“Choose yourself.” –Soren Kierkegaard

At the risk of sounding like a complete nerd (I am), I will continue my thoughts on a previous post.

Years ago, a buddy of mine worked as a video game tester for a big-time company.  It sounds like a sweet gig: a real life version of Grandma’s Boy.  In truth it’s more of a grind.  Digging ditches it ain’t, but it does involve playing a game over and over and over again to the Nth degree.  Maybe “playing” is too positive of a word for what’s really going on.  “Breaking the game” is closer to the truth.

Instead of racking up crazy cool points or beefing up on side-strafe zoom-in shoot-em-up skills, what most video game testers do is try to see how the game doesn’t work.  This may involve ramming their character up against walls until they plunge into a non-gameplay abyss.  Or it could require them to crash a level by avoiding an invisible trigger that releases the stage boss.  The more inclined toward tedium may enjoy mashing buttons until an error screen pops up.  Video game testing is about finding and exploiting the weaknesses in a game’s programming…

Whenever I go out to eat with a group of people, my left-handedness usually comes in to play.  There are only so many seating arrangements where I can avoid sparring elbows with a righty.  It’s a right-hander’s world out there, so us lefties learn to adapt.  Five of the last seven Presidents have been left-handed.  Overall, the number of left-handed Presidents is well above the 10% average.  This may seem like a negligible fact, but I believe this indicates that lefties have the propensity to assimilate and adopt new skills.  I call this left-handed thinking.

When lefties are learning how to write, they cannot simply copy their teacher–they must “translate” the technique into their own handedness.  Unless, of course, their teacher is a lefty.  This process of learning, assimilating, and transcribing a physical act forces left-handed individuals to be conscious of the act itself.  Rather than simple mimicking, the action must be understood in its individual parts and reassembled into an opposite form.  How does this make one Presidential?

One idea is that lefties have more flexibility in their thinking (see “Possible effects…” at the bottom of the article) since they are forced to adapt as a way of life.  They are able to assess a situation and adjust to what is necessary.  That is, they approach problems with a deconstructive nature and an eye for pattern-making.  Now, I don’t want to glorify the left-handers of the world over the right-handed as there are plenty more successful righties than lefties.  What I am suggesting is the very real possibility of a “counter-intuitive” approach to thinking in order to achieve better thinking:  i.e. Breaking the Game…

If you read Part I of this post, you may be familiar with the idea that humans are born into an organic “programming” of how-to-live.  This concept digs its roots deep into a society all the way down to the individual.  Ultimately, this follow up essay is about reprogramming, or changing of the status quo.  Anyone who wants to change the world at large knows the best place to start is with the self.  Ghandi and Michael Jackson agree with the sentiment.  Furthermore, who wants a changed world if the self remains unchanged?

For me, the first step of reprogramming the self is recognizing that humans are generally not fully conscious of their actions or decisions.  That is why I choose the word “programming” for the play between desire and deed.  We are privy to our mood, sense of security, ambition, past experience, and a number of factors when making any choice–no matter how insignificant.  Granted, not every choice needs the weight of consciousness behind it; what does require evaluation are the decisions that are made but no longer desired.

Let’s take smoking cigarettes (or the quitting thereof) as an example of how to “Break the Game”.  Smoking is one of the most prevalent addictions despite documented evidence of its adverse effects on health.  Social Scientists call this dynamic “cognitive dissonance.” The smoker knows his habit is harmful but continues its use contrary to his own desire for self-preservation.  By his own hand, his actions are counter-intuitive to his thoughts and feelings.

How does a smoker “Break the Game” of smoking?  If we apply the earlier strategies of video game testers, we may be able to find and exploit the weaknesses of the “programming” that leads a smoker to smoke in the first place.  What this requires is creating an instance of cognitive dissonance where it has not existed before.

Fighting cognitive dissonance with cognitive dissonance?  Yup.  Just trust me and use your left-handed thinking on this.

Instead of repeating a failed cycle where a smoker tries to quit but cannot, the smoker can initiate a new cycle of dissonance that has little to do with desire or emotion.  In this case, the smoker can choose to drink sodas only on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Here the individual must deny himself a soda when usually he would have no reason to–the reason must be found intrinsically, whether or not it is arbitrary.  Or perhaps he would rather stop using the internet after 10:00pm.  If the individual is unaccustomed to it, he will soon find himself strikingly aware of how he spends his time.  Similarly, he could make sure to volunteer at a charity every other weekend.  Volunteerism can change his perception as to how he relates to the world around him.

All of these examples place the subject outside of the self as both controller and observer, mild instances of “breaking the game.”  During this time, the smoker can build up a degree of willpower over his decision-making and focus his conscientiousness onto stopping his smoking habit.  The earlier habits developed can eventually be dropped but the conscious mind should continue to be engaged in some form of game-breaking in order to develop purposeful conscientiousness.

Note that none of these should be too drastic of a change.  The smoking individual should not take on “working out daily at the gym” if it is alien habit.  Even though exercise is a beneficial act, it is likely such a dramatic shift will fail and thus collapse the positive in with the negative.  The amount of intrinsic value necessary to be generated is too great.  Something along the lines of, “taking the stairs rather than the elevator” would achieve the same effect but with less chance of failure…

Breaking the Game by self-instilling cognitive dissonance is basically a debugging mode for the brain.  It separates the decision making process from an emotional/reactionary core and places it closer to the conscious mind.  A similar tactic can be seen in the Lenten season of the Christian church.  While it solely focuses on self-denial, the main purpose of Lent is to remove external stimuli and replace it with intrinsic focus.  Believers fast and give up luxuries in order to build up spiritual commitment.

I should point out here that I do not want this article to be mistaken for a self-help tutorial on how to break bad habits.  When I speak of “Breaking the Game,” I am really addressing the purposeful use of actions that are contrary to an individual’s current nature in order to allow for personal growth.  Breaking your game could mean going on a roller coaster when you’re afraid of heights and speed; or taking charge of a situation when you typically go with the flow; or even talking less and listening more.

It is almost common knowledge, but many studies have shown that smiling will make you happier.  Granted, happier people smile more; but even if you smile while you are sad, you will probably feel better.  Go ahead and try it.  I won’t judge.  Similarly, the great acting teacher Stanislavsky had a theory of The Method of Physical Action that posited if an actor acts like he’s angry, whether or not he feels angry, he will eventually sense the emotion of anger.  The body and brain work together to solve this cognitive dissonance of “do I feel angry?”  The body, since it is committed to the act of anger, convinces the brain to also become angry in order to reduce the dissonance.

Once the mind realizes that it controls the body and the body influences the mind, the mind can then manipulate itself into finding its truer state by acting according to will.  Thus, the greatest truth I have found is that I have the power of choice because I choose to exercise it.

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