As my 30-day subjective reality experiment concluded last month, I shifted to a different mode of living. I finally got used to seeing the world through a dream lens. It was seriously challenging to hold that perspective at first, but after a few weeks, my subconscious took over, and I no longer had to consciously remind myself that this is a dream. Eventually the dream perspective became my default way of thinking.
Freeing Mental RAM
Up until that point, holding that perspective was a major cognitive burden. My mind often felt fried at the end of the day. The experiment required a serious conscious effort, a lot of dedication, and perhaps a twist of fanaticism.
Holding the subjective perspective required a significant amount of mental RAM. Multiple times per hour, I had to keep refreshing that perspective. Otherwise I’d fall back into an objective mindset by default.
This was difficult to be sure. I don’t think I could have succeeded in making this shift if I hadn’t dedicated myself to 30 days of total immersion.
While it can be a fun experience to try holding this perspective for an hour or perhaps an afternoon, doing it as continuously as possible for a whole month is a whole different animal. It’s like the difference between having an idea for a new business and actually starting one. The first is easy and fun; the second can be fun too, but it requires a lot more work. One is dabbling; the other is doing. Most of the gains are only accessible on the doing side; dabbling only gives you a glimpse that something cool is there.
After the point of subconscious integration, everything became easier. Conscious effort was no longer required.
In a way this has been an eerie transition. It almost feels like I’ve shifted dimensions. It’s one thing to condition a new belief about financial abundance or eating healthier, but changing my beliefs about the very nature of reality has really turned my life inside out. This was not an easy transition.
In this article I want to document some of the ongoing effects of this experiment, now that I believe I have a clearer understanding of where this is leading long-term.
Beliefs Are Buried
First, this experiment really drove home how easy it is to take beliefs for granted and not even be aware of how they filter our experiences. Because I made such a big shift in my beliefs in a few weeks’ time, I was able to see the marked contrast between the old beliefs and the new ones. It felt like I went through a major reprogramming of my subconscious.
Most beliefs are subconscious. They run on autopilot. We don’t even notice them.
Installing a new belief is like putting on a Band Aid. At first you can’t help but notice that you have some foreign object sticking to your skin. But after a while, the sensory input patterns stop making impressions upon your conscious mind. You stop noticing the Band Aid. Essentially it becomes a part of you. Then later you see it again, or maybe someone else notices it, and you say to yourself, “Oh yeah… I’m wearing a Band Aid.”
The subconscious mind is very pliable and programmable. That makes it very powerful. But it has a downside as well. Once some programming is installed, it takes more effort to uninstall and reprogram it. A half-assed effort won’t get you very far; you’ll just solidify the old programming by piling more code on top of it.
One of the best ways to change your beliefs is through a process of immersion, which is what I used for making this shift. I consciously set the old beliefs aside and pushed myself to adopt the new beliefs 24/7. And I did it publicly, so other people would hold me accountable and help to push me. It isn’t easy but it works.
Hacking the Mind
As a result of this experiment, my mind seems to be running a different operating system. Instead of running an objective operating system, it’s now running a subjective one.
As with any good operating system, it takes some getting used to, but after a while your comfort level increases, and you don’t notice it so much. You run programs on top of it, but you take the underlying OS for granted much of the time. However, the OS is always running, and it dictates which programs you can and can’t run. You may not notice it, but it’s still doing a lot of work in the background.
What I didn’t realize before this experiment was that a mental OS has constraints that are similar to a computer’s OS.
Every OS has its strengths and weaknesses depending on its architecture. Even if the underlying hardware is the same, switching to a different OS can unlock new capabilities. Some things may be easier with a new OS, if only because you can gain access to new high-level software that’s written for that OS.
On my Macbook Pro, I’m running Mac OS X, but I also have Windows 7 installed. There’s some Windows software I really like, such as The Journal, that isn’t available for Mac OS. So I run Windows programs on my Mac using Parallels, which creates a virtual Windows machine that runs along with OS X.
