Sensible procedures for quickly returning to your best self
This blog aims to provide a new psychotechnology for maximizing human performance and happiness, derived from a synthesis of the author’s experience and the relevant findings of science both modern and ancient. The construct posits three levels of waking consciousness:
- Flow state — the most desirable state in terms of performance and happiness, where things happen perfectly and one feels a seamless part of everything. A non-ordinary, altered state of consciousness that occurs when you are totally immersed in and merged with an activity you have practiced well and you have simultaneously given up caring whether you win or lose, rising above all negativity and all of your usual ordinary concerns. Action just happens without hesitation, like a child at play.
- Observer state — the second most desirable state, in which your attention misses very little of what is going on inside you and around you. The access window to Flow, this state is a form of meditation/contemplation that requires no closing of eyes or immobility, but does require self-honesty/objectivity and paying very close attention both inside and outside.
- EOP (Emergency Oversimplification Procedure) — the typical state of the overwhelming majority of human beings today, from which individuals spring infrequently into the higher states in rare moments of clarity and nobility. In EOP there is always a background dilemma, a sense of incompleteness, of wanting and being attached to something that you may or may not get.
In my theory the EOP state is not the natural state of the species but arises from a multi-millennial delay in integrating our evolutionarily most recent brain part, the cortex. Like children handed loaded machineguns, with our newfound inventiveness running amok, our weapons-centric culture has handed control of the planet to those who possess the most powerful weapons, and now through proxies they control everything else as well. This has been true since earliest recorded history. In fact the invention of written language appears to have been the catalyst for the only culture we know, which has made information overload and distraction the way we spend our days, separation our hidden assumption, and EOP our state of being.
Yet every philosopher worthy of such designation has explained that we need not live this way. Each in his/her own way has explained how to peel away the tarnished layer of the outer accidental self to find the pure inner self that exists always, despite whatever culture we find ourselves in. Collective wisdom and understanding from philosophy, theology, science and commonsense proverbs have always existed as a form of primitive psychotechnology. “Primitive” because the whole problem has never been clearly defined. Therefore the solutions have always been merely rote methods that work for reasons beyond the understanding of even those who practice and teach them.
I’ve spent my lifetime trying to figure out the things that spontaneously propelled me into the higher states, having first experienced Flow when performing onstage as a child, being part of a show business family. Over the years, working at it daily, I’ve discovered procedures that help me stay in the higher states more of the time. I rediscovered many of the same procedures that others before me have rediscovered. There are few among us who themselves have not discovered some of this — each of us has come upon some of these truths of how to be one’s highest self. Like me, most people strive to be the best they can be, often without even knowing they are doing this, nor explaining it to themselves in any philosophical or otherwise reasoned way.
Years back I founded The Human Effectiveness Institute to share these procedures, the ones that work for me and for 3000 or so readers of the first edition of what is today the book Freeing Creative Effectiveness — all reporting (unsolicited) positive results. The Institute also exists to understand the underlying scientific mechanisms, i.e. why these psychotechnological procedures work to elevate the mind into the higher states. In an earlier post I provided hypotheses drawn from my theory as to which brain parts are involved in each of the three states of waking consciousness. These hypotheses are the starting point toward making psychotechnology more of a science than an art. Today it is an art more than a science — or a soft science in contrast with the highly-regarded hard sciences.
In the rest of this post we’ll focus on what to do when you find you are not in your best place — and how to get back to your best self as quickly as possible. We’ll divide this into two short sections: (1) the first time you do this, and a few times a week after that, when you can grab an oasis of alone space to check in on your self, and (2) on an ongoing moment-to-moment basis.
The first time, and in alone spaces after that
First, how do you know you’re not in your best self? That part is easy, here are the symptoms: you’re not happy, something is bothering you and you may not even know what it is. You are making mistakes and making things worse. There is a loop going around in your head telling you so many different things about you and your life that you don’t like — you don’t know where to start and you feel defeated before you start. Those conditions are the clue to quickly find that hidden switch in your head.
The practical, sensible procedure when you are having this kind of experience, the first time it happens from now on, is:
- You need to be alone for awhile.
- You need to let your mind dump the problem statement and whatever solution idea fragments it may have by simply transcribing — taking dictation from your mind, in the form of incoherent notes or however they spill out when you are not trying to make them read well for other people.
- Note how much you care about — are dependent upon — certain attachments, as if you are an outside observer watching yourself as a scientific subject. Note how many of these attachments are ignoble things — like envy, jealousy, pride, vanity — that you would rather not see in yourself. Consider what you might do with your life if you gave up caring so much about these specific things or about any specific things. Being looked up to, having more money, whatever forms your attachments take.
- Give it all up. Even if you are just pretending, or experimenting — picture and feel that you are tired of it all, and you don’t want these things any more. You are not dependent on anything or anyone. Whatever happens, you will be strong enough to start from scratch and be creative and make decisions to flow with whatever reality deals you. Vividly envision losing it all, and being tough enough to withstand that loss.
One piece of psychotechnology common to many Buddhist and Hindu traditions is to meditate on a corpse in order to eventually lose all horror about it — a common practice also for doctors and nurses. This illustrates the psychological principle at work: it is possible to get used to anything, to the idea of losing anything, given enough time and mental practice. It doesn’t happen overnight in most cases, although sometimes it does.
Will life be worth living, you might ask, if you stop caring about all the things and people to which and to whom you are now attached? You don’t have to stop caring — you can still love people and things even more — it’s just that you are becoming fatalistic and accepting of whatever might happen that would cause you to lose these people and things.
In the moment, in the midst of action
Any time you notice you are not in your best self — making mistakes, losing your temper, feeling lousy or scared, whatever it is — re-set your mind by erasing everything. “Clear the mechanism” as Kevin Costner’s character says to himself in the movie “Love of the Game” (a film that shows what Flow state feels like to a baseball pitcher, as Bob DeSena points out).
Assume that any sense of dilemma is a lack of clarity, that if you were thinking straight you would be accepting what is and dealing with it without negative emotion, just with pure effectiveness. The one thing you want is to take whatever life hands you and deal with it most effectively, and anything short of that is rejected out of your mind and body instantly.
At first you will find yourself re-setting again and again as you slip back into the old time-worn ways of mental hand-wringing, but over time your mental muscles will toughen up. Just stick with it and you will become indomitable.
I know that many of my readers have already been practicing this for a long time, and this post may seem elementary to you, though the review can’t hurt. Since our aim is to always widen our audience to reach as many people as possible, we will sometimes return to basics.
Wishing you Flow and Observer filled days.
Best to all,