How much do I want to read more? 10/10
This is maybe the most impactful read and author I have ever experienced.
His clarity and intelligence for grasping the essence of what really matters is eye-opening.
"The future is nearer than what you may think" is what came to mind".
I have this feeling we are getting disrupted, and the ones left behind will look like creature from the past to the others.
But with the spread of the Internet, it might goes very fast. In a few decades we may see more extraordinary people than we ever imagined.
My main take-away is "Question everything".
It hits me hard, breaking my own chains. It's painful to see life-long marks on my body, but it's mostly exciting to go toward more freedom.
In a sense, it reminds me of "The millionaire fastlane" (DeMarco), which does also a pretty good job at explaining how to crack the code and break the conventional rules". It's a wake-up call. But here it goes even deeper than that.
The first quote from Elon Musk says it all: "I think it’s possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary." (Elon Musk)
The author is kind of modelling successful people just like Tony Robbins:
"I am fortunate to have the ability to soak up knowledge and wisdom easily from all sorts of people—from billionaires to monks—and then “codify” these ideas, connect those bits of knowledge, and construct unique new models for understanding the world. This is my gift."
"We’re all swimming in a massive sea of human beliefs, ideas, and practices."
"When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact. That is—everything around you that you call life was made up by people no smarter than you. And you can change it. You can influence it. . . . Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again." (Steve Jobs)
"Give me the thrill and excitement of the unsafe, rule-breaking, dogma-questioning life anytime over the boring unfolding of a safe life."
Elon Musk: “When I was just starting out, I walked into Netscape to get a job. I just sat in the lobby holding my résumé, waiting quietly for someone to talk to me. No one did. I waited and waited.”
“But no one spoke to me,” he said.
“So I said: ‘Fuck it! I’ll just start my own company.’”
The world was forever changed that day.
"The dips contain amazing learnings and wisdom that lead to sharper rises in the quality of life afterward. But you will need to brave the momentary pain of these dips."
"our beliefs about the world—are nothing more than mental constructs we’ve chosen to believe. the act of an idea spreading from mind to mind without due questioning."
"Your spirituality should be discovered, not inherited."
"Dean Kamen is a modern-day Edison. With the Segway, Dean questioned the Brule of transportation. But personally, I’m more impressed by Dean’s questioning of the Brule of the nation-state."
"he was seriously bothered that New York State, which was miles away from North Dumpling, had the power to tell him how to run his island. So Dean decided that he would take no more. Speaking to a friend of his at Harvard who was an expert on constitutional law, Dean found a loophole that allowed him to secede—not just from New York but from the entire United States."
"Extraordinary people think differently, and they don’t let their society’s Brules stop them from advocating for a better world for themselves. Neither should you. All of us have both the ability and responsibility to toss out the Brules that are preventing us from pursuing our dreams. It all starts with one thing: questioning your inherited beliefs.
You can use the same amazing brain that took those Brules onboard to uninstall them and replace them with beliefs that truly empower you."
"Is it based on trust and hope in humanity?"
"Does it violate the Golden Rule?"
"Did I take it on from culture or religion?"
"Is it based on rational choice or contagion?"
"Does it serve my happiness?"
"Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." (Steve Jobs)
“The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there.”
"if the heart didn’t keep the good blood for itself, the heart would die. And if the heart died, it would take every other organ with it. The liver. The kidneys. The brain. So, don’t let people tell you that you’re selfish and wrong to follow your own heart. I urge you."
I think it’s possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary.
—- ELON MUSK
I spoke that day about what it means to have an extraordinary life. It does not happen by chance, or through hard work, or through a unique set of skills. There is actually a methodology that anyone can employ—a code you can learn—that will catapult your life into the realm of the extraordinary.
It is a code that I have learned through trial and error and by paying very close attention to some of the most extraordinary people in the world.
My speech went on to get almost half a million views on YouTube despite being almost an hour long, and I received suggestions to write a book.
It’s designed and written in a way to take really complex ideas (the keys to success, meaning, and happiness, for instance) and break them down into frameworks and models that anyone can understand.
I failed at over a dozen start-up ideas before one idea—Mindvalley—clicked.
I spent the next six years struggling to get my little business going while living with my wife in a bedroom in my parents’ home and driving a tiny Nissan March.
Just one year before my speech in Calgary, I was nowhere close to accomplishing my goals.
And then at the age of thirty-two, I experienced a shift so powerful that in a few short years, my life went through a total and radical transformation.
If I had to summarize this skill, it’s this—I’m a sponge when it comes to learning from others and connecting the dots. I am fortunate to have the ability to soak up knowledge and wisdom easily from all sorts of people—from billionaires to monks—and then “codify” these ideas, connect those bits of knowledge, and construct unique new models for understanding the world. This is my gift.
In the world of computers, you might call this being a hacker. To hack, in that world, is to cut something apart, break it to the core, and then reassemble it to make it better than before.
I see patterns that others sometimes miss and connect dots in very unusual ways.
TEN LAWS FOR AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE
Just as a programmer can program a computer to do specific tasks by understanding its code, you can program your life and the world around you to improve, enhance the way you live and the experiences you have in this lifetime.
Part I. Living in the Culturescape: How You Were Shaped by the World Around You
This section looks at the world we live in with all its messy and conflicting ideas, beliefs, and patterns that we’ve invented in an attempt to keep humanity safe and under control. The problem is that many of these patterns and rules long moved past their expiration date.
Following them is a sure path to being ordinary and safe.
that should have expired generations ago but that still infect our lives. Getting rid of our Brules is like shedding old dirty clothing and putting on something fresh. It’s liberating. Extraordinary people tend to have an allergy to Brules.
Part II. The Awakening: The Power to Choose Your Version of the World
mold the beliefs, habits, and practices that shape your life while you discard old beliefs and systems that you no longer need. The method for doing this is a process I call “consciousness engineering.”
These are the beliefs ingrained in you since you were a child. Many are disempowering and keep you stuck in troublesome, painful, or mediocre ways of viewing the world. Here you’ll learn how to swap out disempowering models and replace them with newer, more empowering ones. The world reflects your beliefs—so imagine what happens when you take on the beliefs of extraordinary minds.
Your systems for living are your daily practices for getting on with life, from eating to working to parenting to making love.
So most of us learn, love, work, meditate, and parent using models that are suboptimal or even damaging.
the next step is to explore your inner world. How can you transform the world within.
Part III. Recoding Yourself: Transforming Your Inner World
there is an optimal state of living where everything seems to just click and luck seems to be something you can control.
Most of us are trained by the Brules of the world to pursue the wrong goals. I think much of modern goal setting is absolute rubbish.
Part IV. Becoming Extraordinary: Changing the World
you need two things: to be unfuckwithable and to find your quest.
Here you learn how to be so rock solid in your own self that judgments from others or fear of loss no longer affect you. You’re unshakeable in your journey through the world.
Bonus Section: Tools for Your Journey
a workout for the mind that helps lock in the elements of the code and accelerate your awakening. It’s one of the greatest personal growth and productivity tools I’ve discovered.
In this section I summarize in one place all the key tools and practices you can bring into your life to live the code.
MY PROMISE TO YOU
You’ll discover mental models for radically shifting your understanding of the world and your role within it.
PART I - LIVING IN THE CULTURESCAPE - HOW YOU WERE SHAPED BY THE WORLD AROUND YOU
We’re all swimming in a massive sea of human beliefs, ideas, and practices. Some are beautiful and bring joy; others are unnecessary, limiting, and sometimes even crippling. A fish is the last to see that it’s swimming in a substance called water. Likewise we’re often last to see how this mass of human thoughts—what I call the culturescape—completely saturates and influences our lives.
