I thought I had perfect eyesight when I was a kid. I also thought the world revolved around me, but that turned out to be more correct than me having perfect eyesight. I remember it foggily: I was on a dock waiting for the ferry with my dad and my brother. I said, “let’s see who can first spot the ferry’s name”. I expected to win as I was the main character of the world. My brother saw it first. Seconds later my father saw it. “Huh”, I thought. “Strange”. Another 30-40 seconds passed before I could see the name. The evidence pointed to imperfect vision. Still, I didn’t accept it. Instead, I continued cheating on eyesight tests throughout school by memorizing the letters they tested us with. A slightly blurry view was how I experienced the world. I had no reason to doubt what I saw. It was what I saw after all. What I see must be the truth, must it not? Isn’t the world exactly as I see it?
Beliefs Shape Our World
All of us construct our own view of the world – a set of lenses we see the world through.
Our beliefs are mental constructs we use to interpret the world. The mind is a network of these beliefs, like a city is a network of roads. Like a car can only drive through streets, we can only think through our beliefs. Our constructs, or beliefs, are the only streets our thoughts are free to move in. A well constructed web of constructs can take a person through more of the city of experiences. A rigid web of constructs takes us through the same roads every day. Our bosses are “stupid”; our little sisters are “evil”; the weather is “bad”; He should “respect” me; I have the “right” to.
“The mind becomes that which it contemplates.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley
We create constructs by finding contrast and similarities. All these constructs – “stupid”, “evil”, “respect” – are two-way streets. Stupid and not stupid; evil and not evil; respect and not respect. Similarity and contrast. The more we walk up and down these streets by judging, the more familiar we become with these streets, and the more automatically we walk them. Soon, we judge everyone as evil or not evil. Respectful or disrespectful. Throughout life we add layers of these lenses on top of our biological lenses.
You have never seen the world as it is. You have only seen it as you have experienced it – through your own lenses.
You Create the World of Duality
Every construct in our minds are based on similarity and contrast. Whatever we create, we also create the opposite. All truths create opposite truths. Seeking the good, we create the bad. There is no light without dark. There is no foreground without background. There is no free will without determinism. All judgments create the opposite judgment.
“Wherever there is success there has to be failure.” – Peter Drucker
The Mind Built on Sand
We started early by adopting unfounded beliefs from our parents, from our friends, and from what we saw on TV. We started to see the world differently from how it really is. Every experience was forced into our favourite two-way streets. Stupid Street, Evil Street, Beautiful Street, Genius Street, and Respect Street.
Money, religion, health, love, relationships, talent vs. effort; The stories that surrounded us, shaped us. We inherited beliefs and mindsets. But over time our network of beliefs grew different from everyone else’s. We started interpreting the world differently, and built our own worldview. This gave rise to frustration and anger. How could people see situations in a different way from me? Do they not see how it is? It is as clear as day! They must be “evil”. We assume that others see the same world. Therefore, we cannot understand – we even get angry – when people support some presidential candidate. What we fail to realize is that voting for said candidate makes sense through their systems of constructs.
The rigid mind has few and inflexible constructs through which to experience the world. An example of a rigid mind is when someone interpret events as black and white, all or nothing, nothing but. “Nothing but stupidity”, “nothing but racism”, “nothing but anger”, etc.
If you habitually use the construct angry to describe people, then that is the lens you see all people through, including yourself. You might feel guilty if you are angry; you might think a lot about your own anger. If you interpret other people as angry you will adopt reactionary behavior along the same dimension. You become angry or very “not angry”. Sadly, angry is a shallow construct that reduces people, including ourselves, into simple binary people. Labels, like angry, evil, and stupid, are objectifying and dehumanizing.
How you understand others is the only way you can understand yourself. Judgments of others, breed judgments of self. Understanding breeds understanding.
