How to Discipline the Mind

A disciplined mind is one that achieves unity and clarity by understanding productive thoughts are those that prioritize and weigh the benefits of potential actions, as well as those thoughts that are required to successfully perform a selected action.

How much time does the average person waste in repetitive cycles of thought that reach no conclusion, determine no action, but rather simply work to reaggravate past emotional pains?

Modern man’s worship of the social world, the sphere of secrets, rumors, and controversy of illusory consequence is symptom of the human mind’s natural tendencies toward addiction to repeated surges of emotion as a result of cyclical exposures to social tensions, always in the capacity either as moral authority or victim, because those two roles necessitate a polarization between involved parties and thus a greater emotional high.

People watch reality television in order to assume a position of moral authority over either one of the observed parties in any dispute, or else over the entire social order presented in the show.

People consume propagandic news and opinion pieces in order to themselves identify as a victim or ally to a victim within a larger oppressor-oppressed relationship, in order to obtain a sense of self-righteousness that gives both a momentary and renewable high, as well as a sense of meaning and purpose to an otherwise dreary life.

Those who limit or abstain from engagement with these and other dopamine treadmills open their eyes to reality itself and gain happiness from the process of determining and achieving goals that better the conditions of their lives. This leaves little room for obsessive reflection over the past and potential dramas of the future.

Instead, the tremendous power of the human mind is applied to solving difficult problems, an undertaking that provides less severe jumps between euphoria and desolation, but instead, gives a clean and truthful meaning to life.

Being Your Own Parent

Over the course of years, I’ve slowly determined that most of my flaws and ugliest tendencies are simply the things my parents let me get away with as a child. I say this not to shirk responsibility, but because I think we often flatter ourselves and over complicate the causes of our pathology.

Whatever flaws I see in others I fast find in myself, among them a certain brattiness that masquerades as sophisticated angst or existential frustration. I look back at the style of temper-tantrum or pouting I performed as a kid, and catch myself doing a grown up version when things don’t go my way.

My parents let me retreat into my comfortable spaces far too often. I was allowed to retreat when I should have been helped up and told to get on with it. My room was a refuge, and when I didn’t play well with others I had toys and gadgets to replace them. That privilege granted me the luxury of an early introversion that probably had even less utility then than now.  The benefit of such an early start was that eventually, introspection got boring, like mining the same stone, again and again, allowing me to be frank about what was once hidden and unknown.

They say our personality is locked in by age 4. But what you can observe you can measure, and what you can measure you can change. I’ve put myself on a steady diet of self-observance, and in many ways become the stern parent for myself.

Being willing to do this dirty work might give me a fighting chance at changing course a bit, correcting the things that should have been corrected some time far back on an elementary school play ground.

Sometimes it feels a bit like watching a nature documentary where I myself am simultaneously the subject and viewer.

I’m not saying it’s fun. But it just might work.

The Future of Ideas

A crude version of the steam engine existed in the first century AD. It was thought of as a novelty, a toy, an interesting spectacle. It was by no means utilized for pragmatic purposes or used to jump start a revolution in manufacturing and transport. In fact, it didn’t change the world at all.

We often think that good ideas and great works automatically gain popularity and prominence. We believe that good ideas win, and bad ideas lose. Perhaps on an extreme macro scale, this is true. But it took almost 2,000 years for steam power to transform the world, even though the basic principle was known in the first century.

Such a historical oddity forces us to consider something:

What if the revolutionary ideas of the future are already in existence?

Perhaps some obscure book collecting dust in a local library is the only one that really got things right. Or what if some new age author accidentally stumbled upon the true meaning of life?

What if an unknown and minor physicist has already discovered the principle that will allow for intergalactic travel in 1,000 years?

Such “what ifs” are fun to entertain, but how can they help us?

They help us to understand that our civilization is still young, and far from understanding the Universe, or optimizing our lives through technology.

And in the realms of psychology and philosophy, I doubt we’re even at the point of discovering a rudimentary steam engine. Our most profound ideas today will be looked back on as profoundly naive and misguided.

Keep your mind open. Read the obscure and strange. Be skeptical of the popular and widely accepted.

Because when you look back at history one clear pattern comes into view:

Everyone was wrong about everything, except for a few brilliant weirdos.

The Danger in Goals

What is the point in attaining anything, if it does not bring you joy?

A simple, cliche question but the one that is most important in considering the setting of goals and achieving of outcomes.

Human beings do not desire objects directly; we desire the states of being those objects grant us. A luxurious car is only incidental to what is actually worth a million dollars or more; the sensation of having something difficult to create, and difficult to obtain. That pleasure is, of course, the real prize. If it were not, the million would be spent on simply the fastest, most intensely practical form of transportation, rather than a meticulously engineered work of art.

Consider this fact when aligning yourself towards a particular end goal. What is the state you are after, the thing which the object or desired condition will bring you? How will you feel in that state? How long will it last? What will be the thing to break it, or strengthen it?

