Book review: Mind Hacking
John Hargrave’s book offers tips on fixing the bugs in your mind so you can have a better life
To reprogramme our minds and change our habits, we need to hack into the source code of our brains, says John Hargrave in his book Mind Hacking—How To Change Your Mind For Good In 21 Days. Hargrave was a hacker before he turned author and entrepreneur, and many of the stories and techniques in this book are drawn from science and computing.
Mind Hacking joins popular predecessors in the change-your-life-by-transforming-your-habits category. Among the notables are Charles Duhigg’s The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business, John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister’s Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength, and Richard Wiseman’s 59 Seconds: Think A Little, Change A Lot. Hargrave has read these, and refers to them and to others, drawing on their research even as he programs his own “hacks”.
Hargrave grew up in a small town in the US, and learnt programming as a teen on a Commodore 64 computer his parents bought him. An early taste for coding was accompanied by one for playing pranks, like holding credit cards in the names of celebrities. These became the subject of Hargrave’s first two books, Prank The Monkey: The ZUG Book Of Pranks and Mischief Maker’s Manual. Somewhere along the way, the promising programmer turned into an alcoholic and a drug addict. This had alarming consequences.
“The US Secret Service stormed into my living room,” he says. Hargrave had applied for and received a credit card in the name of US President Barack Obama, therefore, becoming the subject of a secret service investigation. The prank may have been harmless, but Hargrave could have got into real trouble if the secret service had found drugs in his apartment.
It was after this incident that Hargrave started studying the human mind and trying to understand how it could be reprogrammed to change bad habits. “I scoured textbooks of psychology, neuroscience and computer science. I immersed myself in the latest research. I collected techniques from the greatest minds in history, from Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin to Nikola Tesla,” he writes.
Mind Hacking, the result of these efforts, is an interesting analysis of the human mind. For the most part, the mind is compared to a computer. “It struck me that a lot of the feelings and thoughts I was experiencing were like Adobe products: powerful, but riddled with bugs.” At other times, the mind is likened to a misbehaving dog that will not sit still. Or a movie.
The book features a series of techniques, with a 21-day target to achieve success. These techniques help in mastering the mind, to achieve what Hargrave terms a Jedi-like ability to concentrate. They include studying the workings of the mind, reducing bugs like distractions, writing down goals, and repeating and reiterating the goals. One such is on reprogramming thoughts like “Everything I do ends in failure...” to “Everything I do ends in failure... but hold on. Some things I do are actually quite successful, like…”.
Become a super user who can log into a more powerful account that can access and then control your mind, says Hargarve. Analyse the mind, re-imagine goals and fix the bugs so you have a better life.
Many of the techniques are not new. But Hargrave manages to reference each in a catchy way. “Imagine that you wake up tomorrow in a parallel universe. Everything in this universe is the same, except for one big difference: money has been replaced by attention. All citizens have little meters attached to their heads, right between the eyes, that show where they have been spending their limited daily supply of attention,” he writes, pointing out that we multitask not because that makes us more productive, but because we are addicted to it. Each email alert and instant message gives us a tiny burst of informational pleasure.
Besides the stories and the illustrations, the book also provides a link to a free app on www.mindhacki.ng. This app can help break bad habits and form new ones in 21 days. Worth a read and a try.