You’ve been taught how to do everything from riding a bike to filing taxes, but has anyone ever offered to show you how your brain works? Or what to do with it? Or what NOT to do with it? Or what to expect from it? Or how to handle it? Nope, I didn’t think so. And, yet, it’s really the only thing you need to know about. I mean, like it or not, you are stuck with it, every single day. Either it works for you, or against you. Your brain, that wonderful 3 1/2 pound universe in your skull, is the place where all the action happens. And if you’re not clued in on how to be the boss of it, you’re either not reaching your potential or your suffering when you don’t have to; you’re either struggling with your identity or agonizing over relationships; you’re either feeling your mental health is declining, or you’re on the fast track to dementia; you’re either confused or you can’t focus; you’re either fed up with yourself or down on the world. Not being the boss of your own brain is enough to make you miserable, or crazy, or both. And the worst thing is, if you aren’t the boss of your brain, someone else IS.
That thing in there is programmable. And no, I’m not talking about some kind of sci-fi mind control myth. Your brain is programmable. That’s hard, scientific fact. You’ve heard of scientists getting their rats to run mazes, their monkeys to follow directions. These scientists get their cats, cows, dogs, ferrets, fish, guinea pigs, hamsters, horses, llamas, owls, pigs, quail, rabbits, sheep, (and more) to behave in specific ways because brains are programmable. The book and movie The Manchurian Candidate was related to a number of real-world events about human mind programmability, a.k.a. mind control. Brainwashing had gripped the imagination of Americans during and after the Korean War. For most of the war from 1950-53 the Chinese and Soviet governments controlled known prison camps for Americans in North Korea, along with secret camps the then U.S. intelligence believed were in China. Whatever the mind-control programs were in these camps, they worked. American soldiers (called “Turncoats”) ratted out their American compatriots, apparently willingly turned over information to the enemy, wrote statements against the US, and even chose to defect to live in China and the Soviet Union.
Military intelligence and the CIA were desperate to understand what could motivate red blooded American fighting men to turn on their country. When the pentagon, intelligence, and the CIA interrogated and processed the X-POWs, they found one answer: Brainwashing. It turns out that with a fairly simple list of steps, you can brainwash anyone. If you are curious, read more about Dr. Robert J Lifton’s 8 Criteria for (well, what he called) “Thought Reform”. It turns out that it’s not so hard to get people’s brains to do what you want. Here is his 8-point formula in a nutshell:
(1) Control the environment and include an “us against them” aura within that environment.
(2) Create and enforce principles that seem to be divine or approved by a higher authority (than the average person), and that are exclusive to the situation. (The principles end up turning into doctrine.)
(3) Use guilt and shame to enforce the “norm” to the principles of #2. (The doctrine then becomes even stronger in the individual’s mind.)
(4) Encourage the person to become a self-righteous warrior about the principles by confessing to some aspect of his or her wrongdoing (to be relieved of not fitting the norm). (Then, the individual unwittingly aligns with the doctrine any and every time she or he does something “right” within the doctrine’s requirements.)
(5) Create and maintain an aura of sacredness around the doctrine as the ultimate moral and/or scientific truth.
(6) Use thought-stopping jargon and cliche’s that are exclusive to the doctrine, making those who won’t “join” feel “in the dark”.
(7) Make the person feel smaller than the doctrine by putting the person down if she or he so much as questions any aspect of the doctrine.
(8) Invalidate anyone and everyone who is not part of the group, solidifying the “us against them”.
Well, we know brainwashing is a thing from what we know about marketing and advertising research, don’t we? One study I read told me why I bought the toothpaste I did. I did not know a thing about “my” toothpaste or why I ever started using it. I just seemed to always put it into my cart. But, after reading the research, I realized that my brain had been “victim” to the marketing and advertising that repeated the name of the toothpaste while I heard stories of happiness and saw the happy face of good looking people smiling at me. That’s not necessarily mind control, but it sure is mind-steering. (When I decided to look deeper into what toothpaste I actually wanted to purchase, I chose something completely different, and never bought the one I’d been steered to again.) Who knows how many of “our thoughts” have been input by someone else?
The point is, any and every brain can be programmed; yours, too. All it takes are situations and commands, repetition and an unwitting subject, the 8 points of Lifton’s list, and Voila! It’s done. If you’re wandering through your life without understanding a thing about how your own brain works, chances are high that you’re unwittingly running someone else’s maze.
