Monday, December 28, 2009

How to change

When it comes to change the first hurdles are always mental. Firstly people don’t believe it’s possible at all. Then even if they concede it’s possible, they doubt how much can be changed.

Being the fundamentalist I am, I wouldn’t be interested in change if the answer to all those questions wasn’t a complete and utter yes.

I propose change of almost any part, and any proportion of your actions, mentality, and personality is possible. Far from being a mutant, Mimic from X-Men, is really the most truthful representation of human nature.

But there is a third question, which is also the trickiest one: ‘should I change?’ If we have the power to create our own characters should we use it?

This is the most philosophical, and complex, and interesting question of all (and deserves a post of its own).

Here I’m arguing that absolute change is possible. So, how exactly?

It lies in the interplay between the conscious and the subconscious. Character is formed in the subconscious by integrating millions of strands of experiences and meanings, like candy floss, or a ball of wool, into a somewhat coherent whole.

People think there’s a wall between the two minds, and the subconscious is a dark, tumultuous source of problems and instincts they can’t control. That’s where the blueprint of their personality has been set, ‘that’s just who I am’ they say.

Psychologists compound the problem by blaming your shitty early upbringing, parents or biological settings for current problems. Of course it’s in the past which can’t be changed.

But there are many hidden doorways between the conscious and subconscious. With these the conscious mind can reach in and slowly unravel that ball of wool, then reintegrate and re-engineer it to whatever form you want.

The doorways are not obvious because the subconscious is such a complex, amorphous thing, there’s no direct path to its door. I also think it contains much more than just our character. Rather it’s our oracle containing scripts from millions of years of evolution, and all our potential in the future. It’s a box that we haven’t come close to unpacking yet.

One doorway is art, which opens that mysterious potential. It generates ideas and is a bridge between this world and the next. But it’s very fickle with unpredictable results.

To consciously craft who you are, you need a more humble but reliable channel that goes from the conscious mind to the subconscious.

I used to think it was just repetition, but this blogger does a much better, more thorough analysis of it using computer programming. I totally agree, being a former programmer as well (long story, former life I'd rather forget). I tried it, and I'm the most sceptical person in the world, but it changed my mind like flipping a switch.

Thus you can shine the light of self consciousness on the dark corners of your nature.

If this is done over a wide enough range, then it changes an entire worldview. Even the most deeply ingrained character traits can be worked out like a knot with enough repetition, time and effort.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, and here is where traditional motivation strategies fail.

Repetition is a deceptively simple concept to grasp, but the hardest thing to actually do because it involves the deeply philosophical questions of motivation – the same three questions posed at the beginning of the post.

Moreover it’s not enough to answer them just the once. For every change you pay a price of time multiplied by effort – quite often the time of change takes years. During that time those three questions will come up again and again, and you will have to constantly re-answer them.

Of the three the last, ‘should I change?’ is the deadliest, and is the crux of motivation.

But at some point the subconscious takes over – and that’s when change really starts, it gets compounded and magnified and escalated. When it gets into the realm of the subconscious, character has been unravelled and reintegrated.

Change asks a lot from the conscious mind, but that’s the price of courting the powerful subconscious.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I’ve always changed continuously beyond recognition. A curious, slippery chameleon character, I discard identities at every stage of the past. People now don’t recognise me from five years ago, or even a year, or six months ago. I imagine this is what it’s like to be an international spy, putting on a different array of masks and wigs and fake passports. In the end you become the process of change itself, that’s the only thing left to you – leaving friends at their limited place in time in the past, staring after you.

Why is virtue defined as having unchanging values, when the ability to change is the greatest of all human abilities?

An acorn always grows into an oak tree, but a person can become anything. It’s evolution by design, adaptation by learning. We don’t have to wait for death or mutation to find better solutions. It’s the result of wielding self consciousness like a tool.

Character takes shape like a tangled ball of wool. It’s integrated and wound, knots and all, over time. But with enough time, decision and courage any part can be unravelled and reintegrated differently.

This makes me ultimately mouldable and rescuable.

Can you rescue people from a lack of ideas?
- from a lack of love?
Can you rescue people from themselves?

Of the array of life’s defectives sitting on the shelf, it’s a wise investor who picks me out to take under their wing. I return hope for hope. I promise. My black, greedy eyes are searching out those who feed me even a little of what my potential can be, so that I can grow stronger than they can handle.

I see the hungry future like an eagle flying over the landscape. But reality moves at the pace of evolution, over millions of years, through small accumulations of changes, sedimentary rocks and geological shifts, moving tiny, inching steps forward.

Does the worm writhing in transformation also feel the way I do? Does it struggle to see through the chrysalis its tiny patch of sky? Trapped on this side of what I want to be, claustrophobic. We are arrows of longing shooting for the other shore.

Nothing can happen soon enough because, as the Smiths said, “How soon is now?”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The artistic type

“There are times, when my crimes
Will seem almost unforgivable
I give in, to sin
Because you have to make this life liveable” - Strangelove

This week I’ve been in a strange state of disarray. I took up dancing recently and met someone with the artistic temperament. He’s basically an unpleasant person - bad tempered, unfriendly and inconsistent. But when dancing he becomes totally different – gentle, warm and creative.

This is what always gets me about artistic types. The duality of extremes. You get a glimpse of the naked soul across an abyss of masks that’s impossible to cross. They are trying to reach for themselves, like a mute trying to speak.

There’s a desperation and romanticism in it that captures my imagination. It reaches into my unconscious and rearranges things there. Some connections reach right into your soul, sidestepping all the usual checks and gatekeepers. But it threatens to open boxes in my psyche that I went to a great deal of trouble to close – like the dangerous tendency to rescue.

In the Unbearable Lightness of Being, the soul is described as the crew of a ship that hides, fearful below decks until something or someone calls it forth. I’m normally unashamedly selfish and uninterested in helping other people. But rarely and inconsistently I see sparks of trapped, frustrated potential, beautiful and fragile, and it’s like making sudden eye contact with that fitful crew.

I see myself in my earliest attempts to be a person and to learn to love. I see the same sparks that no one saw in me when I needed it the most.

And then again, I’m interested in desperation. If sex and relationships are only a reflection of who we are, then desperation forms the core (at least for me).

One of my favourite films is The Piano Teacher, famous for its explicit and perverted sex scenes. But people miss the point because it’s not actually about the sex. It’s about the desperation of her hopelessness and lack of control, isolation and inability to connect with any other person in the world.