Technology writer and public speaker John Hargrave’s self-improvement book, Mind Hacking: How to Change Your Mind for Good in 21 Days
(2016), draws on the author's struggles with alcoholism to help us learn how to re-wire our brains to encourage certain behaviors that lead to successfully accomplishing our goals.
Hargrave’s central thesis focuses on replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Positive thinking is hardly a new or revolutionary tactic, but with Mind Hacking
, the author sets out very specific exercises we can do to facilitate these positive thoughts. Most of these exercises are based on the same principles as writing code for computing programs, hence the term "mind hacking." Hargrave divides the process of hacking our brains into three main steps: analyzing, imagining, and reprogramming.
The first step, analyzing, focuses on becoming self-aware of the existing "source code" of our mind. In this section, Hargrave introduces key terms like "Mind Movie" and "Metathinking." Mind movie is a term he uses to help us better separate ourselves from our mind. "You are not your mind," the author intones. Rather, we should begin to experience our own thoughts as if watching a movie. This disengagement, Hargrave writes, is essential for the later steps of reprogramming our minds. Metathinking, meanwhile, is the act of thinking about our own thinking. Hargrave also introduces the term "Superuser" here. A Superuser, in computing parlance, is someone who has increased access to the inner-workings of a computer program. We could also think of this as someone with administrator access to our computers.
In addition, much like computer programs work by initiating and executing "loops," Hargrave encourages us to develop "habit loops" for our mind. These exercises include, for example, concentration exercises, in which you relax our body and breath, taking note of each time your mind wanders and where it wanders. To make it so our minds begin to do these exercises out of habit in unconscious loops, Hargrave suggests creating an internal reward system called "awareness points." Each time you notice your mind wandering from a task, for example, reward yourself an awareness point. Keeping track of these rewards, even though they are invisible and imaginary, help rewire our brain to incentivize itself for acts of positive, focused thinking.
Hargrave also has special exercises for dealing with problems. For example, he suggests asking the question "Why?" five times before trying to come up with an answer to emphasize the true root of problems. He also encourages using the third-person, asking ourselves, "If this was happening to someone else, how would that person deal with it?" The author goes on to note the importance of identifying which emotions precede particular thought patterns. Hargrave calls this the METAL system, "My Emotion-Thought-Action Loop." Simply removing emotion from the equation of problem-solving isn't enough, Hargrave says; emotions are too powerful. Instead, it's better to identify these emotions, dissecting the ways in which they affect decision-making and action.
In the next step, step imagining, Hargrave encourages us to imagine possible alternatives to our go-to emotion-thought-action loops. This is where the act of replacing negative thought patterns with positive ones comes into play. He also advises us to imagine a mind-state in which what we want to achieve has already been accomplished. Some people sum up this practice as "Fake it ‘til you make it," though usually that term is applied to our outward social interactions. Here, Hargrave uses it as an internal thinking process.
However, the imagining and replacing on its own isn't enough, according to Hargrave. We need to teach our brains to do this on their own, hence the third step, reprogramming, comes into play. Once various positive thought loops have been established, Hargrave recommends writing these loops down and placing them in areas where we will see them every day. He also emphasizes the act of incentivizing the brain for positive thinking loops. Again, these incentives don't have to be real or substantive, as long as we keep track of them. Think of them as points earned in a video game: we still care about them even if they have no direct bearing on our lives. Hargrave says it's important to use as much of our downtime as possible reiterating these loops in our head, whether it's in the shower or in traffic on the way to work.
In Mind Hacking
, the author puts forth not only good advice on the importance of positive thinking, but also actual exercises we can rely on to re-wire our brains. Having a background in coding is helpful to putting Hargrave's tactics into action, however, it’s not a requirement, as the author explains many of the fundamentals of computer programming throughout the book, clearly and succinctly.