Arguments with the voices in my head
Have you ever had an argument in your own head? I’m not talking about daily mental struggles like a debate over whether you should get out of bed or not. I am talking about something more significant. Something jarring enough that it causes a near existential crisis. Like finally realizing what your parents had to have been doing in order for you to be here right now. Ew.
Seriously though, can you think of a time when something that you held to be true for as long as you can remember was challenged by new information? We’re talking about something that shakes you right to your core and makes you rethink things you’d rather not have to rethink. Welp, it just happened to me (again), and I’d like to tell you about it.
I’m reading a book right now called “Lifespan”. The premise is very simple: A brilliant scientist, after decades of research and testing, is proposing that aging is a disease. And it is curable. As in, there is no good reason for us not to be able to live indefinitely barring accidental death. All of his recommendations for achieving this are based on simple lifestyle choices and possibly a couple of inexpensive, over the counter supplements. I’m summarizing and no, it isn’t that simple. However he states a very compelling case for why, in the very near future, we could cure aging if we choose to.
Let’s set the book aside for a second. The author is Dr David Sinclair, and you can go check it out for yourself. What struck me was how the very idea he presents set off this kind of detonation in my head. We all grow old and die. Look around. The proof is everywhere. But what if that isn’t actually true? What if we all agreed it was true because that’s what observation and experience tell us, but now something has changed? What if what we currently accept as truth is truth no longer?
So that’s where the argument in my head started. It went something like this :
Me 1: “Holy crap!”
Me 2: “Come on...it’s a theory. If this were true the whole planet would be talking about it. What’s the guy selling?”
Me 1: “The research is solid. This kind of makes sense. If this is true, why DON’T we know about it? This could change life as we know it! What’s going on here?”
Me 2: “Wait a minute...would you even want to live that long? The planet is going to hell. You probably have to live like a monk and eat nothing but kale or something. We’re good the way we are.”
Me 1: “Jeez. If this is truly possible, I’m kind of wishing we’d made better choices up to this point. Maybe all those wings and beer are going to keep us from living forever. This is kind of demoralizing.”
Me 2: “You know what? You’ve convinced me. Let’s make a couple of the recommended changes and see what happens.”
Me 1: “Ok fine. It can’t hurt to entertain the possibility that this might be true. At the very least we’ll be a little healthier. Let’s do this.”
The actual conversation in my head was much longer than that (and a lot weirder) but you get the idea. I will tell you that there was one part where I was imagining us all running around with swords like in the Highlander movies yelling “There can be only one!” Anyway, on the other side of this battle in my head, things looked different. Things had changed.
Take a moment and imagine what the world would look like if the average lifespan was doubled. Contemplate what that would mean. See what happens? All kinds of interesting thoughts start stacking and cascading through your mind. It’s like you opened a room and accidentally kicked a domino and now you’re helplessly watching them all tumble down, one after another. It’s fascinating to watch, you’re not sure how you can stop it, and also not sure if you even want to. A NEW THING has gotten into your head. Uh oh.
Personally, I like learning new things. It’s incredibly good for maintaining a healthy brain, and it helps keep me grounded.
I have a little mantra that helps me create space for something that might be significant and paradigm shifting:
“Suspend judgment. Be curious. Ask really good questions.”
But this particular book got me thinking: Why can it be so hard to genuinely take something new in? Especially if it’s something we don’t like, don’t agree with, or don’t understand. We defend what we know. We can be really hard to convince that we should even consider a different position from the one we are currently holding.
Now obviously, we are bombarded with so much false information that it’s really hard to know what to believe anymore. Even so. Sometimes it’s really hard to step back and consider information that pushes against our closely held beliefs and sense of how things work.
I’m not saying that this is even a bad thing. We should always stand guard at the doorway to our minds. We shouldn’t let a bunch of garbage come piling in, cluttering up the place and mouthing off like a bunch of belligerent party crashers. And yet...to evolve, we must create space for what we don’t know.
I have a theory. When faced with new information that challenges us to our very core, I’m wondering if we don’t on some level go through the stages of grief (I chose one of the seven stage models for this thought experiment):
Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Testing, and Acceptance.
Take a look waaay back up at my little self-argument and run it through these seven stages. It kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? So maybe, when we are hit with something new, something mind-changing, we go through a process of grieving for the old us that we need to let go of to make room for the new us about to be born.
Maybe we often feel like we are being asked to die a little to make room for who we are faced with becoming. That can be kind of scary. No wonder why we have a difficult time with it.
I think what I’ve realized is that sometimes, the simple fact of the matter is: I’m afraid. Afraid that maybe something new will change me in some way I’m not going to like. That I’ll go down a road I didn’t want to go down. That it will influence me and convince me to be something I’m not sure I want to be. I don’t want to lose myself.
Yet I want to learn, and grow, and evolve.
I’ve decided that the key is to get to stage six as quickly as possible: Testing. The key to testing (for me) is to perform Mental Alchemy.
It’s a pretty simple process:
Step 1: Let the new information in. No judgement yet, Just be curious. Ask good questions.
Step 2: Let it mix with all that you currently know and have experienced.
Step 3: Do nothing. Give it some time for the two elements to interact with each other.
Step 4: Observe and consider the new thought, ideas, and understanding that have been created.
Step 5: Do something with it. Throw it out, play with it, teach it, apply it...it’s uniquely yours, so you get to decide who you will be and what you will do with this new version of you.
That’s it. It seems worth it. I like being open to new ideas and contrasting perspectives. The benefits far outweigh the risks. Seeking greater understanding doesn’t really seem to have a down side. And it’s really, really good for your brain.
So my dream for you today is that you will be curious, and open, and you’ll have unique things to share that will make us all better for knowing it, and knowing you.
I’m going to go finish reading that book now.
Oh, and ponder how much trouble I could cause if I had couple hundred more years of living in front of me :)