The following is the full transcript of transformative coach and the best-selling author Michael Neill’s TEDx Talk titled “Why Aren’t We Awesomer?” at TEDxBend event.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Why Aren’t We Awesomer by Michael Neill at TEDxBend
You made it! So I’ve been studying the human potential for about 25 years now. And throughout that time, everything I’ve done has been an attempt to answer a sort of a simple question: why aren’t we awesomer? Right? Given everything that we know about psychology and the human mind, given everything thousands of years of spiritual teachings, and just life experience, and the advances in medicine, and the deeper understanding of the brain, why is it that some days we can get up in the morning and feel touched and inspired by the hand of God, and other mornings, we can’t be inspired to take a shit?
Now I kind of figured there wasn’t going to be one answer to that question. And over the first 18 years or so, I found a lot of things that were really helpful. And about 7 years ago, I stumbled across a very simple answer to that question. And what made it simple is that it’s just a misunderstanding that we have culturally about how the mind works. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said: “A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that is unlocked and opens inwards as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than to push.” It’s that simple, but what is that door for us?
Well, in order to take you there, I want to take you back, it’s 1986. And I was not a happy kid, I was a depressed kid. It didn’t feel particularly that it was because I wasn’t useful; I was loved I was, you know, surrounded by friends. I had no external reasons for being so unhappy. But I was so unhappy that I had a thing I now know is called suicidal ideation, which meant that I thought about killing myself a lot, all day, every day, ongoing.
Now this wasn’t as much of a problem as you might think, most of the time, because I had stuff to do, I’d have classes to go to, I had friends. But it was always going on in the background, and when it would get quiet outside, it would get really noisy inside. And this all came to a head in October of that month when I had what I now know is called a psychotic break from reality.
Now if you want to get a sense of what that was like, imagine being in my dorm room on the fourth floor, and a giant vacuum cleaner appearing in the sky and sucking your heart out of your body and out the window. This was actually terrifying to me because it really felt like it was happening. And I hung onto the wall of my dorm room, and there was a phone there. And I reached down, and I dialed the number for the suicide hotline, which I knew, and I got a busy signal.
Now even then, being sucked out the window by a giant vacuum cleaner from hell, I found that funny. Like I cannot imagine what anyone could have said to me that would have done more good for me than that busy signal because it just kind of popped it in my head, and I just popped out of it for a minute. And it didn’t seem so compelling, it didn’t seem so real. And I was able to reach down and phone a friend who lived on the first floor, and she came and got me, and eventually I fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning, and I realized something that was kind of profound: I didn’t want to kill myself, I didn’t want to die. In fact, I so didn’t want to die that I used every ounce of strength I had to stay in that room when everything felt like it was pulling me out that window. And that was the first time I realized that just because you have a thought in your head doesn’t mean it’s your thought, doesn’t mean it’s true, doesn’t mean it’s actually what you think, it just means there’s a thought in your head.
And I started to kind of think of it as the suicide thought, and I started to notice, because I wasn’t scared of it anymore, it’s kind of like Bob, the homeless guy, moved into my brain. Every now and again he went off on one, and it was like, “Oh god, it’s Bob again.” It wasn’t so much I had to do something about it, it was just the suicide thought. And of course, because I wasn’t scared of it, it passed through quicker and quicker. And I found a new level of freedom of mind, and that got me really interested in how the mind worked.
Now in order to kind of share how the mind works with you, I am going to take you through a series of little experiments. So, we’re going to begin with a picture of a monster. Now I noticed none of you are running to the exits screaming, so this is good, this means you’re not having a psychotic break from reality right now. You have a sufficient level of thought recognition to see that this is in fact a drawing of a monster by my daughter Macy and is not in fact, in any way, shape, or form, a real monster.