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Ending My Insight Addiction

There’s an old story that goes like this:

Once upon a time, there was a boy who ate too much sugar.  His mother, who wanted him to stop, thought that if the boy wouldn’t listen to her, then perhaps he would listen to his idol, Mahatma Gandhi.

So she walked for many miles through the scorching heat to ask Gandhi, “Would you please tell my son to stop eating sugar?”

Gandhi replied, “Bring your boy back in two weeks.  I will speak to him then.”

Confused, the mother left, then brought the boy back two weeks later.

Gandhi looked the boy in the eye and said, “Stop eating sugar.”

The boy nodded, and promised to stop.

His mother of course was grateful, but still confused.  “Why did you want me to bring him back in two weeks?  Couldn’t you have said the same thing to him then?”

“No,” Gandhi replied…  

“Because Two Weeks Ago, I Was Still Eating Sugar!”

Now, I’m no Gandhi, so I had to send y’all away for a bit longer than just two weeks.   😉

But my father taught me that one should always “practice what you preach”, and my practice has not been on a par with my preaching for quite some time now.

And that’s why I haven’t been doing any preaching here in the last six months or so.

Now, what happened is a long and sordid story, with plenty of ups and downs, setbacks and discoveries, heroism and stupidity, without any single obvious moral or lesson that I can condense down to a single blog post.

But if I had to pick one thing to tell you about that time, one lesson that I took away from it that would be the most important or most useful to you, it would be this:

There is no one thing that will cause you to succeed.  Because success itself merely consists of bypassing

Every Cause Of Failure

So I can look at the time since I started writing Thinking Things Done in two different ways, each equally valid.

From one point of view, it was a very, very positive time: I made huge forward leaps in how I felt and experienced life, and how I interacted with other people.  From this perspective, life got better and better and better, as I made new discoveries, learned new things, shared them with the people in the Mind Hackers’ Guild, and enjoyed the experience of getting insight and creating things.

And from another point of view, I was stuck in a rut, repeating an addiction-like cycle of highs and lows, chasing the next revelation that would get me out of it, while despising myself for not making any real progress on the results I wanted to create in my life.

Think of it like this: you’re strapped to the outside of a huge wheel, rolling down a hillside.  You’re moving forward very quickly, but at the same time, you’re constantly going up and down as the wheel turns.  And every time you’re raised up to the top of the world, it’s immediately followed by a plunge to the depths…

Where You Get Run Over!

So every time the wheel turned, I made big moves forward.  But at the same time, I still felt stuck on the same wheel, going in circles, and getting run over.

Now, before this cycle started, I was on the far side of that imaginary hill, pushing my wheel up to the top: developing my philosophy, tools, teachings…  building a business and getting ready to “take it to the next level”.

And at the very top of that hill, the place where I thought I’d figured it all out and fixed all the problems I needed to fix in myself to be able to succeed, I thought, “I’m ready.  It’s time to write a book.”

And I jumped onto the wheel, riding it up and over the top, only realizing what I’d done when it was already too late to stop the downward roll.

Now, in retrospect, I’m a little torn.  I can’t rightly say that it was a mistake, because the person that I am now could’ve made the same decision and made it work…  but it’s unlikely I would’ve become that person, without having gone through what I’ve gone through!  It’s like that old saying: you get good judgment through experience, but the way you get experience is through acting on bad judgment.

Because, if my judgment hadn’t been bad, if I had actually succeeded at that point in time, successfully written the book I set out to write, and started selling it…  There’s a very good chance that I would’ve gotten stuck at a much lower stage of personal development than I now see was possible for me.  I would’ve confirmed in my mind that I had The Answers, and therefore…

Quit Searching For More!

Which means that all of the newer mindhacking tools I developed in the last year would not have been found (at least by me).  And I’d have gone on to become just another one-trick self-help guru.

So, in a weird sort of way, I’m grateful for what I’ve gone through, because it’s a reminder to never stop and assume I have all the answers.

But it’s also a reminder not to chase the answers.  Because the only thing that put me on the wheel in the first place, was my assumption that I could find one thing that would “fix” me.

Thus, every time I found something I could fix about me, I assumed it was the thing… and then felt devastated when it turned out not to be!

