Fragments of Reality Hacking

Fragments of Reality Hacking

I'm not sure how to approach this next topic: reality hacking. It feels a bit metaphysical and woo, on the surface. But I think it's fundamental to explaining many aspects of my life, and it also points towards methods by which other people can 'hack their lives'. It will probably take me a couple of blog posts to get to the end destination, however. This is a pretty difficult concept to wrap my brain around :) 

The Law of Attraction

Two friends of mine have recently commented on The Law of Attraction, and how it's affected their lives. They both mentioned it to me, independently, just a few days apart from one another. John describes it in terms of energy:
"Much like waves in a pond when you toss a rock in, the energy that you put out is like waves of this energy which affects things around you making your reality. If you put out a positive energy, positive energy be around you, if you put out a negative energy, negative energy will be around. The results are positive energy results in positive things, negative energy results in negative things. I know of several people who have very difficult lives by comparison. Yet day after day I see nothing but positive things come from them. They live happy productive lives and enjoy everyday as though it were the last, which in one case it could be. I see others who have lots of things going for them, except their attitude toward things. They live in a world of negative energy, and they have lots of negative things happen in their lives. What is the difference between these two groups of people? The energy they put out each day, one group despite severe hardships loves life and puts out positive energy and positive energy returns to them. The other looks at everything as a insurmountable mountain to climb." -- Source: The Secret Power within us All
It's easy to dismiss this as simply 'the power of positive thinking', but I think there's something deeper going on here. Whether you call it karma, or sin, or energy -- I've observed a pattern that 'bad people will have bad things happen to them' and that 'good people will have good things happen to them'. Certainly, this isn't always the case. Good people sometimes get cancer and die at age 30, bad people sometimes live to be 100 years old. However, what's interesting is how these patterns tend to assert themselves. People who leave a wake of bad karma behind them, who are venial and sinful, and/or project negative energy tend to attract similar people into their lives:
  • The terrible father whose kids won't speak to him anymore, who can't seem to keep a girlfriend or a job, and who complains about everything. Their attitude pushes 'quality people' away from them,  their negative attitude reinforces their belief that 'nothing good ever happens to them', and their tendency to blame others for their sad fate (those damned ungrateful kids!) keeps them isolated inside a depressing little bubble.
  • The business owner who sees chasing every last dollar as the most important thing, to the detriment of their family and friends. They will eventually drive 'high-quality people' away from them, and they will find themselves surrounded by 'poor-quality people' who are also in it for very selfish reasons. Being surrounded by this core of selfish people, the business owner may be surprised to find that theft and 'slacking off' are major issues that hold back the success and profitability of their business -- but they shouldn't be surprised. This is the world they've created for themselves.
The pattern I've observed is that 'bad people often find themselves surrounded by bad people', and 'good people often find themselves surrounded by good people'. This tendency to attract like-minded people is, by itself, a very powerful agent for neuroplastic change. I think that this Law of Attraction is similar to what I've been calling 'reality hacking'. This is a tool that I've used successfully in my own life.