When my mind was previously running an objective operating system, it’s strength was running programs that were built upon that architecture. But it wasn’t as good at running subjective programs.
In order to run subjective programs on my objective OS, I first had to run a subjective virtual machine. That allowed me to see reality through a subjective lens. Then I could run subjective programs on top of that.
This was very mentally burdensome though. It took a lot of mental RAM to load a subjective virtual machine into my conscious mind. And that didn’t leave much room for running subjective programs.
For example, suppose I want to try having a conversation with someone as if they’re a dream character, but my underlying subconscious belief is that reality is objective in nature. How can I make this interaction happen?
First, I have to load up my subjective virtual machine. In other words, I have to imagine that reality is a dream while suspending my belief that reality is objective. It takes some conscious mental effort to do that.
Then I have to imagine that other people are dream characters, and I have to retain that perspective while conversing with them. And finally, I have to pay attention to what I’m experiencing.
That’s a lot of mental work! It’s no wonder my brain felt fried at the end of the day.
Moreover, with an objective OS and a subjective virtual machine running on top of it, there wasn’t as much mental RAM available for subjective programs and their data. This turned out to be a serious limitation that prevented me from having the fullest experience of subjective reality. Ultimately it required too much mental effort. I needed to get the subjective OS running natively instead of as a virtual machine on top of an objective OS.
Installing a Subjective OS
My subjective reality experiment was basically a process of installing a subjective OS to replace my objective one. At first I had to run it as a virtual machine. But eventually I was able to get it running natively (i.e. subconsciously).
After this point the cognitive burden was greatly diminished. More mental RAM was freed up, as well as more CPU cycles. This meant that I could run more complex subjective programs. In practical terms, I could do more than have subjective conversations with friends or write subjective articles. Now I could see how to run my whole business subjectively and make plans for the long term, based on reality being a persistent yet flexible dream.
I had to rewrite a lot of code to add useful software to my subjective OS. I had to figure out how to eat, how to exercise, how to have relationships, and so on. I had good programs for these functions on my objective OS, but they couldn’t work the same way on the subjective side. The porting process required a lot of thought.
I’m still going through this process now, but at least I have the basics figured out. I’m able to function just fine, but so much has changed that I’m not living the same way I did before this experiment. It was very much like switching to a new OS on my computer and having to learn all different software. At first, productivity drops because so much is unfamiliar. Now I’m at the point where I have some good basic programs, and I’m able to be moderately productive again. This past week has been very productive for me.
I like the OS analogy since it helps me understand and explain what’s happening, but let’s not overplay it and get into dual booting and such. Dual booting may be a nice option for a computer, but I don’t yet see an equivalently easy way to do that with my brain. Then again, maybe that’s what happens when we go to sleep and have a dream.
Synchronistically, my relationship with my iPad (which I bought during my subjective trial) has been tracking the same relative progression. At first I couldn’t do much with it, and I was doubting whether it was an intelligent purchase. It took me a while to figure out how to use it productively.
Fast forward a month, and now I’m loving my iPad. I educated myself on how to use it effectively, tested lots of apps to find some good ones, and tweaked the settings to suit me better. Now I’m able to be very productive. Some days I’m using it more than my Macbook.
In a dream world, this all makes sense because my outer experience is a projection of my inner experience.
During my 30-day experiment, my sense of reality was all over the place. I often felt ungrounded and emotional. Some days were just so strange. But near the end of that trial, I began to reach a new place of stability and consistency, which has continued to this day. I’m really glad for that.
I realized that even though this reality may be a dream, this dream world contains its own form of objectivity. There’s a certain degree of persistence that’s predictable and reliable. It’s not completely random and chaotic.
From the dream world perspective, the world seems to be fairly stable because my beliefs are stable. If I don’t shift my beliefs around so much (like I did during my trial), then reality settles into semi-predictable patterns.
