Subjective Vision, Objective Evaluation

Go ahead – believe, dream, envision, get inspired, think big.

But then evaluate. Stop believing and take an objective look at what it’s actually going to take for your Big Idea to happen. Or if you already quit your day job, take the time for a good, hard, long, skeptical look at what’s actually happening. It might not be too late to grovel your way back.

I wish I’d done that. I never got out of the subjective phase – never achieved enough escape velocity to get free of belief. I was an elite believer – a professional’s professional. I know belief like a worthy foe — all its wily, fraudulent snares.

Beware the evaluation that never gets out of belief. Belief validates itself, admits no outside counsel. Belief doesn’t want data, doesn’t need to make a budget or do market research. Belief believes – that’s its only job, and it’s the best at it. If you want evaluation you’ll have to look elsewhere. Objective assessment –- rational thought, science — thrives on doubt. It begins with the assumption that whatever it has concluded is wrong and begs you to prove it. Not so with belief. Belief has a zero tolerance policy on doubt. To doubt is to not believe, by definition. Belief doesn’t want you to know, it wants you to… well, um, believe.

Belief has no ethics, subscribes to no code of conduct. It isn’t accountable, doesn’t answer to independent, unbiased assessment. It’s free to do what it likes.

Belief don’t need no stinking facts.

In the world of belief, there’s no such thing as “independent and unbiased.” Belief rewards its own, destroys its dissenters. The polarities of belief and knowledge repel each other — an attempted interaction between a rationalist and a believer never ends well. Belief has too much at stake – it must prevail or there’s no belief anymore – doubt will wipe it out. With belief there’s no recognizing the delegate from the opposite faction. Nobody but us, no case but ours. Fact-checkers? We’re not listening la la la la. Religious doctrine? Stay out of it, we know what’s true and you don’t. Clergy or politician misbehavior, moral lapses, illegalities? Boys will be boys — we’ll give ‘em a mulligan. Batshit conspiracy theories? Have at it – the more bizarre the better. Fake news? “Do your own research”? “Freedom”? Go for it – it’s your right.

I know these things because I’ve lived on both sides. I spent over two decades as an evangelical fundamentalist cultist Christian believer. When I first started drifting out, I became a self-helper, which turned out to be the exact same religion. Both were about belief. There was no reality other than what you believed. You took flight and never touched down. Nobody called you to account, they just cheered you on, chanted more, more, more, higher, higher, higher.

Nobody ever heard of Icarus.

Christianity claimed to be accountable to its source code the Bible, but that was a sham. I was a Protestant – the religion Martin Luther founded with his sola scriptura doctrine – everybody can and should and must read the Bible for what it says to them, and the religious authorities can keep their mitts off your personal revelation. That makes Protestantism unaccountable by definition. It’s up to you. Make it say what you want. No wonder there are so many fundie whack jobs out there.

I was one of them. I ought to know.

Fortunately, I haven’t ridden the pendulum to the other side, haven’t transferred the focus of my belief to rationalism or objectivity or any other legacy of the “Age of Enlightenment.” (Spare me! Aren’t we being a little pretentious with our title?) Rationalism’s most ardent advocates are just another kind of believer. Same with a lot of atheists, who are more obnoxiously evangelistic than we were back in the day. I’m an atheist myself, but I figured out early that I wasn’t going to make it a substitute religion.

Belief of any kind is a shut-down when it comes to evaluation. It’s incapable of objectivity. Evaluation is not its job. What’s it good for? Shooting our brains full of dopamine, which they love. Dopamine inspires us, gets us moving. Gives us dreams and visions. Makes us feel hopeful. Empowers us with a sense of meaning and purpose. Stuff like that. It’s hard to argue against a dopamine high. People love that shit. Okay, do it if you need to. Just don’t do what I did all those years – all those wasteful, addicted, self-sabotaging dopamine high years, all those years of following my believing dreams from one flameout to another.

When you ask, “How’s this going to work?” or “How’s this going?” don’t listen to belief’s opinion. If your friends share your beliefs, welcome and love them, but all of you need a shot of perspective. You won’t get it from somebody who’s super-critical and cynical either, because those are signals that you’re probably dealing with somebody who’s operating with the weakest and most deceptive form of thinking, which is belief masquerading as rationality.

No, instead, find people who don’t care — people who don’t need things to go one way or the other in order to convince themselves they are valid or alive. It’s okay if they think your ideas are cool, big, inspiring, whatever… but ultimately you don’t want them invested in whether your dreams and visions play out. Find people that if you crash and burn they might just turn and look away from the wreckage and leave you there to deal. If you’re going to listen to people, listen to people like that. They’re your friends – your real friends.

