Modern life is one of intellectual burden.
Most of our jobs revolve around intellectual effort—creativity and analysis, thinking our
way through complex problems. The modern human being has been reduced almost
completely to its mind: We strategize, weigh variables, form opinions, and rarely leave
the boundaries of our skulls.
We live almost entirely in our manufactured selves.
Not the selves we were born with, but the illusory selves that we’ve constructed
over a lifetime of intellectual effort.
The problem with these manufactured selves is that they believe thinking is the cure
to every problem. Every moment of emotional flux is treated as a moment to criticize
and figure out. The irony is that emotional problems can’t be solved by intellectual
effort—it’s like trying to tie water in a knot.
Happiness—by which I mean sustainable inner peace—comes not from adding
one more brick to the manufactured self. It comes from learning how to deconstruct it.
or “bad.” This was once useful from a survival perspective: Distinguishing
edible foods from poisonous foods, or predator sounds from prey sounds,
was a matter of life or death. But outside of a survival context, there’s very
little that’s objectively good or bad. Cultural associations tempt us to think
otherwise, and our minds get very good at making confident judgments—
judgments that are proof of our manufactured selves. Deconstructing the
manufactured self is the absence of value judgments. Nothing is absolutely
good or bad; everything simply is.
makes it seem like nothing means anything, and therefore that nothing is
worth pursuing. But “emptiness” should be a liberating idea. At the core, it
means that nothing has any essential qualities, that everything we see is a
product of conditions in constant flux. It applies directly to the idea of a
manufactured self: You are not the qualities that you’ve grown into. It
applies directly to the idea of a manufactured self: You are not the qualities
that you’ve grown into.
mental obsession. Rather than judging every moment as it passes, you
simply watch the moments pass, watch your emotions arise and fade
away, watch the rhythms of your manufactured self without feeling
defined by them. It has a lot in common with the idea of a “flow state.”
In a flow state, you’re not anguishing over every decision, you’re making
decisions based on instinct and confidence. And you’re not judging the
outcomes of your decisions as absolutely good or bad.
The wrong way to do it is to apply more intellectual effort—looking for answers in
self-help books, higher productivity, “better” habits. Those things can all be helpful
in various ways, but they don’t address the fundamental issue of manufactured stress.
Deconstructing the manufactured self is a reflective process:
steps to put distance between you and your manufactured self (meditation is a
useful way to do this, but is not the end of the story).
external inputs and creates internal experiences—positive, negative, stressful,
or outsource, to your manufactured self. Whatever you’re going through—positive
or negative—has no essential value, does not define you, does not extend beyond
the boundaries of the manufactured self.
The manufactured self is a bit of a heady concept, partly because nothing in our
day-to-day lives encourages us to step away from it. In fact, there’s an economic
incentive for companies and brands to get us hooked on the restless judgments
our manufactured selves make. You can break the cycle—it starts with letting go.