Autohypnosis: Controlling Your Own Mind

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In this era of psychology, the most common method of mitigating mental illness is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. This involves taking control of your mind in a big way. You take an outside viewpoint on your thoughts, and rationally decide if they lead to positive or negative behaviors. Based on that, you increase or decrease their strength and frequency.

Doing this can, over time, completely change the way you think. You are in effect actively manipulating your thought processes.  The core behavior behind CBT can be applied to a multitude of areas in all categories of life.

A Note on Professional Help

If you are chronically depressed, or have experienced suicidal ideation, cognitive self-medication is not the answer. Seek professional help and don’t risk your livelihood.

Turning it to Your Benefit

The core idea behind CBT is a powerful one: we can fundamentally change the way we think. We can fundamentally change ourselves into different people. This means that, contrary to much popular opinion, we’re not stuck with the mental cards we’re dealt. Instead, the cards we have are purely our own to choose.

There have been many times in my life that I have reached a point of despair. The only way out was to force myself into a feeling of lightness and productivity. The “jump out of bed” moments have been pivotal in my life, and I seek them out as I continue.

Where CBT comes in is that I consciously control my thoughts. I prevent myself from thinking negative thoughts: when a negative thought pops into existence, I rationalize it into non-existence. I know that they do not help me, so there is no reason to let them continue to exist. Without mitigating negative thoughts, they will grow. Self-doubt will spiral, becoming larger and larger until it topples your paradigm.

This is an avoidable disaster. There is no need to fall at all, as long as you properly manage yourself. Run your mind like a business. You have to have enough stock of certain commodities or you are doomed to failure; if you do not have enough social interaction, exercise, food, etc then you will not be able to build upwards towards greatness and self-actualization.

Run Your Mind Like a Business

Imagine that social interaction is a product you’re selling. You’re selling it to your body and to your subconscious mind: through social interaction you gain a lively energy that will push you forward unlike any other. 

If you notice that your stock of social interaction is running low, and that soon you’ll run out, what would you do as the CEO of yourself? Would you let it run out, disappointing your customers and leaving them bereft of a product they’ve come to rely on, or would you order enough to last for a while? The answer is the latter, of course. Again, run your mind like a business. The same concept applies to all of the aforementioned concepts, especially base things such as social interaction, exercise, diet, and drugs such as caffeine. Some products, you want to order a lot. Others, you want to order just a little. Caffeine would be an example of a product where you just want to order a little.

Narrowly Focusing Willpower

Secondary to running your mind like a business, there is the tenet of being appropriately and narrowly focused. If you attempt to push your energy in too many directions, you will find that you can’t affect any major change in any of them; instead, focus your energy in only one or two directions. Treat your energy as a laser, not a lamp. Do not radiate in all directions, but push an overwhelming force against your goals and they will not be able to hold up.

The Hose Analogy

A useful analogy I’ve found for this concept is that your willpower is as a hose (or a pipe, if you fancy): if you have only one exit for the water in the hose, you will have the maximum and intended amount of willpower: you will have the pressure required to erode any stone. If instead, you poke many holes in the hose, your willpower and energy will dribble out in several different directions. Who ever thought a dribble was powerful?

Controlling Your Outward Influence

Noticing Your Effects

The third most important tenet of autohypnosis is mindfulness. There has been a large current towards mindfulness in psychology, with many studies finding it to be the most important factor for success. Mindfulness means taking a critical stance towards yourself: it means analyzing yourself from an outside perspective when necessary and noticing overarching patterns in your actions. A useful exercise for this is to imagine you’re talking to a clone of yourself. You are giving him/her advice. What advice would you give? What problems would you say aren’t really problems? Would you advice him/her to take more action, or less action? Take a moment to do this and you’ll see how powerful mindfulness can be.

When you write in a journal, you are essentially doing this. You are writing to an imaginary, idealized you: you are telling him/her what is important to you, and what changes you want to make. Personally, I’ve taken to the habit of a weekly review: I sit down on Sunday and I analyze my past week. What were my successes and failures? What should I be proud of doing well, and what could I do better? Through this habit, I’ve nearly completely eliminated the risk of losing myself. It doesn’t happen.

To lose yourself is the worst thing that can happen. When you lose yourself, you enter dead time: time that is a sunk cost with no benefit. It’s in this time that you find yourself staying in, playing videogames and consuming two whole pizzas in one sitting. This is not a desirable lifestyle for me, and certainly doesn’t get me closer to any of my goals.

How to Maintain Mindfulness

There are a number of useful habits for maintaining mindfulness. With a combination of meditation, journaling, and heart-to-heart introspective talks with friends and family, you can maintain a clear view on yourself. And having a clear, frank view on yourself is really all you need to succeed. With a true image of yourself, you know exactly where you are. Once you know both where you are and where you want to go (the fun part), you can easily get there. You just have to find out the how. And if you can effectively utilize yourself to maximum efficiency, most hows become exceedingly small. 

Nearly all of the blocks exist not in the outside world, but inside your head: there are mental blocks everywhere. We are both socially conditioned to act a certain way and have a predisposition to act a certain way because of tribal psychology. We are cavemen in modern-human clothing. Just exceedingly smart and capable cavemen, with larger social networks than ever before.