The Mind of A Sheep
We learn by guessing about the world – creating an expectation – then seeing if our expectation matches reality. If our expectation is validated, we believe it more strongly. The most accurate way to test our expectations, known to modern man (although far from 100% accurate), is modern science. We can carefully construct experiments to see if the world is really how we expect it to be. In reality we make shortcuts. One of those shortcuts is to see if our expectation matches the expectations of others.
Therefore, it is easy to fall into the herd mentality. We believe our constructs are validated because others believe the same. We become friends with people who are similar to us, because it is comforting to believe the same as them. Everyone in the social circle expects the same. Therefore they validate each other’s beliefs irrespective of empirical truth. People weren’t stupid when they believed the earth was flat. They had empirical evidence (it looks flat wherever you are) and everyone else believed it.
We scan the world for meaning using our own system of constructs. If people around us scan in a similar way we find more certainty in our system. If they are dissimilar we feel resistance towards our system. This is painful. Therefore, we try to fit in. We play roles depending on the group’s expectancies. A sensitive, idea-driven individual in a group of logical, sensory-driven people will conform her system to theirs. In so doing, the sensitive, idea-driven person suppress her natural tendencies.
Furthermore, we share our constructs with others, which makes it even more difficult to change them. Our friends depend on their own beliefs for peace of mind. If you start behaving in ways contradictory to what they believe, they will resist the change. This is painful. We also want to be able to predict our friend’s behavior, and staying the same makes it easier to predict our friends’ behavior.
Choose your friends carefully if you want to live life to the fullest. A flexible mind is characterized by personal growth, openness to experience, adventure, and curiosity. If you want stability and certainty, you have human nature on your side.
You Do Not Want Happiness
You might believe you want happiness, but more than that you want to be right. The self craves self-consistency more than anything else. It wants to be right. It wants its stories to be confirmed. Happiness be damned! The self will rather choose anger and frustration over contemplation and reevaluation (until contemplation and reevaluation is a part of the self). When something makes you angry or distressed you ‘should’ know that there is something in your system which distorts reality. How can you know? Because life just is. It is neither good nor bad. If you cannot accept reality as it unfolds you have not seen reality for what it really is; you have only seen it through your own lense of what is good or bad. You might think of many cases as you read this, where it is right to be angry or distressed. Like I already said, before happiness you wish to be right.
“Ultimately a man sets the measure of his own freedom and his own bondage by the level at which he chooses to establish his convictions.” – George A. Kelly
A Better Brain System
The reason you built your system of constructs is that you want to anticipate and control. We will sacrifice happiness for “being right”; sacrifice reality for certainty. And your system has helped you make sense of a world of nonsense. Without your system the world would be like a kaleidoscope of irregular colours and shapes. However, your current system of beliefs is the only way you can possibly see the world. Therefore, you will interpret events in line with how you have always done, so that your belief system will give its own circular proof of its validity. Our personalities do not change much after adolescence, because we believe so strongly in the illusion that what we see, and what we think, is how the world is. Something needs to shake us out of this illusion if we want change.
A good system for viewing the world lets you take life in your stride. It lets you change without your world crumbling apart. This type of system consists of fundamental principles – or theories – of life. An example of how a universal principle might look is:
“If I am angry I have a distorted view of reality.”
With this principle contained in your worldview, you are open to changing your system whenever something throws you off balance. It doesn’t mean that you have to change; it opens the door for change.
“Anxiety is a sign that my system does not help me predict the situation accurately.“
“Nervousness is a sign that my system gives me a distorted picture of myself.“
Superconstructs, which connect many smaller constructs give additional degrees of freedom, like a wormhole to other parts of the universe. One such construct is that all mental constructs are imposed upon a deeper reality; that the constructs have their own existence, but that they are not the ultimate reality. They only shape reality for the owner. The best superconstructs are universal principles that are applicable to most of life’s events. The fewer and more powerful, the better.
The Three Principles of Change
If we want to change we have to do what leads to change. The three principles of change are prediction, experimentation and validation.
