The Four Agreements

By Don Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, offers us some words of wisdom to help us understand why we are the way we are and gives us guidance on how to break free from the conditioning and programming that has dominated the way we have been living our lives, and create our own path based on a new set of values of our own design.

The person that we have become is based on programming and conditioning that began before we were even born and continued through our childhood and into our adulthood. That programming is continually reinforced daily via our friends, family, society, social media, mainstream media, and even the government.

These rules that we are programmed to follow and the self-judgements that it leads to are all part of what Ruiz calls - The Domestication of Humans.

Stumbling on Happiness

By Daniel Gilbert

The goal of the book is to help the reader understand what happiness is and isn’t, why we have such a hard time finding it, and some possible solutions as to how we can get more of it.

Humans use memory to see the past, perception to see the present, and imagination to see the future, and each of these is much less reliable than we think they are. The higher evolved part of our brain, the neocortex, fills in what our memory, perception, and imagination leave out.

We are motivated to be happy, more than anything else in life, and we have been raised to believe that consuming things is what will bring us this happiness. The economy, the lynchpin of a stable society, depends on this to keep things running smoothly. But, we must understand that money and wealth cannot bring us happiness, it only sends us on wild goose chases leading to dead ends.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Flow is a state of mind that is very similar to what Abraham Maslow describes as an optimal experience. This state of flow can be described as having a sense that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound, action system that provides clear clues as to how one is performing. Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. We lose our sense of self-consciousness.

The Insulin Cycle: Understanding How Insulin Works in the Body

During digestion, foods that contain carbohydrates are converted into glucose. Most of this glucose is sent into your bloodstream, causing a rise in blood glucose levels. This increase in blood glucose signals your pancreas to produce insulin.

The insulin tells cells throughout your body to take in glucose from your bloodstream. As the glucose moves into your cells, your blood glucose levels go down. Some cells use the glucose as energy. Other cells, such as in your liver and muscles, store any excess glucose as glycogen. Since glucose in the bloodstream is toxic, if the liver and muscle tissues have reached their capacity to store glycogen, the insulin will trigger the removal and storage of the remaining glucose in the bloodstream as fat.

The Longevity Gauntlet

For most of human history, human longevity stood at around 40 years, give or take a few. And the lifespan for most humans followed the same type of pattern, for many, a brutal ending at birth or within a couple years after, for the rest, a relatively safe run through adolescence and young adulthood. They progressed through adulthood, enduring the injuries and ailments that accompanied a mostly adverse environment, and if they were lucky, they facilitated the advancement of several offspring through childhood and into adulthood themselves. While most of our ancient ancestors had the physiology to make it into old age, their environment had other ideas.

Ironically, as we “evolved” from hunter-gatherer, to farmer, to factory worker, we seemed to actually be creating an environment that fostered more things that could kill us than things that could help us live longer. The air we were breathing got worse, the food we ingested got less natural as well as the liquids we started drinking, and the products we were inhaling. For a while we were experiencing the worst of both worlds, the high infant mortality rate of our hunter gatherer ancestors as well as the lifestyle causes of death of the modern era.

Then, around the turn of the 20th century, we began cleaning up our urban environment through improved hygiene and sanitation, as well as developing antibacterial medicines. This was the one-two punch that has drastically reduced infant mortality throughout the world. These changes vastly improved our expected lifespan (life expectancy at birth), but did little for the maximum age that humans could expect to live. In fact, even today, our life expectancy, at the age of 75, has gone up very little (see graphic below).

Simple and Hard vs Complicated and Easy

There exists a profound disconnect between how much our bodies, our brains, and our minds have been evolving. Each has been evolving on a completely different timescale. Our bodies have evolved over the past several million years, our brains have evolved over the past hundred thousand years, and our minds have evolved over the past hundred years.

During the first several million years or so, since we climbed down from the trees, we evolved physically to adapt and survive in this new environment. We walked more upright, we developed stronger legs, and we lost most of our ability to swing from limb to limb. This new environment offered a much greater variety of feeding options, but it also came with a price - more predators.

We were not physically equipped for this new environment, so we had to work as a team or even a tribe. This requirement for teamwork spurred and sped up the evolution of our brains, allowing us to develop tools and strategies that propelled us to the top of the food chain. Eventually, our brains figured out how to use our environment more efficiently and even control it. We transitioned, rapidly, from hunter gatherers to farmers.

As we tamed our environment, it created a social excess that allowed some individuals in society the freedom to pursue higher levels of thinking. The results of which echoed through society and fostered the far more rapid evolution of our minds. This allowed us to explore the sciences, develop processes for manufacturing, build magnificent cities, and eventual discoveries into the deeper workings of the body, the brain, and even the mind.

Our Deprogramming

We need to take a really long and hard, and maybe even painful look at ourselves. All those things that we don’t like about ourselves, all those things that we don’t like about our lives, they were all caused by us. We did them. We did them to ourselves. We may not have created those things directly, we may not have asked for them specifically, but at the very least we created the part of our personality that allowed those things into our lives. We created the opportunity for those things to enter our lives and we chose how we would let the outcomes affect us.

We must question everything that we know about ourselves and the world around us. All the things about us, all the things in our lives, are there because of the choices we made. Most of those things were not caused directly by a single choice, but a series of choices, a chain of events, that may go far back. So far back in fact that we can’t even remember what the first choice was that started it all out. But this is where the solution lies. If we can figure out why we made the choices we have made, then we can figure out how to not make those choices again. The further we can trace back in the decision making chain of events, the closer we can get to the reason we made the choices we made. This will take us further into the core of who we really are, and this is how we will stop this cycle of questionable decision making. 

This was our programming, for better or worse. Assigning blame for our programming will do no one any good, least of all ourselves. We must first accept this before we can move forward.

Our Programming

“Our ideas are conditioned by the prejudices instilled in us by our parents, by our culture, and by the historical period we live in. They are further limited by the increasing rigidity of the mind. A bit more humility about what we know would make us all the more curious and interested in a wider range of ideas.” - Robert Greene from The Laws of Human Nature

The person that we have become today is not the person that we chose to be, nor is it the person that we would have chosen to be (most likely), if we were given the choice. But it is who we are, and it is who we have to live with for the rest of our lives. We are not just who we are, we are who we were conditioned to be. We have all experienced this conditioning since the day we were born (and maybe earlier). This conditioning has been reinforced our entire lives by our parents and extended family, our schools and the teachers they employed, the media, our neighbors, and our workplace.

The person we have become has been molded by the decisions we have made throughout our life. It may feel like we were consciously making those choices, but in reality it was our subconscious working covertly behind the scenes that was directing our decisions. And our subconscious is a direct product of our conditioning. This is our programming.

Our Hierarchy of Needs

When us humans are navigating our way through life we are constantly faced with decisions that need to be made. Some of these decisions are simple, like what we should have for breakfast, or what color shirt am I going to wear. But sometimes we must make decisions where the benefits or consequences hold much more weight. Every once in a while these decisions can be life-changing - the proverbial fork in the road. Sometimes we make the right (better) decision, which can lead to a feeling of satisfaction or happiness, and sometimes we make the wrong (less better) decision which leaves us feeling dejected, remorseful, or maybe even ashamed.