Displacement and Navigating Brain Topography.

This post is inspired by a post on the Goodinthehead.com facebook group by Pete Jones. I like Pete’s musings and how he draws strength from overcoming his past, and as a fellow seeker of wisdom, he has my respect.

I did reply to his thoughts right there in the comments section, but the concept he introduced in this brief post lingered in my head. I simply had to reflect a little more in writing about this.

Borrowing from Pete’s beautiful analogy in that YouTube clip, when you look around, all you see are mostly people spinning their wheels in the sand stuck in a place from which they have no way of pulling away without help. Help might come by their way by chance, but life has it that if you simply stay put and wait for chance to come by, you might wait for a very long time. At one point you have to quit revving the engine and digging your wheels even deeper in the sand. As the saying goes, the first rule of getting yourself out of a hole is to stop digging. You’ve got to get out of the vehicle—your own head—step out and walk over to the highway to seek assistance and maybe a tow-truck.
The real lucky ones, have an expert local guide in the driver’s seat, giving directions and pointers. You really get a huge advantage with someone that’s been everywhere in the area where you want to discover. Your local guide will be prepared for every scenario and will have you riding in a rugged 4X4 truck with an extra fuel tank, spare tires, shovels and air-compressors, tent and supplies, flare gun, satellite phone and a radio to call for help and most probably also a rifle and a medical kit for if things got too dangerous. Having a mentor is like you venturing out into that desert wilderness in the company of your trusted elder as your guide. You don’t simply tag along for the ride, you’re there getting your hands and boots dirty, all the while soaking up all the lessons and wisdom that you possibly can. Those who caught an early break in life and had a benevolent father figure, selflessly passing along all of his lessons, got a head start in the world. The real lucky people who manage to get seriously successful, from an early age in life, basically had the advantage of starting further along the path than where you had to. That doesn’t mean they don’t have their challenges and tribunals along the way. That doesn’t mean that they will make full use of that advantage. That doesn’t mean that they will not be dealt humbling blows from fate that would knock them down all the way to rock bottom. But with the right life lessons, you can safely lay a bet they can figure out a way to climb out of their own holes astonishingly fast. Because they would know exactly what to do at the bottom of that hole.
The rest of us have to wing it. Yup, we weren’t lucky enough to find someone to guide us along the path. We had to learn everything ourselves. We had to wander aimlessly in the desert, seeking primitive means of intellectual sustenance and hardly finding cover from the scorching heat of high expectations met only by under-performance and mediocrity resulting from inexperience. Our ancestors in the human species spent thousands of years on this earth learning lessons and passing them along to their children. That’s how humankind evolved into the super-beings we are today.
Picture the contrast between the person you might be right now and the person that you could be someday as the difference between a person who is wandering aimlessly without a shelter in the wilderness of life, trying to figure out how to start a fire to get warm and cook their food before nightfall and that whole other person who benefited from years of civilization. A person living in a modern home with central cooling and heating, pulling out for dinner, a slab of steak from a freezer powered by electricity, which they ordered on their latest model smartphone. Such is the power of compounding knowledge and complex systems formulated through billions of human brains using their cognitive evolutionary gift to enhance and upgrade creative solutions to solve humanity’s problems. Mankind is today’s supreme God over nature, we crush it at will when we direct enough brains to focus on solving a certain problem, and over time, our solutions become more and more efficient and more powerful.
Hence, your first insight should be that you are simply doing it all the wrong way because, well, evidence-based deduction suggests that other people manage to achieve the same goals you seek, faster, with high efficiency, with clear understanding of the required physical and time resources which they can organize into an action plan.