Are you good enough if you don’t have a college degree? Do you need to settle down and have kids? Embrace a religion? Choose a particular profession?
you’ll be able to walk toward a new version of the world—a version that you get to choose based on your truth and your vision.
CHAPTER 1 - TRANSCEND THE CULTURESCAPE - Where We Learn to Question the Rules of the World We Live In
When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact. That is—everything around you that you call life was made up by people no smarter than you. And you can change it. You can influence it. . . . Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
—- STEVE JOBS
As it turns out, getting out of there was the smart thing to do. I wasn’t just quitting a job (and a career path)—I had also decided to quit following the socially approved rules for how life is supposed to work.
LET’S ADMIT IT’S NOT WORKING
When I went my own way rather than choosing the path of the practical and realistic job, it wasn’t because I thought there was anything wrong with being a computer engineer. But I did—and still do—think there’s something wrong with the idea that we should work at something we have no passion for, just because it’s the norm or the rule in the world we’re born into.
Given the amount of time we spend at work, a job we have no passion for puts us at risk of living a life we have no passion for.
one big reason is the tyranny of rules—rules that suggest we “should” do life in a particular way because everyone else seems to be doing it, too:
- I should take this job.
- I should date/marry this type of person.
- I should go to this college.
- I should major in this subject.
- I should live in this city.
- This is how I should look.
- This is how I should feel.
One of the keys to being extraordinary is knowing what rules to follow and what rules to break. Outside the rules of physics and the rules of law, all other rules are open to questioning.
THE DAWN OF THE RULES
In his fascinating book Sapiens, historian Yuval Noah Harari, PhD, puts forward the idea that at a certain point in history, there could have been as many as six different types of humans living on the planet at once. There was Homo sapiens, which is what we all are. But there were also Homo neanderthalensis, Homo soloensis, and Homo erectus, among others.
What helped sapiens survive?
The reason for our ultimate dominance, according to Dr. Harari, was our use of language—and specifically, its complexity in comparison to others’.
Monkey: “Look out—tiger!” versus Human:
“Hey, this morning I saw a tiger by the river, so let’s chill here until the tiger leaves to hunt, and then we can go there to eat, okay?”
Language allowed us to organize groups of people—to share news of dangers or opportunities. To create and teach practices and habits: to communicate not just where the berries were on the riverbank but also how to pick, cook, and preserve them, what to do if someone ate too many, and even who should have the first and biggest helping. Language allowed us to preserve knowledge by passing it from person to person, parent to child, generation to generation.
It’s difficult to overstate the power successive generations gained from literally not having to reinvent the wheel. Language gave rise to beautiful complexity on every level.
But the biggest advantage of language is that it allowed us to create a whole new world within our heads. We could use it to create things that didn’t exist in the physical world.
CAN YOU SEE SOMETHING IF YOU DON’T HAVE A WORD FOR IT?
If you don’t believe how pervasively language shaped us and our world, here’s some intriguing research pointing to its power.
Did the color blue exist in ancient cultures?
So the question arises: If there’s no word for a thing, can you see it?
Oddly, when tribe members were shown the image and were asked to point to the outlier, they either couldn’t select the blue square as the different one, were slower to do so, or chose the wrong square.
But when shown a similar circular pattern of green squares with one square a subtly different (and to many of us difficult to discern) shade of green, they quickly found it.
What would be easy for us was not easy for them. What would be difficult for us was easy for them.
Our language shapes what we “see.”
THE DUAL WORLDS WE LIVE IN
Together we became more aware, better able to plan for and prevail over challenges, and capable of inventing solutions to problems and then being able to teach those solutions to others. Language became the building blocks to culture.
Of course, there’s a darker side to culture: when we get so focused on our rules that we turn them into decrees about how life “should” be and label people or processes as good or bad if they don’t follow the rules. This is how you should live. This is how you should dress.
The language and rules that define our culture can cost lives as much as cultivate them.
WELCOME TO THE CULTURESCAPE
There’s the physical world of absolute truth. This world contains things we’re all likely to agree on: This is the riverbank; rocks are hard; water is wet; fire is hot; tigers have big teeth and it hurts when they bite you. No arguments there.
But there’s also the world of relative truth. It’s the mental world of ideas, constructs, concepts, models, myths, patterns, and rules that we’ve developed and passed from generation to generation—sometimes for thousands of years. This is where concepts such as marriage, money, religion, and laws reside. This is relative truth because these ideas are true only for a particular culture or tribe. Socialism, democracy, your religion, ideas about education, love, marriage, career, and every other “should” are nothing more than relative truths. They are simply not true for ALL human beings.
From the moment we’re born, we’re swimming in the culturescape. Our beliefs about the world and our systems for functioning in the world are all embedded in us through the flow and progression of culture from the minds of the people around us into our baby brains. But there’s just one problem. Many of these beliefs and systems are dysfunctional, and while the intention is that these ideas should guide us, in reality they keep us locked into lives far more limited than what we’re truly capable of. A fish is the last to discover water because it’s been swimming in it all its life. Similarly, few people discover how pervasive and powerful the secondary world of our culturescape really is. We are not as independent and freethinking as we’d like to think we are.
The world of absolute truth is fact-based. The world of the culturescape is opinion-based and agreement-based. Yet even though it exists solely in our heads, it is very, very real.
How can a world that exists in our heads be real?
- There’s a widespread construct called marriage in which two people are expected to commit to each other for the rest of their lives, and yet every culture has different ideas of what that commitment should mean—physically, emotionally, and financially.
- In many cultures, there’s a construct called retirement in which people are expected to alter their activities dramatically after a certain age.
- There are no actual borders drawn on the Earth. Yet billions of people belong to border-defined places called nations.
In this way our thoughts literally do construct our world. We create and receive these constructs. We transmit them from generation to generation. They can be incredibly empowering or completely restrictive.
STEPPING OUT OF THE CULTURESCAPE
Much of what you think is true is all in your head.
Realizing that the world you’re living in exists inside your head puts you in the driver’s seat. You can use your own mind to deconstruct the beliefs, systems, and rules you’ve been living with. The rules are very real in the sense that they actually govern how people and societies act, but very real does not mean very right.
The culturescape is so strong, so self-reinforcing that it convinces us that life must unfold in a particular way. This is fine if you’d like to live a regular, safe life. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem happens when “safety” gives rise to boredom and eventually stagnation.
We start our lives strong; as children we learn, grow, and change at an exhilarating pace. Yet for most people, once they graduate from college and start their careers, that growth slows down and eventually leads to a creeping, boring stagnation. If you were to draw this as a graph, it would look something like this:
What if life was not meant to be safe? Instead, what if it was meant to be a beautiful joyride, with ups and downs as we take off the training wheels of the culturescape and try out things outside what is practical or realistic?
What if we accepted that things will go wrong—but that this is simply part of life’s beautiful unfolding and that even the biggest failures can have within them the seeds of growth and possibility?
Our culturescape evolved to keep us safe—but in this day and age, we no longer need to fear tigers by the riverbank. Safety is overrated; taking risks is much less likely to kill us than ever before, and that means that playing it safe is more likely just holding us back from the thrills of a life filled with meaning and discovery.
Give me the thrill and excitement of the unsafe, rule-breaking, dogma-questioning life anytime over the boring unfolding of a safe life.
