Imagine that someone presents you with a to-do list and tells you that you better hurry and start crossing things off. Anxiously, you begin working your way through the list. One of the first to-do’s is sending your resume to be considered for a boring, desk job. You had hopes and dreams of being an innovator and maybe building your own business, but this person laughs at the mere thought because you could never do that. The desk job, while not really engaging or challenging, is on the stable, safe path and is the much more practical alternative. When you finish writing the cover letter to accompany the resume, the overseer criticizes the result and belittles your effort.
Taking a break from marking things off of the list, you watch a little television news. The whole time, the annoying slave driver won’t shut up telling you how you should think and feel about each item that comes on the news justifying why they are right. They do their commentary long enough to point out that you’re being a “lazy bum” and nagging you to get back to work.
Even when you go to bed, the pest just will not leave you alone. Standing by the bed, they chatter incessantly, picking apart the events of the day in minute detail, dredging up the events of the past and telling you that you need to worry about this or that in the future.
You’d certainly be justified in wanting to backhand this person and tell them to “shut the hell up!” Understandably, you probably wouldn’t want to be around this person or consider them very nice, yet many of us allow our own minds to treat us like this, or worse, every day without thinking anything of it.
In his book, Beyond Mental Slavery, Steve Gillman explains that we all have unconscious, reactive programs and mental processes which guide many of our thoughts and decisions and limit the clarity and effectiveness of our thinking. He writes:
Quick rationalizations provide obvious but ‘untrue’ reasons for our beliefs and actions, biases prevent us from examining new ideas, and desires push us to win arguments rather than search for truth. We are led around by these parts of our minds that we’re only vaguely aware of. ….[W]e can either use the mind or be used by it.
To break free, think clearly, and go beyond the mental slavery of our minds, Gillman suggests the following:
- Challenge your own thinking. Use your reasoning power against itself to make logical arguments for opposing beliefs and theories. Be honest with yourself and recognize your own biases.
- Pay attention to your thoughts. Learn to observe your mind by developing self awareness and consciousness. Routinely challenge your assumptions and their origins. Be willing to see how conditioned you might be. Start with a desire for the truth – no matter what it might be. Meditation and mindfulness practices are a great way to do this.
- Become aware of the effect that certain words have on you. Notice which words generate strong reactions or feelings for you. Identify words that carry extra meaning for you or that may mean something different to others. Doing so will prepare you to listen more objectively and to be less reactive. He offers exercises in the book to help you do this.
- Learn to recognize when your thinking is being corrupted by your ego. Specifically to overcome the influence of the ego, he advises to:
- have fewer opinions
– argue less
– question your motivations and challenge your assumptions
– borrow instead of buying ideas
– become interested in and make the opposing argument
– be open to changing your mind
– understand limitations
– admit ignorance
- Doubt the reality of any true authority. In fact, stop using the words “authority” or “expert” in your thinking and speech. He’s not suggesting a lack of respect here; just that you never let someone think FOR you.
- Do not measure and judge by self-reference. Become aware of your own mind and its limitations and biases. Your ideas and beliefs are not the standard against which all things are measured. While your beliefs are natural and obvious to you, others feel the same way about their own beliefs and judgments no matter how conflicting they may be with yours.
- Question your habitual following of fear’s advice. Look past fearful thoughts for better ideas and assumptions. Purposefully, work through the fear and do that which scares you. Stop serving fear and think and act in spite of it.
Gillman advises that an essential step in breaking free of mental slavery is for a person to make the commitment to themselves to do so. Like most everything in life, mental slavery can only happen if we allow it. I can attest that taking control of your mind is taking control of your life. It has allowed me to dramatically change myself and my life for the better. Gillman writes:
Your progress toward a mind that truly serves your highest purpose will always depend on your willingness to observe yourself. When you do that, you’ll start to see where you are giving your freedom away in bits and pieces to this or that momentary master.