Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Michael Ashcroft, a consultant, co-founder and Non-Executive Director of the Carbon Removal Centre, a UK-based non-profit organization whose purpose is to advance sustainable carbon removal. He is also a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique, an awareness-based educational process that helps people live with greater ease and freedom, and a Co-Active coach, working with clients in his spare time.
Norman Chella: [00:00:00] Roam FM
Michael Ashcroft: [00:00:04] One use of Roam as a coach for me, it was like a, kind of like a reflection, like kind of looking back at me tool. So it will give me insights about myself that I’d forgotten.
Norman Chella: [00:00:15] Hello there. Welcome to Roam FM. Here we dive into the minds workflows and machinations of their #roamcult, the believers of road research.
My name is Norman Chella, and I am on a mission to deconstruct wisdom from all walks of life. So we can understand each other better. In this episode, we talk with Michael Ashcroft, a consultant cofounder and non executive director of the Carbon Removal Center, a UK-based nonprofit organization, whose purpose is to advance sustainable carbon removal.
He is also a certified teacher of the Alexander technique and awareness based educational process that helps people live with greater ease and freedom and a Co-Active coach working with clients in his spare time. We talked about how he stumbled into Roam Research, starting off from Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain course, his workflow when building his second brain, the Alexander technique and how he uses Roam to expand his understanding of the field and Roam as a self coaching tool, how he uses it for [[Self-introspection]]. And of course, roamcult as a culture, not a cult, the filter for meeting very interesting people, but really this is more of a conversation to geek out about Roam.
So that’s dive into my chat with Michael Ashcroft.
Michael, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:01:36] Thank you very much for having me. I’m doing very well. Thank you.
Norman Chella: [00:01:39] Awesome. Awesome. Because we are going to have a lovely conversation about, well, two members of the roamcult and how we will differ and using the amazing tool that is a Roam research.
I’m not sure how it is for you, but to me, it is making up a huge part of my routine. Everything goes in there, but. I would love to hear about your origin stories from the perspective of what was life like before Roam and how did you stumble into it?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:02:08] Sure. Good question. Um, so I guess this could be heretical actually for the roamcult, but I actually came into the whole like knowledge management, TPKI thing from, um, PKM thing from, um, Building a second brain, um, from Tiago of course.
And I know that there’s been some beefing going between Tiago and Connor. So I just kicked out of the roamcult for this. But, um, basically last year I kind of had a bit of a transformation, sounded like I was reading a book and I was like, Oh, this is interesting. I should write this down. And then I had the thought, yeah, there’s no point in writing it down because I just lose the note anyway.
And I just watched as this like insight disappeared from my life. And I had this meta realization of, Oh no, I need to properly be like, not wasting my time, like this, and I went and searched how to solve it and I was found Second Brain, did Write of Passage and then kind of like when I did all of that stuff to get to here now and then Roam came along and I was like, ah, This is cool.
This, this solves the issue I’ve always had around not knowing where to put things. I’m a perfectionist in terms of the sense of, I will try to over engineer a system going into it and then the system will break and then I’ll go like, Oh, it’s just a bad tool. Or I can’t deal with this or whatever. I know I’ll just stop using it.
But Roam hasn’t had that trap because I can just be going into daily notes. I can type something and then. The structure appears by itself. And I love that. Um, so that’s, that’s kind of why I started loving Roam and it’s kind of grown from it.
Norman Chella: [00:03:35] I find it very interesting that you require that, uh, the need to engineer a system before the insight can be captured or at least, uh, before, maybe put another way.
I think it’s noted in BSAB that before a note can actually be used or it can actually be applied because there has to have like a certain context before you can apply whatever that you just, um, well, let’s, let’s dive into that since you did talk about.The fact that you had trouble and then now you find Roam and you’re like, okay, cool.
And then next thing you know, you have the #roamcult tattoo on your shoulder. I mean, metaphor, but I would love to hear about your workflow. So let’s, let’s do a situation, right? I have a new book out and this book is really fascinating. And you, you would, you know, take your time to read it. Maybe you have your reading sessions or something like that in here of notes.
Yeah. How does that go into your Roam? I would love to hear your take.
Michael Ashcroft: [00:04:29] So the first thing that I do is I use the Keyboard Maestro shortcuts, um, that Maggie Appleton put together. Um, so I would just type, like, I got into daily notes and I open up a new page, the title of your book, um, go in there and kind of do, you know, slash R M B K.
It gives me much metadata, um, and headings. Um, and then I would read it in a kind of, um, how to take smart notes way only in a kind of high level. I don’t mean that I’m not kind of rigidly. I haven’t gotten as detailed, but like the general shape of it would be read through the book, kind of taking a underlining, making dots somewhere.
I’m adding a couple of comments and then going back over the, the what I’ve just read and extracting out a couple of things. One is like any particular quotes I like. I’m like, Hey, you said this nice turn of phrase or it’s just what it very well expressed. I’ll summarize the key concepts for myself as a separate heading, restating what you said in my words.
And then I’ve got a separate section, which I learned from how to take smart notes and that I think the whole zettelkasten idea is, is that you only write down your own ideas. So I’ve got a separate heading. This is my ideas. So like when I was reading this, it occurred to me like X, Y, and Z. It’s not in your book, but I still want to capture it in the context of your book.
And then I can link it. Like I can like tag each blog again, something else in my database. So that’s quite helpful.
Norman Chella: [00:05:52] That’s what works really well. Roam in terms of using that for that use case, rather in that you have blocked specific references, which is pretty interesting because in the context of the book, whatever this book is, I’m the, I’m just going to name it.
You know, a cool book, right? I think the context of this cool book, you have the chapter, then you have the paragraph, then you have the insight, the insight can be interpreted in different ways. Great. But when you put it through your, what I call a mental filter, which is basically the accumulation of all your experiences, and that will result in a new meta idea or concept that’s derived from you, right?
Like once it goes in your head, what comes out is your own new, fresh idea. You apply that or you would write that down and then make sure that you keep it referenced to its context, and then maybe you can apply it or link it to something else. But now that you do it like that, now I’m curious.
How do you link those new Zettel ideas to other places? I would love to hear like examples. Say if you have like a book that you’ve read recently and you think to yourself, Oh, okay. Now I have this new insight. I have this new idea. I put it into Roam. Uh, is there anything out there that I can see?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:07:03] Yeah. I just, I just need to kind of like open up things in Roam in real time.
