Exercise #19: Fun with deprogramming.

New year, old patterns?

If you find yourself a few days into the fresh annum already backtracking on your resolutions, you are not alone.  But rather than cave to your weaknesses, perhaps it’s time to deprogram yourself once and for all.

“But wait!” you might say. “I’m not part of a cult. Isn’t the term ‘deprogram’ going too far?” We may think we operate on the strength of our own free will, but the truth is, we’re all members of many cults:  The cult of the smartphone, the cult of mindfulness fads, the cult of artesan cheese boards, the cult of “what will my friends think of me if I opt out of all these cults.”

Still questioning your cult status?  Ask yourself, “Is that really me in those retouched Instagram photos, or is it a reflection of belonging to yet another social media cult?”

Here at SuperOptimist Central, we find ourselves similarly brainwashed, most prominently by the cult of Wall Street.  Like Pavlov’s dogs at the sight of a white lab coat, we’ve come to salivate whenever a stock ticker appears in our field of vision, followed by a hit of dopamine when the market is going up.  Of course, we suffer the tug of disappointment when a the numbers are in the red, and a full blown anxiety attack when the losses become precipitous.

We’ve been duped into thinking that our investments are the engine that will provide us the opportunity to one day be “free.”  Yet how much time do we spend being free, as opposed to counting and recounting the amount we need to survive into dementia-land?  You already know the answer.

Still, there’s nothing to be gained by flagellating ourselves; everyone becomes ensnared by the trickery that society imposes. Even the last of the self-sustaining hunter-gatherers, the Bushmen, now face societal pressure to “get with modern life.” Which shows you how insidious the pull of today’s cults can be.

So what can we do about our entrapment? It’s time to deprogram!  While there are experts who can perform interventions to cure you of brainwashing,  here’s a short guide to doing it yourself whenever you’re reaching for the lever in your Skinner box:

Step out of the matrix.  Whether at work, with friends, or in the arms of your family, remember you exist in the middle of a vast scheme that has secretly created all your cravings and desires.  By detaching for a moment, you can see just how nuts the whole kit and kaboodle really is.  This allows you to reassert your power of authority over that next slice of strawberry cheesecake, new car smell, youth-enhancing cream, and mindless responsibility.

Replace materialism with creativity. The best way to get even with cult-like vise grip is to make some art that has nothing to do with success, beautification, or binge-watching.

Seek knowledge from experience, not the internet. All too often when in doubt, we turn to the latest reports, studies, or youtube videos to find out how to handle our problems.  This is another form of cult-like behavior.  Take a walk outside instead.  Instinctively, you know how to handle what you’re facing better than a whole day googling “why do I have body dismorphia when looking at pictures of Olga Sherer.”

Read a good book. Here are some suggestions, but don’t take them. Go to the library and see what your hand touches first.

“My Year of Rest and Relaxation” – Ottessa Moshfegh

“Killings” – Calvin Trillin

“Instant Zen” – Thomas Cleary

“Winnie-The-Pooh” – A.A. Milne

There’s lots more ways to deprogram yourself and reboot your internal mainframe.  But at least these can get you started when you find yourself being tickled by the vagaries of societal conditioning.  Here’s to a great year of disentanglement, and the new adventures it brings!

*It’s interesting that “cult” and “culture” sit close to one another in the dictionary.  When you wander into a Chelsea gallery and see a Jeff Koons play-doh sculpture for $20 million, you realize why.  Best not to confuse the two words or else you’ll join the cult of overpriced art owners!

More SuperOptimism:

Exercise #19: Fun with deprogramming.
Heads you win, tails you win: the SuperOptimist guide to the New Year.
This holiday, try 6 hours of meditation. For starters.