The wrong attitude would be to compare yourself to others in envy. Never compare your first draft with someone else’s highlight reel. That would be resembling a version of you standing out there, all by your lonesome, in the wild rubbing a stick on a plank of wood, trying to figure out how to start a fire, mouth agape in bewilderment, staring at the Big Boy Toy 4X4 truck that’s parked at a distance with these fellows raising a modern tent for shade, setting up a propane-grill, and pulling out the BBQ meat from an ice cooler with a couple of cold drinks. Yeah, that’s what success at the highest level in the wilderness of mediocrity might look like to you. Of course you will never again be satisfied with your life if that’s all you see. What you see over there are the results of knowledge, and lots of it. You should only recognize that what they have more than you is compounding knowledge. The role of luck, more often than not, is simply limited to getting people in the right circumstances to learn those essential life lessons at an early point in life and allow them to make use of the rest of their time on earth to compound over it.
Personal finance books teach you about the importance of “Starting Early” in investing. They tell you about automatic contributions to your savings and investments which can compound exponentially as you keep going with persistence for years on end. But, there’s a big difference between starting your compounding interest cycle in your 20’s and when you start it in your 30’s or 40’s. The earlier you start, the more capital you are left with at the end of your target-date retirement fund. The exponential function is really your best friend if you start early. Well, when I first learned that, I was devastated, to be quite honest with you. Everyone and their dog keep saying, it’s never too late to start, and better late than never and all that jazz. Well, folks, when I miss out on all the opportunities of compounding my gains for 20 years and start in my forties, I am not going to be left with much, compared to that lucky person who had the good fortune to have their head screwed straight from the get go and made all the right moves.
That is an extremely depressing thought, to be quite frank with you. But that’s the kicker right there, right when you feel like what you’ve learned makes your chances of getting ahead this late in the game quite low, you simply persevere and keep learning. You keep stirring the dirt, you keep seeking more and more knowledge, looking under every rock and knocking on every door and exploring every venue that might offer you some insight into how to catch up. It’s really difficult if you’re just starting out to build any habit like reading and seeking knowledge and experiences, but keeping the wheels of habit running is going to sustain you over the long haul. The thing that keep you going when you’ve exhausted your hope and you can’t push the wheels any longer is that heavy flywheel of habit, and the inertia you gain by pushing that body of habit over your well lubricated wheels of persistence. It doesn’t stop when you’re devoid of motivation, it keeps going, although a little slowly, but it gives you a chance to catch your breath, and keep moving along your tracks. Then, out of nowhere you’ll stumble upon another piece of knowledge that makes you feel a whole lot better about your life.
Indeed, it’s never too late to start. Why? Because simply, we’re all running on a different clock and our brains are running on a different pace. You can’t make use of certain knowledge until you’re ready for it. That’s one. Two, the chronological order of when you gain this knowledge matters a lot. It pays to revisit books and topics you’ve read a while ago, because with the new insights you gained through the years, you unlock a different secret level of understanding embedded within those pages you didn’t pay attention to the first time around. Getting the right pieces in place can seriously accelerate your progress in life. Three, when you read more personal finance books, you learn something really interesting, protecting the down side by spending less and saving 10% or more from whatever abysmal resources you currently have, no matter how long you keep at it, even if you’ve started in the womb, doesn’t match up to extracting more value from your time and generating more value through your efforts. When you try to limit your expenses, you are bound to hit the brick wall of essentials, but there’s literally no ceiling on adding more gains to your income and earning more. That very same model applies to knowledge and wisdom. There’s simply no limit. You can always learn to make better decisions. You can always learn to manage your emotions better. You can always learn to better keep a cool head throughout life’s turmoils. You can always learn to make yourself more valuable to your family and your community. You can learn to share all that you’ve learned with more and more people. The upside is limitless. Four, and finally, what other choice do you have but to move forward and upward? When you’ve been at the same situation for too long, it means you’re not moving forward. It means you’re not growing, and if you’re not moving forward and you’re not growing and you’re not leveling up, you’re actually moving backwards by default. The all-encompassing, yet unbreakable, law of the universe is entropy, which is a function of the crushing power of time subjecting everything that ever exists to the unstoppable destiny of a gradual slow decay into oblivion.