Um, so yeah, what I do is normally, um, okay. The whole, like referencing a block and tagging a block is, is why I love Roam over say, Evernote. Cause like, if I have a, a note in Evernote, then I like, have to tag the entire note. So it just gets very silly very quickly. And for example, I read a book recently, Oh, reading a book called Drawing on the right side of the Brain.
So this is people who think they can’t draw and it kind of turns off their analytical parts and tricks their conscious mind to switch off so that they can draw properly.
Right. Most people are kind of overly analytical. Um, and yeah. So on this one, I can see that I’ve gotten a whole bunch of tags in basically every paragraph is like an idea and every block is an idea. Everyone contains, every block contains a link reference to somewhere else, which is amazing. Um, so it could be Alexander technique, self to, Wu Wei, gestalt, neuro-plasticity. Some actor, some, you know, people, people I’ve worked with who’ve recommended it. I just think in, in the, in the context, yeah. And at the same time, the way I move it around is I can see that there’s some block reference tags against it. So I put like a one, one, one down the side, which means that they exist somewhere else.
So I tend to leave the raw note, the original like source of truth in the context of the book. And then I’ll be able to like reference the block, um, referenced somewhere else.
Norman Chella: [00:08:34] But when you talk about original source of truth, you don’t mean do you mean like penning it down, uh, at verbatim. And then you refer to it or is it that you write down in Roam, the, your notes, and that becomes the context that you will refer to as you are applied to somewhere else, like maybe you applied to the field.
Michael Ashcroft: [00:08:58] What I mean is that I have a page per book and then I won’t copy and paste out the ideas to somewhere else. I won’t cut them out. I’ll just leave them there and then use block references to point back to the book notes.
Right? Cause that’s where I got them from in the first place. So I can have the, I can have the ideas all over the place, but I leave the original in the, in the book page, that’s all.
Norman Chella: [00:09:20] So you don’t have pages for ideas?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:09:23] I do. Um, so, but that’s my blocked reference is coming. So when I say the idea is that, so like, okay, that’s an idea.
How about, you know, academics talking about their research while writing about it? That’s just something I wrote down. That’s an idea that I like. And I just tagged it. I knew the author who does it. That’s not like it doesn’t need a whole page for that. That’s just an idea, but there’s something else like, yeah, Alexander technique.
I have a long list of my own notes and then reference things at the bottom. That has its own page for it. So I don’t plan this out carefully and I don’t use the evergreen note style of like, here’s a long statement that I believe to be true as a page. I don’t, I don’t do that so much. Um, but that just kind of does happens organically basically as, um, as a flow of typing, I’ll tag what I think is important and then structure will emerge on its own.
Norman Chella: [00:10:11] Yeah, I don’t do that as well. Uh, the notion of having a long sentence as a page, and then you can find out more about details. I, I try to think of it as either one concept or one and trying to, noun it, if that’s, if that’s, if that makes sense, it can be referred in other places. And if you try to use that phrase, if it was written that way in a different idea or a different environment, it may not flow as well.
Or I may not agree with it as much, or I might be confused by my own writing because I just read it that way in that context. But it doesn’t work here, even though I know the inner machinations of that idea can potentially work. It’s hard trying to think of a Roam system. Do you find it that there’s a difficult balance between trying to engineer a system or like your, your need to engineer a system in Roam than really trying to either accept or trying to adapt to the lack of a need for structure?
In a tool like Rome, I would love to hear your thoughts on that because I’ve been having a lot of trouble with that myself.
Michael Ashcroft: [00:11:14] Yeah, it’s funny. So yeah, I said that I used to, um, have that issue with the second brain stuff in Evernote, by needing to know the structure in advance. And I’ve been letting go of that quite a lot now.
And kind of focusing on what you might call a kind of non-coercive kind of, um, Roam system or productivity system where I focus to maximize serendipity rather than like discoverability even. So like, there’s a lot of stuff in here now it’s growing on its own. If I try and keep track of everything.
It’s just too much, basically. So I try and tank things like, like you were saying, they’re like short nouns, short terms for things. So I can reference them in line somewhere else. And, you know, without being confused, I do a lot of, um, daily logging in the sense of how am I feeling? Um, I think it’s coming up.
So it’s always like in context to a day or an emotion or something as well. Um, emotion logging. So yeah, it’s a diverse range of things I use with it. And I’m not like it’s for this or it’s for that. It’s just kind of like, whatever comes up in me on a given moment, kind of, if I’m at home at my laptop that goes into Roam and then structure happens.
Norman Chella: [00:12:20] Oh, okay. So allow it to naturally form as opposed to try to trying to, shall we say impose the, uh, like a rigid structure to give it order, even though it’s not really, uh, that needed. I think that’s, that’s why Roam is so good because it adapts to that. Like our need to not have order because it is us like, it’s representative.
I mean, diving into someone’s Roam will be the most interesting thing to think about because if I were to, like if a famous figure in like human history has a Roam graph, that would be the craziest thing to ever discover. It will be the equivalent of, of like archeologists finding an amazing discovery. Not in civilization, but in like a thought or like in the history of someone’s mind, like if Albert Einstein had a Roam graph database, I mean, we’d pay big money to get that.
Michael Ashcroft: [00:13:16] Then what if you go to the level beyond that and you know, Albert Einstein had a Roam database and so did Niels Bohr, and you could like go from one to the other.
So when, where Albert Einstein references Niels Bohr or whoever else and physics, you just click on their name and then you are in that database and you can just navigate. Right. So I’ve created that I’ve created a public Roam, just, I I’m a true believer now because obviously, um, so I’ve got two extras and I’ve got one public one, which I haven’t used at all.
It’s just like his, that I’ve shared, but the fact that it is there is now making me think quite differently about like, Oh, I can use this thing that stand out. I can start doing a public. At some point I can start putting ideas into it and building out this kind of digital garden thing, whatever it might look like.
Um, and just kind of help that concept along a little bit.
Norman Chella: [00:14:04] How are you using it differently? I would love to hear the differences between what constitutes as a note or a page in your private room and how does it transfer to public?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:14:13] So at the moment, I’m not using it, honestly, I have, I just created it, um, such that I find it kind of orients my brain in the direction of knowing that it exists.