Same with facts and data and trends – they might be leaning in your direction, but they’re only numbers. Sit alone in a dark theater and repeat to yourself, “they’re only numbers, they’re only statistics” until you’re convinced, and then take another look at them. Beware your own perverse ability to make them speak your language, make them love you. If they fawn all over your idea, push them away. They’ll break your heart one day. It’s not worth the thrill in the meantime.

Detachment. That’s what you want. People who respect you (they have to respect you, or get out of there fast) but don’t need to like you or need you to like them. Inspect yourself, the people, and the data like you’re checking for tics, and if you find more than one, run screaming from the room. Scour speeches and articles and analyses for biases and assumptions and calculate how much they’re warping the results and conclusions. Calculate the naysayer’s score, then round it up – way up.

Go ahead and tell your friends and family. Be grateful for their support. They’re here for you. That counts. They’ll probably think you’re nuts – not a bad thing. They might be swayed by your belief. That’s nice. But unless they’re in it whatever it is — with you, not just for you, don’t ask for more. You’d be better off if you find out what your detractors think, and then shut them up. They won’t be convinced by your belief. They’ll want RealThink. They’ll give you a reality check. That’s what you want.

Especially don’t give any weight to idea people. Idea people go through life deflecting – a likeability habit which makes it seem like they’re engaging, but they’re not. Ideas are everywhere and always and inexhaustible – so plentiful and abundant that they’re worthless. What matters are ideas of substance and commitment — the ones where somebody backs them with action and money and whatever else they can, and only then do they say “I like your idea.”

Lastly, be cautious about the pivot. If you’re pivoting from one unsubstantiated belief to another, stop it.

Just stop it.

Now.

If you’re pivoting because you originally relied on data and research and information that maybe was good once but now things have changed and it’s a whole new world out there… then, yeah, go ahead and pivot. Just pivot into something with substance, not another inspirational belief dream wouldn’t-this-be-cool vision.

So follow your heart. Be a subjective visionary. Go for it. Make your dreams come true.

But then figure out how to deliver. Be an objective evaluator. What’s it going to take, what’s it going to cost? What’s it going to look like when you get there, and how will you know? What do you need to know that you don’t? How are you going to find out what you need to know that don’t know already – especially the stuff you don’t even know that you need to know it?

And when in doubt, sit down and wait until the dopamine high passes off. Better have the inspirational hangover first, before you embarrass and impoverish yourself again.

I ought to know. I made a life of it. Now I’m a recovered beliefaholic. I’m like a nonsmoker who used to do three packs a day – the most obnoxious kind of no-tolerance don’t-tempt-me skeptic. I’m for you, but I would spare you if I could.

But I probably can’t. You like the dope too much.

See you at our next meeting. Tuesday night. Methodist church basement.

Dopamine No More! (I miss it)

I miss dopamine.

I miss the sweet emotion (queue up the song).

Dopamine makes us want to do things. Dopamine inspires and motivates, conveys purpose and meaning, makes us believe that dreams can come true.

Our hairy ancestors apparently needed it. Otherwise life was just too hard, so why bother to survive? Evolution said that won’t do – here, take a shot of this, that’ll get you going.

I was a dopamine junkie. I overdid it. Dopamine fuels belief, belief gets the internal resolve going, which fuels more dopamine which fuels more belief… The more you use, the more you want. The more you use, the more you need. You’re invincible when you’re on it, an anxious slug when you’re not.

The addictive cycle.

Pretty soon you’re out of touch. Your risk-reward regulator goes out of whack. The further out you get, the closer you get to the edge, the more thrilling it is. You’ve gone beyond surviving, now you’re thriving. No normal drudgery life for you. You’re the exception.

So you think.

It’s a lie. And the crazy thing is, people who have their dopamine under control buy the lie with you. They cheer for you, say you’re inspiring. You’re on a Hero’s Journey. You’re living the Redemption story – the Hollywood standard:  get a crazy idea, sacrifice everything, lose everything, everybody turns against you, you crash and burn, all is lost, everything is hopeless…and then… you did it! Happy ending! Hero worship! Glorious sunset! Stirring overture!

I miss all that.

I read an article about “dopamine fasting.” It’s an anti-self-help self-help technique that’s been making the rounds for a few years. I could see that. I’ve been working on it myself for about that long. Once I saw how dopamine had ruined my life, how fraudulent and full of lies and false promises it is, how it would keep ruining my life if I didn’t get it under control, I swore it off. No more periodic crash and burns for the sake of a survival need that started with getting our butts out of the cave to join a Mastodon-clubbing party.