The common thread between every extraordinary individual we’ll talk about in this book is that they all questioned their culturescape. They questioned the meaning of careers, degrees, religions, ways of living, and other “be safe” rules. In many cases, their willingness to break away from the culturescape has resulted in innovations and new beginnings that will shift the future of humanity. One such person is Elon Musk.
Elon is a living icon—a man who is changing the course of human history with innovations to electric cars via Tesla Motors, solar energy via Solar City, transportation via his Hyperloop idea, and space travel via SpaceX. He is arguably the greatest entrepreneur on the planet today.
“Elon, you’ve done some pretty epic things, stuff most people would never even dream about. Yet what makes Elon Musk? I mean, if we could put you in a blender and blend you to distill your essence, what would that essence be?”
“When I was just starting out, I walked into Netscape to get a job. I just sat in the lobby holding my résumé, waiting quietly for someone to talk to me. No one did. I waited and waited.”
Elon mentioned that he had no idea what protocol to follow. He just waited, hoping someone would come and invite him for an interview.
“But no one spoke to me,” he said.
“So I said: ‘Fuck it! I’ll just start my own company.’”
The world was forever changed that day.
From banking to space exploration to electric cars, Elon challenged rules that few others dared question and in the process is leaving the planet with a legacy that is jaw-droppingly huge.
Law 1: Transcend the culturescape.
Extraordinary minds are good at seeing the culturescape and are able to selectively choose the rules and conditions to follow versus those to question or ignore. Therefore, they tend to take the path less traveled and innovate on the idea of what it means to truly live.
WHY SAFETY IS OVERRATED
he ended with one memorable line: “I have a high tolerance for pain.”
The dips contain amazing learnings and wisdom that lead to sharper rises in the quality of life afterward. But you will need to brave the momentary pain of these dips. I assure you it will be worthwhile, and in this book you’ll learn how to have the power to weather those downturns.
Every crappy experience I’ve had—from having my heart broken, to almost having to leave my own company due to a conflict with a business partner, to depression and staring down gaping dark holes of the mind—led to some small-but-significant insight or awakening that boosted the quality of my life and made me stronger. I now welcome these dips with an inner delight: Wow, this sucks! I can’t wait to see what I’m going to learn here!
Life has a way of taking care of you no matter how dark it can sometimes feel—I promise.
“I constantly get out of my comfort zone. Once you push yourself into something new, a whole new world of opportunities opens up. But you might get hurt. But amazingly when you heal—you are somewhere you’ve never been.”
You can be 12 or 80—it’s never too late to question the rules and step out of your comfort zone.
A SERIOUS WORD OF WARNING
Questioning many rules of the culturescape will not be easy.
- You might anger loved ones as you decide to question their expectations of you.
- You might decide to leave your current relationship.
- You might decide to raise your kids with different beliefs.
- You might choose to question your religion or create your own customized religious system.
- You might rethink your career.
- You might become obsessed with being happy.
- You might decide to forgive someone who hurt you in the past.
- You might rip apart your current goal sheet and start anew.
- You might start a daily spiritual practice.
- You might fall out of love with someone and fall in love with yourself.
- You might decide to leave your career and start a business.
- You might decide to leave your business and start a career.
- You might find a mission that excites you a lot and scares you a little.
If you can’t win, change the rules. If you can’t change the rules, ignore them.
CHAPTER 2 - QUESTION THE BRULES
Where We Learn That Much of How the World Runs Is Based on Bulls**t Rules Passed Down from Generation to Generation
You will find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. Who’s more foolish, the fool? Or the fool who follows him?
-- SAYINGS OF OBI-WAN KENOBI, STAR WARS
THE LIES WE CHOOSE TO BELIEVE
our beliefs about the world—are nothing more than mental constructs we’ve chosen to believe.
the act of an idea spreading from mind to mind without due questioning.
Whilst we may like to believe that we consciously and rationally decide on how to respond to situations, social contagion evidence suggests that some of the time this is simply not the case. Rather than generating and “having” beliefs, emotions, and behaviours, social contagion research suggests that, in some very real sense, those beliefs, emotions, and behaviours “have” us. . . . When we are unsure of how to react to a stimulus or a situation, these theories suggest that we actively look to others for guidance and consciously imitate them.
It’s a stunning statement. Dr. Marsden is saying that when we make decisions, we’re more likely to defer to the hive mind than to make a decision based entirely on our own thoughts and best interests. We don’t have beliefs so much as beliefs “have” us.
The evidence shows that we inherit and transmit behaviours, emotions, beliefs, and religions not through rational choice but contagion.
This is perhaps one of the most important lines in Dr. Marsden’s paper. We think we’re making a rational decision. But often, the decision has little to do with rationality and more to do with ideas our family, culture, and peers have approved.
So I coined a name for these outdated rules so we can see them better: The word I use is “Brules.”
Brule: A Definition
A Brule is a bulls**t rule that we adopt to simplify our understanding of the world.
You can see from an evolutionary standpoint how it would be efficient to mimic the patterns modeled by those who came before. Ideas such as how to harvest, hunt, cook, and communicate get passed down from generation to generation, allowing civilization to steadily grow in complexity and scale. But it means we may be living our lives according to models that haven’t been upgraded for years, decades, even centuries. Blindly following may be efficient, but it’s not always smart.
When we look at them closely, we often find that Brules were imposed on us for convenience. To question and dissect these Brules is to take a step into the extraordinary.
“Mom, I think the ancient Hindus loved having cows as pets because they were gentle and had big, beautiful eyes. Cows were also very useful: They could plow the fields and provide milk. So maybe that was why Hindus back then wouldn’t eat beef when they could so easily eat goat, pig, or any other less awesome animal. But last I checked, we have a dog and not a cow, and so I think I should be allowed to eat beef burgers.”
I don’t know what was going on in my mom’s head, but she agreed, and that’s how I got to taste my first beef burger.
Just like that, a dogmatic model of reality I’d grown up blindly following was shattered.
I started questioning everything else. By nineteen, I had discarded religion—not because I wasn’t spiritual but because I felt that calling myself a Hindu was separating myself from the billions of spiritual people who weren’t Hindu. I wanted to embrace the spiritual essence of every religion, not just one.
I was fortunate to have parents who challenged me and allowed me to create my own beliefs. But if a nine-year-old can bust a Brule, the rest of us should be able to question them, too.
I’m not advocating that you instantly reject all the rules you’ve ever followed, but you must question your rules constantly in order to live by the code that is most authentic to your goals and needs. “My family/culture/people have always done it this way” is not an acceptable argument.
COMMON BRULES WORTH CHALLENGING
1. We should get a college degree to guarantee our success.
college degrees aren’t as important as they once were. Bock states that “When you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.”
I’ve personally interviewed and hired more than 1,000 people for my companies over the years, and I’ve simply stopped looking at college grades or even at the college an applicant graduated from. I’ve simply found them to have no correlation with an employee’s success.
2. We should marry within our religion or ethnicity.
At first I feared following my heart because I felt I would cause great disappointment for those I loved. But I realized that with a huge life decision such as this, I shouldn’t do something to make someone else happy that would make me so unhappy.
3. We should adhere to a single religion.
more and more people, especially millennials, are adopting the model “Spiritual But Not Religious.”
I believe that religion was necessary for human evolution, helping us develop guidelines for good moral conduct and cooperation within the tribe hundreds and thousands of years ago. But today, as humanity is more connected than ever and many of us have access to the various wisdom and spiritual traditions of the world, the idea of adhering to a singular religion might be obsolete. Furthermore, I believe that the blind acceptance of religious dogma is holding us back in our spiritual evolution as a species.
