Ideology is the masterpiece of the art of animal training, because it trains people as to how they should think. – Arthur Schopenhauer
Ambition makes slaves of us all, filling our heads with fantasies of a better life. Any great human is war torn by ambition, you can see it eating them from the inside out. Their bodies broken trying to remind themselves to eat and to love, yet in their minds they’re in the tight grip of ecstatic visions of a future, moving through the present as if it were made of ghosts, an intermission between them and their goal. Any creature of ambition leaves all forms of family and friends in their wake while they blaze on towards a dream that only exists in the ethereal fabric of their imagination. They abandon all distractions, repeating to themselves as they ramble, Do not let anything hold you back. What a powerful and lonely existence is a person of ambition.
Ambition is not a choice, it is like a fire that takes flame within a person’s soul, and just as quickly it can die in a person and leave them on the cushions in the living room at twelve noon watching a Netflix series they have already seen three times. All of a sudden they notice a character living the life that they want, and so, they wake up at 7 am the next morning, shave (face or legs, depending on gender) and march back out into the fire. Our ambitions are fueled by our primal desire to aspire to a better lifestyle: to seek more excitement and freedom, to be both challenged and safe.
Ambition tortures us because it constantly tells us that we could have better circumstances if we simply tried, and it insults us at our weakest moments when we feel we don’t have enough by telling us that it is because we didn’t try, even suggesting that we are worthless: Ambition is a bit of a prick.
Eating deeply at us with its greedy demands, Ambition drives us to turn to our culture for answers. We type in sorrows to google like: My life isn’t exciting enough, How to become rich fast, or Am I too old to travel? We look to the billboards coating our cities and the magazines lining the tills at our grocery stores. In them we see beautiful people living the lifestyle that we aspire to, and it hurts, because we don’t have it. We don’t have all the facebook friends or the photo’s at badass parties. Our ambition becomes a vacuum which then seeks for solutions to this sorrow: Lose weight and you will be more beautiful, Dress like a hipster and you will be accepted, Get a good job and girls will like you. We try to buy the solution using the only method our culture has taught us: consumption.
Feeding an ambition is like putting wood on a fire. Each new friend, outfit or lifehack will keep the flames going but in time you’ll find them reduced to embers. We will find that nothing really has changed once the flames die down except we are older and covered in the ashes of regret. Everything we seek in the world with the intention of fixing us will not help, because ambition wants us to gain a lifestyle, and a lifestyle is not a collection of consumer products: It is a way of thinking.
The curse of all ambitious people is that they are trapped by their lifestyles, they cannot enjoy their life as it currently is. There are two options to deal with this and both are valid. One is to start practicing Buddhism and accept your fate. The other is developed across the coming paragraphs: the idea that changing your mind will change your life (Which is essentially the attitude of Buddhism). This idea hinges upon a crucial presumption, that there is something wrong with how we are thinking about the problem, and as Einstein once said:
No problem can be solved by the same kind of thinking that created it.
We need to get our definitions straight, because definitions are really serious business. Say I came up to you on the street with a large box and said: Hey do you want this cat? Since you are a cat person you would jump with glee and rip open the box only to be eaten by the lion inside, and then you would be very mad at me. This is why definitions are so important: It’s a matter of life or death.
The most important definition right now is about ideology. You see, there is a lot going on in the world, and not just in Hollywood or Palestine. The world at any given place and any given time is exploding with information. Go out and stand among a local market and hears the thousands of voices compete with the birds and traffic, stay in and stare at a blank wall until eventually you can see the millions of ripples on the paint and pick patterns in out of them like the clouds while your thoughts rush through your head, or you could even try going to sleep and end up in a strange dream where a lion fits inside and cat sized box. All this info pours into your mind via your senses where it is sorted into a coherent perspective.
Say for example I wake up and find myself in a giant cylinder seemingly made of plastic, and full of seats occupied by other humans. I might think this odd and look out the window to my left only to see that I am miles above the clouds. I then start panicking wondering if we are falling. I grab the strange uniformed lady walking down the aisle and ask her what is going on, to which she says: The cue for the bathroom is fifteen minutes sir.
Through learning we establish certain presumptions in our minds which help us quickly make sense of the world. This is an ode to our jungle living ancestors, who would have had to immediately understood that any time they saw a large orange and black beast running towards them and growling, that they shouldn’t admire it’s beauty, but they should shout: Tiger! and run. This technique was the creation of a mindset or outlook which we default to when dealing with the world. We take a series of values and beliefs that we have learned and blend them together in a way that makes sense to us. This system of beliefs and ideas is what I am going to define as an ideology.
