Don’t define success (do this instead)

With social media, you have no excuse for not knowing what people think. Head to a favourite platform, punch in a few words and see what happens. You can see what people ask the most, what questions other people think matter… really, there’s not a lot of human nature you can’t learn from the internet.

A recent foray into the mind of the masses was on the topic of success. I wanted to know what people thought about it, what strategies draw their attention and how they decide what sorts of success they should aim for.

An interesting side effect of studying hypnosis is that people don’t surprise you. Once you get in the habit of looking below the surface thoughts and finding unconscious explanations, other people’s behaviour makes a lot more sense. Every action, no matter how bizarre, has some logic at its core.

So when I say that their questions surprised me, you know I mean it.

The top questions weren’t about how to obtain success. They fixated on what success means. What is a successful life? What’s the difference between success and fulfilment? What does success mean to you?

These questions got great answers, none of which were of any use to anyone.

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Why I Don’t Care About Lucid Dreaming

Why I don't care about lucid dreaming

In the field of mind training, sooner or later someone mentions lucid dreaming. It’s one of those skills that’s practically a superpower. You spend so much time asleep. Reclaiming that time, while still resting deeply, would be valuable. In a dream, you can learn and explore without the limits of time, space or matter. Your own virtual reality training pod.

I get why people like it. A younger version of me almost learned how to do it. What stopped me? I realised that, as incredible as the technique is, it wouldn’t do much for me. I already knew something better.

Yes, I am confident enough to dismiss something that I call a superpower. Here’s why.

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Open Arodnap’s Box

The human brain limits itself. It has every reason to, even if it’s a hassle for us. We build our own obstacles and install our own blockages. And then we limit our ability to even see these limitations. This is why other people’s problems are so easy to solve. We don’t have blindspots for the flaws of others.

In mythology, Pandora’s Box contained everything bad in the world, plus hope to endure them. I like this idea, though I don’t think it’s quite right. In fact, it’s probably backwards. But before I explain Arodnap’s Box – the opposite of Pandora’s – consider the seed of a tree.

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The neurology of self-deception

Given the brain’s complexity, it’s difficult to identify which parts do what. Modern advances in neural imagery create new opportunities to see the brain in action. Sometimes, though, the old-fashioned ways are best. This is a shame, since the old-fashioned approach is to find people with brain damage and observe them.

Damage to the brain can change your personality or even abilities. Some of these ‘abilities’ may be things we take for granted – skills that seem so fundamental to our minds that to lose one is to lose the other. For example, could you function if you couldn’t create new memories? It’s hard to imagine, unless you know the famous story of E. P. – a man whose medial temporal lobe was ravaged by a virus, costing him this ability.

You might guess what E. P. could and couldn’t do. He could dress himself, prepare his own meals and have fluent conversations. These conversations were strange, though. He’d repeat himself often and was easily confused about where (and when) he was. He could learn new skills and form new habits, though he’d have no idea about it.

Case studies like these tell you many things about how memory works. What else can we learn from injuries to other parts of the brain? The consequences of one type of injury provide clues for how people think about themselves. They hint at a neurological basis for the narratives we tell ourselves, the lies we believe and even how we reason unconsciously.

And as soon as we bring in unconscious reasoning, we know there’s going to be a lesson about hypnosis too.

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Why Easter is a hypnotic holiday

There’s something hypnotic about Easter. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, so I explored my own thinking. It took a while to pin down where this instinct came from but, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

It’s not because of anything you do at Easter. I wondered if chocolate was a metaphor for hypnosis. External stimuli inducing a pleasant state? It works, but that describes half of life.

Richer ground was the idea of painting and hiding eggs. A hollowed out egg is useful from a culinary perspective. But when you take the shell, carefully decorate it with bright colours then hide it, maybe that’s how we live. We take the seemingly useless things and make them beautiful. Then we bury them in the distractions of our lives, only to rediscover them later.

It’s not a bad metaphor. Painted eggs are surreal enough to represent epiphanies. But no, that wasn’t it.

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Changing Your Life is Like Riding a Bicycle

You want to change your life but you don’t want to do it randomly. So you consider your options and pick the best one. Simple, right?

Hmm. Somehow, it rarely goes that smoothly. We all know this – deciding how to live your life can be one of the toughest things. But why? Surely it should be clear what gives us meaning, fulfilment and purpose. What kind of mind can’t see what’s best for itself at all times?

The human mind, clearly. And the reason this is the case tells us a lot about human nature. It’s why changing your live is just liking riding a bicycle. No, not because you never forget how. The analogy is better than that.

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The ABCs of Your Perfect Future

When you’re stuck, you need a push. Sometimes that’s literal – with a bogged car, for example. It works metaphorically too. When you’re feeling trapped in life, unfulfilled and like you’re going nowhere, all you need is a push.

Imagine being able to push on command. With nothing but your thoughts (and a pen and paper), you can get your mind working smoothly again. You can tap into your dormant creativity, whether you’re writing an article or rethinking your purpose in life. Whatever the problem, your unconscious mind has the answer.

Use it when you need to move forward. It’ll make you unstoppable.

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The Problems with Hypnosis

I write a lot about hypnosis. Most of that writing is flattering. Accurate, of course, but it paints a rosy picture of the hypnotic arts. You might accuse me of thinking that hypnosis is perfect and has no flaws. The way I write about it makes it seem like it has no problems.

Alas, I see its flaws all too clearly. I mean, I think it’s one of the most favourably balanced things you can do. Hypnosis is powerful and so is iron, which can make a bridge or a gun. But unlike the neutrality of iron, hypnosis biases towards the positive. It’s easier to hypnotise someone when they want it and you have genuinely good intentions.

But even an idealised form of the arts – where every experience is positive – isn’t perfect. The community faces so many challenges that I don’t know where to begin. So, off the top of my head, here are a few flaws with hypnosis.

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Why hypnosis is better than caffeine

I don’t need to tell you that feeling tired is rough. It affects everything you are, including your judgement and willpower. In theory, going to bed early should be easy when you’re exhausted. And yet, it’s somehow easy to stay up to surf the web or binge-watch TV.

It’s easy to trap yourself in a destructive cycle. Not all such cycles are extreme enough to ruin your life. Some are subtle enough to undermine everything just a little.

When you’re tired, it’s hard to work. It’s even hard to relax. The little things, like grocery shopping, and the big things, like rethinking your life, become even more challenging. You can be so run down that it’s hard to do anything. Or hard to do nothing.

So, what do you do when you need an energy hit? Most people reach for the world’s most popular drug: caffeine. I’m not going to say that caffeine doesn’t work. It obviously does. I’m not going to say that it’s harmful. All stimulants allow you to wear your body and mind out – but short of chronic abuse, there’s nothing wrong with it.

No, my complaint with caffeine is that it’s inefficient.

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Using Hypnosis to Enhance Your Senses

Is it possible to enhance your senses (or even add new ones) through hypnosis? It sounds like I’m talking about superpowers – many heroes and villains have eagle eyes and lupine hearing. In a way, I am. But it’s not a superpower if it’s real. This is about sharpening your perception. And maybe even expanding it.

This sounds like science fiction. So much of what I’m alluding to seems to leave reality behind. If you asked most people if mind training could enhance their senses, they’d say no. Maybe you’re sceptical too.

In that case, let’s start with sensible, no-nonsense techniques that you can begin to use right now.

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