A better alternative, in my opinion, is not to subscribe to one religion but to pick and choose beliefs from the entire pantheon of global religions and spiritual practices.
There is much beauty in the teachings of Christ, the Sufism of Islam, the Kabbalah from Judaism, the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, or the Buddhist teachings of the Dalai Lama. Yet humanity has widely decided that religion should be absolutist.
Your spirituality should be discovered, not inherited.
4. We must work hard to be successful.
Parents want to encourage their kids to stick with challenges, work toward goals, and not give up. But that can get twisted into a Brule: If you aren’t working hard all the time, you’re lazy and won’t be successful.
This Brule also leads to a corollary Brule that work must feel like a slog. It can’t be exciting or meaningful and certainly not fun.
A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.
FIVE WAYS WE TAKE ON BRULES
The first step is to know how they got installed within you in the first place.
1. Childhood Indoctrination
We absorb most beliefs uncritically as children during our extremely long maturity period.
as Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari describes, like “molten glass”—highly moldable by the environment and the people around:
Most mammals emerge from the womb like glazed earthenware emerging from a kiln—any attempt at remolding will only scratch or break them. Humans emerge from the womb like molten glass from a furnace. They can be spun, stretched, and shaped with a surprising degree of freedom. This is why today we can educate our children to become Christian or Buddhist, capitalist or socialist, warlike or peace loving.
Ever notice how often a child asks why? The typical parent’s response to the steady barrage of why, why, why is usually something along the lines of:
“Because I said so.”
“Because that’s the way it is.”
“Because God wanted it this way.”
“Because Dad says you need to do it.”
Statements like these cause children to get trapped in a thicket of Brules they may not even realize are open to question. Those children grow up to become adults trapped by restrictions and rules that they have taken to be “truth.”
we may carry many of these beliefs until we die—until or unless we learn to challenge them.
2. Authority Figures
Interestingly, some people express feeling a sense of freedom after their parents die, because they finally feel able to follow their own desires, opinions, and goals, free of parental expectations and the pressure to conform to rules their parents approved of.
3. The Need to Belong
We have a tendency to take on Brules because we want to fit in.
We see this need for belonging at its strongest when looking at the irrational beliefs people take on when they join cults. The desire to be accepted causes them to shut down their ability to question, and they accept highly illogical, irrational beliefs.
Humans also long for the comfort and safety of certainty, and nowhere is conviction more present than in the groupthink of blind tribalism. While a scientist’s data-based opinions are only as strong as the evidence she has and inherently subject to change, tribal dogmatism is an exercise in faith, and with no data to be beholden to, blind tribe members believe what they believe with certainty.
4. Social Proof
“everyone’s doing it,”
Think of it as approval by proxy: We believe what someone else tells us to save ourselves the effort of assessing the truth of it ourselves. If we’re led to think that “everyone” is doing it, believing it, or buying it, then we decide maybe we should, too.
If everyone’s doing it—it must be legit.
5. Our Internal Insecurities
Suppose you go on a date with someone you’re really attracted to. After the date, the person doesn’t call you back. For many of us, our internal insecurities go into overdrive: I didn’t dress well enough . . . maybe I talked too much . . . I shouldn’t have told that joke…
Maybe the person lost his phone and didn’t have your number. Maybe she had a really tough week or had to deal with a family crisis.
instead of looking at these logical ideas, we start to create “meaning” around the events. The meaning-making machine in our heads is constantly creating meaning about the events that we observe in our lives—particularly when they involve people we are seeking love or attention from.
Do you have a memory of doing something you disliked just to follow the herd?
HOW TO MAKE A DENT IN THE UNIVERSE
Our culturescape is filled with many ideas that are powerful because of the sheer number of people who believe in them. Think of ideas like nation-states, money, transportation, our education system, and more. But every now and then a rebel comes along and decides that some of these colossal constructs are nothing more than Brules. Most of these rebels talk about changing things and are labeled idealists at best, or nut jobs at worst, but once in a while, a rebel grabs reality by the horns and, slowly yet decisively, shifts things.
At first a certain person, perhaps you, decides to move away from viewing the world like everyone else. You get labeled a misfit, a rebel, a troublemaker.
But then you do something original and wild.
Some misfits will fail. But some will succeed, and when they do, they make a dent in a culturescape.
And that’s when the misfit is labeled a visionary.
One such visionary is Dean Kamen. I got to visit Dean in 2015 and hear him tell me one of the most incredible stories of Brule-breaking I’ve ever heard.
Dean Kamen is a modern-day Edison. He holds more than 440 patents. He revolutionized wheelchair technology with the iBOT mobility device, spearheaded development of the leading home dialysis system, and became an icon of engineering with his invention of the Segway Human Transporter.
With the Segway, Dean questioned the Brule of transportation: Could cities be designed without the need for cars? But personally, I’m more impressed by Dean’s questioning of the Brule of the nation-state. You see, frustrated by government, Dean started his own nation. He is, by his own fiat, Lord Dumpling, president of North Dumpling Island—a tiny island nation in Long Island Sound that he turned into his own country—only the third country in North America after the United States and Canada.
Dean Kamen was never one to follow dumb rules. As one of America’s greatest inventors, he had a strict anti-bureaucracy attitude. A healthy disregard for senseless rules and the mind of an innovator can be explosive when combined. And as he explained to me and a small group of others invited to visit him in May 2015, a giant wind turbine sparked it all.
he was seriously bothered that New York State, which was miles away from North Dumpling, had the power to tell him how to run his island. So Dean decided that he would take no more. Speaking to a friend of his at Harvard who was an expert on constitutional law, Dean found a loophole that allowed him to secede—not just from New York but from the entire United States. And so on April 22, 1988, the New York Times carried an article: “From Long Island Sound, A New Nation Asserts Itself.”
Dean didn’t just create his own island nation. He created North Dumpling’s own constitution, anthem, and currency called (what else?) the dumpling.
As I explored Dean’s home, I found on one wall what struck me as the most important document of all. It was a framed “Foreign Aid National Treasure Bond” to President Bush in which North Dumpling Island actually gave foreign aid to the United States—in the sum of $100.
I asked Dean for the story behind the picture. He told me that North Dumpling had become the first nation in the world to provide foreign aid to the United States.
Once the technological leaders of the world, America’s Citizens have been slipping into Woeful Ignorance of and Dismaying Indifference to the wonders of science and technology. This threatens the United States with Dire Descent into scientific and technological illiteracy. . . . The Nation of North Dumpling Island hereby commits itself to helping rescue its neighbor Nation from such fate by supporting the efforts of the Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology in promoting excellence in and appreciation of these disciplines among the peoples of the United States of America. . . .”
Dean wasn’t giving $100 to a superpower as a joke.
He was seeking to change the global education system to bring more attention to science and engineering.
Whether North Dumpling Island is really a nation is beside the point. What’s important is that Dean is a guy who plays at a different level from most people. He is constantly bending and breaking the rules in pursuit of a better way to live, hacking beliefs and cultural norms that most of us accept without questioning:
- With his invention of the Segway, he redefined accepted models of transportation.
- With North Dumpling Island, he playfully redefined the idea of the nation-state.
- With FIRST, he redefined the idea of science education being as cool to teens as sports.
Extraordinary people think differently, and they don’t let their society’s Brules stop them from advocating for a better world for themselves. Neither should you. All of us have both the ability and responsibility to toss out the Brules that are preventing us from pursuing our dreams. It all starts with one thing: questioning your inherited beliefs.
