Life Simplified – Part 4 – Mental

Hello! This has been a long time coming, let’s dive in.

So far we have covered the Social and the Physical realms. These realms serve as categories that are meant to encapsulate all of our existence in as few “buckets” as possible to allow for focused development in each category and ultimately exploration of existence on various levels.

As a quick recap, a brief summary of what the Social and Physical realms include are:

  • Social: Connection to bigger-picture entity as to promote meaning.
  • Physical: Sensations are merely a byproduct of awareness. Improve resilience by interpreting the body as a vessel through which the bigger-picture entity acts.

The mental realm is very nuanced so bear with me. There will be plenty more posts regarding the ideas explored here and there are so many implications that a few tangents that I may go on will have to be stopped short in order to avoid distracting away from the overview.


What is it?

Big Idea: Relative compound interpretation of experiences.

Basically: You view the world through a filter shaped by all of your past experiences.

All of your experiences and interpretations of those experiences compound to create your world-view. This world-view is, essentially, the filter through which you perceive the world. From what triggers irritation in you, your response to struggle and pleasure, your preferences and biases, all the way to the language and mannerisms that you use. It is the very thing that has the most profound contribution to your personality, it basically is the cause of your personality, i.e. your personality is no more than the visible manifestation of this world-view. The way you act and think all comes down to what you believe is appropriate based on the (interpretation of) experiences you’ve had in the past.

The beautiful thing about this is that the interpretation is relative, it depends on the individual. You have the power to change the interpretation and therefore change how the experience impacts your world-view. Often times people’s interpretations are reactive, that is, they interpret an experience based on what their world-view tells them to interpret it as. This is a default way of interpretation because it is easy and natural, but it may not serve you, especially if you have a lot of perceived-to-be (i.e. interpreted to be) negative experiences. If allowed to, this can quickly get out of hand to the point that there is a lot of momentum from interpreting one experience after the next as negative which recursively adds to the filter, reinforcing this negative interpretation habit, and ultimately this downward-spiral leads to what an outside individual may call a “negative outlook on life”.

This all contributes back to your personality (i.e. the visible manifestation of your world-view). All the while you may simply not know any different, believing so strongly that your world-view is right and that others don’t see it the way you do (i.e. the “correct way”). This goes to show the complexity of the mind, the very thing that is responsible for our very awareness of existence, is also at the same time limited to its own experience and furthermore with a very strong desire and bias towards survival which makes the negative interpretation of experiences more enticing (i.e. natural/default). This leaves people feeling frustrated and helpless and perhaps is responsible for a lot of the troubles we face today as a species.

I refer to this negative interpretation as default because it is by no means the only interpretation, it is the natural, easy, and unconscious interpretation. Just as a new phone comes with default settings such as brightness, location services, etc. such that you have to individualize the device to suit your needs, so too is your life’s default interpretations. The more conscious/aware an individual becomes (deliberately (i.e. not resisting or distracting oneself) going through hardship and struggle and then deriving meaning from it is a great way to develop higher consciousness, hence the self-awareness leaps often made through the teenage years), the more power they have over these interpretations.


Why is it Important?

Big Idea: Your conscious reality as you know it is no more than an interpretation.

Basically: Everything you know and experience is limited by your interpretations.

The Mental realm is the most subtle of all the realms and also the most powerful. All awareness originates in the brain, as we saw in the Physical realm, our  body is just a bunch of sensory organs to tell the brain what sort of environment it is in so that it can best survive. It is the brain’s interpretation of these senses that ultimately decide how an experience is stored and how our “filter” through which we perceive the world is adjusted. This gets to the very heart of reality, reality is no more than what you perceive it to be and how you perceive it largely depends on the filter which is continuously modified through compounding experiences.

To put it simply, this realm is important because everything you have every known or will ever know, as well as everything you are currently perceiving is a byproduct of the interpretations your brain is using in order to survive. Each new experience goes through the brain’s filter to then be added onto your pile of interpreted experiences which recursively modified the filter for the next experience. Little by little. This relates to the principle of “initial conditions” which is the concept of a little adjustment early on (i.e. to a blank slate) will cause profound changes later down the line. Basically, as it relates to the current idea, the “initial conditions” would be childhood. It is during this time that new experiences will have the most profound changes to the filter through which we perceive the world. But, as we age (i.e. get further from the initial conditions) each new experience will have less and less impact on the filter (but it will always adjust it in some way). The factors to this adjustment are mainly the intensity of the stimulus and repetition of the stimulus, which is to say that even far away from the initial conditions the filter can still have profound changes. The intensity of the stimulus is relative, one experience may be perceived as more intense by one person than another person, this is due to the past experiences the individual has had and the current state of their filter. This is a very interesting, impactful, and complex topic which I’ll explore more in depth in a separate post.

