An Instruction Manual For Your Brain

From the Sources: Preface to The Gulag Archipelago

We get issued at birth with the greatest supercomputer ever designed. The problem is that we don’t get issued with any instructions on how to work it. We all have to flounder around using trial and error trying to figure it out.

This can lead to disastrous consequences. As a result, our brains often function at less-than-optimal capacity and, in the worst case, can cause us incalculable damage. Thinking the wrong thing can do more damage to our well-being, our health, and our happiness than other people’s actions.

In a way, life is the training manual for learning how to operation these computers we all carry around in our heads. Unfortunately, this process takes decades. In many cases, it can take us into our fifties or beyond before we master the basics so we can actually start living our lives in any kind of productive way.

This is a really, really stupid way to run the world, but hey, that’s life. So today, we’re issuing everyone with an instruction manual for your brain. These techniques will ensure that our onboard computers function the way they ought to. They allow us to correct any errors or malfunctions that may pop up.

In the last few posts, I compared our lives to a car we’re driving down a road. It’s up to us to get behind the wheel and steer that car where we want it to go. If we got into a car and smashed our foot on the accelerator pedal without bothering to steer, we would probably wind up sinking into the bay, not to mention threatening life and limb to ourselves and everyone around us.

To operate our lives, we have to steer. By the same token, we compared our bodies to a high-performance racehorse that needs proper nutrition and exercise to function at its peak. We can see our bodies as cars, too. They need the right fuel, the right maintenance, the right tire pressure. If we neglect them, they very quickly break down and become unusable and the same thing happens to our bodies.

We use the analogy of a computer to understand the brain and we can use the analogy of a car for the brain, too.

If we had a computer that didn’t work right, we might say a few bad words to it. Then we would take it to a programmer and get it fixed so it did what we wanted it to do.

If we had a car that coughed and spluttered and lurched down the highway belching black smoke from under the hood, we would take that car to the shop. We wouldn’t get it back until the mechanic fixed it—and I mean really fixed what was wrong with it and returned it to its proper state of functioning.

If the mechanic tilted their head to one side, listened to us describe what went wrong with the car, and said, “How did that make you feel?” we would want to sue them for fraud. We would take the car from mechanic to mechanic until we found one that could actually fix the damn thing.

We all have things going on in our brains that work against our best interest. We have negative self-talk, outdated beliefs, self-sabotaging doubts, and a whole lot of other shit that interferes with our ability to live our best lives.

We watch other people whizzing past us on the highway of life while we limp along the shoulder in half-dead jalopies strapped together with duct tape. Our cars billow smoke across the windshield so we can’t see the road ahead while others cruise past us pumping their high-performance sound systems. We watch them waving and smiling from their windows and it makes us feel even worse.

So today is the day we get our cars and our onboard computers fixed so they actually work.

The first step it to identify that all this trash in our heads is slowing us down and even stopping us from living our lives. A lot of it needs to be eliminated. Other parts need to be repaired and corrected. Fortunately for us, it can be. 

We start by thinking of our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, doubts, and ideas as habits. Over time and with repetition, our brains get locked into these ingrained ruts. In the end, they become so habitualized that we don’t even recognize the patterns that keep those habits in place.

Let’s get out our magnifying glasses and analyze a random thought that I know a lot of you suffer with. Let’s take the thought, “I’m worthless and everyone would be better off if I was dead.”

Trust me when I tell you that I know this thought very, very well. This thought has been with me for decades.

This thought is extremely counterproductive to a healthy, thriving life. It is poisonous, and for another thing, it isn’t true. It’s a bald-faced lie and yet so many of us carry this around with us. We spend year upon year believing this and repeating it to ourselves. Why? Do we all understand how tragic this is?

I could list a whole raft of other thoughts, ideas, notions, and doubts that we tell ourselves. Shall I list them all for you?

How about, “I’m ugly.” How about, “I’m unlovable.” I’ll stop there. You get the idea. 

The thoughts we want to eliminate and reprogram are all either blatantly not true, they’re supported by flimsy or nonexistent evidence, or they’re leading us to a conclusion that is contrary to our long-term well-being. These are the criteria we’re going to use to identify the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that need to be changed.

These thoughts and others like them are all habits. They’re mental habits. Maybe our parents or our abusers told us this in a way so the thoughts took root in our minds. Maybe toxic people pointed out evidence that they said supported these beliefs.

How the habit became ingrained does matter, but it doesn’t matter near as much as realizing that we can break these habits the same way we break other unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking to excess.

How do we break habits? We break them down into pieces. We dismantle them into their support components. We need to understand each segment in a continuous train of thought that brought us to the conclusion that we are worthless and that everyone will be better off without us.

That conclusion is the endpoint of a sequence of other thoughts that carries us to the conclusion.

Think about the support habits and entrenched lifestyle routines that cause someone to smoke cigarettes. Maybe they grew up in a house with parents who smoked. Maybe they surround themselves with friends who smoke. Maybe they buy cigarettes as a matter of routine each time they stop for groceries or gas. They even set aside a certain amount of money in their weekly budget to ensure they can afford the cigarettes. They go through a series of steps that make smoking frictionless and inevitable.

Now let’s apply the same logic to our thoughts. We started out with a certain thought construct that may have been implanted by our parents, society, or some other source. Since then, we go through a set routine that keeps that construct going. We consistently focus on the evidence we choose to believe proves that the conclusion is true.

We dwell on every tiny mistake or stumble. We magnify every awkward moment and turn that into the evidence to convince ourselves that we are worthless, that we will never amount to anything, and that WE are the problem that needs to be solved so the rest of the world will be protected from everything that is wrong with us.

We do this while ignoring our achievements, talents, relationships, and strengths that COULD convince us that we ARE valuable, that people love us in spite of our faults, that our lives are something holy and good.

Each of us has the tools and screwdrivers and soldering irons necessary to fix these computers in our heads. First of all, we need to roll up our sleeves and take the thing apart. We need to expose the wiring that is interfering with our operating systems. 

Next, we trace exactly where our thinking is malfunctioning. We identify the lies and manipulation that our parents, teachers, and abusers used to screw us up. We attack those notions and replace them with the correct programming that serves our best interest.

Our thoughts and feelings are systems that we put in place to make our brains function in a particular way. Thoughts and feelings are blocks of code made up of many lines, each one an idea or thought on its own. These lines combine to form a single mental process that carries us to a conclusion, an outcome, or a life function.

Each of us can and should take it upon ourselves to ensure our brains are running the right programs. If we are suffering from a mental illness, negative self-talk, or some other manipulation/abuse-related malfunction, all of these are the end-stage symptoms of an operating system that is infected with viruses or programming errors. We can reprogram these out so our brains function properly and bring us the fulfillment and happiness we all crave.

Thank you for reading. I hope this helps someone out there. If you need help right now, click that chatbot button at the bottom of the screne. We’ll get your problems solved together so you can start living a better quality life. You don’t have to do this on your own anymore.