You can use the same amazing brain that took those Brules onboard to uninstall them and replace them with beliefs that truly empower you.
TAKING THE BRULES BY THE HORNS
It can feel a little like free fall when you first start—and it is, because you’re taking your life off of autopilot. Sometimes things feel chaotic while you take over the controls but have faith in yourself. You were born to do this. The great gift of being human is our capacity to see the world anew, invent new solutions—and then use what we know to transform our lives and change our world. Culture isn’t static. It lives and breathes, made by us in real time in the flow of life, meant to change as our world changes. So, let’s do it! It starts at home, with you. Your life, on your terms.
Exercise: The Brule Test:
to see if a Brule is coming to call. Apply the five-question Brule Test for a reality check, and decide whether it’s a rule you want to live by or a Brule you want to bust.
Question 1: Is it based on trust and hope in humanity?
Is the rule based on the idea that human beings are primarily good or primarily bad? If a rule is based on negative assumptions about humanity, I tend to question it.
India recently tried to ban access to all pornography websites—but there was so much public outcry, the ban was ended four days later. That’s an example of a Brule based on the idea that humanity is primarily bad: Give people freedom to access porn online, and they’ll go berserk and become sexual deviants.
The Christian idea of original sin is another example of fundamental mistrust of humanity. It has caused so much guilt and shame for so many people who feel undeserving of success and good things in life.
Always have faith and trust in humanity. I like to remember Gandhi’s words: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
Question 2: Does it violate the Golden Rule?
The Golden Rule is to do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. Rules that elevate some while devaluing others are suspect as Brules—such as rules that grant or restrict opportunities based on skin color, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, whether a person has a penis or a vagina, or any other arbitrary or subjective criteria.
Question 3: Did I take it on from culture or religion?
Is this a rule or a belief that the majority of human beings weren’t born into believing?
You do not have to dress, eat, marry, or worship in a manner that you disagree with just because it’s part of the culture you’re born into. Culture is meant to be ever-evolving, ever-flowing—in a way, just like water. Water is most beautiful and useful when it’s moving—it creates rivers, waterfalls, the waves of the ocean. But when water becomes stagnant, it becomes poisonous. Culture is like water.
Question 4: Is it based on rational choice or contagion?
Are you following a rule because it was installed in you during childhood? Is it benefiting your life, or have you just never thought about doing things differently?
Question 5: Does it serve my happiness?
It could be following a career path because our family or society tells us it’s correct (as happened to me with computer engineering), or marrying a particular person, or living in a certain place or a certain way.
Place your happiness first. Only when you’re happy can you truly give your best to others—in society, in relationships, in your family and community.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
IT’S TIME TO START QUESTIONING
Pick a few and try applying the Brule Test. Then try a few more. Don’t rush, and don’t expect to wake up tomorrow free of all of your Brules.
Brules are powerful, and it can be hard to look squarely at the ones that have had the most influence over you.
“The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there.”
As you pursue this quest to question, know this: Certain people will tell you that you’re wrong, that you’re being unfaithful to your family, or to your tradition, or to your cultural norms. Or that you’re being selfish. Here’s what I want you to know. Some say the heart is the most selfish organ in the body because it keeps all the good blood for itself. It takes in all the good blood, the most oxygenated blood, and then distributes the rest to every other organ.
But if the heart didn’t keep the good blood for itself, the heart would die. And if the heart died, it would take every other organ with it. The liver. The kidneys. The brain. The heart, in a way, has to be selfish for its own preservation. So, don’t let people tell you that you’re selfish and wrong to follow your own heart. I urge you, I give you permission, to break the rules, to think outside the norms of traditional society. The Brules of the father should not be passed on to the son.
LIFE BEYOND THE BRULES
With it comes accountability and responsibility for your actions. Since you’re deciding what rules you’ll follow, your life is up to you. You can’t hide behind excuses about who or what is holding you back.
Test to make sure you aren’t violating the Golden Rule as you go.
It takes a certain amount of courage to live in this way. When you hit a certain pain point with a Brule and realize that you cannot continue to live with it, part of abandoning it could feel like abandonment of an important social structure in your life. Life beyond the Brules can be scary and surprising and exhilarating—often all at once. People might push back or hassle you.
“The people making you feel guilty for going your own way and choosing your own life are simply saying, ‘Look at me. I’m better than you because my chains are bigger.’ It takes courage to break those chains and define your own life.”
So dare to live your precious days on Earth to their fullest, true to yourself, with open heart and thoughtful mind, and with the courage to change what doesn’t work and accept the consequences. You may find that you can fly farther than you ever imagined.
“What if . . . all the rules and ways we lay down in our heads, don’t even exist at all? What if we only believe that they’re there, because we want to think that they’re there? All the formalities of morality and the decisions that we see ourselves making in order to be better (or the best) . . . what if we think we’ve got it all under control—but we don’t? What if the path for you is one that you would never dare take because you never saw yourself going that way? And then what if you realized that one day, would you take the path for you? Or would you choose to believe in your rules and your reasons? Your moralities and your hopes? What if your own hope, and your own morality, are going the other way?”
—- C. JOYBELL C.
PART II - THE AWAKENING - THE POWER TO CHOOSE YOUR VERSION OF THE WORLD
The belts were an elegant system dating back centuries that allowed students to rise to mastery level in attainable stages. It made growth easier and motivated students far more than a vague goal such as “become a master.” Each belt was a treasured validation of our hard work and progress.
And the more you question, the more your awareness will expand. The more your awareness expands, the more you will grow. And the more you grow, the more extraordinary your life will become.
Level I: Life within the culturescape. The Xs represent potential Brules.
Level II: You learn to create your own version of the world within the culturescape. Within your world (the bubble around you), you can choose to eliminate and filter incoming Brules.
Think of it as the interface between you and the culturescape around you. You decide what to let in or reject. You’re engineering how your consciousness is shaped and influenced.
What ideas and values (we’ll call these your models of reality) do you choose to believe? How do you choose to live, learn, and grow (we’ll call those your systems for living)?
CHAPTER 3 - PRACTICE CONSCIOUSNESS ENGINEERING
Where We Learn How to Accelerate Our Growth by Consciously Choosing What to Accept or Reject from the Culturescape. If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.
—- BUCKMINSTER FULLER
FROM BROKE FAILURE TO SUPER PERFORMER IN TEN MONTHS
My first few months on the job, I earned around $2,500 a month in commissions—hardly enough to survive on in the Bay Area.
But it’s often when we’re feeling down that we end up taking a step toward our next level of personal growth.
Bored and mildly depressed, I began searching online for classes to take to help get my mind off the drudgery of my job. I can’t remember exactly what I typed into Google—maybe “hope,” maybe “success,” or maybe “why does life have to suck so bad.” And that’s when I saw it.
I noticed a class on meditation and intuition.
When I showed up, I was the only student there (meditation wasn’t as popular then as it is now). I completed the entire two-day class in one day and flew back to San Francisco that night.
Immediately I began applying some of the techniques I’d learned, one of which was a simple technique to meditate and get myself into the alpha state of mind. Alpha is a brain wave frequency common in meditation where you’re in a relaxed state. People who advocate this type of meditation say that alpha puts you highly in tune with your intuition, your creativity, and your problem-solving abilities. A key part of what I had learned was listening to my inner voice or intuition. I practiced this when making my phone calls. I stopped calling every lawyer from A to Z in the Yellow Pages, as my coworkers were doing. Instead, I’d go into a relaxed, meditative level of mind, run my finger down the listings, and call the ones where I felt an impulse. The impulse often felt like guessing, but I heeded it. I realize this makes no logical sense. But I discovered that listening to my impulse somehow caused me to call lawyers more likely to buy. My closing rate started rising rapidly.