You have evolved to be the ultimate learning and adaptation machine. It’s popular to call it a “growth mindset,” which is simply an ivy league code for learning something new, trying it through experience, succeeding or failing, reflecting on the outcomes, learning how to improve the next time around, and having faith in your ability to train yourself to always improve and get better. The most obvious example of this mechanism is walking. A baby sees everyone else walking on two feet, so he knows it’s possible, he pushes against the floor, then crawls, then sits, then he stands, then he takes a couple of shaky first steps, then he walks. That’s your growth mindset, that’s how you train every thought and action. That’s how you create the filters through which you perceive your world.
What you should now easily recognize is that those who manage to make a magnificent life that you so direly covet, are not from a different planet or a different species. They’re the same as you, with the same hardware and software that you have. They have the same biology and are vulnerable to the same elements just as you. They’re simply people, acting with more resources created with compounding knowledge. And when that thought hits you, your first course of action should be to try to learn every-damn-thing you possibly can from them as fast as possible. Model their actions, learn what they’ve learned and find out whatever shortcuts they figured out in years, in just a few seconds. The most interesting thing about those who managed to reach high levels of accomplishment, is that under certain circumstances, they’re really willing to share their knowledge with the world, and with you if you show real interest in learning. You need to become a student, and one day, with enough compounding wisdom, you might turn into a teacher yourself.
Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Some can take human form as a parent or an elder, or a boss at a work or a teacher at school. Some might be a thought leader and men and women of character that the whole world look up to their original contributions to society. Some are immortalized in a body of literary work written by them, or about them by other brilliant minds reflecting on their legacy and body of work. Books become your second best, as “virtual mentors,” right after a real living breathing mentor because of their convenience. They are available to you 24/7. You can dive deep into any of them at will and reflect on the same lesson for as long as you want. They magically capture the life essence of a human life on paper and immortalizes the person behind the words. Books are abundant. You can find books everywhere. You can buy them, borrow them, listen to them and download them for free from the internet. You only have to make the choice to learn. When you’re reading a great book you’re consuming the most valuable distillation of the knowledge they’ve learned in a lifetime.
Once you’ve decided to open that floodgate, you are well on the journey of a lifetime. Your knowledge will compound on a daily basis and you will learn something that builds atop the thing you learned yesterday. You’ll be able to figure out things that you couldn’t on your own, then in due time, you’ll have a body of knowledge that will allow you to figure out things no one else has figured out before you, and you perpetuate the cycle for someone else. I guess this is the true mission of the human race. We figure things out, deliver that knowledge to the next generation to make use of it to figure out more solutions for other more complex problems. This is exactly how, over thousands of years, we have come to the age where you are reading my words the way you are right now using this very medium and through this very screen you are staring at. Billions of people perpetuated enough knowledge to make this possible. Reflect on that thought for a second. Ponder the miracle of human existence. We are all living in pain and suffering towards the sole aim of conquering that pain and suffering, and we hand deliver our conclusions to those who come after us so that when they take their turn, they can make the suffering a little bit less for those who come after them. The mission of being human is one of a Hero’s journey towards a far goal towards which we, collectively as a species, march forward with unrelenting persistence, harnessing the power of time and compounding knowledge.
So when we zoom back to you with your tiny little narrow field of vision which has room only for yourself and what you can do to “make ends meet” (God, I so hate this expression), you need to put it all into perspective and find a way to make use of all of that abundant knowledge you have at your disposal.