Therefore I’m likely to be like subconsciously processing how I can use it. So some current thinking is I would pick it for a couple of things. One is like, An intro to me, almost of like, okay, you want to get kind of know what I’m about. Here are some key topics that I find interesting. You can kind of bounce on it.
If you like, there’s a whole, like working with the garage door up thing Andy Matuschak kind of style of like, okay, here are my, like literally my raw notes on a topic. Right. And I’m looking for any kind of collaboration or input from anyone. So please just like kind of browse around, um, and find anything. Cool. Let me know.
That’s where I love kind of a commenting level. Um, and, in Roam or like, uh, you know, I know you’ve got the thumbs up and stuff, but I haven’t really used the collaboration stuff yet, but if you could link between Roam databases publicly of like, Hey, Michael wrote this block over here, about Alexander Technique.
I’m going to write over here in my, public Roam at this sounds a lot like this other thing that I do, but I’m going to tag his block in my, in my thing. I get a notification and then you can just like go around, um, these public Roams and just that’d be so cool. That’s sort of the dream, I guess,
Norman Chella: [00:15:27] be an insane sort of meta network thought conversation.
Really. So like, for example, if we take the situation of, let’s say that I have a public Roam. And I have my own notes. I, my own, you know, working with the garage door open, uh, with these fields that I’m interested in, I read yours and I’m like, Oh wow. You said something pretty interesting here. I’m going to reference your block under my note and have my notes put under it and then have notifications. The opportunities of that will be pretty interesting.
Because the best thing would be when we have two people’s Roams with fields that are not exactly relevant to each other. I think in that way, Rome works well as sort of like the ice breaker to accelerate the moment where we’re like, okay, let’s try to innovate something or let let’s try, like brainstorm and put things together.
Right. It’s like the little teaser. That’s like, Hey, you guys like this? Why don’t you talk about it? Like, I think there’ll be pretty amazing.
Michael Ashcroft: [00:16:28] Yeah, totally. And I think I’ve seen, I’ve seen Connor talking somewhere around like block references are unique across the entire Roam system. So like in my, my block reference in mind, my database is the only one that exists in the early points to my, my, my reference.
My block. And what excites me is that I can see this becoming a, quite a big thing over the long timeframe. Multi-year, we’ve just bought, I’ve just got a five year subscription to Roam. So he’ll be around, I think, but it kind of shows that this is the direction of travel. And I can imagine it being quite a powerful thing that people do in a few years time.
Um, and it’s just cool to be at the beginning of that. Now I’m getting kind of comfortable with it before, um, before it goes cool. If it goes mainstream. So hipster of me, um, but it’s just nice to be kind of playing with this while it’s still kind of in a small scale system, rather than like huge like kind of TikTok style of how we do this, you know?
Norman Chella: [00:17:21] Yeah. I mean, the value of that possibility is exciting us enough that, well, we have, you know, true believers, like, like you to be here for five years to see where’s it going to go? I actually didn’t know about that. About the fact that the block references are unique. I’ve always thought that it was unique according to my own Roam, or at least according to my own Roam account.
Even if I have three graphs open. I would think that the least that I can do it would be intra account connections between the three Roam graphs. That will be a possibility. I’m assuming if we’re going to go down the route of say, like what you’re doing now, you have your private room. And then if you’re a public digital garden Roam, instead of rewriting everything into Rome, you can just embed.
All the notes that you don’t have to worry about, rewriting it over and over again.
Michael Ashcroft: [00:18:09] Exactly. I mean, what I would like ideally is that I’m writing in my own personal Roam database and then I’m like, Oh, this block could be good in the public one. I can just tag it there. And then at some point I can like filter for the tag of public or something copy all the block references and just paste the block, references into the public one and then organize them however I want to over there.
And that would be kind of like typing out or seeing them as a whole separate system. It feels more like it’s the same system. Just, this is the public bit of the bigger, the thing that, the biggest thing I’m working on, Hey, it’s just like a thing that you can see behind it. Um, so I just want to remove faff for that and I could be wrong about what, um, what kind of is doing.
I think I saw in a tweet or one of the documentation somewhere. I’m pretty sure that’s what he was doing.
Norman Chella: [00:18:54] No, well, no, if it’s actually, if it’s actually designed like that, then the possibility of, of blocks being referenced across graphs will be pretty interesting, uh, hopefully with consent.
Cause then you can, yeah, absolutely. It potentially hijack somebody else’s block and then it could be anything, right. It could be like a, like a password or something, uh, or it could be one of the myriad myriad of, uh, empty bullet points that I have. Cause I’ve, I don’t know if you have this. Sometimes I have a lot of copy paste problems from notes to put into a Roam and I would have a lot of like blank blocks and I can’t really delete a lot of it.
Cause it does get really messy. Um, but that’s yeah, but that’s the disadvantage of going from apps that have defined structures in terms of your note taking and putting it into Roam. Like the, trying to translate that to a, make it more free form like, like trying to make a note to go like you’re free now.
Right? Like now you can, now you can connect however you want. It’s becomes very difficult.
Michael Ashcroft: [00:19:58] It does. And I’ve showed my, some friends of mine, how Roam works and you know, you just open up a new account and it’s just like, The day, like today’s date, and then you start typing as well, it’s just a bullet point. And I wonder what the hell, um, and it takes a certain level of nerdery.
Oh, Oh, now I got this thing, but the, the onboarding, I’m sorry Conor, kind of, it’s just. The onboarding is the roamcult. Just like you have to hang out on Twitter and to see people like posting workflows and like, Oh, that’s cool, let me play with that. It’s a very specific kind of person who is into this. Right.
Um, and until, until there’s like a way of bringing someone in step by step, it’s going to stay this way, I think. But it’s it’s. Yeah. How do I even explain this? I don’t know. Um, you just have to kind of see in action and kind of as a clicking moment and then like, okay, I can go from here.
Norman Chella: [00:20:44] It was that. What was the aha moment? When you were trying out Roam and then you that moment where your brain clicked and thought there’s so many possibilities, like, do you remember that?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:20:53] Yeah, there were a couple, um, and I’m not someone who uses queries, I’m not that advanced yet. Um, but the two that stand out for me were.