I won’t say this is the absolute definition of ideology, because ambiguity is the surest way of being right, but this is how I am going to use the term and so, this text is going to focus on how we can engineer our ideologies to change our lives. To do this we need knowledge of how ideologies are related to our minds.
Imagine your brain like computer hardware. To use computer hardware we need to load an operating system onto it like Windows or Mac. An ideology is an operating system which is loaded onto your brain. Perhaps you are operating using Scientific Atheism 1700 or Strict Catholicism AD 300. Operating systems support a variety of applications, but they can only host certain applications which match their design, that is why you can’t play games on mac computers. Similarly, certain ideologies are incompatible with certain ideas. If for example you were running on Scientific Atheism 1700, you would be able to support ideas like Darwinian Evolution, but if you tried to embrace an idea like say, God, you would keep getting an error message:
Yet if you were operating on Strict Catholicism AD300, the very mention of God would immediately start up an application in your imagination where you give gratitude to an all loving higher power personified as a father figure. Inversely, the first mention of an idea like Darwinian Evolution would recall the above error message.
We upload ideologies to our brains to assist us in making sense of our surroundings, the trade off is always a certain narrow mindedness. This narrow mindedness is born out of identifying ourselves with our ideologies. Take how the average person describes themselves, they might tell you: I am a Muslim, I am a Scientist or I am Swiss. Instead of seeing themselves as the hardware (The brain and the body that contains it) they identify with the software (The system of ideas loaded onto the brain). We must turn to how ideologies affect our actions.
When you believe in something, or follow a creed, you begin acting in accordance with its principles. This set of principles has many names: ethics, manners or etiquette. Our actions are intimately linked to our ideologies. For example, it is rare that you’ll find a Protestant man with more than one wife, yet meeting a polygamous Muslim man wouldn’t exactly be a surprise. Each ideology carries with it a law which dictates, either by pride for adhering or shame for disobeying. Ideology programmes our actions in the same way that a computer program acts depending on the computer code that makes it up. Avoiding the debate about the sovereignty of each of these ideologies and their laws, let’s us examine this relation critically. Ideology and action are linked, action and lifestyle are linked. How can we use these links to our advantage?
To explore this question I have assumed a formula which displays how ideology is linked to lifestyle by reverse engineering, I have found that:
-Your lifestyle is a result of your habits.
-Your habits are the result of your actions.
-Your actions are the result of your thoughts.
-Your thoughts are the result of your ideology.
This formula is the relationship we will explore throughout the remainder of this piece. It is important to note the level of automation implied within each of these relationships. Your ideology only starts affecting your thoughts when it has been programmed into to the point that it becomes unconscious. This is why it seems so convincing, because the thoughts come out of nowhere and seem to you to be your own. You might see a group of neopagans burning their late relatives on a barge and allowing the boat to flow into the ocean, causing you to think: That’s a stupid funeral. But this may only be because of your Christian upbringing, if a Hindu witnessed the same scene it would make perfect sense to them, because they are known to perform a similar ritual.
Each step up in the above formula requires automation of the previous step for it to truly take effect, and it is this process which we will take advantage of, because by doing this we can plant an ideology in ourselves and like a gardener, tend it until it flowers in our mind, habits and life. Which leads us to a crucial truth about life: if you’re having a really bad time, and I hope your not because you’re lovely, it’s probably because your ideology is bad. Life is that simple.
I’m sniggering: life is far more complicated than that…
…It has to be.
The Wisdom Of Habits
If you wanted oranges, you wouldn’t plant apple trees, because you’re not an idiot and you understand that you reap what you sow is a universal law of nature, known also a cause and effect. Why then, if I want a happy life, would I seed my mind with unhappy thoughts? Is my mind the exception to this universal law? No. This self evident principle must be understood and used to our advantage. We must actively seed our mind with a way of thinking that will produce the lifestyle we want (assuming we don’t already have it). To do this we need to break the mold and engage ourselves with new thoughts. Here we hit our first hurdle: new thoughts do not come from the same system of thinking, ala our ideology, just like how oranges won’t yield from a field of apple trees. To change our life we start by challenging our ideology.
When the idea of challenging your ideology is suggested it often causes repulsive responses, it is like our ideology itself gets offended. Because we so often identify with our ideology we feel changing it is impossible, to us it is like changing who we are. This line of thinking is protective of our ideology. Even if we are not happy, but comfortable, we can find ways to justify maintaining our ideologies. You probably know people that are conditioned by an ideology that holds hard work up as a supreme virtue, they take great pride in it, but every time you see them their faces are more and more worn out from overwork.