I love a quote from “House of Cards” by the infamous Frank Underwood: “If a man can’t use what’s right in front of him, if a man is not smart enough to be able to use whatever is in front of him and still make it work, well then, that’s just a failure of the imagination.” And right he is. What it all boils down to, is that the source of your suffering and pain is simply lack of resourcefulness and creativity. That’s code for staying with the problem long enough until you figure out a way to fix it with whatever resources you have at your disposal. Creativity is much like everything else in your biological and cognitive abilities. It’s a muscle you have to train to give it the strength it needs to solve your problems. You have to practice every single day. I literally can trace back all my bad situations and bad decisions and all the blunders and mishaps I put myself in, to my lack of imagination. When you do not apply your mind to resolving a problem, you dig a hole for yourself, or you allow others to dig a hole for you and throw you into it.
You don’t think things through because you are overwhelmed by the amount of painful thinking you have to do to figure the whole thing out. So, you might outsource finding the solution to someone else, be it a parent, a friend, or anyone who offers unsolicited advice that doesn’t necessarily have your best interest at heart. Which is a bad bet because you do have to understand that the only person who knows you well enough to know what would serve your purposes and the only person who has your best interest at the core of every advice and suggestion is: You! No one else will be able to do the thinking for you. When you outsource your decision making to someone else, you lose by default. You have to do it all by your lonesome and such is a damn scary thought to each and every single one of us. Which is exactly why we throw ourselves wholeheartedly into escapism. We submerge our pain and fear into junk food, movies, video games, alcohol, drugs, the deep abyss of 10-season TV show, and all sorts of addictions. We spin our wheels in the sand, head-banging to the music while the tobacco smoke is fogging up all the windows in the car. You do everything in that head of yours with energy and enthusiasm and you’re pedal to the metal and you think you’re moving somewhere. But you’re not. When the tank is empty and you suddenly figure out that your engine has died, only then will you step out and take a look at where you are. To your dismay, the clock has run out and you’re still there at the starting point, buried deep into the sands of useless ignorance and wasted effort.
Don’t wait till you run out time. The time is now. The things you need to know are out there waiting for you to know them. Your situation doesn’t matter. Your parents don’t matter. Your upbringing doesn’t matter. Your language, your ethnicity, your financial resources, your city, your country, your continent, your education, your IQ, your emotional baggage, ALL of it doesn’t matter. You can figure out a way to make it all work for you, with a powerful imagination.
Enters the concept of displacement that Pete talked about in his video.
Pete speaks about how he found inspiration in the platforms of knowledge catered by Tom Bilyeu and Lewis Howes which are also part of my repertoire of go-to sources for access to the most powerful and most brilliant minds in the world. The top of my personal favorite list also includes: The Tim Ferriss Show, The James Altucher Show, The Knowledge Project by Shane Parrish and a whole lot more. Sometimes I track a certain guest across all of his interviews round all of these platforms, especially when they’re promoting a new book. Listen to 4 or 5 interviews with the author of any book and you get the main jest of the book, which will sustain you long enough till you get to his book from the ever growing pile of to-read titles.
Again, like I said to Pete, We’re all trying to learn from those who figured out what we yet need to figure out.
Tom Bilyeu from Quest Nutrition and the founder and host of the Impact Theory Podcast, loves to bring about analogies from The Matrix, which is a movie trilogy that I must’ve seen 50 times already. Tom and Pete talk about Neo downloading knowledge directly into his mind, which is what I think you need to do to be able to gain the knowledge you seek. That’s what we’re doing when we’re seeking those mentors and those great minds out there.
I call it immersion learning.
Albert Einstein said: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer than anyone else.”
That’s exactly the outlook you must have towards every single thing you must figure out in your life. The simple reason why you did not figure out the way out of your problem is that you gave up on finding the answer way too quickly. All you need is focus and persistence. Don’t give up on your creative muscle.
Benjamin Disraeli said: “The secret to success if constancy of purpose.”
Most people simply throw the towel in way too quickly, and I most certainly was one of them. Don’t expect that you will find a solution just as soon as you sit down and look at the ceiling thinking about it in a 30 minute lunch break. No, you might have to mull over that problem in the grinder of your thoughts for weeks, months, years or decades! When to quit? When you’ve found your answer, that’s when.