Bi-directional linking. Um, so the fact that there’s this page, I can just be typing in flow, tags, a concept, and then I know there’s a page for it. That was cool. And then it wasn’t the idea of the link to reference, but the unlinked reference I found extremely cool. Um, so I, I had a big issue when I started out with like, do I have to tag every instance of this keyword that I’m using to say, I’m working on Alexander technique.
Do I have to make a page for Alexander Technique every single time. I write it or would it get lost? Then I saw the, the unlinked references. I’m like, Oh, this is picking up just every string of text on this topic and I was playing with this and I can, since I use it for going to journaling and realtime logging, I’ve now made pages for things like I feel, um, I want, Oh yeah, I don’t want, you know,
Norman Chella: [00:21:51] I saw, I immediately took it.
I was, so I was so enamored by this. Okay. So, uh, for those listening, uh, this was a tweet ages ago and a few months ago, I believe when you. I forgot the exact wording, but I remember that I bookmarked this tweet and I tried it. So I have a page and I call it the Roam exploration page, which is basically my way of trying to define the modes that I will be in when I’m in my own graph.
And by that, by that, I mean, like, I’m like I timeboxed to say, write an article in Rome with these following things. Or I have a free form exploration session, right. Let’s just one hour of just let’s start from here. Right. And then just do whatever. I know. I have a lot of fun writing into, writing into Rome cause I’m such a nerd, but anyway, yeah, I tried this a, I think I have, like, I want, I feel I’m worried.
I’m confused. Uh, I wonder, and I like, I dislike, I love I hate or something like that. Yeah. So how was that experience for you now that you’ve tried that out?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:22:55] It’s good. Um, I just, I don’t use it in kind of every time I don’t tag myself when I’m saying I want, I don’t make that a page, but the fact that I know that I can go to the, I want page anytime and then just like score through the unlinked references.
Yeah. I find that’s cool. Right. And I don’t do it very much. I don’t, it’s not like, I think I do a weekly review or anything like that, but occasionally I kind of want to get a sense of my general emotional States or like where I was as a person in a particular range of time. And because it links the, I want with the day and in context with what I was doing that day.
It’s just like, Oh, I can kind of cast my mind back to who I was at the time. Um, which is a useful tool if you are doing reflection and that kind of thing that, that has now evolved a little bit. Um, so I’m, I’m a life coach as well. And I trained under that kind of Co-Active model, um, which is a, it’s like a kind of, um, as a way of doing coaching and they have a kind of saboteur model.
So you have sabotaging voices and you, that kind of hold you back from doing things. And what I do now in Roam is that I I’ve labeled the saboteurs and I write down what they’re thinking. Right. So I kind of separate myself out from them. Let’s say the judge is a sabotage and I will write as kind of interstitially like the judge is annoyed at this person.
Right. And then I can kind of, it separates me, but it also means that I can click on it, the judge and see all the judgy voices over time that the judges had in context with people and things and places and whatever. And again, this is really helping me kind of see my own brain in a kind of a literal way almost.
Norman Chella: [00:24:31] That’s actually really fascinating. Like Roam is helping you with adding another dimension of [[Self-introspection]] in that you look back at certain prompts like I want or whatever, and you can assign, or at least determine who you were at that time. And it allows you to play with that memory or play with that thought and say like, okay, I was this kind of person at that time.
I feel that this by labeling them as such or by writing my thoughts down right now, I believe that I can maybe one disconnect from negativity or to empower myself because I was that person before and now I am this person who has learned a lot of lessons, et cetera. Oh, okay. So do you, do you use Roam a lot in like life coaching, like with helping your clients?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:25:20] So I’m currently using it for me. I have, um, I have a page for each class and I will, I’ll kind of jot down some notes, but it’s not a kind of, I’m not building it for that purpose, but I will just kind of have this scratch pad almost. But the thing I use it for is my self-coaching tool. I use it as, as in the same way that, um, Niklas Luhmann described his Zettelkasten and there’s like another brain that talked to him and, you know, and I had like a second party in the conversation.
I’m almost treating Roam or one use of Roam as a coach. For me, it was like a, kind of like a reflection, like kind of looking back at me tool. So it will give me insights about myself that I’d forgotten. Um, or things that I said I wanted or perspectives that I wanted to take on, for example. And I’m like, Oh, okay.
Now I hadn’t keep reminding me, Roam. Well, thank you for like pointing this thing out at the right time when I had to hear it, which otherwise a coach might do for me kind of thing, It blends, it’s not just pure content or knowledge. It’s also self knowledge. It goes in. So that’s why I’m always starting to share screens and screenshots of my Roam, because at any time you might see like, Hey, the fact, and here’s my view on something like personally, and they’re all kind of all mixed together.
Norman Chella: [00:26:29] Yeah. The distinction between that is something that I’m still questioning about. Even though I really agree with what you’re saying and that we have in our Roams, we have like pure knowledge and then you have experiences and then you have, you know, like the emotional roller coasters that we are journaling down.
To what extent are all of these intermingling together? It makes sense that they’re all in the same Roam because they reflect us who we are and what we experienced and what we know, which is fantastic. I’ve always wondered if there is a fine line between what should be put into Roam in that you should define the purpose of your Roam, the first place, instead of. Just dumping everything together. You should be carefully adding in specific things. Uh, maybe did you have that kind of difficulty in the beginning when you were trying to switch from say BSAB to Rome and then you’re like, okay, let me just copy paste everything in from Evernote and to see what happens or was it a matter of like clean slate and then you defined those choices beforehand.
Michael Ashcroft: [00:27:33] Yeah. So I started off kind of copying over notes from Evernote, and then I very quickly stopped doing that because it, it didn’t work. And some of those things felt a little stale at that point. So I didn’t wanna kind of clog up the Roam system with just stale old stuff. So I started from pen just like daily logging every day.
I would just like log what I was doing when I was reading whatever. And it would just grow from there. Um, so I’m not so bothered in what you’re describing that is the same kind of need for structure before starting that I was falling into. So I let go of that one for this one and just like, um, I didn’t care about structure.
I don’t understand this tool. This is a weird, wonderful wacky tool. I’m going to see what happens as I use it. And then, okay. I seem to be coalescing on. So ideas and kind of my own emotions, if you like, those are the kind of key areas on people as well. That kind of, I keep track of what people like and that kind of thing.