I closed two deals the next week. And the next. And it got better. A month later, I leveled up to closing three deals. Listening to my intuition seemed to triple the odds of my calling a receptive lawyer.
I credit these to the fact that I was now meditating for about fifteen to thirty minutes every day, listening to my intuition and visualizing myself closing deals with ease.
Then I started using another technique I’d learned from another class: a simple empathy technique for connecting more effectively with people. Before speaking to a lawyer, I’d tell myself that I’d be able to connect with my potential client at a subconscious level, have empathy for his or her needs, know the right things to say at the right moment, and then—only if this was a software that would genuinely benefit the lawyer’s firm—close the sale. While in meditation, I would visualize the lawyer in front of me and imagine beaming genuine kindness and compassion toward him or her. I’d end the three-minute visualization with a mental affirmation that we’d close the deal if it was in the best interest of all the parties involved.
Again I saw a massive boost in my sales. Soon I was closing more than anyone in the company. And so, twenty-six-years-old and with no prior sales experience, I got promoted three times in the next four months and was made director of sales.
ust nine months after I joined the company, my boss sent me to New York City to head up the company’s New York office.
My salary had tripled in a few short months.
At the time, I couldn’t explain why all of this success was happening. I just knew that what I was doing worked.
COMPUTATIONAL THINKING MEETS PERSONAL GROWTH
My rapid success in the world of sales sparked my fascination with decoding the human mind. I realized that we can improve our performance in logical ways—by, say, reading a book on sales—and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there are also techniques that can dramatically accelerate our performance. The ones I learned changed my life in just one week.
My computational thinking training kicked in, big-time. I wanted to break down human behavior—which at first glance appears like a huge, tangled knot of thoughts, actions, responses, emotions, impulses, drives, cravings, habits, and God knows what else—and crack the code for how we humans work.
As I got better at meditation and other conscious practices, it started to bother me that I’d been the only person in that class in Los Angeles.
I wanted to teach others what had worked so awesomely for me. So I quit my software sales job and started a small e-commerce store. I called it Mindvalley. Our first products were nothing more than meditation CDs I sourced from established publishers. As Mindvalley grew, I launched as many companies as I could, teaching people mindfulness, meditation, contemplative practices, how to have better relationships, nutrition, health, wellness—basically, the knowledge that we truly need in order to have richer, healthier, more meaningful lives—knowledge that our industrial-age education system had failed to teach.
I started Mindvalley with nothing more than $700 in 2003. Twelve years later, with not a single bank loan and no venture capital money, the company had grown to 200 employees and more than 500,000 paying students.
In that time I got to know at a deep personal level many of America’s top minds in human development. I spent nine days at the invitation of author and motivational speaker Tony Robbins on his Fiji estate. I hooked my brain to electrodes with famed biohacker Dave Asprey to study different levels of consciousness. I met masters and gurus from India, billionaires at the peak of their game, and legends in business and society. And with every meeting, interview, and experience, I began dissecting, assimilating, and assembling the framework that helped create this book.
Today, I obsessively seek out new models and systems for how we can best understand ourselves and reach levels of potential we’ve only dreamed about. My hacker mentality pushes me to always be looking for the most effective solution that is replicable—that brings extraordinary results within reach of the greatest number of people.
AN OPERATING SYSTEM FOR HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS
Every few years, we upgrade our operating systems on our machines to make our computers run faster, better, and take on increasingly complex tasks with ease.
But how many of us even think about doing the same for ourselves? Consciousness engineering is an operating system for the human mind. And the beauty of it is that—like the best hacks—it’s really simple. It all boils down to just two things.
1. Your Models of Reality (Your Hardware)
Your models of reality are your beliefs about the world.
The important thing to realize is that no matter what these beliefs are, they became true because we act and think in accordance with them. Thus, our beliefs truly do shape our world in a very real sense.
But while your beliefs make you, your beliefs are NOT you. You can use consciousness engineering to swap out old beliefs, swap in new ones, and take on new understandings of the world that might serve you better.
Using our computer analogy, think of your models of reality as your hardware. Want a faster machine or a better resolution monitor? Just swap the older model and replace it with the latest model. Need more space? Replace your 250 terabyte hard drive with a 500 terabyte drive. Beliefs are like that, too. When an old belief no longer serves you, you have every right to swap it out. Yet we don’t. When you use the Brule Test to challenge your Brules and swap out obsolete Brules for rules that work better, you’re upgrading your hardware so your operating system works optimally. In people-speak, that means you’re choosing what to believe, and your life is yours to control.
Replacing outdated models of reality is essential. Our models of reality do more than just create our feelings around an event or life in general. To an astonishing extent, they seem to influence the reality of the world that we experience every single day.
What You Think Is What You Get
Our models of reality make us who we are.
many of them weren’t taken on by rational choice but rather by imitation. Our beliefs about life, love, work, parenting, our bodies, our self-worth—are often a result of our innate tendency to imitate the people and practices around us. What you think and believe about the world shapes who you are and your experience of the world around you. Change your accepted models of reality, and dramatic changes will happen in your world.
Now, as anyone who has just completed a weekend of housecleaning can tell you, cleaning a room, changing sheets, vacuuming, and so on is a lot of work. Yet according to their model of reality, the maids didn’t consider their work activities to be “exercise.”
they seemed about as fit as sedentary folks.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The researchers implanted a new model of reality in the maid’s minds. They informed forty-four of the maids that their daily duties met the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) activity guidelines and surpassed the Surgeon General’s guidelines. They also gave the maids a rundown of calorie counts for various cleaning activities and put similar information where the maids could see it at work. In short, they flipped a belief switch. They gave the maids new information about their existing habits that showed how the work they did was, in fact, exercise.
A month passes. The researchers follow up. Incredibly, the maids who’d been given the fitness information had, on average, lost two pounds, had lower blood pressures, and overall “were significantly healthier” based on measurements of their body fat, body mass index (BMI), and waist-to-hip ratio. And guess what? The maids told the researchers of no changes in their actions. The only change was in the information they’d been given—the truth the researchers had provided.
They made the maids view their work as “exercise.” And the results caused actual physical changes in the bodies of the maids.
If the mind is so powerful that it can actually change health based on a changed perspective, imagine what that could mean about the mind’s power to control our mood, our self-confidence, our happiness, and everything else that determines the quality of our time here on Earth.
As the hotel maids’ study vividly shows, while your models of reality are not you, they make you who you are. When you realize that, you can swap out a bad or outdated model, swap in a healthier one, and gain incredible power to shift your world. Let’s return for a moment to our computer hardware analogy. If your computer hardware can’t handle the tasks you need it to do, you get a faster, more powerful computer, a higher-quality monitor, a better mouse. Look how sleek and efficient our computers have become in the last thirty years. Wouldn’t it be great to think with that same level of elegance, speed, and efficiency? Yet when it comes to updating our models of reality, most us are stuck with the 1980s Macintosh rather than the new MacBook. We hold on to our old models and deny ourselves an upgrade.
What would happen to you if you swapped in new beliefs about your love life? Your work? Your body? Your ability to make money?