Yet they might get offended by the idea that hard work is nearly useless without intelligence. They may refuse to wonder why do many CEO’s work only four days a week for triple the pay? They may value a job based on its wage as opposed to how the amount of money you get for your time? What if they already know this but understand a crucial fact, they’re not smart enough to have that life of satisfactory time and money? That life is for the other lucky and smart people.
Focus is the skill gifted to all of us as a birthright, that is to say that everyone can learn to focus their mind, as opposed to something like IQ which you literally have or you don’t. Our ability to focus our attention is a superpower that stands above intellect in its capacity to define mediocre performers from the outstanding performers, not all success takes intellectual mastery, but all success takes focus. Now don’t get me wrong our intellects are brilliant, but they are limited in that they can only deal with the fruit of our ideology. If we have planted and ideology of apple trees our intellect will only be able to deal in apples, if our intellects are good we may even become an expert of apples, but it takes the non intellectual ability of focus to wind back and look at the situation from a higher level of thinking. Focus can see that despite all the pride we have in our understanding of apples, we actually just need oranges.
Our brains are hardware and our ideologies are software. Our goal is to re engineer our software to give us a more improved lifestyle. To do this we must move beyond the software and into the very hard wiring of our minds, often termed our unconscious minds. And so our intellects fail us because they are trapped within the ideology we are currently running on. We need to use our focus, like a gardener, who stops musing about the nature of the fruit and digs down into the soil in order to examine the seeds. What we have seeded deep in our minds determines how we live. This is because our lifestyle is just a collection of habits, our habits are the seeds of our lifestyle: they are actions which we perform unconsciously, ala without thinking.
Our conscious minds, which is the realm of our intellects, can do wonderful things but it is very prone to getting over-loaded, like a computer which is hosting too many applications at once, it simply freezes up. Imagine if you had to regulate your heartbeat consciously, while at the same time store memories and balance your moods, all while driving your car safely on the road. Our unconscious minds manages all of these tasks for us so our intellects can focus on the immediate environment, to watch out for dangers like cyclists or two for one offers.
This automation is the process we want to master for our purpose of taking control over our lifestyle. This is because habits are the expressions of our unconscious minds. The habits we seed ourselves with determine the lifestyle we live, even the entire reality we experience. Ask yourself why you always believe your dreams are real until you wake up: because you are not in the habit of questioning your reality. You trust your unconscious mind so instinctively that if it presents you with a giant octopus wearing a bowler hat and cracking jokes about the political climate in america, you don’t even wonder if what you’re seeing is not real.
Our goal is to train the unconscious mind to develop better habits. This is both effective and easy, because you train it every day with every single deed and thought that goes into it through your experience, and your experience is determined by what you focus on. The process is to maintain your focus on an experience until it becomes habitual, in which case your unconsciousness will take it over and automate it. The secret to mastery and success in any endeavour lies in this very simple process. A novice singer must first focus on keeping the space in the back of their throat open to allow their voice to resonate. After this becomes habit they work on placing the sound into their mask, and once that is automatic they focus on relaxing their larynx. After many years of building habits they are able to hit notes and do runs like Pavarotti that used to literally exhaust them when they were amateurs.
This is why the common trait of mastery is always effortlessness, because the goal of mastery is to programme your unconscious to perform how you want it to, that’s why all greats spend their career training their habits, and that is why greatness may appear to some as natural ability. Indeed they may have had these good habits since birth, but the difference between learned mastery and mastery from birth is non existent, because they use the same process: unconscious programming.
On the flip side you are told it takes a set amount of time to reach mastery, say 10,000 hours. This is hyperbole at best. All you need to to is progressively train your mind in good habits. As these good habits build upon each other you get better and better, until eventually high level performance becomes second nature.
How often do you hear great musicians say: “I became the music.”
Or great athletes say: “I just did it without thinking.”
These people have practiced themselves into mastery, but not by mindlessly racking up hours under a practice makes perfect ethos, these people have slowly and methodologically programmed themselves to develop good habits. The nature of all elites is their capacity to practice. We are going to take the lessons from them and use them for ourselves because practice is about establishing habits. A lifestyle is a collection of habits, and so, we are going to practice our way into the lifestyle we want. This is the wisdom of habits.
Practice is about repeating a thought, idea or behaviour for the period of time necessary to make it stick unconsciously. That’s why they say when you learn something you never forget it. It is said that it takes twenty one days to form a habit, but I can’t be empirical due to a variety of opinions, so I ask you to seek this knowledge yourself. But there are core principles of practice:
-Practice something wrong and you will perform it wrong.
