Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wheel of Sorrow, Wheel of Guilt

Sometimes I feel like an idea is just too damn big for me to write about.  Not because I don't feel I can do it justice, but because I don't know if I can say it in a way that will actually get it across to anyone.

So I usually hem and haw and babble on about how big the idea is... like I'm doing right now.  But this time, I'm going to try to come right out and say it up front:

There really is a conspiracy against you, and you were born to suffer.

For every thing that you really want to accomplish in your life, your brain and body have built-in mechanisms specifically intended to thwart you in those efforts.  And these mechanisms are actually safety circuits intended to prevent minor "software glitches" in your brain from accidentally killing you!  But their side effect is to thwart most of our efforts at achieving personal goals.

Evolution, you see, does not give a flying f*** whether you are happy or not.  Evolution does not weep for your difficulty in overcoming shyness or your self-esteem problems.  It does not give a damn if you are able to accomplish your goals, unless those goals directly relate to staying alive today or producing viable offspring tomorrow.

And since, in this modern world, we have relatively few problems staying alive and producing offspring, this creates a tremendous disconnect between the way we are built, and...

The Way We Want To Live

Now, you may think that what I've just said is obvious and trivial.  Of course evolution doesn't care, our genes are tuned for scarcity, blah blah blah.

But that's only because you have no idea "how deep this rabbit hole goes".

See, in the last year I've been learning why some forms of self-help work and others don't, and discovering that in some cases, the things that sound like the lamest and stupidest things to do are actually the most useful!

For example, hanging out with successful people, and not hanging out with losers, whiners, nay-sayers, and so forth.

Sounds elitist and simplistic, doesn't it?  And if you're like me, you think to yourself, "I'm above all that; who I hang out with doesn't really make a difference."

How about writing down your goals?  What kind of a no-brainer is that?  What, are you going to forget them or something?  Everybody says, "sure, I should write down my goals"...  and then they don't.  Why not?

And because I believed these things, I was unable to see.  I lived in an illusion that my decisions were 100% free will, that personal choice was paramount, and that it's what's inside that counts.

And as long as you live in that illusion, you will remain trapped on...

The Wheel of Sorrow

We are designed to suffer.  We are designed to fail.  This is obvious if you look at the evidence in our lives, but it is harder to understand why.

For the longest time, I could not reconcile the ideas of evolutionary psychology with the nature of what Psycho-Cybernetics refers to as our "Failure Mechanism".  Why would God, nature, or evolution not want us to succeed at things?  The very idea seems absurd.

But it only seems absurd if you think that your goals are the same as evolution's goals.

If you look at the long-term point of view, which is more important: creativity, or not making a fatal mistake?  Personal fulfillment, or survival?

So, human beings -- like all animals -- have a variety of mechanisms built into them that are specifically designed to limit their personal effectiveness, under certain circumstances.

Because you see, nature's goal is not to make you effective at carrying out your personal goals.  Nature's goal is to make you responsive to your environment.

Why?  The answer is simple: to...

Keep "bugs" In Your Mental Software from Killing You!

You see, when a computer "locks up" or starts randomly doing crazy things, it's no big deal.  We reboot the computer and get on with our lives.

But if your brain were to "lock up" or start randomly doing crazy things, it would be really bad news.

And I'm not talking about mental illness here.  I'm just talking about minor bugs: quirks, obsessions, and whims, basically, but things that could still get you killed in the jungle.  Like if you got fascinated staring at the internal structure of a flower while a tiger sneaks up on you, or something.

So evolution has designed a variety of ingenious safety mechanisms, that act like a kind of error-correcting code, as it were.  Some of these safety mechanisms include:

  • Fear of rejection or being different
  • Tendency to imitate those around you
  • Tendency not to take independent action based on just your own thoughts or ideas
  • Procrastination
  • Feelings of being blocked or stuck when you try to do something new
  • Boredom and inconsistency (so you don't stop paying attention to what's happening around you)

These mechanisms are what I am calling the wheel of sorrow.

Now, this wheel is not a part of consciousness.  You simply observe its effects.  Nothing shows up in  your mind about why you're experiencing any of these feelings or tendencies.  They just do.  Meanwhile, you're busy assuming you have 100% free will and that you can kick the influence of these things "any time you want".

And that is why you end up on...