Learn to exploit yourself. Treat yourself like a business, make sure you order enough stock to last the season. Make sure you give yourself the appropriate amount of everything, and you’ll be able to afford that self-actualization with the heated seats you’ve always wanted to buy.

By using the ideas behind CBT for your own benefit, you can change yourself completely. You can shift paradigms and remove your identity as a limiting factor. 

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Build Bridges

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Don’t tread water, build bridges.

There are few things that provide more clarity than a walk. Being among nature, looking at the rooftops and the treeline that we so often miss, you find a rare quiet.

The mind piles with minutiae over time. They physically manifest as anything from a mild burning sensation in the forehead to extreme headaches. As these come to a critical point, they must be flushed.

This is quite easy. The natural world–still existing, unabashed–must be rediscovered. I, myself am often guilty of losing sight of the things that matter. I find myself stressed, dead tired and sore for no good reason. There is always a simple cause. I have neglected my body, and I have neglected nature.

There are so many things in life that sap our humanity. From inescapable financial worries to the gigantic social networks you must manage, life encroaches. This artificially inflated realm becomes our own–and worse, our only–world. It pays to reel yourself back in from time to time. You must be reminded that that is not the real world. Being with nature serves this purpose. It connects you to the past.

I live in a cycle. I have weeks of upward spirals: increased productivity and a bolstering of both mood and life satisfaction. But a small problem inevitably comes along and I topple. Everything comes down, and it takes several days to repair myself. But in this time of recession, I don’t worry. Certain things never leave. The wonder of nature and the peace found in quiet contemplation are constants.

When the going gets tough, you must mitigate. And you must have procedures in place to do so. While you are in a high state, create for your future: make a plan for when you have trouble. What will you do, day to day? What will you eat, how often will you exercise? These preset behavior acts as the scaffolding to hold you up during tough times.

The most important part of this scaffolding is journaling. Journaling gives you a birds-eye view of your life. You will identify patterns in your behavior, and you will learn how to play them. You will find yourself consciously heading towards your ideal self. Without journaling, I have found it easy to fall into a rut. In life it is simple to let the small worries absorb you; it is easy to give into baser needs. But in giving in, you lose sight of all that is grand and important. Through journaling, you can end the cycle of being caught by these baser needs and pulling yourself out. You can be permanently conscientious, permanently mindful.

Beyond journaling, you must not forget to keep yourself anchored in reality. The world is split: there is the world of your physical surroundings, and the world through your devices and screens. These must be kept separate, and you must take care to avoid excessive time in the virtual world. Too much time there will cause it to meld with your physical reality; this is dangerous. The internet is a torrent of knowledge. To harvest it, you must take it one bucket at a time. To immerse yourself is to be caught in the torrent and to drown.

I have found that if you let the torrent take hold, with all of its dissonant ideas, you will never accomplish much of note. You will be lost in a whirlwind of love and hate. Accomplish one goal at a time. Quietly empower yourself. There is no need to solve every problem at once. In attempting, you will be paralyzed by choice. I have found that I am most lacking in productivity and purpose when I do not know what I want to do. Once I am sure of where I want to go, things become simple: lay out the steps and follow them. Yogi Berra described this best: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

Vagabonding

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I tapped on her shoulder. She turned around, smiled, and I pulled her in for a hug. Then I shook her hand. A proper introduction was necessary, she said. The night that followed on that gulf beach led into an odyssey of adventure. I had never known the charm and comfort of sleeping in a car in a dead parking lot. Nor had I known the sting of sand fleas so intimately.

It was shortly after this fling that I said goodbye. I traveled to California, to see my family, then to Maryland, my semi-permanent home. Arriving in Maryland, I took time to adapt myself. I learned the ins and outs of my work, of military life. At some point in that process, everything changed. I decided that I no longer wanted to search for happiness.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but it really is the key to happiness. Don’t look for it. I realized that nothing external could give me rich, lasting happiness. Nothing could give me satisfaction, other than allowing myself to have it for free.

This can, naturally, be a difficult thing to do. Many of us are caught up in the external world; we are so intimately attached to material things. To extricate ourselves would seem impossible. I am not asking that we separate ourselves completely. I am not recommending to go off the grid, or live the rest of your days as some mountain man übermensch. I only ask that you try to be happy.

Take all of the worries in your mind. Acknowledge them, and give them care. But after that, tuck them away for now. Focus on your immediate environment. Focus on your body. Ask yourself what small things you can do, right now, to push yourself forward.

Once you have done this, you should feel a sort of calm. This is the calm of being present. And this calm, this content happiness, is constantly achievable.

I allowed myself to be happy. And over time, this happiness compounded itself. I pushed my circle of influence forward and out. I made new friends everywhere, it seemed to happen naturally. My relationships with old friends grew stronger, richer. Over time, I felt myself become no longer stifled. I could express myself freely, with no narrow filter of anxiety.