-Practice something perfect and you will perform it perfect.
Using the wisdom of habits and the focus required to practice we can effectively begin building our minds and watch our efforts blossom into a new lifestyle.
Travelling as if You’ve Already Arrived
There is an art to knowing what you want, and this art hinges around action. You will never really know if a life is for you until you live it. You might think you want to be a professional athlete, but when you start waking up at 6am and eating nothing but lettuce all day to cut weight for competition you might find the dream did not match reality. Live the questions and commit to seeking long and hard for the answer and you will come to know, through trial and error, what type of life you wish to live, perhaps even the life you were born to live.
The point of this text is to attain the life you are seeking at this moment in time. Will this be the life that fulfils you? Who knows, but it is worth pursuing nonetheless. Crucial to this endeavour is living the life you want, before you have it. To do this we use the relationship between ideology and lifestyle to our advantage. Whatever ideology has taken root in a person’s mind eventually blossoms into a lifestyle. If my ideology is grounded in business capitalism, my lifestyle will likely involve lots of coffee, suit pants and following Forbes magazine on twitter. If my ideology is based off reading On The Road by Jack Kerouac and the dubstep scene I grew up in, my lifestyle might take place in Berlin, where I wake up everyday at noon, take photos for my instagram by day and DJ at night.
Awareness of the causal relationship between ideology and lifestyle is our empowering idea. Every single person you meet is operating based on whatever ideology has taken root in their mind, be it through education, self discovery or parentage. The Dalai Lama was brought up on Buddhism and so lives a Buddhist lifestyle. A musician may have had a “calling” and so practices her instrument four hours a day. A lady may have been mugged while walking through Camden, New Jersey and subsequently raised a racist son.
To get our sticky fingers between this process and use it to our advantage we need to define our goal into words, for example: “I want to be able to feel secure walking down a street with my girlfriend.” I then as what lifestyle would give me this security, and I may arrive at the idea of martial arts. Therefore my goal is clearly defined as the lifestyle and not some misplaced desire for, dare I say it, associated respect, fame or even money. I tell myself there is nothing wrong with wanting these things, I just have to be clear with pursue them directly via lifestyles that bring them. After thinking about this I conclude that martial arts is the way to achieve my goal, and so we return to the formula:
-Your lifestyle is a result of your habits.
-Your habits are the result of your actions.
-Your actions are the result of your thoughts.
-Your thoughts are the result of your ideology.
Our goal then is to choose an ideology that will set the ball rolling. So I rock down to the library and buy a book on Bruce Lee. I go onto youtube and look up videos of Ronda Rousey and Muhammad Ali. I visit my local MMA gym and have a short talk with the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach. I buy a journal and write down everything I’m learning and especially ideas that seem to come up repeatedly. Soon I have a page circling ideas like Respect, Self Discipline, Challenge and Technique. Then comes the first big step: I have to program my mind with this sketched out ideology.
The very act of reading or hearing these ideas begins this process, but the problem is we are still using our thinking, which is locked within our current ideology. What we are trying to do is overwrite our current ideology. Say I am a devout pacifist, becoming a martial artist may be incongruent with such an outlook, so I have to reprogram my outlook: I have to change my software.
This is difficult because ideology has a very important evolutionary use: judgement. Back in the jungle when a creature entered our vision we had to know whether it was going to eat us or if it could be eaten, so our ideologies are geared toward judging and judging quickly, because for most of human history it meant life or death. Take this concept and extend it to the mind. When an idea enters the mind our ideology immediately judges it compared to its standard. Is it a good idea or is it a bad idea.
What we need to do is step outside ideology and treat all things and ideas as neutral, meaning not judging them as good or bad, and opening our minds to a different way of thinking. There are many ways to get to this place, you can out wit all your deeply embedded notions (ie. The Nazi’s weren’t bad, they were just reacting to the Versailles treaty) another way is through meditation, which is a fantastic practice when done right. The simplest way to me is simply to nourish new ideas with attention, like how a gardener nourishes seeds. If any flickers of judgement occur we reassure ourselves that we are doing this for the sake of achieving our goal. We can even tell ourselves that it is not permanent, merely a temporary means to an end, like how a fighter might have to convince himself that he hates his opponent in order to get the best performance out of himself, but then the second he wins the fight he hugs his opponent in respect.