How do I Develop it?

Big Idea: Do hard/uncomfortable things daily to train one-second interpretations.

Basically: Get really good at pushing through the climax of pain through daily challenge.

Developing the mental realm comes down to improving your ability to take conscious control over the interpretations of your experiences so that you may reshape you identity to one that is effective and one that is your own choosing (i.e. not a “default” identity which we all start out with due to being a blank-slate at birth and the environment telling us how to behave/think, the “default identity” is a big idea which I’ll go in more depth later).

The best way you can improve your ability to interpret experiences and stimulus effectively is through practice. To achieve the appropriate stimulus for change you have to challenge yourself regularly. Simply put, you must do hard, challenging, and uncomfortable things daily. These things should be productive in nature, such as exercise, new learning project, striking up conversation to strangers, etc. What is hard, challenging, or uncomfortable is relative based on the individual. It is important that during the execution of these challenges that you approach them deliberately, with focused and careful attention on the task, not mindless going through the motions. Avoid music, other people, or anything else that will provide distraction, your thoughts should not be in the past or the future but must be in the present. This is required in order to properly develop the neural circuitry to wire new thought patterns in place of old and build strong and robust habits of interpreting uncomfortable stimulus, distracting yourself is ineffective at changing the mind in a substantial intended manner since it is where the awareness goes in the mind that leads to the changes in how the brain is neurologically wired.

Meditation and journaling are once again very useful tools. Some of my most useful activities in ensuring I do something challenging every day include cold showers, not scratching itches, choosing the path of most discomfort when faced with a decision that has an otherwise minor impact, balancing on curbs of sidewalks while walking in public places, and various weight lifting and running tendencies. For example, a running tendency I’ve develop is to not hug curbs when running and to instead take the longest route I can before making a turn, no matter how exhausted I am, no “shortcuts”. Basically, develop a “lean-in” mentally relative to discomfort, meaning lean-in to discomfort when an opportunity arises (i.e. don’t run or resist, instead, embrace and accept), the opposite is a “lean-out” mentality which many people take up and is also apart of the “default” mode of thinking and that is choosing comfort, comfort begets a desire for more comfort and due to the principle of relativity there is now more things in life that seem uncomfortable since you have effectively move further down the spectrum towards comfort and thus further from discomfort so the range of stimulus and experiences that don’t cause a strong response in you are those on the comfort side and therefore there are more uncomfortable things that result in a strong response (simply because there are more relatively uncomfortable things on the spectrum of stimulus).

Practicing how you interpret the difficult things as you do them will greatly enhance your ability to take control of those one-second decisions that ultimately result in how you interpret a stimulus or experience. That is to say the the interpretations your brain makes given a stimulus or experience usually happen within one second. This is in a large part responsible for the complexity in changing these thought patterns and why awareness is a required first step.

The subtle nature of the mental realm requires that approaches to change it be more tactful. The most important thing you can do to make progress here is to build awareness deliberately. This means that you should focus on a single habit of interpretation at a time (e.g. patience, irritation, “the world is out to get me”). There are prerequisites to this, however, such as recognizing the single habits of interpretation and being able to uncover them. This occurs as a result of careful, deliberate, and objective observation of one’s life. Doing this objectively is important since approaching this from your own comfortable perspective limits you to only the experiences you have already encountered (since your brain is responsible for both the perception and the interpretation). Oscillating between meditation and journaling is one of the best practices to uncover this, unlike the Social realm where you journal to go deeper and then meditate to explore the depth, here it is best to meditate to allow whatever comes up and then journal on the feeling.

The idea is to allow the normal pre-programmed anxieties and frustrations that normally come up on their own (due to your habit of executing those thought patterns), to rise to the surface of awareness so that you can then explore the feeling on paper. Writing in general is a lot like thinking, in fact, you usually write in such a way that mimics how you think, there are a lot of neat connections between writing and thinking, and some neat corollaries that I may write about later (e.g. due to this tight relationship of writing and thinking and the fact that writing is a very conscious activity, you could influence how you think by writing in the manner that you want to think and therefore (with practice) change the default way that you think, a practical use of this is to change the language you use to describe a situation from more negative/reactive to more positive/proactive).