Um, but I also don’t use it in a, in a second brain context. I only really use it for resources, um, on the, in the PARA system, I, I, I’ve tried doing project management and area management and so far it’s, it’s not working that well. Um, so it’s a combination of like factual resources and ideas. And also like insterstitial journaling from my own use for like,
Norman Chella: [00:28:49] yeah, there may be some flaws there, either that, or maybe like you were mentioning before, if you record too much of it, maybe it’ll get lost.
Right? Like maybe it would be like that. I I’ve noticed that too. I’ve been trying to use it as a task manager, you know, switching blocks to turning it into to-dos. Not doing good so far, not doing good in the end, pen and paper is always pretty great. Um, but I think that’s just because I have a very strange mind or I’ve had this realization that who I am when I write on pen and paper and typing in Roam and typing in a different note taking tool is different.
Like completely different. So I, I like even who I am when I’m tweeting, it’s very different. And I think it’s just because, like, I understand why, what the systems, how these systems are, except the pen and paper is the most free form because you know, it’s not like I’m posting it publicly, but, uh, Roam really does encourage you to go completely in any direction you want and it will forgive you for doing, which is pretty interesting.
On the note of, uh, coaching, one of the fields that you’re most well known for at least, and in the Twitterverse, uh, is the mentioned Alexander technique. Yes. I know you have a page full of it. I have no clue. I have no clue like what kind of notes are in there, but I’m sure there’s like updates from, like resources that you’ve read or maybe like journals or academia or whichever. Could you tell me, maybe give a little bit of a backstory as to what Alexander technique is and how did Roam help you understand the technique better?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:30:24] Sure. So Alexander technique is a system of thoughts of being that helps us undo, um, habits, if you like.
So we, the way I often describe it is when you were young, a teacher would have yelled at you to pay attention. Um, and when you hear that, you naturally stiffen up and you look like you’re paying attention, right. Using muscles to look like you’re doing it. Um, and then over time, you kind of, you kind of forget that.
Holding your body in a certain way has nothing to do with thinking or paying attention. Um, so like people often look like they’re thinking when they’re thinking, like kind of switching up their faces and that kind of thing. Um, but if you try to stop doing it, you’ll struggle. Like if you’re saying, okay, I’m going to think without looking without touching my face, you’ll find that you, you kinda, you can’t stop it.
You’ll still do the thing. So Alexander technique is a method of learning, how to constructively refuse to give consent to responses like that. Right. So I’m going to not scrunch up my face. I’m going to not walk away, habitually walk and that kind of thing. And it’s a whole process in itself to do that.
Norman Chella: [00:31:28] Refusing to give consent, to allow the habit to happen.
Michael Ashcroft: [00:31:34] Yes. Okay. Let me, let me, let me pull a trick on you. So, um, there’s a simple version of this, which is, you know, don’t think of an elephant. And then of course you think of that. Um, another one is I use exactly another one on coaching calls is I do. Um, so in a minute, I’m going to ask you to identify the object that you can pick up around you.
Yeah. And now, is that already a part of your brain going off kind of scanning the environment? Things that you can pick up? A Little bit? Yeah. Everyone falls into that. And even though I said in a minute, Not even right now.
You still kind of got hijacked? Yeah. So you didn’t give consent to that. Your brain just went off and did this thing.
Right. And at the same time you had a collapse of awareness, I’m guessing, so that you became less aware of the space around you. You just kind of went into this kind of mode, right? Not, you didn’t look that way, but part of your brain was doing this. Right?
Norman Chella: [00:32:27] I think it was, it felt like a, it felt like a trigger of okay. You, you, you will ask me this. I should prepare. Is it just like scan the room right now? It’s like, I’m in, I’m looking at the webcam right now. Like we’re talking right now and it might not be obvious on my face, but I, I really was just like scanning, like, Oh,
Michael Ashcroft: [00:32:46] Yeah. It’s it’s very common and I’ve, I’ve done now about 25 or 30 of these calls.
Like, like there’s like kind of a lot more of that kind of stuff. And the only person who, who didn’t fall for it in that sense, he said that he had no inner monologue his entire life. Like he has no narrating voice in his head at all, so he didn’t fall for it, but he’d had other ways that he does. Um, so yeah, it’s a method of learning how to notice that, that thing happening, that habit happening and then kind of consciously and contractually choosing not to be dragged along with it basically. So you can either choose to pick an object or you can choose to make a coffee. And they’re both like options available to you, but you’re not kind of dominated either by picking up an object or by pushing away the idea of, right.
So in the sense of like, if you don’t think of an elephant, one way people do that is by over focusing on something else, like, okay, I want to think the elephant, but I will focus on that tree out the window really hard and push away the elephant, you know, but you’re still defining your experience by the elephant.
So this is like, it’s neither of those. So this is not an Alexander Technique session. So I will talk about Roam and how I’ve grown in my understanding of it. So I came, I came to Twitter not expecting to talk about this basically, but then I kind of, I realized the crowd I’d fall into was quite into this kind of thing.
Um, so what I’m looking for is basically like all the things that are like Alexander technique that I can use to then enhance my understanding of it. So Alexander himself, like he didn’t do the work of, this is like Buddhism. This is like neuroscience and he was doing it in 1900s or like 1910. Um, so there was no knowledge back then of like neuroscience and even, even Buddhism wasn’t understood in the west very much. Um, so what I’ve got in Roam is I read articles and books on people’s tweets and newsletter replies and conversations and whatever, when people say like, Oh, this sounds a bit like this other thing. And then I’m like, okay, like when I’m reading the other thing, I will tag blocks, I guess, Alexander Technique like specific examples of like exercises or ways of describing things or people who are involved and I’m building up this web of knowledge.
Of things that are Alexander Technique and things that are kind of adjacent in every direction around it. So I’m kind of creating a space that I can then wander around and figure out by that, by looking at the references outside of it, what the thing itself actually is.
Norman Chella: [00:35:13] And through connecting all of these resources, uh, under the page of Alexander technique, or at least tagging them and I guess interpreting them and in writing notes, uh, in accordance with what that resource is, how does it help you with being in a conversation of Alexander technique, say on Twitter or with your clients?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:35:33] It means that I can, I can use different words that resonate better. I can describe things in the context of experiences that you’ve already had, for example, because people will say like, Oh yeah, I recognize that from when I was doing X.