Examining Success in My Life

One question that I've been asked a number of times by my friends is: How the hell did I manage to build and grow a successful business, given how sick I was at the time? The answer is complex, and worth exploring in the context of 'reality hacking'. The short answer is that "I’ve always believed I can do anything with my life. I’ve always been very stubborn that way!" Another way to say this is that "When I set my mind to do something, I generally find a way to succeed." The long answer is that I'm very smart, determined, creative, stubborn and adaptable. I believe it's these qualities that have allowed me to succeed in a number of very difficult (if not impossible) situations in my life. So, how does the stubbornness and determination play into this?
  • One of the stories my mother likes to share, when she's intent on embarrassing me (love ya mom!), is about the clothing my grandmother made for me when I was a very young child. I recognized that it was made from grandma's old curtains, and I refused to wear the clothing. They couldn't convince me to wear that recycled, ugly crap! I was stubborn, starting at a very early age.
  • When I started college at Hamline, I decided to become a strict pescetarian, primarily due to the harm that meat-eating caused to other living beings. I also thought it was the sort of healthy thing 'I was supposed to do'. This meant no meat (except occasional broth, gravy or small amounts of incidental critter protein), no eggs, and no dairy products. I only ate fish, vegetables, fruit, grains, beans, and processed crap made from grains and beans. Super healthy, right!? I made this major life decision fairly quickly, and then I stuck with it for 13 years. I was stubborn enough and determined enough to keep it going until my I nearly died, and my body finally told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to EAT SOME DAMNED MEAT.
  • Once I discovered a crack in the window, and saw how I could get healthy and reclaim my life back, I spent 6000-8000 hours hacking my brain and I exerted enormous amounts of willpower to get there. I was very stubborn and very determined to get my life back, I made a decision that I would become 'healthy and happy and free', and I did it!
The pattern I draw from these examples isn't that "Erik is more stubborn and determined than most people". That's probably true, but it's not the interesting thing that jumps out at me. What's interesting about these examples is that I tend to make a decision, sometimes without a lot of forethought, and then I adapt my own self-perceptions in order to make that decision come true. Another way to describe this is to quote from my New Year's Resolutions post, where I wrote:
"Don’t make a New Year’s Resolution to change. Simply visualize yourself as a person who has already changed and stop wasting your energy on making decisions." Source, Practical Neurohacking: Making a Powerful New Year’s Resolution
I don't think that determination and stubbornness really explain why I was able to accomplish a number of very, very difficult things in my life. The salient characteristic I see in these examples is my ability to change goals, to swiftly modify my self-image, and to quickly change my paradigm filters so that I see the world differently. These are the things that have really empowered my success. The reason that this has worked for me is very simple. You don't have to expend much willpower in making choices about a pescetarian diet, or reclaiming your life, if you visualize yourself as that person and if you can't imagine any other outcome. I didn't put on that ugly curtain-clothing, because I didn't see myself as someone who would wear grandma's old curtains. When I became a pescetarian, well ... that's who I was. That was the new Erik. Any need for choice was eliminated. I visualized myself as a person who would become healthy, happy and free. I knew it would be hard -- no, scratch that. I knew it would be nearly impossible to achieve this goal. However, I didn't allow myself to consider other options because the quality of life I was living at the time was intolerable and wretched. So it's not stubbornness and determination, so much as an unconscious ability to adapt my own perceptions of reality. (By unconscious, what I mean is that I never considered this as any sort of method or technique -- it was simply the way I made decisions). But these qualities alone aren't enough to explain my success. I've created a profitable and ethical business, I've reclaiming my life from a serious illness, I've made enormous strides in finding peace and joy within myself, and now I'm starting to travel and explore the world. I have literally become the person I visualized -- I am healthy, happy and free. So ... how does intelligence, creativity and adaptability play into this?
  • Although I've taken many business risks over the years, and I've had more than my share of difficulties in working in a very competitive space like furniture-related e-commerce, I've always managed to find a way to succeed. I've done this, despite being very very sick and having 50% or more of my brain regularly NOT WORKING. The conclusion I draw from this is that, even with 50% of my brain tied behind my back, I was still able to succeed in a business niche where over 99% of potential competitors fail within the first 2 years. And I did it twice -- I did the same thing, with two different startup companies. This indicates that I'm pretty smart and creative, at least when compared against the existing competition. It also indicates that I'm pretty adaptable, because success in business requires you to fail a lot and then double down on the gambits that are successful.
  • Reading and writing have always come easy for me, and I've always done very well on tests. Even at a very young age, I'd speed-read through books voraciously in search of knowledge. When taking tests, I'd always seem to know what the teacher or professor was asking for -- I'd frequently get As and Bs on tests without really studying the material. My writing is also very strong. When taking my first college class at community college, my professor accused me of plagiarism (in writing, no less!) because my essay was too professional-sounding. Later, at Hamline University, I won the best-of-department writing award two years in a row for essays in History and Political Science. Another professor recommended that I submit an essay for publication. I'm also quite fast when writing, for example this 3000 word blog post took me about 4 hours total to write (including draft revisions). I know that most people don't have the ability with words that I do, and I consider writing to be my preferred medium of creative expression. It's an expression of my intelligence and creativity. My adaptability in writing is demonstrated by the fact that, with most of these blog essays, I only have a vague idea of what I'm going to write about until I sit down to write. I kind of know where I want to end up -- and then I just start writing, and see where the muse takes me.
Wow, this is starting to sound really self-serving! Sorry! :) The pattern I draw from these examples isn't that "Erik is more intelligent and creative than most people". I also don't think it's enough to point to the combination of creativity, intelligence and adaptability as a model to explain why I'm successful in business and good at writing/learning. These three characteristics are all necessary, but the missing element is belief. I simply believe I can do these things: that I can succeed on a test I've never studied for, that I can write a cogent essay in a few hours, that I can succeed in business where numerous others have failed. I genuinely believe that I can do anything that I set my mind to. My supposition is that all of the intelligence, creativity and adaptability in the world won't help if you don't believe in yourself and establish lofty goals. However, for most of my life, I did not establish lofty goals for myself. I operated on inertia, only occasionally shooting outside my comfort zone. Believing that you can do anything can also be very disempowering, because if you can do anything ... well, why not do it tomorrow? Why make the effort? How do you know what you really want, after all, when there are so many choices? Making choices is really hard! There have been many failures in my life, and examining those can also help to explain the 'reality hacking' concept I'm trying to understand better.

