Good article Caleb—a valuable take on some of the forces that drive us.
In addition, I’ll add the following from my own research, learnings and experience, which should complement what you’ve written.
In 2010, I attended a series of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) seminars by Christopher Howard (essentially the Tony Robbins of Oceania), Duane Alley and Johnnie Cass. In one called Billionaire Bootcamp lead by Duane, where the goal was to identify your own value system, study the values of Billionaires, then rearchitect your values based on the study. On the 3rd or 4th day of the 5 day training, they put you through a hypnotic induction to tear down your old values and consequently to me at least, my “self”. And on the 4th or 5th day of the training, you then insert your new value system.
As we may know, our values drive nearly everything about us, our beliefs, our worldview, our actions, and our results. Those 24–48 hours of being completely torn down and laid bare were the most terrifying of my life. It made me question everything. That who I was was not fixed. That anyone, including me, is ever-changing. Who are we, if not our values??? It’ll be a while until the science of consciousness can verify any answer of this.
Normally one’s values change over many years—relationship and career changes, growing older, etc—or when a significant traumatic event occurs in someone’s life—cancer, divorce, death of a loved one, etc.
Having this experience, then realising that one can take control of their own “self”, and let it be more than just circumstantial, was liberating—and for those days, terrifying while I struggled with ego death.
In 2013, I discovered Eckhart Tolle as well as the book series Conversations with God, which brought the eastern style of eliminating ego to me, bringing the notion of detachment / cognitive awareness / mindfulness / whatever label one wishes to use, into my everyday life, which was especially great in emotionally intense situations—which when practiced would allow me to gain control of my internal situation and consequently my actions, by letting myself stay calm and based instead of the usual emotionally reactive.
For seculars, Sam Harris’s book Waking Up has you covered.
During my NLP and Pickup Artistry days, we were also taught the concept of state. State comprising of our body language, our thoughts, and our emotions. As we go about our day to day, those three components are usually at the whim of our circumstances, with two notable exceptions.
At the control of ourselves—for instance; to feel sad, sit forward head in hands and start thinking negative thoughts, you will begin to feel sad; to feel happy, sit straight up, lift your chest and head to the sky with your arms extended to expose your naval as much as your stretching makes possible, while smiling a big smile and thinking happy thoughts.
As these body language cues are so naturally ingrained within us, often the body language change alone is all that is required to shift the other two state components—even in other people… which brings us to
At the whim of others—it should be obvious that our body language affects others, that is the role of empathy and situational awareness, if someone is coming at us with a knife then running is more appropriate than hugging. This can be extended and furthered by the notion of what some name Archetypical Poses (every NLP practitioner names these something else, and I’m yet to find what their official name is), which included these poses:
- Joking Pose: Laughing smile, hands in that egyptian dance pose; used to undertone what you say as if it was a joke
- Power Pose: Hand on hip, one leg in front, hand pointing at another, stern look, strong pose; used to command respect and focus from another—used by presentors to wake the audience up after a boring part, or to gain attention for a follow up call to action
- Begging Pose: Arms outstretched to waist level aligned with your hips, palms to the sky; used to influence someone’s pity
- Safety Pose: Arms folded; used to protect vital organs communicating distrust—avoid this pose, unless cold, in which case, put arms underneath armpits, to diminish the threatening nature of it
- Thinking Pose: One hand on chin, elbow resting on other folded arm; used to show consideration, to take something seriously—valuable when wanting others to consider a point they may not otherwise consider
- Friendly Pose: Hands just behind your hips, palms towards them, exposing your naval, big smile, optionally followed with hug or hand shake; used to expose vital organs communicating trust and approachability — one of the most valuable gestures to do when greeting new people
Here is a NLP practitioner explaining and using some of them:
- NLP & Presentation Skills — The Satir Categories (Part 1/2)—Duration: 4:39
- NLP & Presentation Skills—The Satir Categories (Part 2/2)—Duration: 8:41
- and in action NLP in Presenting — 2. Merlin & Arthur. Full version — Duration: 22:28
In 2015, trying to understand how love works. I discovered several things relating to chemicals, and their complete power on us. A lot more power than many would ever like to accept. Heck, the research by Dr. Helen Fisher even shows our personality is predictable from the chemicals within us.
In love, there are three main drivers:
- Dopamine—the initial reward system, drives any action—male seeing a pretty girl, dopamine hit—novel information, dopamine hit—fat, sugar, salt dopamine hit—sex massive dopamine hit. Every habit is formed via the establishment of a reward pathway of dopamine towards it, and broken by the abstinence from that pathway weakening it.
