Following is the full text of philosopher Albert Hobohm’s talk titled “How to stop your thoughts from controlling your life” at TEDxKTH conference. In this talk, Hobohm shows us our critical situation as a species and how to start taking control over our mental operating systems.
Albert Hobohm – Entrepreneur & Philosopher
How many of your thoughts today helped you get towards your goals in life? And how many of them hindered you? Are you in control of what you think?
As I first learned the answer to these questions, I was shocked. I was staying at the Buddhist monastery Suan Mokkh in the forest of southern Thailand four years ago.
As you can imagine, life at the monastery is quite Spartan. You sleep on a wooden pillow on a straw mat. You wake up at 4:30, meditate for 10 hours every day. Eat nothing but rice and vegetables and shower with a bucket.
One specific morning meditation session, I had a breakthrough moment. It suddenly struck me just how little influence I had over the content of my mind.
I looked back on my life ever since I was a child. And I could clearly see that my mind had always been constantly wandering, distracted, unable to focus.
And the reason why?… Well because I’ve lived the way I have it, like any modern person, over-stimulated. It was my lifestyle that had produced this unsettled mind of mine which had now become nearly impossible to control.
For 20 years, I had been unable to recognize this phenomenon within myself, simply because my mind had never been provided enough space to observe its own functioning.
There is a Swedish ex-monk named Björn Lindeblad who lived as a Buddhist monk for 18 years before returning back home to ordinary life just a few years ago.
Upon his return, a journalist interviewed him and asked, “Björn, from 18 years as a monk with hours of meditation, every single day and no distractions, what’s the one key insight that you took with you home?”
His answer: “I no longer believe in everything I think.”
Sound so mundane and yet it’s not. And this, my friends, is why I’m here today… to introduce the radical concept that you are free to choose your own thoughts and thereby become an architect, free to construct your own life by design.
For some of you this idea might be familiar. It lies at the core of most meditation techniques. Or perhaps it’s a completely new one having yet to enter your mind.
Or maybe… just maybe you are now feeling that this is becoming a bit unscientific and you’re silently wondering how an overdressed hippy got to the TED stage.
Well, regardless of your current standpoint, I humbly ask you to suspend any disbelief or belief, whether you are a corporate CEO or a surfer, I invite you to enter an open state of mind for the next 13 minutes.
Now we find ourselves in a world where for the first time in history, more people die from eating too much than eating too little, more people commit suicide every year than are killed by war, criminals and terrorists combined.
I wish to show you some data on our current health profile as a species.
This graph shows that as for today, 75% of the U.S. population are overweight. For Sweden, that number is almost 60%. This one shows the ten-year increase in amphetamine-based medication being prescribed to children under the age of 17 for being labeled with attention deficit disorders.
And this one shows that as for today, nearly one-tenth of the Swedish population are now being prescribed antidepressants. For U.S., that number is even higher.
Now these are some quite alarming data. However, it could have been my personal data just a few years ago, as I have experienced many of these states myself.
It started 10 years ago now and in a horrific series of events, my mother hastily died in an accident which was unforeseen and left me in chaos. I was 14 at the time.
A few years after that, I had developed addictions. I had become addicted to cannabis, to sugar, to tobacco, to video games. For some years I lived a life where I was constantly distracting myself from the pain of the fact that the woman of my life had left me forever.
In our culture, we are raised from the very beginning of our lives to crave stimulants, and the world we live in is an obvious reflection of this. And I’m not only talking about drugs.
Think of anything we do: watching movies; watching sport events; eating cream cheese; listening to music; watching pornographics; going shopping. The list is endless and all of these are consumer competence. They are produced as a response to human need.
We have lost control of how we use it and have ultimately let them gain control over us on how we think. This was to the highest degree true for me and my past behavior.
And whether you are a tech billionaire, a Buddhist monk, a military officer, or a high school teacher, you are to some degree being unwillingly dictated by your own thoughts but also free to change that.
The American psychologist and philosopher William James said that:
“Thoughts become perception; perception becomes reality. Alter your thoughts, alter your reality.”
The world in which we live in… its quality, its character… is nothing but a reflection of our own minds. And the only way to influence in which world you want to live in, or in which world you want your children to live in is to learn how to influence your mind.
I wish to share with you today what I have developed as the two most important methods on how to stop thoughts from controlling you and ultimately take charge of your mind and thereby reality. It’s the realization that made me process the trauma of the death of my mother, the key insight from 18 years as a monk by Björn Lindeblad and the core idea from William James’s statement.