As I’ve learned about the power of beliefs, I’ve chosen specific models of reality to help me stay healthier and younger. I’ve decided I’m going to live to be one hundred. I’ve chosen a model where seven minutes of early-morning exercise gets me the same results as hours in a gym. As a result, I’ve been able to get fitter and develop a better body in my forties than I had in my twenties. I’ve also decided on a belief that work is one of the most pleasurable things in life—so I enjoy what I do on a daily basis. All of us have this ability to decide what models of reality we’ll adopt. You get to choose.
Thus the single most effective model of reality you can adopt right now is the idea that your models of reality are swappable. You do not have to continue believing and seeing the world through the lens installed within you in your younger years.
2. Your Systems for Living (Your Software)
Your habits, or systems for living, are how you put your models of reality into practice. If models of reality are the hardware of the human “machine,” systems for living are the software. They’re your activities and daily habits—for example, how you eat (based on your beliefs about nutrition), how you work (based on your beliefs about what kind of career and work behaviors are acceptable), and how you deal with money (based on your beliefs about the ease of acquiring money or the guilt or honor of having lots of it).
you raise your kids to how you make love, make friends, work out, solve problems, finish a project at work, make a difference in the world, and have fun.
Systems of living are easy to acquire. You can always learn new ones. The problem is that our Industrial Age school system hasn’t done a very good job of keeping us up to date with the best systems for functioning in the world. Nobody taught us optimal ways to exercise, love, parent, eat, or even to speed-read or improve longevity. I think of them like apps you can easily download and update, intended for specific purposes or to solve specific problems. Not working? Download the new version that fixes old bugs. Found a better one? DELETE. The trick is recognizing what systems you’re running and doing enough self-checks to quickly identify the ones you need to upgrade.
Law 3: Practice consciousness engineering.
Extraordinary minds understand that their growth depends on two things: their models of reality and their systems for living. They carefully curate the most empowering models and systems and frequently update themselves.
THE LIMITATIONS OF TODAY’S MODELS OF REALITY AND SYSTEMS FOR LIVING
Our current models and systems have three limitations:
- Our models of reality are programmed by the world we grew up in.
- Our models of reality (good or bad) determine our systems for living. In short, bad beliefs create bad habits.
- Our modern models and systems are lacking in conscious practices—we’re only just beginning to realize the power of our minds.
To understand these three limitations, we need to look at our current world from the outside in. Getting outside our culturescape is easier said than done.
Strange Lessons from the Amazon Rain Forest
Here we would spend the next five days, living life in a radically different culture where many of the norms of human civilization—from how we sleep to how we care for our bodies to how we drink water or worship a higher power—were completely challenged.
The Achuar people of the Amazon rain forest in Ecuador evolved for generations with little contact with the wider outside world. They only became known to the Western world in 1977, so being with them is about as close as you can get to visiting a culture relatively untouched by modern human beings. With minimal exposure to the modern culturescape, their models of reality are dramatically different from ours. I’m not talking about conventional things that we expect other cultures to do differently—like food, dress, music, and dance. I’m talking about things so different that if we were to read about them in a historical text, we would find it hard to believe that these were normal human beings alive on the planet today.
Many truths that we assume to be absolute, such as “drink water” or “eat breakfast,” are meaningless to them. Living with the Achuar was eye-opening. What I saw there profoundly shifted my thinking about what I believe to be acceptable truths.
Lesson 1: Our Models of Reality Are Programmed by the World We Grew Up In
By the time you arrive at the village, you’re ready for a bath and a long drink of water. You can bathe in the pond nearby. But if you want a drink of water, you’re out of luck. Because the water you bathed in—where everyone in the tribe bathes and swims, too—is the only water around. And it’s filled with bacteria that would not be wise to ingest.
We assume that all human beings drink water. You might even consider that it’s an absolute truth.
But the Achuar have evolved a brilliant hack for the fact that there’s no clean water in the Amazon. The women harvest, boil, and mash yucca roots and then repeatedly chew and spit the chewed-up root into a bowl. They mix this combo of yucca and saliva with pond water and leave it for several days. The mixture ferments, yielding alcohol, which kills the bacteria. What you end up with isn’t water, but chicha, a beer of sorts, made from the fermented spit of the tribeswomen. Every woman has her own brew, which she makes for her husband (men can have more than one wife) and children. Every woman’s brew tastes different, based on the taste of her saliva. The women spend hours each day chewing and spitting to make chicha while the men go hunting. It’s a big job, since this is all that the tribe drinks.
How does chicha taste? Well, to me, really awful, only because I haven’t been trained to appreciate it. To the Achuar, it tastes delicious, and the men come home from a long hunt craving it. It sounds weird to us, but it’s totally normal for them, and it’s how they survive in one of the most challenging places on Earth to live.
Is drinking water normal? It is to most of humanity. But to the Achuar, drinking water is unusual and distasteful. Our definition of what is normal is nothing more than what is programmed into us.
What we see as our culture is really nothing more than a quirk of history. It’s not necessarily right or wrong. Just like the Achuar way of living isn’t right or wrong. Our culture is the result of thousands of years of ideas emerging, clashing, and dissolving, battling for dominance. But I can assure you of one thing: Our culture wasn’t created by pure rational choice. In many ways it took form merely by imitation and chance. Yet we cling to our culture, both the good and the bad, as if it’s the only way of living. When you look at the Achuar and you look at us, you see that pretty much every aspect of human culture—of life as we live it day to day—is malleable, up for grabs, within our control, and open for questioning.
Lesson 2: Our Models of Reality (Good or Bad) Determine Our Systems for Living
The Achuar don’t have a model of reality for God in the way that most humans beings do. Instead, they believe that animals and plants possess human souls and that these souls have the ability to communicate through language and signs. To communicate with this world, they drink ayahuasca (a natural plant-based drug) that induces vivid visions and metaphysical experiences.
I decided to experience the ayahuasca ceremony with a visiting shaman who was stopping by our village. I knelt on a platform before him. In the darkness I could not see his face, only the flicker of light from the tobacco leaves he smoked. It was a surreal moment, like stepping back centuries in time to an ancient culture. The shaman mumbled some words, blew smoke in my face, tapped me with a branch, and then gave me a tiny taste of the precious ayahuasca.
Everything seemed fine for a moment. Then suddenly: unbearable pain in my stomach. I fell to my knees as the pain hit, hung my head over the edge of the platform, and started vomiting violently as my guides held my arms and legs to prevent me from falling off the platform onto the jungle floor. After four to five minutes I stopped vomiting but was so weak I could barely walk. I was helped to a hammock. As soon as I closed my eyes, all I could see were fractals. It was as if the world were a series of interlocking triangles of all different colors spinning, pivoting, and merging.
When I opened my eyes and turned on my side to stare out at the jungle, the trees looked like huge, friendly monsters of the type you’d see in the book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
I felt scared at first, but the fear turned into a sense of sublime peace. I felt a oneness with the forest, the trees, the humidity, and the sky. It was a beautiful feeling of being completely in the now with no regard for the past or future. It felt good to be alive. Eventually I fell asleep and woke later as dawn broke, when I joined the rest of the group to eat and discuss our experiences.
The beliefs of the Achuar in the spirit of the forest led to their system for experiencing the divine through ayahuasca.
We’ve done them for so long we don’t even know how we got started. We accept our current systems as “just the way things are,” but look deeper and you’ll see that these systems stem from beliefs from the past that you may have absorbed through the culture you were raised in.
Lesson 3: Our Modern Models and Systems Are Lacking in Conscious Practices
Many of our models and systems are rooted in the purely physical aspects of life—what we eat, how we take care of our bodies, beauty regimens, and so on. But until recently, there’s been almost no innovation in the systems that improve the way our minds and spirits function.