- Oxytocin—released any time bonding is occuring, especially touch — every handshake, every hug, every caress, every kiss, releases more and more oxytocin to bond us to that person. The motherly bond is formed through natural births causing the release of her entire oxytocin reserves. Cupid’s arrow is an oxytocin syringe.
- Vasopressin—cements 2+ years into a relationship, used for long-term attachment, what we have with our family, provides the feeling of obligation to that person. Oxytocin will probably start fading around this time too, unless a child comes into the picture.
In solo masturbation, be wary:
- Normally with orgasm you get a large release of oxytocin for bonding with the partner and prolactin for the refractory period. However with solo masturbation, as there is no one to bond to, no oxytocin for bonding is released, only prolactin for isolation is—magnifying the isolating feelings of prolactin over time.
- Minutes of porn use in males causes their dopamine receptors to go crazy without even touching themselves yet. This is driven by the Coolidge Effect.
As a side note, this research was a large factor in what led me from my move away from liberal values to conservative values. Our biology doesn’t reward liberal values too much, much in the same way that failing the marshmellow test for immediate gratification doesn’t promote long-term success.
To build better pathways in myself and decrease bad ones, I started researching ways in which I can cause the release of such things. The main ways I found are:
- Accomplishing any goal, big or small releases dopamine. Any time we check something off a list, especially a physical one, we get dopamine. If we consistently and routinely accomplish goals around a particular task, then doing that task itself will start releasing dopamine, as a positive submodality is formed.
- Abstaining from a goal or not accomplishing a goal, will hinder dopamine and may even release deterrent hormones. Every time we fail at finishing a task, we strengthen a negative submodality to deter us from that goal.
- Runner’s High. Around 45 minutes into an aerobic activity, that is gradually built up, one will start to get a flood of endorphins, including some of the ones used in rewards and love. Compounding this with the other two points will assist in the consistent release of runners high providing you hit your activity goals each time you commence your run.
If you know others, let me know! Would be cool to setup a sort of ad-hock bio/hormone/chemical hacking group through hopefully natural (non-drug-induced) actions.
The actual reason I started writing this response, is this item. As there are a lot of parallels with Frued’s ego notions, and the study of Cognitive Dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance can be thought of as the wrestling of these three selves:
- the ideal self, who we wish to be
- the actual self, who we consider ourselves to be
- the should self, who we consider we should be
At times in our life, we will be presented with information or a circumstance that challenges our foundations, moving one of our selves away from the others. In circumstances like this, based on how deep the challange is, or rather how far the distance that the conflicting self has moved away from the others, it will cause us proportionate distress, as it threatens the consistency of our integrity, world view, and belief system. The book Influence concurs, outlining that consistency is one of our most needed treasures to staying sane, even to the point of exploitation.
So what is an example. Let’s say you are depressed, you could have a situation like this:
the ideal self is far away from your actual self
You can either drag down the ideal self to meet your low perception of your should self, or you can drag up your actual self through effort and hard work to meet your ideal self.
Which action makes sense in that situation, depends on where your should self also is. If your should self is also where your actual self is, then perhaps your ideals need changing, such as the value change system I outlined earlier, as they may go against preconceived false or inherently true aspects of your worldview. If your should self is where your ideal self is, then perhaps your actual self either needs to accept one’s lot in the world, that if your voicebox was lost to cancer, your dreams of and business of being a singing superstar are now shattered, then your ideal and should self need to come down to reality — or if you still have a voicebox, and want to be a singer, and feel you should be a singer, but are too lazy to go to practice, maybe you should practice, as the search for consistency and the process of cognitive dissonance will resolve that for you by dragging down the other two and accepting yourself as a lazy fuck with lesser ideals and lesser expectations.
Knowing these things, have empowered me to take a lot more control over my everyday life and goals. Knowing the ego is illusionary, provided me with these two risks over the years, that now I am keenly aware of:
- Thinking that ego death is permanent—ego is made up, but still is unavoidably inherent and bound to the human experience—despite this, one can learn to accept it, and to work with it, by watching and mediating its fluctuations through states of dissonance with mindfulness and journalling, and using the tools of state and chemical hacking, will assist this powerful part of the human spiritual experience
- Falling into nihilism or moral relativism—just because our egos / selves / values are illusions that can change at a whim of circumstance or even through deliberated effort, does not mean that all is meaningless. One may inevitably be thrown into the process of Absurdism to rectify this understanding in their worldview—but may instead find themselves falling in and out of Absurdism to Nihilism to Depression again and again. I would suggest the works and talks of Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson for rectifying this. Agatan Foundation is also a good resource.
Eventually I hope to turn these learnings and other learnings into a choreographed book if there is enough interest. If you think such a thing would be useful to you, signup here https://balupton.com/bookupdates to be alerted when the book finally ships.