METHOD NUMBER 1: PRACTICE MEDITATION
Developing a habit of doing this for just 15 minutes at a time, four days a week can change your life in many ways it did for me. By definition, it’s the art of developing mindfulness. It’s practiced by consciously directing and maintaining your attention on an unstimulating object, such as the breathing and doing this for lengths of time.
This practice produces a more calm mind, less prone to overreaction, more rational and higher performing. But the ultimate goal of meditation is to start objectively observe the mind. Let me give you a visual example of what I mean.
Imagine yourself a web made up of thoughts. Every thread a possible thought path, leading to different places. After some meditation training, one is able to identify thought patterns, see where they will lead and choose to take another one. And this is what happened to me at the monastery.
As I started to see which one of my thought path led me to anxiety and had done so for so many years, I was actually able to direct my thoughts towards something constructive instead. And this means that as you gradually learn the structure of your own web of thoughts, you become able to actively predict which thought will lead to in which emotional state, which will make you able to actively choose states such as calmness, serenity, and high focus over stress, anxiety, and anger.
In theory quite clear but again it can only happen as the mind is provided enough space and silence without being constantly stimulated.
METHOD NUMBER 2: RESTRAIN YOUR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL INPUT
The saying that you are what you eat certainly applies to food. But have you ever thought of the notion of bad information having the same effect, making us mentally unhealthy, obese, addicted?
In our age of information and unprecedented junk data load enters our minds every single day and this junk data then influences our minds, it affects our values, it creates our needs and desires and even how we think.
It’s our responsibility as individuals to carefully feed our minds with selected input, and that input then, if chosen wisely, will produce this desirable mental environment in which we can start to understand our minds properly enough to control them.
I want you to ask yourself: Is it constructive for me to be bombarded daily with newspaper tabloids of death, sex, fear, and terrorist?
In my mind, the majority of newspapers are more important for terrorists than terrorists themselves. Choose your media source wisely, because they are seldom designed only to transmit information. More often than not, their primary objective is to spark your interest using catchy headlines fueled with fear and sex, which happens on direct expense of fact.
Social media, such a brilliant tool, when used right and so catastrophic when abused. No stimulant has ever got in a society so addicted, so immersed, in such a short time.
Did you know that the term ‘Facebook addiction disorder’ has emerged as a valid disorder causing withdrawal excessive use and long-term anxiety.
There is a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh, has now showed that the more we use social media, the more socially isolated we feel. And the more socially isolated we feel, the more we want to use social media. So just like a drug we feel that by getting a newsfeed fixe injected to our minds, it’ll make us feel better but it actually makes us feel worse.
So friends, you have to take control over your use of social media. Otherwise social media will start to take control over you.
Advertisements are also sources of often polluted information. Think, for example, of sugary unhealthy food products. Quite a few commercials out there for them.
And now sugar… the substance sugar is our global number one health threat as a species killing more people every year than heroin, cocaine, and amphetamine combined.
So what can we do? Stop sugar and sugar-based products from being sold and marketed? Of course not. Because they’re not inherently bad. Sugar is great for a lot of people, all right? The problem does not lie in externality.
We need to take responsibility over our thoughts and impulses when being exposed to and consuming these products and their commercials and realize that their incentive for your consumption is not to benefit you.
Now think of this: The human operating system is designed through millions of years of evolution, to reward the behavior that promotes survival in an environment of constant territorial threats and scarce resources. In that world, eating as much honey as possible meant survival so did killing other tribes when intruding on your territory.
But man has come out of the jungle where there was not enough, and we built a whole ethic around not having enough. As our environment has completely shifted, our mental operating system has gone dangerously obsolete. It’s time for an upgrade. We need to transition from being smart monkeys and become conscious beings.
You are like me… a homo sapiens, wise human, member of the first known life form to develop consciousness. You are the pinnacle of evolution.
Now please reflect upon the stories I’ve told which are yours and decide what you want to do with them. Because, friends, it’s not the harsh, traumatic or horrible events themselves you should fear the most in life but your own unwillingness to control your reaction to those events.
Ultimately, it’s your capacity to take full responsibility for your thoughts that will dictate the course and growth of not just you but our entire world.
Thank you so much for letting me be part of this.
Download This Transcript as PDF here: How to Stop Your Thoughts from Controlling Your Life_ Albert Hobohm (Transcript)
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