Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How Mind Hacking Really Works

I was in the middle of planning another revision of Thinking Things Done's chapter 7, when I stumbled across a year-old email from Mind Hackers' Guild member Mike Brown.

In it, he mentioned an article he'd run across, talking about how some scientist had found that each time a memory is used, it has to be stored again as a new memory, in order to be accessible later, because the old memory is either not there, or because it becomes inaccessible.

Now, when Mike first sent that to me (over a year ago), I didn't give it much thought.  For one thing, it sounded like another one of the many quirky or over-reaching interpretations that journalists often give to scientific topics.  (I read a lot of those, especially on topics related to procrastination... and sometimes the scientists themselves are the ones with the quirky or over-reaching interpretations!)

But for some reason, that old email caught my eye this evening, as I was skimming through a folder of un-answered and un-followed-up-on emails.  So I followed the link he sent to here, and then did some follow-up research via Google.

And it turns out that the basic idea, called "reconsolidation", has effects that have been studied by neuroscientists for quite some time now.  And the basic idea, explained quite well in this paper, is:

When you retrieve a memory,
it becomes changeable!

Now, that might not seem particularly important or significant, and indeed, a year ago I didn't make the connection that I made tonight.  But in the last year, the variety of mind-hacking techniques that I use and teach, had gotten quite a bit more varied.  And I was starting to notice a lot of commonalities.

In the lead-up to writing Thinking Things Done, I had been studying the predictive function of memory, and the role of surprise in my work.  Because frankly, when people change quickly and easily, it surprises them.  (Not to mention their friends and family!)

But more importantly, it had seemed to me that the emotion of surprise itself was a key part of the process of change.  Because people who failed to surprise themselves, failed to change.

Now, this is where things get interesting.  The reason that some people fail to surprise themselves, when first using my techniques, is because they're thinking about the present....

Instead Of Experiencing The Past!

Because most of my work involves using questions designed to provoke certain memories or thought patterns, in order to "access the code" that makes a person feel or act in a certain way.  So the people who have difficulty, are the ones who go into analytical and conceptual thoughts, instead of emotional/behavioral experiences.

And when I ask a question like, "And where do you feel that in your body?", they'll give a non-answer like, "I think I must be afraid of success," or "it must be my low-self esteem."

Of course, working with such people 1-on-1, I can usually get them to stop doing that after a little bit of prompting.  But when people just read what I write, or listen to my recordings, there's no way for them to get that kind of feedback!  (And to date, I haven't managed to write or say anything that gets 100% of people to not do this.)

Now, I've always known that directly accessing the relevant memory or belief was critical to what I do; heck, I was writing about that as far back as 2005!  After all, every technique I use and teach is essentially just a different way of locating, activating, and then altering different kinds of memory patterns.

So I knew, from direct experience, that you had to access your mind's "code", in order to change it.

I just didn't have a good explanation for why!

But now, reading about how memory reconsolidation works, I see a new way to explain this principle.

Not just from a motivational perspective, (i.e., "you have to do it this way because Science says so").

And not just from a teaching perspective (i.e. "this is why you need to be as specific and sensory-based as possible, so as to access the precise memories").

But now, I also have a better way for someone to test whether they're doing it correctly!

See, up till now, I've only been able to point to their analysis and thinking, and say, "stop doing that", until they learn to do the right thing.

But now, I can more clearly describe what they're supposed to be doing in the first place!

Specifically, in order to perform a successful mind hack, you must be either:

  1. Remembering something,
  2. Expecting something, or
  3. Experiencing something.

And if you're not doing one of those three things, then you're thinking, and therefore doing it wrong

Because, while reconsolidation applies to both "declarative" memories (concepts and abstract thinking) and "procedural" memories (emotions and behaviors), it only affects the currently active system.

And that's the real reason why...

Abstract Ideas Can Never Change You!

Anyway, this reconsolidation concept doesn't actually change any of the techniques I use or teach in any meaningful way, and I certainly don't need to rely on it for "scientific" validation of what I do.

But, it does seem like it could have some profound influence on how I teach people to do what I do, and that it has some potential to make the learning process a little easier...  especially for people who get too bogged down in abstract thought to be able to actually apply the techniques.

And that's precisely what I needed, for the rewrite of chapter 7.

So thank you, Mike.  And thank you, Science!