I meant well, but I lapsed now and then. I couldn’t seem to go cold turkey – dopamine was too sneaky. One little hit – one idea that seemed so cool in the moment – and I was back in the cycle. So I needed safeguards, needed to learn not to trust my ideas, how to squelch my hopes, not follow my dreams. Life was still on the edge, but not the fun kind of edge. The new edge was overlooking The Void — an imminent drop into meaningless, purposelessness, despair.

It helped that I was overtaken by a dopamine-impairing neuro-muscular disease. It advanced slowly at first, didn’t get diagnosed for a few years. By the time I got diagnosed, it was like somebody else said – “I got diagnosed, and 6 months later I had aged 15 years.” It also helped that I became poor. Old, impaired, and poor – three things I thought I’d never be, and now I was. All three hammered my dopamine supply. Crazy ideas need lots of energy and money. If you’re old and impaired, you don’t have the energy. If you’re poor you don’t have the money. It helps.

No, I don’t sit around whining. I’ve learned to do things without feeling like it, learned to live without motivation and inspiration, without hope and joy. Don’t be disgusted at my crappy attitude. I’m not wallowing. I’m living an experiment. How do you live without all that good stuff? How do you rise above slug level when your brain doesn’t have the chemical it needs to keep you squirming along?

I can’t tell you, but I do it every day.

Truth is, there’s still some dopamine flowing up there, or I’d be done. Enough to keep me surviving, although sometimes I wonder. Enough that I still lapse now and then. My routine now is treat it like an annoying child – stop what you’re doing, give it attention, hear it out. And then, once it’s feeling better, go away and wait. That might be enough.

If it comes up again, try to find out why. What’s the hook? Soothe the idea, make it feel better at the source. You can’t do anything about it anyway – you’re too old, infirm, and poor, remember? No, it doesn’t want to hear that. It’s a child – it doesn’t process adult limitations like affordability or mobility challenges. It just wants to play. So go ahead – after awhile you’ll want to sit down and rest. Maybe it will pester you again, maybe not. It might go away right away, maybe overnight, maybe a couple days. Usually no more.

Dopamine episode solved.

You’re safe until your dopamine idea-maker fires off another one.

Rewind, repeat.

I’ve learned to deal, but I miss it. I miss believing, hoping, trusting. I miss having dreams and visions, feeling like I can do cool stuff. Life was more fun when it was full of magical thinking and delusion.

I sometimes think how easy it would be to get on meds — instant chemical relief for crappiness and despair. But then I think I’ve had quite enough magical thinking and delusion for one lifetime. When Nietzsche recognized that God had died, he worried that people wouldn’t be able to live without the sense of meaning and purpose that God had given them. His solution was to invent Superman.

It takes a lot of dopamine to be Superman. Lots of testosterone, too – another survival drug.

Superman was a disaster. Thanks anyway Friedrich, but we’ll sit this one out. No Superman for me.

And for now at least, no meds either. I’m more interested in finding out if you can actually live on the edge of The Void. I know, I know… it’s just another version of my old living of the edge – kind of a pathetic version at that. But despair is what I’ve got right now, so I’m working with it. I work out, do my learning and reflecting and reading, create my artwork. I do it because I do it. I do what I do because that’s what I do. No Hero’s Journey, no Hollywood, no motivational speaker self-help guru fame and fortune. Just getting stuff done whether I feel like it or not.

It’s probably a phase – another fit my inner child is throwing. I’d like to be a child again. I miss that, too. I never wanted to grow up. All the magic, delusion, dopamine highs.

But no. Here’s to survival! To the Void! To despair! To the nothingness Nietzsche was worried about!

And all that other adult shit.

Follow Your Dreams?

No.

Don’t do it. It will hurt you. It’s not like you think. There’s no magic that makes dreams come true.

You don’t want to hear that. You’re psyched up, ready to roar. I get that. I did the follow-your-dreams thing several times — upping the ante each time until the crash and burn (which happened every time, and will happen to you, too) was so big that I finally got… not the dream but the personal transformation it required.

I wasn’t in it for the transformation. I was in it for the dream. The dream didn’t happen. The transformation did.

Dreams require personal transformation. You might get the dream, you might not, but if you stay with it long enough, you will get the transformation. Most people don’t stay with it long enough. If they do, the transformation is sure. The dream? Not so much.

The reason you’re not living your dream already is that you’re not qualified for it. You’re not the kind of person living the kind of life and doing the kinds of things that line up with your dream. Your life is not structured around living your dream – if it were, you’d be living your dream already. Your life is structured around not living your dream. Therefore you’re not. Simple math.