This stability means that I can still effectively apply objective-world skills. I can think and plan ahead. I can predict the likely consequences of my actions (or inactions) with reasonable accuracy. I can set and achieve goals. I can learn and grow. It’s very refreshing to know this.
For me this is an exciting place to be. It means I don’t have to completely abandon the objective OS software that was working well for me. With some tweaks here and there, I can port those apps over to the subjective side.
It’s not quite the same on the subjective side though. Every app runs a little differently. But I can still run them.
A New Sense of Possibility
A major benefit of perceiving life subjectively is that I’ve gained an incredible new sense of possibility. I’ve released many self-imposed limitations. I realized that the objective mindset was causing me to hold myself back too much, especially when it came to my career path.
From an objective frame, it’s too easy to fall into a pattern of playing it safe. Most of the time you don’t even realize you’re playing it safe because it’s a subconscious pattern. It’s the Band Aid you don’t even realize you’re wearing. Other people can see it more clearly than you can though.
I was aware of this pattern and would often push myself (and others) to be more courageous. But now I don’t feel that as much courage is required because the risks are less real. I’m willing to accept any outcome without feeling attached to it. It’s hard to get too attached to elements of a dream world. Change is inevitable.
From a subjective frame, I’m asking questions like, “If this really is a dream, what now becomes possible for me that I previously considered impossible?”
Initially when I asked questions like this, I thought about how cool it would be to do seemingly magical things like I might do in a lucid dream at night. Wouldn’t it be amazing to fly, perform telekinesis, etc?
But then I began to seriously ponder the implications of that. If I could actually create those things, would I really want to? At first I noticed some fear coming up about what that would do to my sense of reality. But once I had the subjective OS installed, I didn’t feel much fear about it. Instead I began thinking in terms of story.
A 15-minute lucid dream is a cool experience. Without much time to develop an interesting story, you go for spectacle instead. Fly. Do magic. Have sex. Fight. The experience is fleeting, like riding a roller coaster. If you only have 15 minutes to live, it’s perfectly fine to invest it in an intense emotional experience. Do whatever makes you scream in delight. Enjoy yourself!
But our waking dream world is a different beast altogether. It lasts much longer than 15 minutes. It’s more enduring and persistent. It doesn’t come undone so quickly.
We can still choose to center our lives around spectacle. We can overload ourselves with entertainment, thrill seeking, and drama. But after a while, those kinds of experiences become boring. They’re not very fulfilling in the long run.
Fortunately we aren’t limited to spectacle. We can move beyond spectacle into the realm of story. Story is much cooler than spectacle.
With my objective OS running, I didn’t think much about the story of my life. I thought about goals, projects, and tasks. I thought about life purpose. I even thought about vision. But I didn’t really think of my life in terms of an unfolding story with a plot, characters, settings, and so on.
A persistent subjective world is an ideal place for rich and vivid stories to be told. Such stories don’t have to be told in disjointed episodes like you might see on most fictional TV shows. We can create much grander and more expansive tales.
Isn’t it interesting that TV itself has been gradually evolving to give rise to more intricate stories that play out over a period of years, such as the show Lost? Perhaps the popularity of these shows is tracking our own shift in awareness.
Your life is a story. My life is a story. Humanity’s existence is a story.
What’s the story of your life? Is it a string of random episodes? Does it rely too much on spectacle as opposed to good storytelling technique? Is it boring? Is it compelling? Is it shallow? Is it deep?
What will be the next act in your story? The next scene? What would you like to create? What would advance the plot, the character development, the message?
Instead of thinking about my life purpose, lately I’ve been thinking about my life story and how it’s unfolding.
What story am I creating? What role is my avatar playing?
This shifted me away from thinking about creating a magical dream world because I realized that would rely too much on spectacle. With too much power concentrated at the avatar level, we wouldn’t have the right level of balance between the avatar and the environment. My character wouldn’t face worthy challenges. Life would become too easy, and the resulting story would be dull. It’s like playing a video game in God mode. It can be fun for 15 minutes, but in the absence of a worthy challenge, boredom ensues.
