From the Archives: “Hack Yourself”
By way of an introduction — this a piece I wrote years ago, late at night in a sudden, ranting burst of frustration at some of the thought patterns I kept falling into, and that I kept seeing the people around me getting trapped by as well. I originally sent it out as an e-mail to just about everyone I knew, but eventually let myself be persuaded to post it here at Bloodletters.
I eventually took it down — I spun it off to a site of its own, until I accidentally let the domain name lapse. I’ve always liked these words, but I’ve never been convinced they belong here. This was a site where I talked about writing, after all, not about advice for life in general.
But every day, I can see in my search logs that people are still coming here to this site to read this essay. It struck a nerve, and people are still passing around a long-dead link. Besides that, the more I write about self-publishing lately — the more I realize that this is advice that self-publishers definitely need to take to heart. So, that said — here it is.
You can be happy. You can live the life you want to live. You can become the person you want to be.
This is what I’ve figured out so far.
Stop assigning blame. This is the first step. Stop assigning blame and leave the past behind you.
You know whose fault it is that your life isn’t perfect. Your boss. Your teachers. Your ex-lovers. The ones who hurt you, the ones who abused you, the ones who left you bleeding. Or even yourself. You know whose fault it is — you’ve been telling yourself your whole life. Knowing whose fault it is that your life sucks is an excellent way to absolve yourself of any reponsibility for taking your life into your own hands.
Forget about it. Let it go. The past isn’t real. “That was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead.” If we’re not talking about something that is real and present and in your liferight now, then it doesn’t matter. Nothing can be done about it. If nothing can be done about it, then don’t spend your energy dwelling on it — you have other things to do.
I may sound cruel, I may sound simplistic, I may sound like I’m saying you should just “get over it,” by suggesting that you should let go of your past. I’m sorry for that. But life won’t hold still and wait for you to lick your wounds. The race is still being run. Get up and keep moving. You can’t do anything about yesterday.
You can do something about tomorrow. And about the next day. Focus your energies there.
“I don’t have time to write.” “I can’t dance.” “I can’t talk to new people.” “I’m not attractive.”
I hear this all the time. I always hear the people around me sabotaging themselves, drawing lines and borders and boxes around themselves.
To which I say, make the time; dance; just talk to people; be attractive!
Yes, again, it’s simplistic of me to say that. But it’s simplistic of you to so easily say what you cannot do!
We’re excellent pattern-matchers. That’s what the human mind does — it’s a pattern-matching engine. So we look at ourselves, at our history, at our behaviors, and we draw straight lines between the points — we assume that just because we’ve done things a certain way in the past, we’ll always do them that way in the future. If we’ve failed before, we’ll always fail.
Surprise yourself. No — amaze yourself.
You don’t have to keep doing the things you hate. Why go home and beat yourself up for, say, not going over and saying a few words to someone you find really attractive? Can any damage they could do to you by rejecting you possibly be any worse than the damage you’re going to do to yourself for missing the chance?
Find the demon.
Do you know what I’m talking about? It’s the little voice in the back of your head that’s always whispering, “You can’t.” You know the demon. You may think you hate the demon, but you don’t. You love it. You let it own you. You do everything it says. Everytime there’s something you want, you consult the demon first, to see if it will say, “You can’t have that.”
What you don’t realize is that your demon doesn’t know anything. It’s an idiot. It’s nothing but a parrot, repeating back to you anything negative that it’s ever heard, anything that makes you hurt, makes you squirm. If a teacher once told you “You’ll never accomplish anything,” it was listening; it hoards words like that and repeats them back to you to watch you jump. It doesn’t know what it’s saying. It doesn’t care.
You can take me literally or not, as suits you. But do, please, the next time you hear that voice in your head, imagine it, visualize it, as something physical that you can get hold of; tear it out of you, feel its fingers weaken and lose their grip on your spine, and grind it to dust, to nothing, under your boot heel on your way out to dance in the streets.
You can. You think you can’t; but it’s telling you that. You can.
You don’t exist.