It’s not just that you don’t know the right stuff or the right people, or that you don’t have experience doing the thing you dream about. All that is true – you don’t — but that’s not the point. The point is that your dream is a dream – something far away from what you are and do and have right now. The gap between you and your dream is wide and deep and long and high. There’s no getting around, under, through, or over it… not in your current form.

What your dream needs is to not be a dream at all – instead, it needs to be just the next step – the next logical, obvious thing for you to do, so that it’s not a dream at all, just the next thing. What you need to make your dreams come true is to get to that point. And to get to that point requires a complete remake of you and the circumstances of your life. Without that, there’s no getting there from here. That’s where personal transformation comes in.

Transformation is the hardest, most ruinous thing you will ever do. Transformation is a complete tear down followed by a complete rebuild with the salvageable parts (not many) plus a bunch of new ones, most of which you won’t like. It starts with the obvious — what and who you are, what you do and what you think, the company you keep, where you live and how – the usual stuff. All that has to go. You need a complete replacement of all things. That will feel hard, and you’ll be surprised and amazed, disillusioned and despairing just to get that far, but once you’ve gotten through that, transformation will be just getting warmed up.

You have no idea much it’s going to cost or how hard it’s going to be. You can try to imagine, but you have no idea. All those adjustments take time. And money. And hardship. And more – more than you think you’ve got to give. And then some more. And then a whole lot more.

There are no shortcuts. There is no magic. You think there’s going to be magic because your brain fills up with feel-good hormones when you feel inspired by your dream. Just thinking about your dream makes you feel good – like it could happen, yes to you! Don’t be fooled. That feel-good stuff is a warning signal. Think about it:  you can feel what it will be like to live your dream without doing anything toward making your dream happen. Doesn’t that make you nervous? It should. It should make you wonder what you’re missing. You’re not there yet, you’re not anywhere close, and yet it feels like you are.

That makes the self-helpers jump for joy. They’ll say, “Just look at that! Your brain can’t tell the difference between wanting something and actually having it! Isn’t that cool?! That means your brain will act like you’ve already got it, and – shazam!! – you actually will!”

Anybody who would tell you that – and there’s a whole industry full of them – is not your friend. They know just enough brain science to be dangerous.

Just thinking about your dream makes you feel good – is that a problem?

Yes it’s a problem. It’s why everybody gives up on their dreams – they’re too hard, they cost too much, and all that feel-good stuff doesn’t help at all. By the time you’re ready to actually do your dream, you’re so beat up and worn out from not being who you were when you felt good about it that you can’t believe it was you back then, wanting what you wanted and thinking you knew what it would be like when you got it, and now look at you. The reason you’ll feel that way is because you actually won’t be who you were. You will have gotten a whole psychic/biologic makeover. You will have been transformed.

Welcome to the caterpillar-becomes-a-butterfly story, in real time. Trust me – the part about being reduced to goo inside the cocoon is… well, let’s just say I could live without it.

If you’re lucky – and it will take a lot of luck – and if you do the right stuff and learn the right things and get to know the right people and learn from them and generally get yourself to the point where of course you are the kind of person who can do the thing you want – I mean, it’s right there, the next logical thing for you to do — then you might have a chance. Might. Maybe. Not guaranteed.

But if you’re really lucky, you might be okay with that.

I know all this because I’m living the dream. And trust me — if I had known this was the dream, and what it would cost to get here….

Well, no way.

All I’m sayin’.

For awhile I gave seminars on this. Then I realized people didn’t believe me. They didn’t believe I meant it when I told them, “you will suffer.” After awhile, I quit doing the seminars. It was unethical, carrying on with something I knew people wouldn’t believe, and flooding them with disclaimers and warnings wasn’t enough to make it so.

You’re waiting for me to say, “But it was all worth it.”

I won’t, because it wasn’t.

You’re waiting for me to say, “But I have no regrets.”

I won’t, because I do.

I will say I had a lot of crapola that needed to get exposed and taken care of. And I will say that once the transformation process really got rolling, I got in touch with just how little I have control over. I’m grateful for both those lessons – and some others, too. It would have been nice to learn them without all the trouble, but that never would have happened. The trouble and the learning were inseparable.

For more about how I made every mistake in the book plus a few others, check here. For a Jungian look at transformation, check here. Both links take you to  free downloads — free like a crummy old couch by the dumpster with a sign on it that says “take it” is free. They’re not bait and switch. Honest. I’m out of the seminar business, remember?