My life story has always been more compelling when I face big challenges. For example, my story became a lot more interesting (at least to me) when I went through a period of shoplifting addiction, and I risked being caught and arrested multiple times per week. My character had to grow from that experience in order for the story to progress. A story where I sat in prison for a few years wouldn’t have been interesting for me.
Another fun challenge was when I pushed myself to go through college in three semesters. At the time I took on that goal, I didn’t know how I’d pull it off. I did it because I wanted to push myself. Creating a story where I graduated college in four years would have bored me to tears, especially if I had to live it. A 3-semester graduation was a cool plot twist.
Getting a regular job would have seemed a very boring story to me. Becoming an entrepreneur has been much more exciting to experience, to watch, and to remember.
Good constraints give rise to worthy challenges, and worthy challenges give rise to good story.
This realization gives me a sense of deep gratitude for all the apparent constraints in this seemingly physical universe. I had to accept that I really want those constraints, not because I’m afraid to face the alternative, but because the alternative would inevitably bore me to tears if I were to experience it for a sufficient length of time.
In order to create a cool story, one that’s exciting and fulfilling and meaningful, I have to be subjected to constraints. So even though this may be a dream world, I want to continue to believe that it has structure and limitation.
In other words, to a certain extent, life has to be hard, or it isn’t worth living. The things that seem most nasty to us contain the seeds of our greatest joys. Every problem is a storytelling vehicle. Without problems there can be no story elements like triumph or heroism. This is, I believe, what Kahlil Gibran meant when he wrote, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.”
Lately I’ve been asking myself, “Where do I want to take my life story from here? What kind of impact do I wish to have on the stories of others… or on the story of humanity itself?”
These have been supremely motivating questions to ask. I’ve been coming up with all kinds of cool answers.
During the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a major life review, spending many hours journaling, thinking, and planning. First I tossed out all my old goals and started from scratch with a blank slate. Then I thought each part of my life from this new place of a subjective world that includes purposeful constraints. It took me days just to figure out how to interpret my career, finances, relationships, health, and so on from this new perspective of subjective objectivity. And the further I went with it, the more excited I became. All the pieces were coming together holistically, and some elegant next steps to take were revealed.
I’m looking at my life from the perspective that it’s an unfolding story in a dream world. The dream world has various constraints, and I need those constraints to exist because working within them (and sometimes overcoming them) serves as a vehicle for interesting and meaningful storytelling and character development. The alternative is long-term boredom.
I can be passive and let the story unfold haphazardly and chaotically. But it’s more fun and fulfilling to actively participate as the primary writer. It’s like being a game designer and a gamer at the same time. What game would I like to write that I’d most enjoy playing? What story would I most like to experience?
Dropping Boring Story Elements
As a side effect of these realizations, I’ve also been dropping elements from my life that don’t contribute much to the unfolding story element.
For example, this week I canceled my cable TV and DVR service. Aside from watching Star Trek reruns, I didn’t use it much anyway. The cable TV/DVR was part of a bundle I got with my cable modem service, auto-billed to my checking account.
I realized that having my character watch TV was a boring story element, and paying for a service I barely used was lame too. I checked my bill and saw that with all the taxes and fees, I was paying $93 per month ($1115 per year) for basic cable for one TV and with no premium channels like HBO. Easy decision to cancel. There are more interesting uses for dream world time and money.
Even though I love many of the stories within Star Trek, I realized that (1) I already know those stories by memory, (2) they’re too short and simplistic to be interesting to me anymore, and (3) continually exposing myself to those fictional stories causes me to pay less attention to the story of my own life and the world at large.
What I find most fascinating is that by thinking of my life as a story, it’s pushing me to do a better job of aligning myself with all the best principles and practices I’ve written about previously. Now I see all of that as character development. Having a kick-ass character doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting story. It’s the character’s growth over time that helps create a cool story arc.