I was an addict, chasing my next “fix” of insight: the mental drug that got me going again each month, just in time to get everything done at the last minute.  Well, “everything”, that is…

Except The Book!

And it was all so unnecessary.  Because there were really only two things that kept me on that wheel, and the first was simply the mistaken idea that the next turn of the wheel would be “the one”…  the insight that would let me stop the wheel and get off.

But if I’d been willing to admit that I didn’t have all the answers, that what I was doing wasn’t working, and that there would never be an insight that would let me be always “up” without any “down”, I could’ve stepped off that wheel at any time.

Or at least, I could’ve stopped being so damn depressed when it rolled down again!

Because the second thing I needed to do to get off the wheel, was to realize that I wanted to be on it.

Because I was addicted to those ups and downs!

Unconsciously, I had learned to search for insights as a way to get “high” on them, like a junkie scoring a fix.  But consciously, I had no idea what I was doing.  I was completely unaware of my brain’s strong need for this kind of mental stimulation, and wasn’t doing anything to meet that need on a regular basis.

So My Brain Found Ways To Make Me.

Fortunately, once I figured this second piece out, I quickly found plenty of things I can do to consciously influence my moods, and to either stimulate or relax my brain as needed, to get into the optimal state for different kinds of work (or non-work) activities.

These methods aren’t a replacement for mind hacking, of course.  They don’t fix any broken thought patterns, beliefs, or feelings, or even change my behavior much.  They just keep me from obsessively checking my email and twitter and such, or throwing myself into desperate searches for insight in an unconscious effort to raise my brain’s dopamine levels.

So, now, I’m in a bit different place.  The wheel is still turning, and I’m still moving forward.  But I’m walking beside the wheel, instead of being strapped on it.  And I no longer feel like I’m going in circles.

But I don’t think that either of these two insights – or any other insights, for that matter – are “the one”, nor do I imagine any more that there’s a way to make it so life doesn’t have ups and downs.

Because back when I first coined the terms “naturally struggling” and “naturally successful”, I was under a serious misconception.  It seemed to me that the lives of “naturally successful” people were a perpetual “up”, with never a “down”.  And even later, when my naturally-successful friends told me they didn’t like the term “naturally successful”, because that wasn’t how they saw themselves, I just shrugged it off.  “Well, from everybody else’s perspective, you are.”

And so, at the top of the hill, what I thought was the very peak of my success, I considered myself to have graduated from “naturally struggling” to “naturally successful”.

And that’s a big part of why I fell down the other side.

So today, I realize that there’s no such thing as “naturally successful”.  It just seems that way, when you’re naturally struggling.

And as long as you continue to believe in “natural success”, guess what?

You’re Still Struggling!

What there really is, is naturally motivated.  And even that is an effect, not a cause.

What I’ve learned from my struggles in this last year, is that the cause of the difference between struggle and motivation, is simply how you treat yourself when you’re down.

Because that makes all the difference to how long you’re going to stay down.

Now, if you’re already mentally beating yourself up for not doing this, or if you think I’m talking about persistence and perseverance and all that rubbish about falling down nine times and getting up ten, stop it right now.

Because that’s what makes it a struggle.

If  you kick yourself like that when you’re down, then naturally, you’ll struggle.

But if you encourage yourself when you’re down, then naturally,

You’ll Be Motivated!

Now, I have to say, I’m dramatically oversimplifying something that I’ve already done several newsletters, CDs, and workshops about in the last few months.

Because the word “encourage” doesn’t really do justice to the full range of the mental strategies that naturally motivated people use to quickly deal with their problems.  And these strategies aren’t really done consciously, either – they’re learned in childhood and then automatically applied later in life…  often in a matter of seconds: so quickly that naturally motivated people barely notice they’re doing them in the first place.

Naturally struggling people, on the other hand, are those of us who learned in childhood that it’s no use: that we’re broken or inadequate or unlovable in some way, so it doesn’t matter what we do.  We’re just screwed.  (Learned helplessness, the psychologists call it.)

And this means that merely learning the mental strategies that naturally motivated people use to cope with problems is not going to do you any good.  Instead, it just becomes one more thing to beat yourself up about!  (And chances are good that you, like me, already know about many of these strategies, but just aren’t using them.)