Around the same time this happened, I took a trip to a bookstore. In the back of the building–with books on economics and Eastern spirituality piled around me–I found a copy of The 4-Hour Work Week, by Timothy Ferriss. The title intrigued me. Over the course of a week, I spent my late nights reading it. I have a great deal of admiration for Mr. Ferris. He and his book, as I’m sure they have done to others, changed my paradigm completely. In the span of a week, my dreams changed: I no longer wanted to work for a fortune. I no longer wanted to work until I died.

Instead, I decided, I would become a vagabond. And I will become a vagabond. And I have a plan to do so.

The world stands ready, as always, to host the eager traveler. There are so many who see travel as a high dream, an end goal. As something forever out of reach. But it is not. All that stands to hold one back is the motivation to create change in one’s life. To throw away the old rules, and create new ones.

With this new resolution, added to my list of personal promises, I make one more: I will be completely mobile by age 25. I look forward to sharing it with you.

 

Spontaneity

I think that spontaneity is one of the most desirable traits.

I look for it in myself, and I look for it in other people. But I seldom find it. It seems to me that many (perhaps most) people are satisfied with living a simpler sort of life. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this. But why is that?

Is the draw of a simpler life the result of the intense, human feeling of comfort? We gain comfort through stability. It makes sense, then, that to avoid discomfort we would avoid instability.

However, comfort and stagnation are two sides of the same coin. Without experiencing discomfort we may not grow. It is the process of being thrust out of our comfort zone–either through events in our lives or by our own accord–that we become matured. Through the willful collection of reference experiences, we gain more to fall back on; we build our foundations.

When I think back on the things I have done, it is clear which memories are the most vivid. It is the uncomfortable ones. But in memory, the negative emotions I may have felt in the presence have faded away. I am able to look back fondly upon most of my memories. I try to hold this knowledge in my mind: whatever negative emotions I may experience in the moment, they will fade. Insults, rejections, physical discomforts–their sting disappears. Some of my happiest memories are those made in uncomfortable situations.

We can apply this. On one level, an individual is a collection of his or her memories. If one can hold a hugely varied collection of memories, won’t one be also hugely varied? Wouldn’t that make one more sophisticated, more compelling? And–if uncomfortable memories become happy in the end–wouldn’t that make one happier? We should not be afraid to make uncomfortable memories. In the end, they will cease to be so.

I often do things just for the sake of doing them. If there’s no compelling reason not to, why not? Why not do it anyway, even if it’s late, or it’s far, or I’m already exhausted? It doesn’t matter.  There doesn’t have to be a reason. Experiencing things in those ways broadens my life. It is living a full story, not a brochure. I think one of the most despicable things is to follow a preset track when one has independent dreams.

Spontaneity, when not tempered by responsibility, can lead to negative outcomes. Things don’t always go the way you plan. People can end up disappointed; important projects can remain unfinished. But I’ve found that simply the effort of pushing yourself out into the world is enough. It seems as if your mind, or the world, recognizes your efforts. It rewards you with new confidence, a result of any new experience. It doesn’t matter if you fail. Once you try, you win. 

 

 

Paradigms

Have you ever stepped back, reflected on your past, and thought why did I do that?

A law that I’ve come to hold for myself is that of close perspective. It has been defined by multiple communities in different fashions, including in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Close perspective means that–no matter how hard one may try–one cannot see past one’s current situation, one’s current mood. If you are angry, you will view all stimuli through the lens of anger. If you are sad, likewise, you will view all stimuli through the lens of sadness.

This goes further, as close perspective is not defined solely by mood. Your own personal paradigms can also define how you will interpret information. If you view yourself as a higher-value person–if you love yourself–you will view interactions with people through the assumption that others will generally recognize your value. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: this belief will translate into action upon that assumption, which will in turn cause others to react positively and reinforce your belief.

In my own, recent experience, I have made an interesting observation: the results from this change in belief are not consistent with the effort put in. The results outweigh the effort. I have found that small things make a larger difference. Things that may seem insignificant, such as prolonging a conversation, giving someone a compliment, or chatting with a stranger, all compound into a change in day-to-day mood and perspective.

Social interaction is a human need, much like food or shelter. However, there is a notion that social interaction is not necessary: a growing fashion of introversion. Despite arguments to the contrary, and noted benefits of extra alone time, I think the best avenue to growth is through social interaction and the expansion of your comfort zone. Such a deeply ingrained process can be leveraged to extreme benefit. It is a path to success.

Intelligence is something we cannot change. While we may be able to optimize our minds and increase our efficiency, intelligence is largely determined by birth. What we can change, however, is our level of social skill and charisma. And it is simple to do so.

Breaking close perspective begins first with realizing that your mind can and does change. Following this, you must push yourself forward, into a variety of different perspectives.

Put yourself in situations where you feel uncomfortable. Do things–within reason–that you otherwise would not do. Take the time to consider why you feel reluctant. Is there a legitimate, logical cause? Or is it simply a feeling that is preventing you from taking action? If it is the latter, do it anyway. Do not fall captive to negative feelings of fear and anxiety. They are not a wall; they are a fog. Walk through the fog and you will find yourself on the other side, having achieved what you thought not possible.