This new ideology eventually takes root and we become receptive to a style of reality, in this case the martial artist’s way. We begin to think related to how Bruce Lee was informing us. We begin to take a keener interest in all forms of conflict. We begin imagining techniques in our mind. We find ourselves signing up to tuition under a local coach. Soon we are practicing kicks on the wall waking up our neighbours. Soon our family is delighted because we have given up smoking. Soon our better half is raging because we keep trying to wrestle them instead of engage in more romantic activities.
We keep affirming the core ideas which have been having this effect and editing them to be more effective. Now we are in a prime position to take the final hurdle: actively install habits. Habits will arise naturally due to the ideologies feedback loop, but to increase progress we install habits. As aforementioned this is the point of practice, to make our habits world class so we can perform without thinking. A habit takes root when we practice it correctly and process the practice through sleep over a number of days, think ten minutes everyday for a month. The more you micromanage your habits the better you’ll get and the faster you’ll get it.
Once habits begin to show up it is a sign that your unconscious mind is bearing the fruits of your efforts. You can then reassess and determine is the lifestyle your leading going to get you your goal. I find that I can now walk down any street and feel like a badass who can protect my girlfriend, but I then notice a problem: all those late nights at the gym, coming home smelling like sweat and general lack of attention has lost me the girlfriend I was trying to protect. Now I need to create a new plan of action, using the tool of destruction.
You can pursue several goals at once, that is interface using several ideologies and so have several different lifestyles at one time, which may sound crazy, but tell me how does the working man be a businessman by day, a rugby player in the evenings and a husband and father at night? Different ideologies can be congruent with each other, infact, contrasting ideologies can even work together when applied with skill. How else would an undercover agent be both a criminal and a police officer? There is no rule to what strange mash of lifestyles you can assume, nor any implication that you need to be any more than one. A musician may simply live and breathe her instrument when she is trying to make it. A pro poker player may have a day job as a maths teacher.
Infact you probably are already pursuing several goals as it is, and you may not even be aware of them. You might have been brought up being told to be a good person, but also to be a successful person, and you find that you can’t get ahead in your job because you’re not ruthless enough, but every time you try you feel guilty and begin turning the criticism on to yourself, calling yourself a wimp, as opposed to becoming aware of your hidden ideologies that work silently in your unconsciousness.
Until we become aware of how we have been programmed and the motivations that inspire that programming we feel like our minds are a labyrinth, a maze with endless surprises and dark turns, simply incomprehensible. This type of experience can bog us down and even make us break down, like a machine full of cogs all competing against each other, like when a computer has too many applications open and it freezes, our only option is to click task manager and delete.
This is the art of destruction, for you need to abandon the safety of familiar ideologies and goals in order to wipe your disk. Destroying your ideologies is the first step to being free.
How do you destroy?
Well like how a program needs to be installed, it also needs to be uninstalled. So let’s review the installation process:
Your ideology creates your thoughts
Your thoughts create your actions
Your actions create your habits
Your habits create your lifestyle
Our goal then is to choose an ideology that will set the ball rolling. I buy a journal and write down everything I’m learning and especially ideas that seem to come up repeatedly. Now I have to program my mind with this sketched out ideology. We need to become open minded and detach ourself to the neutral state of pure focus. From here we give the ideas our full attention, which is untarnished by judgement.
What we do is begin this process again and use our attention in its destructive form. This is dependent on a simple concept: Our attention is like the sun. That spotlight of focus is like solar heat. When we give something our attention we nourish it and it grows. When we deprive something of our attention is withers and dies.
This is a subjective rule, meaning that it only has effect for your life. If you ignore your wife, she probably won’t go away, you’ll just stop noticing her (Although in time…)
So when reprogramming ourselves we take the foundations of our old ideology, the ideas, and address them. We take each idea in our mind and then take our focus away from them, essentially by putting them into nothingness. We don’t label them evil, as that is judgment, we just accept that we have no use for them at the present. This process knocks out the pillars from any actions and habits based off these ideas, soon the whole structure falls apart leaving you will a clear head again, to rebuild for a new goal.
Whenever you have completed a goal, or even realized a goal is unachievable and needs to be modified, you need to destroy it and the ideology and lifestyle it set in motion. The crucial realization for this is understanding who you are. You are that neutral space, that pure focus, you’re not you’re ideology, or your values, or your beliefs, these are all tools. Tools which you use to achieve an end. When you have no more use for something you don’t drag it along with you. Once you cross a river you don’t drag the boat across the land. Destroy any residual ideologies, and destroy them frequently, so that you avoid the crucial mistake of becoming a slave to your own ideas.