Living in your head
Let's start with two truths:
1. All people are mortal, no one is an exception, and the life that is sometimes so annoying - chaotic, filled with relationship troubles, worries, concerns - will come to an end someday. At all.
2. To the very end, every day, every minute, we are in company with the one and only person - ourselves. The rest of the people in our lives, the events, the ideas, are only the result of our own minds.
And here is the question: how to live the rest of your own life as pleasantly as possible, without being irritated by trifles, without being led by obsessive thoughts? To do this we need to understand how our brain works.
The brain is very complex, but not so much that we cannot figure it out - for our own benefit. Its structure can be explained in a million ways, but Campbell Walker chose the language of metaphor. The reason is simple: the brain loves making analogies, tracing relationships, noticing the unobvious.
Pathways to a clear mind
The brain can be compared to a houseboat floating on the sea of life. Imagine you were in one, not just for one night, but for the rest of your life. You are the captain of this ship. It belongs only to you.
Let's say you haven't given much thought to your role or paid much attention to the household entrusted to you before. But now it's time to take a walk around the houseboat and find out how it all works. Say, figure out what rattling noise is coming from the engine room. Take a closer look at the passengers who keep you company. Finally, have a general cleaning. You'll agree that it would be imprudent to leave everything as it is - you still have a long way to go.
No one ever prepared in advance to be the captain of a houseboat, and in the middle of the open sea. But everyone deserves a good houseboat, don't they?
When you look around, you realize that the houseboat is cluttered to the ceiling with a mass of things: things you took on board years ago, fished out once, borrowed from friends and acquaintances. A whole mountain of junk. This junk is our thoughts, and it is the most important hindrance to a clear mind. We stumble over them all the time. But we tend to procrastinate with cleaning, taking new routes around the house, adjusting to get around the mountains of stuff. It's easier than cleaning. But gradually the house becomes too crowded.
Of course, there are real treasures hidden in that mountain of stuff - you can't just toss everything you've accumulated overboard. An audit is required. You'll need a notepad and a pencil for the mental cleanup - nothing more. In this notebook you will write down what's on your mind. The point is to unload thoughts from your head onto some other medium. Each step on your way to a clear mind will be accompanied by small tasks for this journal.
You can replace the notebook with a smartphone or laptop. If you don't like to write, speak on a tape recorder.
Don't worry about style and punctuation.
The composition is not important either. If you want to diversify your notes with diagrams and drawings, add them.
As soon as all your thoughts are on paper and your mind is clear, you find that the houseboat is not empty at all. A lot of people are floating with you. There's the kindergarten teacher who once called you a slob. Here are a couple of classmates who were particularly fond of teasing you. Here are the parents who always have an opinion about what you're doing wrong...
Surprisingly, while occupying your floating house, these people don't cheer you up or support you, all they do is spoil your mood. They are not always the enemy: many you love and respect. The problem is that you once took their opinions as your own. Their judgment became you. Since then, all these people are members of one big party in your floating house. Sometimes you manage to distract yourself from them with loud music and hors d'oeuvres, but not for long.
Well, it wasn't in your power to prevent all those passengers from ever coming aboard. But it is in your power to point them to the door now. For starters, it's worth learning not to be distracted by "music" and "hors d'oeuvres."
It's time to steer the houseboat to where you really want to go. At this point it turns out that you are not the only one at the helm. There are five "bosses" on the ship. Each of them has a different opinion on where this ship should sail. And each one is very persuasive. These "bosses" are our needs.
The need to fulfill hidden desires. This is the most frantic, vitriolic "boss." "Drop everything and go on a safari tour," he pushes you to the side.
The need for security. What matters most to this "boss" is a roof over your head, a supply of food in your refrigerator, and a financial cushion.
The need for communication. This "boss" gently but emphatically tells you to sail to other ships, stick together, and most of all value the joy of communication.
The need to satisfy ambition. To conquer the world, to win all the trophies, to become famous in Hollywood - this "boss" does not agree to anything less.