To change, which is to learn, we first need to make alternative predictions about the world. We can try on new beliefs by making predictions for how the world behaves if the belief is true. However, predictions are not created equal. Strong predictions lead to strong validation. Vague predictions lead to vague validation.
This step requires care, because our minds are built to confirm our beliefs. Therefore, we try to make predictions based on positive beliefs. Furthermore, we need to let go of the need to be right with our old beliefs. We need to see that our old constructs are only suggestions for representation of reality.
The next step is to test our predictions. We learn by seeing similarity and contrast, so the smart learner tests his predictions in many situations and settings. The smart learner do not make judgments based on single events.
Imagine an aspiring comedian who has dreamed of doing stand-up for ten years. She writes what she believes is brilliant material, and wants to see if she has what it takes. Luckily, she is a smart learner and books an entire week of shows to test her prediction that she can be a comedian. Monday night is terrible. Her brain freezes, she stutters and gets booed off stage. Many would give up at this point, and conclude that they are not cut out to be a comedian. But she knows that it was just the first stage of data collection. Her experimentation continues, with fantastic nights on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Now, she knows that it is possible. She knows that her new construct, “I am a comedian”, can be reality. Friday night is even worse than her first night, but she has seen the light. She has changed her reality.
The third principle of change is validation of our data. This demands courage and persistence. Our lovable comedian validated her new construct by finding proof that she can make strangers laugh. She made a strong prediction, and found strong validation.
The Three Blocks to Change
The first block to change is fear. Fear blocks us from making new types of predictions. When we feel threatened we retreat back to our old mind system. That is why we act like children when we feel criticised or afraid. Change can also be scary because we are afraid to lose certainty and meaning if we let go of old beliefs.
The second block is excessive focus on the past. Focusing on the past blocks us from doing new experiments. All your old constructs lies in the past. The past is also where you found validation for all your old constructs. Therefore, the mind that dwells in the past replays the thoughts and events that made the mind rigid in the first place. However, in some rare cases, we find a new and especially powerful belief that casts a new light on all our old experiences. This can be a transformative and enlightening experience.
The third block is a lack of context for testing. If we want to validate our new predictions of the world we need a context in which to experiment. Our aspiring comedian cannot live the life of a hermit. She needs comedy nights and other people to test her prediction.
Mind Hacks for Mindpower
Like a home owner inspects his house, you can inspect your mind structure. If you find something that is rotten, tear it down and rebuild with better material. If a wall is unnecessary, tear it down and get more space.
When you rebuild your mind to become flexible, life opens up. You start seeing meaning everywhere; anger stays away from your doorstep; frustration gets no foothold; opportunities overflow; and life becomes an adventure. The rebuilding is the adventure. The process is everything.
Action is key. The best psychological hacks mean nothing if you do not use them. The best program for change is the one you actually execute. Any large change comes from making it a practice. When it is a habit, it is you. Find the mind hacks you want to turn into habits, then make them a practice. I recommend the “Way of Life”-app to keep track and get daily reminders.
Mind Hack #1 – Subtract to Perfect
We suffer because we want to be right. Therefore, we need to let go of the need to be right and adopt the need for what serves us. If a belief makes your life miserable, why are you keeping it? Because it is true? Can you know it is true? When you formed the belief you also created the opposite truth. If it doesn’t serve you, let it go. Discard useless beliefs. Keep What Makes You Happy and Tranquil.
“Perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.” – Antoine de Saint Exupéry
Mind Hack #2 – Meditate
Meditation is the act of letting go of thoughts as they arise. Meditation takes away the power of your beliefs, because you practice saying to your thoughts: “you’re not that important. I am letting you go”. You can start reconstructing from the space you gain from meditation.
Related reading: Foundation for Conscious Creation – a Quiet Mind Is a Good Start
Tip: Headspace is a great app for meditation.
Mind Hack #3 – Try on New Hats
Be fun for a day. Be like a kid. Joke around. Sing. Jump in the water on rainy days. Ask yourself, “Have I made a fool our of myself today?”. Hopefully, your answer is yes more days than not.