Most importantly, consider if your goal is truly the thing necessary to bring about that state. Most of the time, our goals do not grant us the states we hope for, and if they do, those states last only a moment.

 

Don’t Listen to Your Peers

There is no better motivator than necessity.

When people complain about not having the proper time, energy, or motivation needed to accomplish some goal, I wonder about the strength of their incentives. If you needed to accomplish that goal, you would. If success were necessary for survival, nothing short of death would stop you.

This is the underlying reason for the lack of sympathy and encouragement starving artists and weekend warriors garner from their peers.

Unconsciously, everyone around you knows, if you are meant to get what you say you want, you won’t need support or encouragement. 

The more difficult and distant the goal, the less you can rely on the people around you. What can they do? If the goal is distant, a Universe away from your present situation, what can your peers offer?

Not much besides, “Don’t forget about us when you make it” or “You’ll never make it”

That’s all the help you can expect.

If that seems unfair, or unpleasant, your goal is no goal at all. It’s merely a fantasy.

Support and external validation are what you get at precisely the moment you no longer need them. They are what you get once you’ve already won, and nothing your supporters or detractors say has any relevance to your accomplishment.

This brings us to the core realization behind every successful ascension towards a better mode of being; beyond those people you have deliberately selected as mentors, nothing anyone says matters. No one knows what you should do.

The people around you will support when they feel charitable, and criticize once they’re jealous or annoyed by your ambition.

Those are not helpful feedbacks. Better to ignore them, and keep the line towards your goal as straight as possible.

 

How to Find Yourself

The art of finding one’s self is not so much constructing a statue, but pulling off a series of overlapping masks. Exhuming a soul from the wreckage of child hood traumas, social and cultural mandates, as well as institutionally imposed fears and expectations, is no easy task.

It is an impossible task if approached in the wrong way. Inaccurate conceptualizations regarding authenticity render any attempts at self-discovery counter intuitive. Instead of mining for precious ore, you will be adding stone to the dig site, making future attempts even more difficult and daunting.

Your truest self is that which exists independent of social and societal enforcements and selects which of those enforcements is good and proper for creating a sustainable and healthy mode of being for one’s self and the society as a whole.

This will be frightening news to many: In order to be worthy of knowing yourself, you must cultivate shrewd critical thinking skills and accurate mental models of how complex systems can function harmoniously. We are all complex systems ourselves, as well as cellular components of larger, nested systems.

No man is an island, and thus one does not discover the authentic self by merely exploring what is bounded by the shore. To actually know and island, to understand how it was formed, how it will degrade, and how it functions, the ocean and the earth must also be understood.

But what of the individual voice?

The individual voice is what speaks when you are not thinking, and not motivated to speak by institutional or social pressures.

It is not whatever chatter sounds in your mind, any more than a musician’s most authentic song would be random finger tappings on a violin.

Perhaps a few of those random taps would form the basis of a melody, which could later be refined into a song. The authentic self is what selects the good and the beautiful out of an infinite amount of possible choices.

It is what creates.

It is what edits.

And it comes to be known by a process of self-sorting; the wheat from the chaff, beautiful from ugly, noble from evil.

But it cannot be known without a correct knowledge of the world outside the self.

What is Self-Esteem?

Most negative conditions in life, both psychological and external, can be traced back to one underlying cause:

A lack of self-esteem.

Whole sectors of the modern economy rely on this lack and play off the powerful addictions and drives we seek to fulfill by the acquiring of goods that denote status and temporarily bolster pride.

Many books are written about how to acquire self-esteem, talking about it as if it were simply a set of beliefs one can acquire by proper internal manipulation.

But self-esteem is not the inevitable outcome of positive beliefs.

It is part of our rewards system, the most integral, least hedonistic part, that grants us joy and lasting confidence, not in return for mindless pleasures and dopamine triggers, but for virtuous action.

Lack of self-esteem is what you get when your behaviors and thought patterns do not live up to your unconscious standards of the proper and good.

Many people, in an attempt to escape from their own standards, drop those standards and thus gain the illusion of self-esteem. This is a difficult hole to come out of because once you reject your own standards and accept the improper behavior, you lose sight of what was meant to guide the course of your life.

This is why low self-esteem leads to deep bouts of hopelessness and bottomless depression. Because if you lose sight of those standards, that higher guiding force within your psyche, the future does indeed become a dark place.

It is also why to have high self-esteem is to be largely optimistic, because if you submit to your own standards, your life will proceed as is best for your capabilities and desires. A positive projection of the future will be appropriate to your conduct because your conduct will align with your goals.

Self-esteem is directly correlated with the size of the divide between you and your goals. The farther away you are from that conduct which would eventually accomplish your goals, the lower your self-esteem will be.

Self-esteem is a reward, not a treasure to dig up out of your psyche or something to be granted via the acquisition of high-status objects and environments.