When we seek to improve, we will naturally collect role models who represent how we want to grow. However, I’ve also found it helpful to collect negative role models: manifestations of a very specific way that you want to not be. This practice has helped me gain more traction in determining who I want to be.

I often have difficulty in finding role models who feel like they significantly represent how I want to develop next, but despite this I’ve found that I still have strong senses for who I don’t want to be like. When I find such a negative role model, I feel into my intuitions for what specifically I dislike, and then I figure out how to imitate against them.

Negative role models can also be quite motivating in this way: Maybe I don’t know who I want to be, but I certainly know who I don’t want to be like!

Examples from my life

  • I once knew someone who I found debates with to be frustrating. I dug into my sense of this and I realized that I wished that he was more conscious of knowing what he might not understand from what I was trying to say. Mainly, I wish he asked more questions. It seemed to me that when he didn’t understand what I was trying to say then he would usually just double down on his previous statements. As far as I know he still does this, but oh well, I have been trying to be a better listener myself in this way ever since.
  • I once knew someone who (imo) stated his opinions as facts, and did so in a particularly subtle manner. I noticed my contempt for this, and in the years since I’ve been trying to embody the opposite.
  • I’ve encountered a lot of writing on the internet that makes me feel dizzy and confused, so when I started writing this I chose my style in a way meant to avoid this.
  • I find myself strongly repelled by some aesthetics of some Bay Area Rationalists (particularly with regards to communication, collaboration, and intrinsic motivations). I’m currently trying to figure out how I want to be in light of this.
  • And there are many other areas where I have been inspired by negative role models I’ve seen in the world, e.g.: body posture, career paths, communication (in general, and especially for conflicts with romantic partners), parenting, and motivational frameworks.

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  • I find negative role models to be most helpful when they are highly personal and specific to me, and not just, for example, “Hitler”.
  • When I imitate against negative role models, I try to make sure that I figure out what causes someone to do behavior that annoys me, and then avoid the more general root cause. (I think what’s annoying is not behaviors, but the intentions behind behaviors.)
  • I have also found it useful to look for negative role models who are similar to me so I can try to avoid their fate. After all, they were once like me, and surely they were also trying to avoid what happened.
  • Negative role models can also be versions of your past self.