioning in young adulthood, Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington.

Ivy is the founder @ evrmore.io・The wellbeing GPS powered by the science of empathy for Gen Z to build a strong narrative identity. It uses voice + emotion AI to help people navigate key moments in life and improve resilience. Built on humanistic psychology and mental health intervention models, evrmore is the app for our mind that everyone can use to break the trance and dopamine chase for social validation.

📲 Check out the evrmore app for iOS — Social Audio Journal: Hero’s Journey With Friends

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Ivy Mahsciao

Champion for human potential • Lover of phenomenology and virtues. I design and develop systems that help people flourish in their own mastery.