So in order to learn to use these strategies automatically, I had to first learn how to switch off the “learned helplessness” that was keeping me from using them.  And over the last three months, my wife and I, along with the rest of the Mind Hackers’ Guild, have been testing the results of these new techniques.

Without these techniques, I couldn’t have gotten off the “wheel”, because I couldn’t see how my own, learned-helpless choices were keeping me on it.  Learned helplessness almost invariably creates blind spots in our mental vision: areas where we simply can’t see what’s really going on or what our true options are.

And as I began learning about this, and how to fix it, I began to have a new dilemna:

What Should I Do About The Book?

Because none of the outlines or plans that I made ever addressed the subject of learned helplessness specifically, and certainly not as a central issue!  No real discussion of self-defeating vs. self-supporting behaviors, or any of several other topics that in retrospect, I can now see as critical in bridging the gap from naturally struggling to naturally motivated.

I went back and forth on it for quite a while.  Should I write a different book?  Rework the old one?  What about the website and the video and all the people who signed up to get a free copy?  What about my reputation?

Eventually, I found an answer, but it wasn’t until I fixed one more bit of learned helplessness I had.

About finishing things.

So, if you’re curious about that, or want to know what’s happening with the book, check out the new announcement over at ThinkingThingsDone.com.

Then, click on the comments link over there, and let me know what you think.


P.S.  Oh, and yeah, it’s good to be back.  Take it easy, y’all.

Join the discussion
  • Wow! Seriously, you have hit something on the head for me. Wow! Let me see if I got it.


    Beating yourself up = learned helplessness –> which leads to –> praise of self and feeling good which can only be "cured" by an expected The One Insight.

    How to break the cycle:
    If I do not beat myself up, I do not create the perceived Need for The One Insight. In other words, if I encourage myself or invoke the feelings I believe I would have with The One Insight outside of 'insight-ing', then the Need is always satisfied whether I've come across an Insight or not.

    Thanks much,

    Wow. Thank you.

  • Sort of. Actually, beating yourself up is a *coping* mechanism for learned helplessness. Or, to put it another way, learned helplessness often equates to the inability to do anything *but* beat yourself up about something… because you don't see any alternatives.

    The insight loop, for me at least, was much more about regulating overall mood/brain chemistry.

    Unfortunately, as I said in this post, real life turns out to be a bit more complex than can easily be told in a single story. Once I got rid of all the learned helplessness (or at least the major ones), I still had to recognize and deal with the brain chemistry issues, with various coping strategies including supplements.

    You have to fix ALL the causes of failure, not just "the one".

  • The glib, semi-non answer is that you have to realize and accept that you are not actually helpless in a specific context.

    (HOW you do that, precisely, is unfortunately more complex than can be covered in a single blog piece; I've already done a couple different workshops on different aspects of the basic technique.)

  • I'd be interested to know if you consider the "Naturally Struggling vs Naturally Successful" mindset a necessary step to get to this point or if it can be bypassed?

    AKA "Is 'Thinking Things Done' still necessary?" 🙂


  • I use the phrase "naturally motivated" now, as it's a more accurate description.

    The stuff in TTD is still a baseline requirement; it's just that there was some additional stuff needed that I didn't really know about until the middle of last year, and am still refining my teaching of.

    My understanding of what natural struggle and motivation *are* has also changed significantly — I was missing some very important pieces of the puzzle that are now much clearer.

  • I love your blog, I read all of the 'popular articles" today. Your blog is so interesting. An over-used word, but 100% appropriate here. I am just learning how gentle we need to be with ourselves and others. In fact, I would go so far as to say we need to lower our expectations for ourselves and others. It sounds taboo to suggest lowering our expectations, but we all benefit from being appreciated for who we are rather than measured and judged. Again, that goes for ourselves and others. Thank you, again, for writing. I don't feel alone for wondering about these topics! 🙂 Take It Easy! 😉

  • I needed to find this post today — thank you! Today has been a "stuck" day for me, and that wheel you talk about sounds all too familiar. But there's hope with a little self-kindness: the only thing that ever works.

    Thank you!


    Count your blessings. Everyday. Everywhere.
    (free online gratitude journal – free with promo code "joy")

  • "I still had to recognize and deal with the brain chemistry issues, with various coping strategies including supplements."

    Which supplements? Do you still take them?



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