The Wheel Of Guilt

See, if you have 100% free will and can do whatever you want, whenever you want, then why the hell don't you?

It's a dilemma, isn't it?

Hundreds of people signing up to my "Life In Every Moment" mailing list, describing problems that are basically all on the list of tendencies I just gave you.  And most, if not all, are feeling guilty or embarassed about even having these problems to begin with.

Because they think it's their fault.

They think that people are supposed to be effective, supposed to succeed.

They think that if they're not succeeding, it's because something is wrong with them.

But let me tell you something: if you're not suceeding at achieving personal goals, it has absolutely nothing to do with you, and everything to do with how you're going about it.

Because failure to achieve personal goals simply means you're normal.

Personal success, for human beings, is as unnatural as flying is, for human beings.  We do not have the equipment built in, so...

We Must Use External Tools

We think that if we know something, we'll act on it.  We think that if we "learn" a technique, we'll use it.  We think that if we want something bad enough, we can succeed at getting it.

And yet, none of that jibber-jabber works half as well as writing something down, and putting it where you can see it.

And no amount of one-time hoo-rah motivation, nor one-time pivotal insight, works even a fraction as well as hanging out with people who are already doing what you want to do and succeeding at it.  People who believe it's possible for you.  People who know what it's like.

Because remember, we are physically biased to paying attention to our environment.

From evolution's perspective, what's outside of us is way more important than what's inside.  Evolution doesn't care that you had an idea today that you want to make your living as a cave painter.  Instead, it wants to make sure you don't miss out when the rest of the tribe discovers a fresh kill you can all scavenge some meat off of!

So, if you start thinking about it from this perspective, you begin to realize that just about every difficulty you have in achieving your most important personal and private goals, is actually an error-correcting safety mechanism installed by evolution to protect you from being killed by...

Your Crazy Whims and Fantasies!

And more importantly, you begin to realize that every "classic" self-help technique that's been written about for centuries (or even millennia), is actually a workaround for one or more of those specific error-correcting protocols.

Personal success, in other words, is a clever hack around the limitations of the architecture our brains are built on!

And yet, most of us remain on the wheel of guilt, because we believe we ought to be able to succeed without using these "crutches"!

And the sad thing is this.  The wheel of sorrow is not optional.  You do not have any choice about whether you get these tendencies: you're born with them, and you will have them until you die.  That's just how it is.

But we are not...

Born on the Wheel of Guilt!

We are not born believing in the lie of 100% free will and 100% responsibility.

We are not born believing that we can kick our environmental influences "any time we want".

We are not born believing there is such a thing as "willpower".

We learn these things, and then believe we are strong.  "Oh, I have free will and willpower, nothing can stop me now!"

But then we fail.  And despair.  "Oh, I'm weak, I can't do it."

And then we get another boost of lies.  "Oh, I have this new idea (or technique, insight, motivation, etc.), now I can do it!"  And so the wheel makes another turn.

And while you're on the wheel, you're either going up, or you're going down...

But either way, the wheel goes round!

One one side of the wheel, you're strong and powerful and can do anything.  On the other side, you're weak and helpless and you totally suck at everything.

But both sides are lies.

Because we are strong and weak.  Powerful and helpless.

And when you truly get this, you have a chance of getting off the wheel of guilt.

But not the wheel of sorrows.

That one, you're stuck with.  Can't be changed...  but it can be helped.

So in other words, the way you get off the wheel of guilt is to...

Admit You're Stuck On The Wheel of Sorrows!

For all their flaws, twelve-step recovery programs get this (and a few other things) right: the first step in recovery is to admit that you have a problem, and that it is out of your immediate control.  When you do this, you're in a position to take corrective action to change your environment.

Now, I'm not saying to turn your life into a giant twelve-step program.  For one thing, twelve-step programs are for recovery, not growth.  For another, they tend to assume the permanence of specific addictions, rather than recognizing addictive tendencies as a continuum on the wheel of sorrows for all of us, all the time.

But that's a topic for another time.  Right now, the key point I want to make is that to the extent twelve-step programs are successful, it's because they provide certain elements that are "classic" workarounds for the wheel of sorrows, such as:

  • A regular external structure of meetings, sponsors, etc.
  • A social environment of people with a common belief system
  • A code of behavior with social rewards and punishments
  • Written goals

What you need to understand, however, is that these are not crutches for the weak, unless you want to say that we are all weak, almost without exception.