We drive the same road every day to work. We think and act in the same two-way streets of our minds. Our mental habits are mental prisons for our lives. To break out, try doing everything the opposite way for 48 hours. Try on different beliefs and different points of view. Take the stairs instead of the elevator; run instead of cycling; talk to your co-workers, instead of buying into the illusion of busyness; smile for no reason; see the good instead of the bad in your boss. Does your new hat make you more productive, more happy, more calm? Keep it on! Everything is open to reframing.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
Mind Hack #4 – Decide Who You Are, Then Work on It
The story you have of who you are is by definition wrong. It is just a story. In reality, the story of who you are is always changing, but it feels permanent. If you are not happy with the story, you can create a new one by making a decision. You can decide who you are – the new you – and then work at it.
Like anything in life, if you want big results you need to make it a regular practice. It is easier to change your thinking with new action, than it is to change your actions with new thinking. The work never ends, but the benefits keep on coming.
Mind Hack #5 – Ask the Right Questions
What is essential in my life? What is unessential? Why? What would I do if I knew I could not fail?
To make great strides you must ask great questions. Questions are the driving forces behind any change. Poor questions, poor results. Garbage in, garbage out. The best questions go to the core of life. They tune out the noise, and turn up the volume for high quality input.
The most powerful question is why. However, it is a double-edged sword. If we are lazy and accept our first thoughts, we build on the illusion. Dig deeper.
Mind Hack #6 – Mind Hacking with Stories
The easiest way to rebuild your mind with quality material is to immerse yourself in good stories. What we believe now, is in large part determined by what stories we have been surrounded with. If you grew up amish, you probably have a strained relationship with modern technology. If all your friends believe crystals heal you, you are likely to believe the same. Other people’s beliefs are like mirrors held up in front of us. If we expose ourselves to beautiful stories, we see the beauty in ourselves.
Beautiful stories, with beautiful beliefs and new ways to look at life, are easy to find. We find them in the right people, the right books, the right podcasts, the right movies. Try exposing yourself to beautiful stories for at least 30 minutes every day.
Related reading: Create Your Own Reality by Telling Stories
Mind Hack #7 – Get Help
Like me, you might have no clue about how to assess the structure of your house. Therefore, we hire others to come look at our house. Carpenters, bricklayers, vermin eradication experts. It is even more difficult to assess your own mind structure, because you use that structure for the assessment. It is like asking the eyes to check on themselves, which is impossible without a mirror. Other people can act as mirrors for your mind. It can be a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a mental coach, or a wise friend. The important thing is that they can help you look where you have not yet looked.
The Ultimate Mind Hack – The System Reboot
“Since [the universe] owes no prior allegiance to any one man’s construction system, it is always open to reconstruction.” – George A. Kelly
Beyond constructs is enlightenment. Beliefs, meanings, and thoughts are the illusions that keep us from seeing. We see that it is all constructs, and that the opposite of each is also true.
Enlightenment is the ultimate reset of the mind. When we see what is before, and experience raw reality, we are where we can rebuild with a solid foundation. We can choose to construct whatever we like in our minds, because we see through the illusion. We are free to build our minds without attachment to the system that held us back. We can build on solid ground.
Enlightenment is the end of subtraction; the attainment of spiritual reality. To get there, we need tools that help us subtract. The best tool, that also happens to be free, is meditation. Meditation as a tool has worked for thousands of years, and it is more important than ever before. I often say that the day my life started accelerating was the day I started meditating.
Meditation is a way to become aware of our mental constructs; a way of taking back power. We see the thought and let it go. Letting go is acknowledging that it is not important. If it is difficult to let it go, it means you are attached. Ask yourself why you are attached to this thought, then let it go.
When you are able to let go of all thoughts you are back to fundamentals – pure experience – and you are more susceptible than ever to adoption of new, better principles.
Kelly, George Alexander (1963). A Theory of Personality: The Psychology of Personal Constructs. W.W. Norton and Company. pp. 190 pages.