Right. I had this experience. I’m like, Oh, cool. I’m going to take that. If that experience is common, which they usually are, I can then say, okay, well it’s like when you…and like, Oh yeah, now I get it kind of thing, because this is kind of, um, I think the parts of the brain that we use Alexander Technique, explicitly the non wordy parts as the right hemisphere or whatever, the kind of the bit that is an analytical is.
So any words that you use tend to be wrong, um, because that, by definition, so what I do is I point to, you know, that time, you know, the kind of experience when, or when you had this kind of thing happened to you and people were like, Oh no, I think I can relate to that. I mean, kind of go from there. So it’s, it’s useful for that for sure.
Norman Chella: [00:36:28] So a lot of, uh, potential similarities that it can bring up. Especially when trying to introduce the technique. Analogies, I’m sure that will really help. Cause I think the articulation of the technique is probably something that is extremely important, one when trying to coach a client to well achieve their goals with just, I guess for life coaching, it might be like a transformative kind of goal.
Like they want to be more empowered in a certain way. You want to teach them this technique, but talking about it maybe a little bit too difficult. So, you know, you think about, Oh, you know, at the time when this happened and elephants, okay. If you can collect all of these experiences, then I feel like you’d have a weapon for every situation. I mean, I call it a weapon, but really it’s like a tool for every moment in time where you can apply the technique or you can apply the field that you’re interested in into whichever situation.
Michael Ashcroft: [00:37:23] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So rather than trying to impose my jargon on them, um, which is what Alexander Technique teachers tend to do, which is we use our own particularly like niche jargon, like inhibition and direction and primary control and these things, which you have no idea what they mean, rather than like, trying to enforce these words on you.
I like, I go to where people are already and I kind of like adapt it. A little bit. So if I had the more like projections I have out into the world of other ways of knowing and thinking about things, the more people I can access then, always I can explain it and the quicker they will get it, rather than kind of going through like, well, here’s our definition of this thing.
Go and study it. Doesn’t doesn’t help.
Norman Chella: [00:38:09] Yeah. No, no vomiting the definition on it won’t really work. I would think that you might have probably in your Roam page, like 20 different definitions on different levels of articulation or different levels of formality. And I think, I think there’ll be the best way to do it because it depends on the person.
You know, if the person is someone who isn’t really well versed in academia or their vocabulary, isn’t up to that level or they just don’t choose to, then you’d have to use something. With, uh, we’d have to use simpler examples, which, you know, anyone can relate to a simpler example. So I think that will be, uh, the best way.
Well, now that you have Roam and now that you have this way to connect all of these resources for Alexander Technique, is there like a, like a dream project that you want to work on where Roam can really help you?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:38:57] There are a couple that I’m thinking about. Um, so yeah. Alexander Technique is commonly taught in person using touch. Um, and I’m trying to figure out how to do it online. So that’s the first level. Um, what I want to get to is taking some of the principles behind it and applying it to other areas of life, kind of in an integrated way.
So it’s not a standalone thing that you, you just learn and that’s cool, but something that, you know, everything that we do can be flavored by it, so to speak and it kind of a non-coercive frame. So what I mean by that is let’s say productivity. That’s a good one. Yeah. Um, there are two ways of achieving something.
One is that you can force yourself, you know, you can, you can say, I want to do this and then like beat yourself with a stick until you do it. Or you can get out of your own way and let the thing do itself. Right. And you haven’t been experiences where it was kind of effortless you weren’t having to like compel yourself to do the thing.
You were just into it and it happened. So that kind of experience comes from when there’s low self interference. So like, you don’t have conflicts in your mind, you have very clever what you want and you’re just like fully able to go for it. The way that you undo the conflict is in many ways Alexander Technique.
So I’d love to put together a course or some kind of program around um, how do you get out of your own way in a knowledge work context, in a creativity or kind of in a productivity context, rather than just like walking and sitting and standing, which is what it’s common to use for, in dancing, performing as well. That kind of thing.
Norman Chella: [00:40:28] If you’re putting it that way, you would probably have to package the product in a way where it’s not about Alexander technique.
It’s about this goal, like getting out of your own way. Via Alexander technique. And I would see in a few, in a few master classes that you would actually have different modules for different, different aspects of different fields. So you would have like this one major primary method of achieving whatever this goal is, or maybe it’s a goal that they choose to, like the person that’s attending the course will choose to. And there are different modules and it’s up to them to skip, or to chime in on like drill in on one specific module. If it’s really relevant to them. As an example, I would be totally interested if you’re going to do something like how to get out of your own way and be productive via Alexander technique.
But then if, if that’s the master class and then productivity, there’s one module and then a different module would be in medical science or in chemistry, it may not be relevant to me, but I thought, Oh, you know, why not? It’s nice to see that this is applicable to. It’s nice to see that it’s universal.
I think that’s the biggest thing, like how to make it a very universal resource.
Michael Ashcroft: [00:41:38] Yeah. And that’s kind of thing I’m working I’m thinking about is there’ll be a core set of things around the Alexander Technique principles, which you then apply elsewhere, but it’d be very experiential. So a lot of games and go away and play with this and that kind of thing.
And then we’ll start applying it to different contexts. But then I guess one of the larger ambitions is that. I’m kind of seeing the world as becoming about like hooked on doing or caring. Like we care so much, I’m kind of using the word care pejoratively at that point. Um, so there’s like caring as in, like, I want my values aligned with this thing and I want it to be, I want it to exist as one kind of caring or I want you to be happy as a caring.
Yeah. But there’s also like, kind of, I care so much that I finished this report. Ah, Kind of caring, right? When a boss is like putting pressure on you and like your body tenses up and your mind narrows and yeah, just like your life sucks because you really care about like, not failing or about like impressing someone and that kind of caring really doesn’t help you.
Like it actually actually interferes with the performance, but it’s very hard to stop once we in that loop. So this is again about like, how do you get people? How do you help people to loosen the grip over themselves? Such that they can perform better with less effort and more happily in the process.
That’s what they kind of, the aim is on a wider scale.
Norman Chella: [00:42:57] So to care with intent or at least care out of altruism, as opposed to care out of [[Fear]]. At least that’s how I would interpret it. Because if you, if you take that situation where I want to care about this project being done, because my boss is berating me from, from behind.