Examining Failure in My Life

Let's start with fear.
Fear has been the dominant emotion in my life, since I was a child. I was afraid of talking to people, and saying the wrong thing. I was even afraid of the little things — minuscule, normal social interactions like ‘small talk’. This isn’t a normal or healthy way to live! ... I’m afraid of putting my ‘true self’ out there, with all of my fears and uncertainties and vulnerabilities, and being judged as the imperfect being that I am. This is the dominion of fear. These fears have shaped the walls of my prison, for almost 30 years. -- Source: The Dominion of Fear
Fear has held me back, in huge and significant ways, for most of my life. It's been the greatest thing preventing me from experiencing a life filled with friends, joy and fulfillment. Fear and 'reality hacking' are simply not compatible. You can't visualize a reality for yourself, and work hard to achieve it, if you're afraid of the end result. Another major failure in my life, up until the past few years, was lethargy. It's a common problem for intelligent kids who go to public schools. Because everything in school comes so easily for us, we learn to be lazy and approach life with intermittent energy levels (that vary based on our mood). I really didn't want anything all that badly, and when I did get the occasional desire to achieve something I usually figured out a way to accomplish that goal.
  • I was expected to go to college, so I did -- and I got excellent grades.
  • My friends started talking about buying houses and settling down, and so I decided I should start to do that too -- and so I bought a townhouse in the suburbs, found a steady girlfriend, and worked at a 'professional white-collar job' just like everyone else. It's what you're supposed to do, right?
Because these goals were externally generated, they weren't very meaningful to me. My life felt hollow. Lethargy and 'reality hacking' are also not compatible, because it's very difficult to align your goals with your internal desires and motivations. You might achieve amazing things, but those amazing things probably won't bring you joy or fulfillment. The greatest failure in my life, however, was getting sick from chemical exposures and progressively getting sicker for 14 years. Why do I consider this a failure? It's as if I could have done much to prevent it, past the initial stupidity of sealing and painting up the basement without proper ventilation. I consider it a failure because it nearly killed me, and because it took an profound amount of my life away from me. The reason I mention it here is that, at least in my experience, 'reality hacking' isn't a superpower that can create something from nothing. 'Reality hacking' requires a base of some sort to work off of. The methods I used to heal myself simply didn't exist 14 years ago. They barely existed 4 years ago (I was one of the initial guinea pigs). I saw dozens of doctors, and none of them could provide me with a 'base' to work off of. None of them could explain what was wrong with me and offer an effective method to reduce or cure my illness. And so, I conclude that 'reality hacking' is also not compatible with fiction. While it might be possible to have the 'right attitude' and attract the right people towards you, if the tool you need to achieve your goal has never been conceived of or invented -- then 'reality hacking' is probably not going to be an effective means to achieve your goals. In a way, I wish that I could blame myself for not getting healthy sooner. I really missed a lot of experiences in those 14 years! However, I simply don't see how I could have done it any sooner than I did. 'Reality hacking' simply isn't that powerful a tool, it cannot create something out of nothing.

Reality Hacking -- So, What Is It?

I'm struggling to understand this idea myself! That's why I'm writing this blog article! :) I'm exploring the ways in which I have been able to 'hack reality' and achieve some amazing things in my life, and also ways in which 'reality hacking' has been ineffective for me. The reason this is important is because, by dissecting my own methods, I'm hoping to be able to explain how you might be able to do the same sort of amazing things in your own life. I don't consider this concept to be very metaphysical or woo. However, there is absolutely something to the idea that we can shape our own reality around us if we approach it with the right attitude and toolset. That is the challenging concept that I'm trying to explain, through an examination of my own life. If you're struggling to understand what I'm talking about, then the best I can say right now is ... "To Be Continued". I'll explore these ideas in future blog posts :)

An Afterthought

Probably the hardest thing for my friends to understand about me, is that I 'change' in fairly quick and unexpected ways. As I write earlier in this post, "The salient characteristic I see in these examples is my ability to change goals, to swiftly modify my self-image, and to quickly change my paradigm filters so that I see the world differently. These are the things that have really empowered my success." I have the ability to quickly adapt my own reality, and to quickly change my own conception of self. However, watching this in action can be pretty damned confusing sometimes :)

Written on 2014/01/11

Written by Erik Schimek

Erik is an entrepreneur and self-improvement expert. You can learn more about Meliora Meditation at Infinite Chorus.

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