The journaling should be free-form allowing whatever to come up to be explored on paper in writing, relax the urge to have complete sentences or proper grammar, the objective is to capture concepts and keywords that suggest an area of focus. Develop a list off to the side of all the different significant single habits of interpretations that come up, especially the negative or not-effective ones (by this I mean, any automatic thought patterns that have some (relative) strong feeling attached to them that is undesirable or simply not useful to you). For example, you may find the tapping of a pencil on a coworkers desk has led you to interpret their actions as intentional and aimed to hurt you, or you may realize in a recent conversation that you were quick to assume something about the other person that turned out to not be true (or perhaps the truth is still not known but other possibilities have emerged). The point of this exercise is to uncover the thought patterns that you would normally be unconscious of and to begin to bring an awareness to them. It is best done deliberately and in a quiet location.

Mental realm is tricky and very subtle. The key is to start with AWARENESS

Once you have at least one thought pattern captured, pick only one to focus on. Another meditation/journaling session in an environment that stimulates this thought pattern or feeling may be useful. Again, at this stage the main object is increasing awareness. This thought pattern will carry with it an interpretation that influences the feeling you associate with it, it is this interpretation that you want to work through, changing the automatic/habitual interpretation changes the perceived feeling and downstream effects (e.g. actions you take as a result). It is important that you decide and commit to addressing this single thought pattern.

When I say awareness is key, I mean in all aspects of awareness. Including the full habit loop of: cue, anticipation, action, outcome. This includes recognizing the triggers (i.e. people, situations, hunger, amount of sleep, time of day, mind-chatter activity, expectations, etc. and all the complex interactions between each) that cause this thought pattern. Throughout your days notice what triggers this thought pattern, write it down in a small pocket-sized notebook that you carry with you and at the end of the day journal on what you’ve discovered. Journaling is the most important step since it provides the most profound changes to your level of awareness (due to its tight relationship to thinking itself).

That is the main difference between physical and mental habits and is also why physical habits are easier to develop (they are obvious and provide quick feedback, awareness comes naturally by the physical stimulus, the brain’s default mode of thinking pays a lot of attention to the external world and not so much to the internal world, the key is to reverse this and therefore increasing self-awareness).

As with all change, a proper stimulus is required. The degree of the change is proportional to the degree of the stimulus. In other words, intensity of the stimulus determines the underlying change that takes place. In the mental realm this stimulus is thought, as you bring awareness to a thought pattern it allows for you to then apply conscious (and deliberate) effort in the direction of desire. This effort should be intense carrying with it your full commitment and trust.

As you build awareness, you will pass through stages. The awareness may only come after the fact (in stages of perhaps several hours after, then minutes, to immediately after), then during, and then finally during the onset of the thought pattern at which point you can begin influences the course of action. Awareness at first may come in the form of sudden realizations such as “oh, that is an interpretation that I’m making”, this IS GREAT and shows a general development in your understanding of interpretations, the impact will be far greater than just any single thought pattern. As you apply this practice you will develop in self-awareness and you will find your awareness will more and more turn to your inward world, as this occurs having awareness on every aspect of your life and all things that go on in your head will become easier and easier. This means that this skill works in a compound manner that should be something continuously developed throughout your life (there is no “finish-line”).


Big Idea: Interpret reality however best leads to effective action.

Basically: Your perception of reality is determined by your interpretation of reality.

The mental realm is tricky, it is very subtle and governs everything we know or could ever know it is the very thing responsible for our perception of existence. The complex interplay and interpretations of your past experiences make up the filter through which you see the world. This filter is recursive in nature, where every new experience compounds onto the past experiences in a highly complex network that ultimately is responsible for how you perceive the world. Gaining control over these interpretations and therefore your filter is a fundamental requirement to increasing self-awareness. Control is built over time through a regular and deliberate practice of interpreting stimulus and experiences.

You may be realizing that there are a lot of mental implications to both the Social and Physical realm. This is no coincidence, the mind is responsible for your very perception of reality. Next time, we will get a taste of how all of these areas are connected.


Your Call to Action

Thank you for reading!

I want to hear from you. What do you think about the insights shared regarding the mind? How can it be applied? In what ways can it be improved to be more reachable to a broader audience? Share in the comments section below!

Don’t put off contemplating what the insights from this article mean, find a quiet location and think deeply about what it might mean for you. Just 10 deliberate minutes can make a large difference, set a timer, do it regularly and you will notice the changes within a few weeks. You improve your ability to think and therefore make effective decisions by spending more time deliberately thinking about the relevant subject. Consider applying journaling and meditation to see more profound changes, these are just more deliberate and concentrated forms of quiet and focused thinking. Slow down, find stillness.

I am always looking to improve my reach and the impact that I have with my writing, please provide your feedback in the comments below.

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