You were born as a tiny blank game board with three inbuilt rules:
1. Don’t die
2. Make friends
3. Use Your Imagination
And you instinctively knew how to stick to them: You cried when you needed food, you loved the big humans assigned to look after you, and you used your eager brain to copy what they do.
As you grew you learned that there are other important rules to follow. Few are taught in the form of sit-down lectures. It’s far more subtle. They came when you watched the way important people around you interacted with the world. They happened when 4-year-old you overheard your parent say that money is hard to get, or as you watched them shun their reflection every day. Or you learned them when you discovered that being funny got you attention and being smart earned you praise.
Your rules still influence what you believe to be true about money, relationships, body image, sex, diet and exercise, religion, your self-worth, other people, and so on. But your view is not the same as everyone else’s. What you believe to be fact is just a story you have invented as a way to make sense of your world.
All Humans Have Their Own Rulebooks
Your brain sucks in so much sensory information every second that it would be impossible to store all of it. It would explode. Most of it isn’t important anyway. It’s not key to your survival that you know exactly how many trees are on your walk to work. What we actually pay attention to is mostly subconscious.
Your Animal Brain tells your Mammal Brain which important bits to store in your memory, and then your Human Brain attaches meaning to the memory to help you make sense of it. A great example of this is what happens if there’s suddenly a rustling in those trees you’re walking past:
ANIMAL BRAIN = That may be a thing that could eat me.
MAMMAL BRAIN = Quick store that information and try and remember if it has happened to us before so we know whether to run or not.
HUMAN BRAIN = Don’t be a knob, it was probably just the wind or a cat.
But not everyone would interpret the rustling in the same way as you did. Differences in culture, upbringing, influences and experiences might mean that while you think “cat”, others think sexual predator, or tiger, or street robber, or Pennywise the Clown, or just close friend playing a trick.
Each human is playing a different game, despite having the same gameboard and basic rules… one of us may be playing Twister whist another is in a tight game of Monopoly.
Changing Games is Hard
It’s not as easy as just packing away the Chess board and cracking out the Snakes & Ladders. Once our brains have decided that chess is the game for us, it does all it can to keep us pushing those pawns around.
Brains expert at deleting superfluous information to save memory space, and in proving us with explanations for the information we store. But our rules go one step further too, and actively change the information. It always has to fit in with the game we play. If a red poker chip was put on our chess board, our brain simply paints it black, and pretends it’s another knight.
We distort and generalise information, so it fits it with our view of the world. This doesn’t give us the truth of the situation; it only serves to confirm that our rules and assumptions are correct.
- Fatphobes won’t believe the evidence that you can be fat, fit, and healthy.
- Misogynists will joke that their female colleague only got the promotion over him because she fucked the manager.
- People who believe that money is hard to make will not see all the money they frittered away on crap whilst also self-sabotaging any effort to make more.
- Women who complain there’s no good men, can’t see that they’re dating the same type of asshole over and over, whilst friend-zoning whoever might treat them right.
You miss all the cues that tell you there’s better games than chess. You just won’t see them because you’re only ever looking for evidence that chess is the best.
Stop Playing Chess
Whilst chess is a cool game, if playing it means you end up flipping the board or feeling like a dunce then maybe it’s just not for you. If you aren’t currently playing your best game and aren’t living your perfect life, then maybe it’s time we started creating a new one. And the way we do that is to write new life rules.
Some of our rules are powerful and supportive, but we’ll find a bunch of limiting ones. They tend to govern our self-worth and fears. Most limiting rules – if we dig deeply enough – are rooted in our Animal Brain’s fear of rejection which would lead to us being kicked out of the team meaning certain death.
So are you ready to begin the work? It’s not easy but the results will create a game of life which you don’t just play, but you win every day for the rest of your life.