Most of us don’t remember our dreams without effort. We tend to see them as fleeting images, soon forgotten in the serious business of the day. But the Achuar view their experiences during the day and at night as equally important and seem to simultaneously live in the waking and dream states. In the blending of these worlds, they solve problems, have adventures, and communicate with one another and with the spirit realm. They share these events while drinking their tea, and the elders listen and advise.
Are dreams more than what we in the modern world make them out to be? Perhaps there’s something to the Achuar early-morning commitment to exploring the dream world.
THE ODDITY OF CULTURE
We might consider their lives bizarre, but to the Achuar, we seem bizarre. We run off to stressful jobs, leaving our kids in the care of others. We sit and stare at a lit-up screen for most of the day. Then we exercise like maniacs to burn off the calories we consumed the day before. We pack our elders into communal homes and then worry about how to care for them. We take pills to keep from feeling fear and other emotions we believe are negative. We drink potions to stay awake. Then we take pills to put ourselves to sleep. We eat and drink too much, partly because we have more than we need and partly because we’re stressed out. Every tribe has its troubles. But the Achuar taught me that what we consider real, what we define as culture, what we believe is true about life—the nine-to-five, marriage, the way we raise our kids, how we treat our elders, what we do all day—are just collections of beliefs and practices that we put together because, well, they seemed like good ideas at the time.
LEVELING UP OUR INNER GAME
Wilber is the originator of an extremely comprehensive philosophy called Integral Theory, which is a sort of theory of everything that unifies the disciplines of cultural studies, anthropology, systems theory, developmental psychology, biology, and spirituality, to name just a few. Ken has been quoted by everyone from Bill Clinton to Kermit the Frog, and Integral Theory has been applied in fields as diverse as ecology, sustainability, psychotherapy, psychiatry, education, business, medicine, politics, sports, and art.
“what’s your vision of an ideal education curriculum for children?”
Humanity is flying way under its full potential simply because we do not educate for the whole or complete human being. We educate for just a small part, a slice, a fragment of just what’s possible for us. . . . Because according to the great wisdom traditions around the world—not only do humans possess typical states of consciousness like waking, dreaming, or deep sleep, they also possess profoundly high states of consciousness like enlightenment or awakening—and none of our education systems teach ANY of that. Now, all of these factors I’ve mentioned . . . none of these are rare, isolated, esoteric, far-out, strange, or occult. They are all some of the very most basic and most fundamental potentials of a human being everywhere. They are simply human 101. Yet we don’t educate human 101. We educate something like human 1/10. So yes, I firmly believe that we can bring about health on this planet for the planet and the humans on it if we started educating the whole person with all their fundamental potentials and capacities and skills and stopped this fragmented, partial, broken system that we have now.
Changing a model of reality is a form of growth that often comes from epiphany or insight. It’s a sudden awakening or revelation that shifts a belief. Once you adopt a new model of reality that is superior to an older model, you can’t go back. It’s what happened to me when I moved from seeing work as a job to seeing my work as my calling. Or when someone moves from following a religion to discovering spirituality.
Once you understand the consciousness engineering approach, you can view yourself as a highly tuned operating system ready to install new hardware (models of reality) or new apps (systems for living) when needed. You never get attached to the ones you have because you know newer, better ones are always being discovered.
In short, you view yourself as always ready for change and growth.
How to Speed Up Your Learning Rate
Elon Musk was once asked in a Reddit.com Q&A: “How do you learn so fast?”
He replied: “It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree—make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”
As you think of your personal growth, think of consciousness engineering as that trunk. The two big branches are models of reality and systems for living. Everything you study in personal growth will either be a model (a new belief about money, for example) or a system (say, a new exercise or diet routine). These things cling to the two big branches.
Once you internalize consciousness engineering, every time you pick up a book to read on personal growth or health, or an autobiography of a great leader, you start to look for model upgrades that you can swap in and new systems you can adopt.
Exercise: The Twelve Areas of Balance
but what is really unique about Jon is how superbly well balanced his life is. He seems to have it all—wealth, success, a perfect marriage, great kids, and a life filled with adventure.
Jon’s secret, he claims, is how he sets his goals in life.
Jon divided his life into twelve categories, and for each category he mapped out his beliefs, his vision, his strategy, and his purpose. It’s goal setting at the deepest level. When Jon’s friends asked him what his secret was, he would teach them his system. It eventually evolved into Lifebook, a personal growth seminar you can take in Chicago, where you spend four days diving deep into different aspects of your life to create a detailed life plan.
I’ve adapted the categories (my own twelve are different from Jon’s) for this exercise to help you discover the models and systems you’re applying in your life so that you can begin to consider where you need to upgrade. I call them the Twelve Areas of Balance. Each area influences and shapes you in an important way. This exercise will help you elevate yourself on every level, leaving no part of your life behind.
When you think of your life and where you want to grow, think holistically. Too many people live lives lacking in balance. They may have great wealth but lousy relationships with their family. Or they may be incredibly fit and healthy but struggle with debt. Or they may have a career filled with achievements but feel heartbroken and lonely. An extraordinary life is balanced on all levels. Thinking holistically will help you make sure you don’t end up winning in one area but losing in another.
For each category below, rate your life on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “very weak” and 10 being “extraordinary.” Don’t think about each item for too long. Often the first impulse—your gut check—is the most accurate
- YOUR LOVE RELATIONSHIP. This is the measure of how happy you are in your current state of relationship—whether you’re single and loving it, in a relationship, or desiring one. 4/10
- YOUR FRIENDSHIPS. This is the measure of how strong a support network you have. Do you have at least five people who you know have your back and whom you love being around? 1/10
- YOUR ADVENTURES. How much time do you get to travel, experience the world, and do things that open you to new experiences and excitement? 6/10
- YOUR ENVIRONMENT. This is the quality of your home, your car, your work, and in general the spaces where you spend your time—even when traveling. 6/10
- YOUR HEALTH AND FITNESS. How would you rate your health, given your age, and any physical conditions? 6/10
- YOUR INTELLECTUAL LIFE. How much and how fast are you growing and learning? How many books do you read? How many seminars or courses do you take yearly? Education should not stop after you graduate from college. 6/10
- YOUR SKILLS. How fast are you improving the skills you have that make you unique and help you build a successful career? Are you growing toward mastery or are you stagnating? 4/10
- YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE. How much time do you devote to spiritual, meditative, or contemplative practices that keep you feeling connected, balanced, and peaceful? 5/10
- YOUR CAREER. Are you growing, climbing the ladder, and excelling? Or do you feel you’re stuck in a rut? If you have a business, is it thriving or stagnating? 2/10
- YOUR CREATIVE LIFE. Do you paint, write, play musical instruments, or engage in any other activity that helps you channel your creativity? Or are you more of a consumer than a creator? 3/10
- YOUR FAMILY LIFE. Do you love coming home to your family after a hard day’s work? If you’re not married or a parent, define your family as your parents and siblings. 4/10
- YOUR COMMUNITY LIFE. Are you giving, contributing, and playing a definite role in your community? 1/10
CHAPTER 4 - REWRITE YOUR MODELS OF REALITY - Where We Learn to Choose and Upgrade Our Beliefs
Our beliefs are like unquestioned commands, telling us how things are, what’s possible and impossible and what we can and cannot do. They shape every action, every thought, and every feeling that we experience. As a result, changing our belief systems is central to making any real and lasting change in our lives.
—- TONY ROBBINS