The need for self-actualization. A million in a bank account, an interview with Oprah Winfrey - it's all good, but much more valuable is the feeling when you know that you did the right thing, got fair support.
When the time comes to make decisions, it is inevitable to meet with inner demons. Of course, they are not real, not from the underworld, but they know how to poison your life. These demons are your inner critics. No, I'm not talking about the bullies from the past (we dealt with them in the second phase).
It's about the inner, preset settings of your mind.
The demon is in denial. On any initiative, he waves his hand: "Why do you need it at all? Vanity of vanities, it's not worth it.
The demon is frightened. He always has the worst-case scenario at the ready. You want to go sledding down a winter slide? You'll end up with a broken neck, no less.
The consensual demon. His favorite question is, "What will others think?"
The demon is easy-going. He doesn't really like to bore himself with thinking. Is there a big speech tomorrow? I think I'll sit at the bar tonight! Distractions are his thing. It's that demon that keeps things from getting done.
The demon-hater. His job is to produce the worst evaluation you can be given and give it to you before anyone else has had a chance to give it to you. He almost never hits his target. But it spoils the mood.
The perfectionist demon. "Either do everything perfectly or don't do it at all," he whispers. And in doing so ruins half the endeavor.
The regretful demon. He's forever stuck in the past and loves to dwell on the moments when "things went wrong" (even if they did).
Demon comparing. "I don't care what you've actually accomplished - your neighbor's lawn is always greener."
These demons never have good news for you. But, as with "bosses," the best way to have a good relationship with them is to listen without making judgments. Soon you notice that their dramas are exaggerated, their fears overblown. And these demons are cardboard.
Here's the trick: Panic demons wish you well. All together they are your safety instinct, one of the deepest and most important. Yes, it is important for us to compare ourselves to others, because from ancient times we have only survived in tribes. Yes, it is better to be frightened and run away from an imaginary predator than to be caught in the jaws of a tiger. It's just that demons think it's better to be overthinking than underthinking. It's like the fire alarms in our homes: not every alarm is a call to panic and flee outside but look where the smoke is coming from first.
As we drive the houseboat, we see our surroundings through the windshield. But it is not transparent. On the contrary, it constantly distorts the landscape, either by exaggerating some details or by retouching them altogether. It never gives the whole picture. But by playing with details, it helps us see the big picture faster and saves time. It is important to understand the settings of this glass. Psychologists call them cognitive distortions. Here are the main ones:
We tend to concentrate on the negative (a skill that helped our ancestors survive: all careless optimists were eaten by saber-toothed tigers).
We only take in information that is consistent with our beliefs, and we discard the rest of the details.
The more accessible the information, the more truthful it seems to us.
We overestimate what we possess. Let's say we ask for three times what a used car is really worth.
We systematically overestimate our knowledge and capabilities (which is why all grandiose construction projects are longer and more expensive than originally anticipated).
When working with new information, especially numbers, we focus on previously perceived information, even if it has nothing to do with the current problem ("anchor effect"). If you are a seller, triple the price of your product, to an unbelievable amount, and then lower it a little, and the buyer will agree to the resulting price, albeit a very high one.
We don't like change very much. "Don't fix it before it's broken" is our brain's motto.
You can't get rid of these settings for good, but you can take note of them - and avoid them if possible.
Now that you've figured out how the mind works and its inhabitants, life probably presents itself to you in a slightly different light. Write down your discoveries. Your houseboat isn't empty at all: the "bosses" are still here, and so are the demons. They still have opinions on various things, but you have the final say. It gives you a sense of freedom. That feeling is transient. Things happen in life. You can't have an audit of your mind once and for all. Go back to the journal and its exercises again and again. It helps you train the three most important powers that will serve you forever:
No two floating houses are built to the same blueprint. There are no universal recipes for universal happiness. This article is only a compass, but you are the captain of the ship.