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July 18th, 2018
Why do we go to the cinema?
Why do we binge on Netflix?
Why do we have libraries stuffed with good and very bad fiction?
Why do we talk, gossip, pontificate and lecture?
The common thread of all these questions is the core reason why humans suck at improving. All of these questions are about our love of narratives.
Who doesn’t love a good story?
But what qualifies a story as good? Many of us are familiar with ‘formulas’ that used to make stories sticky. Stories follow arcs. Nearly every James Bond movie starts off with a tense dramatic scene. In the Matrix the movie starts out with Trinity in room 303 and dramatic climax of the movie ends with Neo desperately trying to escape the Matrix by getting back to the same room. This is a not coincidence, but a conscious design feature built-in because humans respond so viscerally to it, whether they realize it or not.
Just as commercial song writers are constantly trying to write the next good ‘hook’.
Some of these formulaic structures can be traced back to ancient times. For example, most of the the epics, such as the Odyssey, the Illiad, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and even certain parts of the bible, among many others employ a formula called ‘Chiastic Structure’ or ring structure. (The incidence of Neo arriving at the same room where the movie starts is one instance of this formula.)
But what do stories and their structures, whether they be formulaic or not, have to do with improving who we are as humans, as individuals, and together as people?
The problem is that the ‘narrative’, the story, seems to be an intrinsic part of our species’ psychological syntax. We seem to need stories. And this need can trap us if we are telling ourselves a bad story. As long as the story fist the needs of our syntactical psychology, we will play that son on repeat, and that broken record can go on for years, even if it’s not enjoyable. Like tonguing the cut in the roof of your mouth. You suspect that things could change, that the cut could heal, if only you stopped playing the record. But the off switch seems to be buried deep in the cluttered, chaotic, and bizarre parts of our subconscious. Or is it? Is that just another part of the bad story we tell ourselves. What if the story becomes: it’s not so complicated to change one’s self. In fact, merely thinking that it is a complicated endeavor is what makes it so hard.
Who cares if the turntable doesn’t have an off-switch. Rip the record off and toss it against the wall.
Turn off Netflix.
Realize there is a formula that’s fooling you.
Just PAUSE, think about something simple to improve. Something that would actually make daily life better. And design an experiment. A simple experiment. And run it. Compare the outcomes.
Here’s an example.
What would happen if I drank a liter of blended vegetables every day for 2 weeks?
Most people would respond by saying “I could never do that.”
And of course they would say that. Such thinking, and such doing is not a part of their narrative. It doesn’t sound like it would fit well into the dopamine-squirt living that we seek on a moment-to-moment basis.
But if we say ‘to hell with the story we’ve been telling ourselves.”
If we say, let’s compare outcomes.
Let’s actually DO something, and see if there’s a meaningful difference.
Then we can start to iterate our actions.
This is a new narrative. This is the narrative of iterating our own personal story towards a goal of a better personality, a better lifestyle, better relationships, and a greater, more mindful experience of what it means to be alive.
While it is not necessary to ask this next question. Because doing and experimenting are far more powerful than merely thinking about a new narrative, it may function as an important pillar in the narrative of motivation to rip down the current bad narrative and clear space for a better one.
“Why am I so attached to the way I think and the way I live now? Why do I believe the stories that have been handed to me. Is it because these stories are actually good for me and help me live a better and better life? Or is it merely because they play into a certain structure of thinking that is common to all human beings?”
We must remember that the aspect of whether something is convincing or not, is separate from whether something is good or beneficial for us or not.
Something can be very convincing, and also very bad for us.
Propaganda and the techniques used by cults and gurus are fair-game examples of how this idea can be obvious.
Likewise, we must remember that something can be very good for us, while failing to be convincing at all.
The only way to suss out the difference regardless of how convincing something happens to be is to run an experiment. To DO something new, And then compare the outcome to how we were living before.
Notice how this perspective, this challenge, is a new narrative. It’s a new story to tell one’s self. But unlike all other stories we can tell ourselves and narratives that we may unconsciously live by, this one is literally a build-in shit detector. It is a narrative that is designed to change itself and evolve towards something better because of that one initial call to action: Do something new and compare the outcomes.