Hacking the Human Mind


“The intelligent want self-control, children want candy.”
– Rumi

Last week I gave a talk about the progress I’ve made on my meditation platform. In it, I went into a little more depth about the whys behind meditation, stressing how distracted we’ve become as a technological society, and how we’re going to need better tools to build and manage our focus as the world becomes more and more distracting.

The slides from the talk are above, and a link to the video is at the end of this post.

But I’ll also got into a little bit of an overview for those of you not willing to make the 20 minute video commitment.

The World Has Become Dangerously Distracting


* 12% of all boys between 3-17 years now diagnosed with ADHD
* 20% of smartphone users check phone every 10 minutes
* Multitasking has been shown to lower IQ by 10 points
* The average american teen now sends an average of 3,417 text messages per month.

In the past 40 years, we’ve gone from Pong to Battlefield 3. If you’re a 12 year old boy, you’ve now got to decide between homework and playing in live battlefield with up to 64 other players, using tanks and helicopters and sniper rifles and C4 and more. The rush and excitement of video games, versus the slow dull grind of homework.

Psychologists are now designing games for addictiveness. And they’re incorporating very powerful psychological tools to keep kids reeled in. From skinner boxes to variable ratio reinforcement to social pressure, kids are facing a very real and strong draw to the game realities over our shared physical realities.

It’s not the kid’s fault their heads are stuck in phones and games. They’ve both been designed to be incredibly addictive to our brains.

What’s the cost of this distractedness?

Willpower and Focus

Willpower has been shown to be a finite resource which is depleted by decision making.

Nearly every piece of our technological realities drains focus and willpower.

With the Loss of Willpower We’re Losing the Ability to Control and Direct Ourselves.

The Solution: Using Technology to Manage Our Minds More Effectively in the Face of New Threats

Brand New Research on Meditation

* Increases Attention Span
* Sharpens Focus
* Improves Memory
* Dulls the Perception of Pain
* Slows Age Related Thinning of the Prefrontal Cortex
* Helps Build Willpower

So why aren’t we all meditating?

Chicken or the Egg Problem: Don’t have enough willpower to start building our willpower.

If we were to make meditation seductive to our distracted minds, what would it look like?

Building the Platform to Measure Mediation

First prototype measured Galvanic Skin Response, Skin Temperature, and Heart Rate. Read physiology using off the shelf components, and an Arduino. Tracked all inputs using Clojure, and graphed all data using the incanter library.

It provided audio feedback (via Overtone) when a deeper meditative state was reached, and recorded all data so meditation could be tracked over time.


Initial Prototype Drawbacks:

* Must be attached to computer
* Wires get tangled
* Setting up computer is too distracting
* Not easy enough

Meditation on the iPhone

Using new Bluetooth LE heart rate monitors, we can now track heart rate with medical quality data. Combined with an app I’ve written using algorithms developed with the data from my first prototype, I now have a low-friction environment to measure meditation.

Unfortunately, Bluetooth LE is only supported by the iPhone 4S and 5, the New iPad, the iPad mini, and the new iPod Touch.

But we now have a portable psychology lab capable of providing audio and visual feedback to direct changes in our physiology caused by meditation.

Look for the meditation app in the App Store by the end of December

Fill out my online form.

What It Takes to Live Your Dream

5,000 Pages. 5 Years.

That’s how long it took before I made my first commercial sale as a writer. Five years of working hard with no results to show for it.

That’s five years, spent trying to squeeze by on as little income as possible, trying desperately to make more time for writing. Five years of worry and self doubt, and mediocre work everywhere else.

The Magical 5,000 Pages

From nowhere, after 5,000 pages things started clicking.

I make my first commercial sale; I started a new blog and grow from zero to 10,000 uniques in a month; I have momentum, I have begun to break the hump of the learning curve. Five years later, almost exactly.

I’m not saying this to brag, I just wish I’d known from the beginning┬áthat my success was inevitable. I wish somebody had let me know:

“As soon as you finish 5,000 pages, you will have paid your dues. After 5,000 pages, you will be approaching competency, but you will always be sharpening your sword.”

I would have written twenty pages a day, and stopped sucking a lot earlier.

You Can’t Afford to Wait to Follow Your Dreams

I always thought it was a bit of a bullshit line, when people said “follow your dreams”. But the truth of the matter is, you’d damn well better get started on them today.

When I was working doing freelance web development, I kept being haunted by the idea that I’d be stuck doing what I really didn’t want to be doing at all. And it made me an ineffective freelancer. The quote kept going on in my head, over and over:

“If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will destroy you.”

So I’d stay up late, and I’d write every night for at least an hour. Just to keep myself from being haunted. To let myself know that I was putting in the effort, and that was as much as I could do, until writing began to pay my bills.

Five years later, the trickle started.

You Must Be Willing to Wait and Work

Becoming adept at your dream field, and experiencing Flow should be your top priorities. We know from research that by becoming an expert at something you love is practically a formula for a happy life.

The problem is, those miserable five years you’ve got to put in work before you can see any results outside of yourself. This is why passion is necessary.

Nothing motivates me more than helping people become more successful. I love to see my friends and family become better and more powerful people in the world. I love the power of stories to change lives, and I love modeling worlds.

Discover Your Passion

Passions that last inevitably involve service to other people. Our immediate realities are direct feedback loops to the quality of life we put out to other people. So the only way to experience a better reality is to give a better reality to someone else.

Realistically, what makes you happiest? How can you infect that happiness into people?

A lot of people have no clue what drives them. No idea where to begin. For them, I suggest time off. Save some money and travel. Figure out what is unique about the way you experience and react to the world. Then get to work, ASAP.

And Ignore the Gatekeepers

In any field, especially the glamorous ones, there will be gatekeepers. The people who seem to have the ability to let “the chosen ones” become relevant in their fields. For writers, these are the Editors, the Professors, the Critics.

These people are all irrelevant. They have literally, zero power over your results. Your results will be determined by the quality of your work alone. No matter what, if you focus on the having the best work, you will have a place at the top.

So don’t pay buckets of money for their approval. Don’t pay for gurus to bless you with their knowledge and strategy. Don’t pay for technology that promises to solve your problems. There is only ever one person who can do the work.

And that is you.