If you want to believe that you, above all of the rest of us, are strong and can do without these things, well, you have two choices.

You can believe that you're better, or you can actually accomplish something with your life.

And I spent most of my life doing one, but I've found in the last year or so that I greatly prefer doing the other!

So what can you do about this?

You need external support mechanisms.  Period.  That means, among other things:

  • regularity and structure
  • a code of conduct
  • written goals
  • social reinforcement

And these things are actually not that hard to come by.  If you don't have a code of conduct ready to use, you could do a lot worse than my Code of Owners.  If you don't have a social group and don't want to create one, then get off your butt and join the Owners' Circle so you can be in my workshops.

If you don't have written goals, and don't know where to start, get on the mailing list for "Life In Every Moment", and get yourself a free copy of my Six Master Keys worksheets: a complete checklist covering every relevant aspect of the Wheel of Sorrows, both the problems and the solutions.

But look, you need to understand something here.  You don't have to join my group or buy my stuff.  You can go to a freaking church and get half the things on that list I just gave you!  Well, at least you can if your goals match those of the other churchgoers.  Because...

The Key to a Group is Social Harmony

So if your goals and desired beliefs don't match mine or those of your church, you could always put your own group together.  For example, I gather Steve Pavlina is trying to put together a system for people to create local groups of this kind.

However, the thing that is most essential to creating these kinds of support structures is that they be harmonious in beliefs and intentions.  And although it is not necessary that a group understand what they are doing or why it works, it is necessary that such groups be literally religious about adhering to the principles involved.

You can't have a group that meets at random intervals, or wavers in its message or code.  You can't have written goals that you stick in a closet and don't look at.  You can't have some people living by one set of rules, and another set following another.

And all my life, I never wanted to believe any of these things, because I'm just too much of a libertarian/rational humanist at heart.  I've always been the rebel, believing that the trappings of social order were for weaklings and cowards and conformists.

But what I understand now is, it doesn't do you any good to be a lone rebel.  What you want to do instead, is...

Join a Group Of Rebels!

For example, last year I joined a group that has many members making more than a million dollars a year, each, because that's a group I'd love to be a conformist in!

So, just because you didn't like one particular group or association, doesn't mean the idea is wrong.  You just need to find the right group for you.

And you know, some people speculate about the psychology of how religion evolved, because in some respects it doesn't seem like something that promotes survival.

But the truth is that religions work because they are workarounds.  There is an ironic grain of truth in the idea that they teach: we are born in sin (brain/body design that prevents us from behaving in our ideally-desired ways), and require a religion -- that is, an external structure that supports our goals -- as the answer.

And any religion can give you that.  You just need to pick (or create) one that matches your goals.

But the catch is this:

It's Not a Religion, Unless Other People Join You!

See, until some other people agree with you, as far as evolution is concerned, all you have is one guy on a whim or rant or other personal crackpot obsession.  And you will NOT take consistent action, because evolution wants to make sure you're not doing something stupid and dangerous.  So you have to get some other people to join you, so you can mutually reinforce each other.

And so, in case you're wondering...  Yes, I've started my own "religion".  It has no gods, no temples, no scriptures, no afterlife, and no need for salvation.  It has a simple code, and meets every month to receive sermons from its "pastor", i.e. me.

Of course, it's really no more a "religion" than Alchoholics Anonymous or Weight Watchers is!  It's a business, it's a support group, it's a "master mind", it's a coaching program...  whatever you want to call it, it's all the same damn thing:

The Oldest "Life Hack" on the Planet!

And you need to get yourself one, if you want to really succeed.

Of course me, I spent twenty years thinking I was too smart to need that kind of thing.  But as the saying goes, if you're so freaking smart, then why the hell aren't you happy?

The simple answer is this: because evolution demands that in the long run you will tend to obey your environment, in preference to your will.  The secret of having "willpower", then, is simply your ability to set up -- or get yourself into -- an environment for success.

--PJE

P.S.  If you're not sure where to start, sign up below to start receiving "Life In Every Moment" by email, and you'll also get the call-in info for my January 27th "How To Make Yourself Do Anything" workshop.  In the emails and workshop you'll learn a lot more about this subject, including lots of things you can do on your own to get started, without a group.  You'll also get a link to the Six Master Keys worksheets, which is another thing you can get started on right away.