It’s not that I care about it being done. It’s more like I care about not getting into trouble or I care about negative consequences, maybe the reframing of that will be a very pivotal part of it, if you’re going to do a course in a very experimental manner, or at least some sort of, um, sort of a workshop, because this may not apply to everybody, but you’ve a workshop where people can like write down, like what kind of situations would actually come up where you can apply this.
Oh, okay. I think that’s pretty cool. And then if you could like outline that in Roam, that’d be pretty cool. Um, what do you need help with actually, Is there. Is there, like, are you looking for someone to help you design this or are you looking for another #roamcult to talk shop or like discuss or freelance or anything?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:44:02] Uh, I think at this point, one of the things I’m. One thing I was struggling with a little bit, well, two things, actually one is just the time to do this stuff. So I have mentioned, I have a full time job in consulting. I’m managing consultants, um, surprise. Not offering.
It’s very difficult to squeeze in the time and evenings and weekends to do this stuff, but I’m trying, so that’s my main challenge, whether there’s any help that I don’t know, but, um, I think one thing that one thing was helpful would be like a digital gardening expert or someone who gets that stuff. Um, so I want to build out this public Roam and I’m very much a fan of working with the garage door up, seeing what happens, like letting the serendipity happen of itself, um, which is what’s happened with the newsletters and Twitter and everything else that going to keep doing that.
But I don’t really know how to approach what to put out there, essentially. I’m not sure. Where the line between private and public is. Yeah. I’m kind of going into the over-engineering over designing it mode for the public one and then more broadly, how can, how to design courses, particularly from some things so like woo woo, yeah, it’s hard to describe. It’s not like here is a path, here’s a framework, go and apply the framework. It’s much more like experiential games like multimedia. Um, and kind of what’s the, what’s the sequencing of things you have to learn, which I’m trying to figure out. So anyone else you kind of have experience with that and that’s kind of thing I’m looking for to understand as well.
Norman Chella: [00:45:29] I just had a really quick fleeting thought. On the notion of you trying to take the first step towards designing a public Roam, is it because you care too much? How? Yeah. It feels like you see what I
Michael Ashcroft: [00:45:44] mean? Right. It’s just how it happens. And I’m, whenever I talk about this stuff, I’m in no way perfect or done with this stuff, like all the same traps everyone else does.
I just have one more particularly good tool to remove myself, but there are some conditions or some patterns that are really hard to undo. Like that’s from childhood that like the, I want to be seen as good kind of caring, or I want to not mess up kind of caring. Um, these are quite deep, right. And this is like the work of personal introspection and, and, and, and play.
But, um, yeah. And you can see how me caring too much is interfering with doing the thing. Yeah, and I tweet better when I don’t care. And as my audience has grown, it’s now like two and a bit thousand. I’m like, Oh, I need to think more before I, Oh, I go through occasional interference loops of like, what if they don’t like me?
And then I kind of stopped doing that. Like, this is dumb, just tweet, you know? Cause I was fine again, but you can really see the self interference cycles kicking in.
Norman Chella: [00:46:39] Yeah. It’s a constant battle and it, you know, it’s, it’s not like. It’s not like we are all a masters of the Alexander technique. It’s all like, we’re all just, but students in the path or the pursuit of trying to apply this routinely or at the very least catch ourselves when we are about to embark on that interference loop.
Like the catching is the hardest part because I have many days or at least many moments where I feel like I would willingly put myself in that interference loop because of the comfort of it. But then I might feel like, yeah. And I feel like I, yeah, because it’s familiar and, and that moment, my definition of the unknown is less of positive, which means like, you know, opportunity to grow, you know, opportunity to be a better person, you know, lessons learned and all that.
And more of, I’m afraid of failing or something like that. I’m afraid of ABC or whatever the reasons can be. Uh, it’s, it’s, it’s huge. Like caring to me is a very gray word in that. It’s not really absolute. It’s pretty interpretive. I think that’s where we have to really worry about it.
Michael Ashcroft: [00:47:43] Yeah. So I would, I would maybe like I have a couple of words I use, I often say non-doing on Twitter.
I’m coming around to non enforcing. As well. Um, so like you, you know, you mentioned that the, the battle you have to battle with yourself. Yeah. I would caution that kind of framing because either side of the battle is interference. It’s the same. So I’ve got a tweet thread on this, like doing and doing nothing at the same thing and doing a non-doing is the absence of either doing or doing nothing.
So if you’re framing it as an internal battle of like, I don’t want to do the thing, but you should do the thing. I don’t wanna do the thing, but I should do the thing. And these two things are the same and they’re both interfering. So while this is like, so when you’re saying that noticing, it’s just like, huh, that’s interesting.
I seem to want to do two things at once. And then I seem to have my awareness collapsed. What if I just like, notice this nonjudgmentally and go back out into the wild again and see what happens like this is a kind of stopping that cycle approach rather than having one side win over the other.
Norman Chella: [00:48:44] Okay. Alright. Okay. That. Okay. Yeah. You got me there. That’s actually a very good point. I never thought about it that way, because I’ve always, maybe in that moment in terms of trying to find theories or concepts for myself, and try to understand the world. I never believe in absolutes, so meanings can be interpreted, right?
Like the word care can mean cared differently to you than it does to me. But in my case, whenever I think about things like [[Self-introspection]], sometimes there are certain absolutes that bleed through and they ended up becoming in my thought process where I’m like, Oh, I. I don’t want to do this, but I should do this and okay.
Okay. That’s where you got me there. Okay. Thank you very much for that, actually. Wow. Okay. I need to write that down. I’ll probably put that in my private room later, or actually I’ll also write it down as well. Here. I do have a couple of questions to finish off this chat first. And so the two questions are: how would you describe Roam to someone who hasn’t started using it?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:49:49] Magical thinking playground.
I don’t know. Uh, Jesus. It’s, it’s just like a place where you put ideas and things that you come across and then it shows you the most fun and cool ways later on. It’s a way that you don’t need to think about how you, how you put anything into it. It just, it, it it’s non-coercive note-taking I like that.
Non-coercive note-taking so you don’t need a framework. You don’t need anything. You just like, you just dump stuff in there and it organizes itself. And then you watch like, amazed as structure forms from what was previously structureless.
