Sir John Hargrave had had enough. The time had come to address his drinking problem and get sober. But how would he summon the will?
Determined, he harnessed all his mental fortitude, pushed himself to stay present and focused solely on the physical task of discarding his alcohol. He was empowered and transformed as he recognized the power of his own cerebral control. That triumph over adversity inspired a technique called “mind hacking” and, ultimately, a new book by the same name.
Here, Hargrave explains how reprogramming negative mental loops can lead to a better life:
Live The Process: What is “mind hacking” and when did you first implement it?
John Hargrave: A "mind hack" is a mental trick or technique to help you think better. If you think of your mind as a computer, “mind hacking” is about learning to reprogram that computer. You see yourself as a programmer, tracking down bugs in your thinking process and rewriting them to create more positive life outcomes.
My first mind hack was when I made the decision to get sober. In the opening chapter of Mind Hacking, I tell the story of when I threw all my alcohol into a dumpster, which was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. It was a big job—I had enough liquor to tranquilize a circus elephant.
I had to play a trick on my mind, where I just focused on the muscle movement of throwing away bottles. If I let my mind think about the longterm consequences, I would never have had the courage to do it. Taking control of my mind to finish that job was one of the hardest things I've done, but also one of the best things.
LTP: How do you hope that your book, Mind Hacking, might impact people?
JH: Learning to work with our minds is so important. It's one of those skills we don't teach in schools. Most of the time, we don't realize we have a mind because we're too busy living in it. I want to teach people to step back and say, "This is my mind"—to be able to view it objectively as something they can control, instead of being controlled by it.
Mastering the mind is so rewarding because you can free yourself from all the problem thinking that's holding you back: the depression, anxiety and self-defeating loops that play in your head. You can learn to reprogram your mind with new loops that help you find happiness and get what you want out of life.
LTP: One of the main tenets of your book is that a person is not his or her mind. Can you elaborate?
JH: Maybe you've had the experience of going to the movies, when you start off analyzing the film by thinking about the actors or noticing the music or saying, "This is a dumb story." But then, as the movie goes on, you get lost in it. You just get absorbed into the story and you forget to analyze what's going on.
Our minds are like that movie: we get absorbed in the thought-stream, the mental chatter, the internal dialogue. But all that is a mind movie, and you are separate from that. Just think about this thing called "your mind" and you can easily see there is a thing called "you" observing a thing called "your mind."
So, the skill we want to develop is the ability to disengage from the mind movie frequently throughout the day. There are various exercises—or mind hacks—to help you learn this skill. One of the simplest is to just count the number of times you can remember to view "your mind" in a day and award yourself a point; make a game out of it.
Once you get into that habit of separating "me" from "my mind," then you can gradually learn to master it like you would master a power tool or a musical instrument. It's an awesome power. It's so much fun.
LTP: What exactly is a “mental loop” and how can we each recognize our own patterns in hopes of greater contentment?
I watched the movie Groundhog Day the other night with my family. It was a perfect night to watch it because it was actually Groundhog Day and we had a big blizzard that day, just like the movie. Then, every week for the next three weeks, we had another blizzard like we were living in Groundhog Day.
Groundhog Day is all about loops and how our thinking keeps us stuck in the same routines, learning the same lessons, running on the hamster wheel. That's two rodent analogies in one, by the way.
When we become aware of the mind, we can start to analyze the loops that run through it and debug the problem loops like, “I will never find true love” or “I fail at everything I try” or “I am not built for exercise.” Like a programmer, we can replace those loops with better, healthier ones.
I have many examples in the book of negative loops that we tell ourselves. For years I told myself, "I'm no good with people." The more I told that to myself, the less I spoke with people, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now I've reprogrammed that with, "I'm good with people," and I am.
Gradually, we can learn better thinking habits. Instead of “I will never find true love,” it might be “I have great relationships.” Instead of “I am not built for exercise,” it might be "I'm healthy and strong." It's not just positive thinking. We use the old triggers to kickoff the new thinking like reprogramming a block of computer code. Over time, these loops become a reality. Change your loops, change your life.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
JH: One of those big smiley face cookies. Those things are adorable.
LTP: What does it mean to you to "Live The Process" and how do you do that every day?
JH: Ben Franklin is one of my personal heroes. One of his most useful inventions was this system of self-improvement that he wrote about in his autobiography. Early in life, he made a list of thirteen virtues that he wanted to cultivate in himself—things like honesty, order and humility—then he created a scientific process to help him live these virtues. He would carry around this little black book with all thirteen virtues listed in rows. Each day, he would track his progress in living out one of the virtues, giving himself a grade for how well he did. He focused on one virtue each week, so he could get through the entire list of thirteen virtues four times a year.
In Mind Hacking, I share similar mind hacks to help you remind yourself to live out your own virtues—the highest goals and dreams you can imagine. For example, one of these is called "Don't Break the Chain," where you try to repeat some positive habit each day and see how many days you can “chain” together.
So, for me, living the process is taking charge of your own life by taking charge of your own mind. Better thinking leads to better action which leads to a better life; that's a process that is worthwhile for every one of us. Read a preview of Mind Hacking here: http://www.mindhacki.ng/.
Editor's Note: other interviews you might enjoy either A Moment With Dr. Holly Phillips or A Moment With Nataly Kogan.