Psych-Hack: Kill Your Ghosts

Skeleton_IconI’m still shaking off the existential heebie-jeebies I got from reading “Going Clear”, but it did get me thinking about how common it is for us to “surrender power” – to family, to friends, to employers, cult leaders – pretty much anybody. Even more crazy, we’re more likely to give up power to people that treat us badly, as long as they seem to believe their point of view more strongly than we do ours.

On one hand, given how nuts we tend to be, I figure we’re lucky we’re not living in a Mad Max-style distopia of roving gangs. On the other hand, we also seem capable of great generativity and kindness – even if we’re still overwhelmingly bound to various tribal identities (religions, governments, countries, sports teams).

Dualistic thinking (us vs. them, good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, etc.) is the fastest way to teach concepts to children (fire bad!), and as we age and develop – even though we become capable of more complex thought – we’re so conditioned to binary opposition that to question it feels like an aggression against nature, so we stay in the groove. This is the “ghost” I speak of killing – and it needs some killing. It keeps us in fear, in bad relationships, bad jobs, bad self-worth.

PyramidBefore I jump into that, a quick caveat – don’t worry about this stuff if you haven’t taken care your physiological and safety needs (as conceived in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Once you’ve got your feet under you from a survival standpoint, you’re ready to kill some ghosts.

Dumping binary thinking for a life where you call your emotional shots, where you’re comfortable with paradox is either easy or hard, or someplace in-between based on how hard-wired your need to be “right” is. But I encourage you to try, as many times as it takes. The reward is a life free of regret, fear, anxiety and that haunting sensation that things aren’t quite right with your life.

1. Believe you can

S_SatoriI start from this assertion: reality is what you think it is, it is a construct of your mind – fact is you must perceive a thing to know it and in that perceiving your mind creates it  (if you believe it’s natural to be depressed, it is. If you believe it’s normal to hate your job, it is, etc.)

The first step toward owning your thoughts, is to believe that you do. I find it’s helpful to begin with the statement “I’m probably wrong about everything”. This gives you the freedom to explore, thinking you’re “right” about anything is a useless and limiting paradigm (if what you want is a life free of ghosts). If you’re “right” why try? Instead think “I’d rather be X (X=happy, successful, strong, creative, whatever it is you want from life) than right”.

The important thing here is to believe you have the ability, the right, the permission to change your mind (how you perceive) to suit your needs. That you don’t live in a hard and fast reality frightens most people, so much that they’re willing to give up their personal freedom and identity in order to have a concrete view of what “should” be.

Don’t be one of those people. It’s sad.

2. Know what you want

ChessThis is probably the hardest thing, we people LOVE wanting things when they’re fuzzy and ill defined. We want wealth, love, admiration, happiness, respect – all things we can have, but by not defining EXACTLY what we mean by these words we trap ourselves into a hamster wheel of desire without action – this is a ghost.

Now that you own you mind, own what “reality” is, it’s your responsibility to not only say what you want, but to define it in a way that you’ll know when you’ve got it. This is its own skill, and you need to develop it – but don’t let that be an excuse to delay. If you worry about not being loved – get a sheet of paper out and define it – in great detail. You’ll find there’s parts that you control, and parts you do not. Get to work on the parts you control, and consciously resolve not to think or worry about that parts you don’t.

Ambiguity is the thing that drives us nuts, and as usual for us nutty humans, we tend to romanticize ambiguity.  Don’t do it. If you’re stressing over something (that isn’t a physiological or safety need), I guarantee there’s ambiguity, there’s some part you haven’t defined, there’s a part you control and a part you don’t – experiment with this, you’ll see it’s true.

If you feel you don’t know what you want out of life – that’s on you. Don’t wait for lightening bolts or somebody else to tell you – do it for yourself. You might be get it wrong – who cares? You can choose to do something else. In my experience, I’ve known what I want many times, it changes, and that’s awesome. Don’t fear your power – if you feel like you need to fear something, fear other people having power over you!

3. Parent Yourself

02_OnTheShortnessOfLifeOkay, you believe you can choose what you want your life to be, and you’ve decided what you want – now what? If you’ve got a bunch of great people around you willing to support you, that’s awesome, accept all the positive help you can get – it’s a gift. Even if you’re lucky enough to have that, you still need to provide the mothering and fathering energy your parents (if you were lucky) once did.

As a grown-ass adult, it’s your job to provide all of your necessary emotional  superstructure – you can get extra from others, and that’s great – but when it comes to creating the life you want you must have reserves of strength to draw upon that are internal.

Think about what great parents do – they provide guidance, they tell you what kind of people you should hang out with (and what knuckleheads to avoid), they provide emotional support when you’re down, they provide discipline when you’re off the rails. (If you’re like me you probably rejected most of this solid input, but it’s lodged in there somewhere.) Now it’s your job to provide all of this, you are your own counselor, mentor and coach.

If you have no models for this, and sadly many people had parents who ranged from bad to poor to simply over-matched by the challenges of parenthood – find models for yourself. Maybe you need to see a mental health professional, maybe you need to take a class, maybe you just need to do research on the web – my point is simply that if you didn’t get it naturally it’s still available to you.


I may have bitten off more than I could deliver on in this post (shocker), this is both a very simple and amazingly complex idea. If nothing else, I hope I’ve provided some good food for thought, I sincerely believe that everyone who’s willing to be win/win and add value to the universe deserves the gifts this amazing universe has to offer. Often we’re the architects of our own dissatisfaction, which in a way is great, because if we can architect a bummer life we can create create an excellent one.