Jim Rohn says it best: “How long should you try? Until.”
Quoting from my own comments to Pete’s post: “To be able to learn something, and have it stick to your mind, you don’t listen to it once, you have to get exposed to the same knowledge from different sources and at spaced intervals for it to click. That’s why I don’t really appreciate the opinion that says most self improvement content is repetitive and it doesn’t work. It does work if you allow yourself the focus and time to overwrite your old habits and your old thinking patterns.”
The law of displacement is really a cool analogy. I am familiar with the concept because of my mechanical engineering background, which struck a powerful chord with me. Expanding on that visual image Pete’s conjured up from his own past experiences, sometimes when you’re drilling earth and rock towards the richness of deeply buried wisdom and the answers for your life most urging questions, the poisonous and flammable gases of self-doubt, fear, hopelessness and regret, bubble up through the drilling hole and they compromise the whole operation. That’s part of why I love this analogy so much. The drilling fluid is basically pumped into the hole to cool and lubricate the drill bit, and also carry the debris and smashed rock out of the hole. That’s basically it, displacement of those negative feelings and thoughts out of the way, and filling the hole with pressurized fresh, heavy, cool mud that would make your drilling efforts sustainable and help you reach depths you couldn’t reach before. Thanks Pete for this perfect visual image.
As I told Pete, his approach meshed well with mine regarding the process of how you create your own reality: “From what we learn about how the mind works and neuroplasticity, the brain reinforces the connections that fire consistently, aka habitually, until they are literally the path of least resistance. It’s much like building muscles, these synapses become stronger and faster and it’s like what your thoughts turn to effortlessly when you’re in a situation that needs a decision that pertains to their function.”
That line of though led to my model for navigating the topography of the brain.
The origin of the word “Character” is a Greek word that means “chisel” or the “mark left by a chisel.” I do find the image of the brain with its nooks and crannies give way to the image of piece of brain-shaped piece of solid rock.
I previously reflected these thoughts in my response to Pete: “So I like to imagine the human mind as a piece of solid rock. The grooves you have in it are the result of directed streams of thought pushing through the grooves like water washes through rocks. By continuous persistence unrelenting exposure to the water the grooves get deeper and wider and they become the path of least resistance. That’s how most of your automatic responses get programmed into your head. This is how you program anger, hate, self-resentment, cynicism, giving up, and hopelessness. That’s why it takes conscious effort to literally direct your thought streams away from the path of least resistance and try to create new groves in that rock to head exactly where you want your pool of positive energy to build up inside of your head. Then lets the dust and mud fill up and bury those old grooves of damaging thoughts and allow them to die away. The thing is, it take focus and strength and faith in the process to allow yourself and literally give yourself the permission to succeed. It does work when you have that stream of knowledge always feeding your “hose” and you direct it willingly and with intention exactly where you want it to go. That why total immersion in the right type of exposure to knowledge and influences and this method is of the utmost importance to gain mastery in anything you aim to learn. You guard your attention with your life because your life literally depends on it, and you focus only on the process of intentional change and improvement.”
Again, immersion is the only way to get your mind reshaped into making you a different person who is capable of achieving whatever goal you set for yourself. When tackling the subject of downloading knowledge into your brain and protecting your attention, it touches on a subject of the utmost importance in today’s interconnected world.