You just think you do.
We’re nothing but the stories we tell ourselves. We know in our hearts what kind of people we are, what we’re capable of, because we’ve told ourselves what kind of people we are. You’re a carefully-rehearsed list of weaknesses and strengths you’ve told yourself you have.
(Self-confidence, for example, is a particularly nebulous quality you can easily talk yourself out of having.)
You owe no allegiance to that self-image if it harms you. If you don’t like the story your life has become — tell yourself a better one.
Think about the person you want to be and do what that person would do. Act the way that person would act.
Amazingly enough, once you start acting like that person, people will start treating you like that person.
And you’ll start to believe it. And then it will be true.
Welcome to your new self.
You are a product of your environnent.
Most people realize this — usually, in the form of having something else to blame — but they tend to forget one important fact:
Humans are the masters of changing their environment.
What this means is that if your environment affects you, and you can affect your environment, then obviously, you can affect yourself.
- Your environment includes people. Figure out who in your life isn’t good for you, whose presence tears you down more than it builds you up, whose nearness is poison to you — and get rid of them. Get them out of your life. I don’t care if it’s your best friend, your boss, your mother, your lover — if they are harming you, if they are doing nothing but reinforce everything bad you tell yourself about yourself, then your relationship with them needs to radically alter or it needs to end.
- Your environment includes goals. Don’t set yourself pie-in-the-sky impossible goals and then beat yourself up over not achieving them — set yourself goals that will begood for you, not a source of pain. Attainable goals. Set them and meet them. Don’t tell yourself you can’t — that’s the old story, that story you used to tell yourself about what a poor sad victim you were and how you could never change anything about your life. You can meet your goals. This is the new story.Trying to clean your house? Good for you — a clean house can really affect your state of mind for the better. But don’t say “Today I’m going to clean the entire house from top to bottom,” when you don’t have the time and energy to — don’t set yourself up for failure; don’t feed the demon. Just say, “Today I’m going to wash all the dishes and clean off the kitchen counter.” And do it.Don’t tell yourself, “This month I’m going to write that novel.” Tell yourself, “Today I’m going to write five pages.” And do it. Take your dreams and break them down into small pieces and you’ll have them in your hands before you know it.
And you’ll find, as you start meeting your goals, that you like it. That it feels good, makes you feel confident and capable. You’ll develop a hunger for it.
- Your environment includes yourself — your physical presence. Do what you know you need to do — treat yourself better. Sleep, eat right, exercise. This doesn’t mean you have to stop staying out late at night now and then, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a candy bar, it doesn’t mean you have to stop sitting around watching television — it just means start doing the things that are good for you as well as the things that are bad for you, every so often. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition; you don’t have to devote your life to being a health nut. Just try eating more fruits and vegetables, the occasional vegetarian meal; go for walks in the park on the weekends. You’ll feel better and be more alert if you’re a little healthier, and once you start feeling a little better, you’ll start wanting the things that make you feel better. You’ll see.
- Your environment includes your appearance. If you’re not happy with yourself, if you’re angry with the person in the mirror, it can honestly help to literally change who you see when you look in the mirror. Try a different hairstyle, new glasses, new jewelry, new clothes. It doesn’t have to be expensive — there’s a whole universe full of possible You’s waiting to be found in thrift stores, if need be. If you’re deciding to become the person you want to be, then decide what that person is going to look like. Dress the part. It’s not shallow, it’s not about vanity, it’s about self-transformation — even the most primitive tribes understand the value of costumes and masks for ritual, for change, for becoming someone else.
You are not an object. You are a system. Like with any system, if you change the inputs — change what goes into it — you’ll change what comes out.
Despite everything I’ve just said:
Self-examination can be paralysis.
Don’t “remember to breathe” — just breathe. It’s a Tao thing.
It’s the paradox at the center of all this — remember that, “Am I living up to being the person I want to be?”, is not a question the person you want to be would ask.
If I can leave you with just one thought, it’s this:
Stop wasting your time fretting over not being happy.
Just be happy.