Let’s face it: There’s more to “reality” than what most people think. I’m not talking about some “woo woo” misunderstanding of quantum physics. On the contrary, I’m talking about the very real and well-established fact that reality just isn’t what you — or me, or the guy sitting next to me as I write this in a coffee shop — think that it is.
It’s not what any of us think that it is. This is because we not only have an imperfect set of sensory apparatus, but also because our perceptions are colored by our own personal history. Our prejudices, our predilections, our fears and anxieties… everything that goes into making us who we are colors what we see.
This is a problem because it’s not a simple matter of “paying attention.” It’s not an original metaphor to say that we’re a bit like fish in a lake who don’t know that what water is until you take them out of it.
So how do you get out of water? Or at least start getting a view of what the world looks like outside of water? Well, that’s what this article is about. I’ve got some exercises for you to do that will start to pull the curtain back a little bit, let you see what’s behind it and start altering your life based on what you see there. It’s called reality hacking and it’s going to change your life.
One thing that sounds obvious but isn’t is that you’re just completely different from other people. This isn’t “unique snowflake” talk. It’s just how it is: All of your experiences are totally different from everyone else’s. The fact that anyone is able to make friends based on shared experiences is kind of a small miracle. So here’s what you’re going to do:
- Pick a person that you’ve interacted with today. It can be anyone: A woman you met in line at the supermarket, the guy who changed your oil, a coworker, your biology professor — anyone.
- Try and imagine their story: How does their gender, socioeconomic background, ethnicity, current situation, etc., impact who they are as a person
- How does who they are as a person impact how they see the world? How will they experience things differently from you?
- Now go out and run a small errand or even just take a walk trying to view reality from that person’s perspective. Any time you feel your own reality creeping back in, or even if you find yourself judging the exercise while you’re doing it, get yourself back into the headspace you’re trying to get into.
The human brain is set up to recognize patterns. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. What might be news to you is that you can start recognizing the recognition; That you can start noticing your selective attention, which is the first step toward correcting for it.
The first time I ever noticed this was with something that William S. Burroughs called “the 23 enigma.” Basically, he began to notice the number “23” everywhere. Then I learned about something called “the quarters exercise” that Robert Anton Wilson write about in a book called Prometheus Rising. Basically, if you go out and look for quarters everywhere, you’re eventually going to train your brain to notice quarters… or at least think you have.
So I’m going to propose a slightly more sophisticated version of the above. Every day, after dinner or lunch or whenever you have the time, take ten or fifteen minutes out and go for a walk. For the first week you do this, look for red things. On the second week, look for green things. On the third week look for blue things.
How does your perception of reality change throughout the week as you notice these colors? Do you start noticing them in places you’ve been looking at for years but somehow managed to ignore them?
How many other places in your life do you think this is happening? Places that are far more important than noticing colors?
Operation: Party Time
This is probably one of the most fun ones going.
The next time you go to a party, spend an hour getting yourself into the following headspace: You’re a superman. Everyone wants to talk to you. Everyone wants to be around you. You’re the life of any party. Every time that you go out, you’re going to have the time of your life.
Now when you head out for the night, start collecting information that reinforces what you’ve already decided to believe. You know that people are doing this in a million different ways: Do it in a way that benefits you, that allows you to go out and have a killer time.
Hard mode: Spend an hour convincing yourself that everyone hates you and that your presence at a party is a huge drag. Collect evidence that buttresses this belief. Notice how big of a difference there is in your night.
Tying it All Together
Now you need to start tying it all together by checking your own thoughts and beliefs. The first thing you need to do is keep a journal. I do. It’s the perfect way to end your day. Spend ten minutes sitting down with pen and paper recording what happened during your day, as well as thoughts on the day, reflections on the work that you’ve done and any strange things or occurrences that you notice — whether or not they seem to immediately relate to what you’re working on at the moment.
More than that, write down your impressions from experiments right after you do them. It’s easy to forget things that you experience — it’s a bit like how a vivid dream first thing in the morning; Two hours later, it’s gone.
Finally, always be asking yourself the following questions:
- What evidence do I have to support the thought I just had?
- Is that enough evidence to support this belief?
- What experiences do I have to support this belief?
- Could the perception of that experience be wrong?
- What mediums influence my perceptions? TV, music, art, film, religion, friends and family?
Implement these practices on a regular basis and you’re going to start seeing behind the curtain, seeing the code that underlies your reality.
Bonus Tip: Laugh, A Lot
Whenever something is difficult, take a minute and laugh at it. Unless it’s going to matter in a year (never mind a week), it’s not worth your stress. Laugh it off, even if you have to force it.