Writing a Kick-Ass Story
I acknowledge that my life has become too easy. I know that many people are still struggling with challenges like figuring out what kind of work they’d enjoy, moving from scarcity to abundance, and cultivating loving relationships. But for me this stuff has become dirt simple. I don’t have to think about it because I’ve already integrated the required mindsets and behaviors into my subconscious.
I’ve invested years of effort writing millions of words to help people make similar gains. Information-wise, I’ve said what I’ve wanted to say about most of the topics I’ve written about. I’m sure I could keep coming up with new ideas for years to come. I still love writing, and I expect it will always be a part of my life, but if I make it my primary career outlet for another six years, the story of my life will become dull and boring, and it won’t fulfill me anymore.
I need to face more ambitious challenges to craft a better story from this point on, particularly in the area of my career. It’s time to begin a new act.
I’ve already worked out a plan for what I want to do next. I have a lot to wrap up this year, so I probably won’t be too far along with it till 2011, but it’s so inspiring to me that I’ve already been working hard on it. It’s the most kick-ass vision I’ve ever come up with.
So it’s safe to say that I’m at the beginning of another major career transition right now. This is like nothing I’ve ever done before, and like nothing I’ve planned before either. It’s not a traditional career that can be named or labeled in conventional terms. It’s something that’s uniquely me. I’m still not sure how I’ll pull it off. I just know that I must do it. No matter what happens, it will make for an interesting story.
I’m not going to share the details in advance for a few reasons. First, it would be premature. I still have many details to work out, so the core concept is still evolving. I need to spend more time working through this on my own.
Second, I don’t want to get a bunch of feedback about the new direction. If I were to publicly post what my plan is, I know from experience that my inboxes will fill up, and most of the feedback won’t be useful or actionable because it will come from people who’ve never met me and who are projecting their issues onto me. I’ve been through enough rounds of that already, so I hope you can understand why I’m not going to go there this time.
I don’t expect that people will dislike the idea — quite the contrary. They’re more likely to find it too ambitious. I’d expect that the public reactions would be similar to what happened when I told people I was going to graduate college in three semesters. Nothing I’d done up to that point suggested that it was an attainable goal for me. I just knew I had to do it. People didn’t believe I could do it, so they tried to talk me out of it, which I found annoying because I was committed. Even years after I did it, people I’d never met would publicly call me a liar for writing about it. One person even called my old university and got some administrator to verify that I did it. I was surprised the school did that since I figured student academic records were confidential, but at least the caller was able to validate my story. I told that story because I wanted to share how I did it, and I thought it would inspire people, and it certainly did that in many cases. But to talk about such things in advance, at least for me, seems to do more harm than good.
And thirdly, it makes for a better story if I don’t serve up any spoilers. It will be more fun to simply do it and watch people try to make sense of it afterwards. Over the next year, many people will probably figure it out because there will be a shift in my actions that will invariably drop some clues, but for the immediate future, it will probably seem like little has changed for the rest of 2010 at least. I’m not going to suddenly stop blogging this month or anything like that.
I can at least say that unlike my 2004 transition from game development to personal development, this new transition is about building upon what I’ve already done. It’s definitely more of a forward step than a sidestep, and it has to do with expanding my contribution. I’ve never blogged about this before, so if you look to the blog for clues, I’m afraid you’ll come up empty handed.
In a way it feels like I’ve come full circle. You could say that my current mindset is more grounded, practical, and objective than ever. But it’s running on a subjective OS, and that unlocks new possibilities. I see that reality is a simulation, I see that it has a variety of constraints, and I see that those constraints are purposeful. I don’t feel limited by the constraints. I feel inspired by them. The constraints make it possible to create a kick-ass story.
I’m frakkin’ starving now, so I’m gonna go feed this avatar!
What’s your kick-ass story?