If you’ve ever watched the TV show Star-Trek Voyager, you become familiar with the “Borg.” A species with a “Hive Mind” interconnected with special technology that assimilates all species and lifeforms into part of their Ant colony type of civilization. Congratulations, you are now part of the Borg and you have been successfully assimilated into the hive brain. Your smartphone is basically your cybernetic enhancements and it connects you to the global brain of the human species which is the internet. That’s where it get tricky. The connectivity you have through your smartphone and the internet which is our biggest technological advantage since the Gutenberg Printing Press is also infested with a double-edged sword type of virus. The same technology which allows you to assimilate knowledge from abundant sources and deep troves of unfathomable value also expose you to “Attention Hackers.” The technology embedded into our search engines, email providers, content platforms, social media, and games is engineered by the most brilliant minds in the world to hijack your attention and monetize it. The Library of Alexandria which is the internet is also a massive malicious greedy propaganda and confirmation-bias machine designed to get you addicted to consumption and train your brain into becoming a click-bait monkey. That’s also the result of compound interest of applying WWII psychological warfare and propaganda techniques mastered by the late Edward Bernays and directed towards the american consumer to create the post WWII consumerism boom, which soon after exploded to infest the whole world. Marketing and Advertisement harness the power of psychological cognitive biases and when that immense power met the exponential multiplier of the internet and fertile grounds of social media, well, that’s why you literally cannot put your phone down and your detachment from your smartphone is worse that the withdrawal symptoms felt by heroin addicts.
Well, this is you trapped in the Matrix. That’s why it’s hard to take the red pill. Unplugging yourself from that powerful machine requires plenty of patience and focus and creativity.
Perhaps part of the answer to what you need to do to get well on the right path would have to entail a bit of digital detox and social media fasting and you will have to experiment with certain blocking apps and limited usage parental controls and such drastic techniques. Or, you could simply use the concept of displacement. You block the content which is useless to you, and flood your timelines with only the type of content which will reprogram your brain with a different set of information. Use the confirmation bias advertisement algorithms to your advantage, use facebook’s algorithms to your advantage, and make it direct to your feed all the things that are relevant to your well being. Make the good kind of knowledge flood and displace the bad kind of influence you allow to program your head. Displacement of the bad with the good. Let go of the anger-porn. click-bait news-cycle, useless political debates, and all sorts of the ‘gout-de-jour’ ignoble topics which rile up the masses real nice. I truly believe that the best way to get unplugged from the Matrix is to follow Pete’s advice and follow the principle of displacement. You allow only that content which you know will get you to from that place, which you so desperately want to leave behind, to go the other place that is your destination through consistently pumping high quality content into your brain that will displace all the junk and debris that you allowed to be dumped into your brain for years on end. It is a daunting task, but most certainly, once you can do and succeed.
I have a parallel purport to the Knowledge download in the Matrix. I was captivated by the John Travolta movie Battlefield Earth. As the antagonist member of an Alien species that colonized Earth and enslaved humanity, he introduced his human slave to an advanced learning machine that pumps knowledge right into the brain.
And as much as I still wish there is a technology that would allow me to instantaneously download all the knowledge I want and need, I have to concede to the fact that learning it a process that is inherently slow and tedious and accumulative. As you learn and get an advanced inflow of original thoughts, your reflection process is your brain’s way of piecing this knowledge into your puzzle that forms the way you perceive the world. It cannot be instantaneous. Yet! Who knows what the future holds for us? Right?
I guess one of the major lessons in life that you don’t quite catch on until much much later in life, is that you become everything you consume. You are what you eat, what you see, what you hear, what you read, what you learn and what you tell yourself and others. Your mind reinforces whatever input you feed it and it programs you to seek more of the same. Technology basically turbo-charges that to turn you into a cash-cow for billions of products that need customers.
There’s this line from the Matrix by the Frenchman that explains why you need to acquire more knowledge:
“Beneath our poised appearance, the truth is we are completely out of control. Causality. There is no escape from it, we are forever slaves to it. Our only hope, our only peace is to understand it, to understand the why. ‘Why’ is what separates us from them, you from me. ‘Why’ is the only real social power, without it you are powerless.”
I wish that everyone can find their own way out of their own Matrix. I wish everyone would seek out the help and guidance they so desperately need. I wish that all those who are suffering find their purpose and meaning in life. I wish everyone would find their why and get back the power to change their lives. I wish you all reading this peace, love and happiness.
Thank you for the gift of your time.


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