There Is a Better Way to Run Your Mind

Created April 26, 2024
Welcome to this week’s Bill Harvey Blog.

The way you run your life has a lot to do with the way you run your mind.
The way you run both these things determines what kind of results you get.

You have surely noticed that not every idea you have is equally smart. We have all had experiences of being very sure of something then having it turn out to be wrong. We’ve all had experiences of ignoring our own hunches then having regretted that as they have been proven to be right.

It doesn’t have to be a crapshoot, guessing which way to go on something.

There are procedures you can learn which lead to inner clarity,
and therefore a degree of greater certainty about which way to go.

These inner procedures fall into a broad category labelled metacognition. Thinking about thinking, and more specifically observing the way you yourself think.

There are reasons why most of us do not learn metacognition naturally. One is that we take for granted things we have become accustomed to. By the time we are seven years old, the age at which Piaget postulates we enter the concrete operational stage, we have gotten so used to the automatic ways we have operated up until then, that it doesn’t occur to us that we have any choice in the matter of the way we think and feel and act. We are already firmly established in habit patterns which have been reinforced over and over again.

In the future, it will, I suspect and hope, become a well-known fact that children should be encouraged to reflect upon the ways they use their mind, starting from day one. In such a world, it might not take seven years to get to the concrete operational level, nor twelve years to get to the formal operational level, nor nearly a lifetime to become a mensch.

Acceleritis (the accelerating number of question-producing stimuli experienced by the average person in the average day) is, in my estimation, a major cause of what neuroscience calls the default network. This is a way of using our minds which the entire species now tends to over-use, due to a sense of how complex everything is, and a giving up on the possibility of figuring it all out. A half-century ago I noticed this behavior pattern and called it Emergency Oversimplification Procedure (EOP). In this behavior pattern, most of our decisions are automatic and reflect habit without reconsideration. Daniel Kahneman famously gave this behavior pattern the name System 1. Neuroscience has not validated the existence of System 1 nor System 2, and also sees this more as a continuum than a dichotomy. In fact, EOP causes dichotomania, the inability to see anything other than black-and-white polarities.

Starting to become more in control of your own mental process begins with simple observation. Watching what your mind does. Withholding judgment as to whether it is good or bad, just watching and noting the way it proceeds from step to step, or leaps across associational patterns from thinking about one subject to another one that the mind has been reminded of by a happenstance linkage between the two domains.

Common Types of Inner Experiences

The Narrator: You will notice a tendency at times to tell yourself the story of what is going on at the moment. Talking to yourself but not out loud, except perhaps at times when you assume no one can hear what you are saying. Some of us talk to ourselves out loud even when others are around. The best way to look at this is as unused creativity looking for an outlet. If you have time perhaps when you find yourself narrating your life, you might sit down and start writing without thinking twice about it, just automatically writing whatever comes into your mind.

Another less positive way of looking at The Narrator is that it is wasting time, and that it is evidence of the ego, the part of you that feels inadequate and spends energy to cover that up and protect you against all the superior people around you.

The Negativity Merchant: This is a sense of negativity that some part of you is trying to sell the rest of you. It sucks you in without your being aware of exactly what is going on, all you can discern is that you are down. It all happens too fast, slips past your guard if you have one, and you are in the grip of fear, or anger, or despair before you know it.

It appears that at least nine out of ten people have virtually zero resistance capability to this inner mood merchant.

One who is practiced in metacognition is able to detect the merchant and neuter its automatic emotional reactions.

This is an especially useful talent to have when someone is trying to push your buttons on purpose in order to manipulate and control you. The person attempting that may not even be aware they are doing it, if they too are in EOP, which is the most common state of humanity today.

Holding the emotional reaction at bay is accomplished by asking yourself questions which you might realize are questions you could have started asking yourself a long time ago. Questions like “That hurt my feelings because I care so much about other people’s estimate of me. Why do I care so much about that?” It might help at first to pretend that there is a Dutch Uncle or psychoanalyst or beloved parent asking you that question.

Pettiness is an aspect of the ego’s concerns which you can use to rein in the ego. You are a noble being, above such things.

Old Tapes: Things you’ve heard yourself say before, many times, over a period of decades. Old rhetoric. You may love some of these stories, things that made a big impression on you in your youth. They are so old they pre-date the internet, and so the word “tapes” is apropos. If the Narrator or the Negativity Merchant is trying to sell you something, they might invoke these old sayings. Some of the Old Tapes could contain valuable gold, nevertheless, as a body of work they constitute a Bias Catalog that could be holding back your own growth. It’s up to your metacognition to separate the wheat from the chaff in a new, unbiased way as if you are being reborn and can decide what to keep and what to dump.

Inspiration: Ideas just start flowing in your mind. The obvious wisdom of the words in your head makes it seem as if someone else is saying them to you. Good idea to write these down, and to make sure that you write enough about the revelations so that you later recapture the entire meaning, which can otherwise slip away.

Seeing Goodness: This can occur at any time. Suddenly you see some aspect of a person or a thing which you realize is admirable, even touching, and you feel uplifted by the moment. It can be a realization of a good side to what is otherwise not so good. It might relate to how you feel about your own life at that point in time, which is one of the best feelings we can have.

It all starts and ends in the mind.

As dark as the present days have been, we might perceive that we are living through the time in which barbarism is on its own very slow way out. Naturally, anything on its way out is going to fight like the devil to not be expunged. With our amazing media technologies and well-developed techniques of deception, well-meaning masses of people can easily be led astray. It all starts and ends in the mind, and our naivete about metacognition is the most dangerous thing in the world today, and the thing that is most easily fixed.

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