I like to listen and learn about neurology from the experts, and one of them, Moran Cerf, who is a professor in the Kellogg business school works with Big Tech, Pharma, and other Fortune 500 companies to help them get control of your brain’s real estate. Apart from the terrifying fact that he is only one of many neuroscientists who are teaching them how to influence (steer) your mind, he does teach us in the general public about how to protect our minds, too. Generous. Anyway, he shared what turned out to be a big takeaway for me. He said that, every day before he goes out of and when he enters into his own office, he reads a sign above his door that says “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.” That guy knows that people are trying to program his brain. He knows that his brain is doing a lot of interpretation of his world without his consent. So, he keeps that sign there in plain sight to remind himself to check in; to make sure he has a fighting chance at being the boss of his brain.
But here’s the good news: you don’t have to be a brain researcher to be the boss of your brain. It’s not about being a scientist; it’s about being informed. It’s up to you to dedicate a little bit of effort to being the boss of your brain. If you don’t do it, your life will be a dull and meaningless as anyone’s whose running in a programmed maze.
If the idea of learning anything about your brain is overwhelming, let me make it a little easier. First, you need to get acquainted with what I call “The Odd Couple”: The Beast Brain and The Cast of Characters Brain. They’re two different functions of your brain, and as different as chalk and cheese, but both are crucial players in your daily experience. The Beast Brain is your instinctual side; it’s responsible for your survival. You might relate to it as your “Fight or Flight” brain. It’s the part of your brain that makes you tired when you need sleep, hungry when you need food, horny when you need sex, obsessive when you need territory, anxious when you need your tribe, competitive when you need resources, slick when you need an advantage, and withdrawn when you need to heal. The Cast of Characters’ Brain, on the other hand, is your intuitive side; it’s responsible for expressing your priorities and values. It’s the part of your brain that makes you have feelings, imaginations, motivations, conclusions, and expectations. These two types of brains are nothing like each other, and yet they are both in there, and you are left with the challenge of that fact.
These two parts don’t exactly hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’. They operate completely differently. It makes life challenging because what the Beast Brain interprets as danger might be an interesting possibility for the Cast of Characters Brain. These two are often at odds, and if you don’t know a thing about them, and, therefore can’t interpret their reactions, you might conclude you have a mental or emotional problem – anything from dumb to depressed to lost to anxious to incompetent to the most common self-diagnosis “effed up”. But once you know what these two brains are responsible for, you get to be the “zookeeper” for your Beast Brain and the “director” for the Cast of Characters Brain. That’s what being the boss of your brain is all about. The part of you that becomes the boss of your brain is above the Beast Brain and The Cast of Characters Brain. Think of it as the “Magic I”. In fact, you can picture a kind of Magic Eye. I like to call it The Witness.
I want to bust a myth here: you are not doomed to be at the mercy of your brain. Think of your brain as a tool. It’s just a thing. It’s there for you to use. But you can only do that if you know how to wield it. And no, I’m not just talking about how to use your brain for mundane tasks like learning math, coding, getting stuff done, or writing lists. I’m talking using your brain to create your own reality; to live the life you love.
Picture yourself as a Gandalf, Galadriel, or Dumbledore of your own personal epic. You know, the way Gandalf’s power went from Grey to White, or how Galadriel overcame her hunger for power, then burst into light, or how Dumbledore always seemed to reinterpret life to come out shining? That’s you, rising above your own brain, using it as a tool instead of being used by it. It’s you, unlocking the hidden potential waiting there for you, within. It’s about seeing the light – not just any light, but the light of your true self.
Becoming the boss of your brain means diving into the nuances of both The Beast Brain and The Cast of Characters Brain. When you recognize when your Beast Brain is taking the lead with its black-and-white reactions, you call upon your “zookeeper” to set things right inside. When you recognize when one of the actors in your Cast of Characters Brain has taken over the stage in your life, setting you off in a direction of trouble, you call upon your “director” to set things right inside. All in all, you only have to get to know the 7 beasts of The Beast Brain, and the 7 actors of The Cast of Characters Brain. It’s hardly a challenge since you know them already. It’s just that you haven’t had names for them or known that YOU get to be the boss of THEM instead of the other way around.
By using your Magic I – that Magic Eye of Understanding, you begin to take control. You’re not just reacting to life; you’re creating it. This isn’t just about feeling better – it’s about being better. It’s about moving from being a passive spectator to an active participant in the narrative of your life. It’s about being the boss of your brain; that allows you to be the boss of everything about you, including your body. Your very being is at stake.
So, it’s decision time. Are you ready to create something different for yourself and the people you love and care about? Are you ready to use your tool? Are you ready to step up to be the boss of your brain? Because, let’s face it, if you are not the boss of your brain, someone else is.