Norman Chella: [00:50:35] Awesome. Awesome. No, I like that magical thinking playground. Did the notion of not needing a framework, maybe if it could like market it a lot, that a lot better.
Via the roamcult, more and more people will be joining in, but like you said, Onboarding it’s basically roamcult. Like it’s not even exactly right. Like the tool will still be there even though roamcult won’t exist. Right. But for some reason roamcult is taking the reigns on like, yeah, you should, you should take this, use this tool.
Yeah. It’s it’s crazy. Final question. What this Roam mean to you?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:51:06] So, okay. The term, a lot of the time, roamcult, for example, but I don’t think of it in the sense of cult, oh it’s such a cult. Although I say we are, um, but I kind of see cult as short for culture. So the Roam culture. You know, the, this collection of people who all share the same kind of philosophical perspective around how ideas should be shared and developed and grown and shaped.
And Roam to me is just an expression of that. It’s like these people were looking for something to coalesce around and they found it in Roam. So that’s, it’s like a, it’s a focal point for that way of being in the world. And that’s what, that’s what matters to me.
Norman Chella: [00:51:49] Yeah. I feel like I look at it as a filter. Like this tool is, is either you agree with how it works or you don’t. And if you do agree, that’s enough of an ice breaker. Right. I’ve always, I think I had this dream one time where I know I’m too much of a roamcult already, but I had a dream about roamcult and that there was a town and I would walk down the street.
And instead of saying hi to someone like a stranger passing by, I would just pointed them at say, roamcult? And they’ll say, and then we would just talk right. And you just don’t know, the conversations are where all the bi-directional stuff is happening. But if you’re greeting was roamcult…
Michael Ashcroft: [00:52:28] That’s pretty culty as well. It’s like a secret handshake. Like you’re just like you have like a bi-directional link somehow or whatever. Yeah. So there’s some, it’s interesting though. Cause I, I can, I’m pretty sure that if I spoke to anyone who uses Roam seriously, I’d get on with them in some dimension.
Right. So we have had a conversation for an hour. That’s been great too. Yeah. We’ve kind of deviated into things that are in the database, if you like, just the database itself. But you know, we, we see the world similarly enough that we can relate and I think that’s just what Roam does. Is it filters for, for that, like you were saying, it was, this is a filter and people who don’t get it well.
Okay. Well, we’ll wait on different ways, but this is not, this is not how we’re going to get on, but you see in different ways.
Norman Chella: [00:53:14] Yeah. That, that thinking that, that filter, I feel like, yeah. I mean, really, it’s just really pretty much that, uh, icebreaker, I feel that if there was ever a meetup for our roamcult, The conversations will be so fascinating.
It’ll be like a mixture of like what you said, things happening inside the database and what I would call things outside the database, right? Because you have those thoughts and you have those resources that go into that Roam. But the architect of that roam graph has this specific character. And they’ve put so much effort into putting these things in there, their own tagging system, their own pages, their own notes, references, whatever, whatever happens outside of the database.
Um, The things that are, that consist of what is outside the database are the ones talking, but the topics are the things that are happening, I guess, pretty much. This is just me just trying to impose Roam Research as a tool, as an understanding, or a way of life into everything that I see or everything that I observed, but, uh, it can get a little bit dangerous, but that’s, that’s that?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:54:19] Yeah. Well, hang on. There’s something in that I think, cause I’ve, I’ve been to, so, you know, a Building a Second Brain meetups in London, I’m been to a few of them. Um, and the people who go on to that and I have the similar kind of, um, mindset around. Yeah, knowledge management and people who take courses like building a second brain, right.
That, that filters a certain kind of person. And then again, the interesting conversation just come up and then we talk about, you know, Evernote tools, whatever, and, and Roam obviously came up before too long. Um, and that’s just, it’s just the foundations for the wider conversation on top of that.
So Roam for me is not the thing. I’m not interested in Roam as like how it’s coded or like all the features, I’m interested in what it enables, and what it enables is for me to understand the connections between things.
Which means that in conversation with someone who also has the same kind of approach, it’s much easier to kind of go laterally and follow connections around our mental versions of the, of the database of the map.
Right. And it just makes that so much easier rather than kind of thinking in silos. Now I’m thinking innovation and bi-directional links, much more.
Norman Chella: [00:55:28] Yeah, I know. I’m starting to think that way as well, even writing notes in my notebook, I would add the brackets. Because I know that they would be important later on once it put them on my Roam craft pathetic, that’s just be going insane. I, I’m not
Michael Ashcroft: [00:55:44] The worst thing about using Roam actually is at work. I don’t, I don’t really use it. I use it for kind of logging my, how I feel, what kind of social stuff, but I don’t use it for actual note taking and I can’t tell you how bad one note is. Um, you know, until you’ve used Roam seriously, it’s like, I want bi-directional link.
I want to tag the sentence. I want to do all the things that I can’t do because, ah, that’s just switching between like note taking paradigms is difficult I’m finding.
Norman Chella: [00:56:13] But, uh, with the advent of Rome research growing over time, especially for the next five years with true believers like yourself. Michael, thank you so much for being on the show.
Where can we find you if we want the contact you or talk to you about Alexander Technique or anything, any field of your interest?
Michael Ashcroft: [00:56:35] Sure. Um, so main place is, uh, Twitter I’m at, @m_ashcroft. Um, I write a newsletter called Thinking Out Loud, which is the broadest title I could think of. thinkingoutloud.substack.com and there’s an Alexander Technique one as well at, expandingawareness.substack.com
Norman Chella: [00:56:56] awesome. And of course links to all of these will be in the public Roam graph for RoamFM. So if you want to copy these notes over, especially these on the fly notes, which I’m going to be honest when we were writing this out. Oh, well, I was writing this out. I stopped halfway cause I was just listening.
So we might be incomplete right there, but it should be okay. Links to all of these will be in the graph for you to copy to your own. So. Michael. Thank you so much. Thank you.
Thank you for listening to the show. Make sure to hit subscribe in your favorite podcast listening app and for a full version of the show notes.
To this episode, you can check out the public Roam graph. The link to that will be in the description right below for more updates, comments, feedback, and suggestions. You can reach out to me @roamfm on Twitter. Keep roaming your thoughts, and I will see you in the next episode. Take care.