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Originally published on, August 1, 2020

What causes people to come out of their fantasies? What causes us to really question ourselves? What makes us change?

Our minds, after all, are instruments of survival. They are built to help us survive in the world just like our eyes, our muscles, and our immune systems.

One of the most fundamental defense mechanisms of the mind is to “do what worked last time”. Our behavior is built on our experiences. If we have come this far by doing what we do, then the mind is wired to keep doing that. Even if it hurts. It is also wired to avoid anything that it has never tried. This is the flip side of the coin. The mind wants what is familiar, because it knows it can survive that; and it avoids what is unfamiliar, because it has no way of knowing whether that will work. It’s a simple mechanism, and it has virtually absolute authority over our lives, as much as we would love to believe otherwise.

And when does the mind change its ways?

Really, only when it realizes that if it does the same thing even just one more time, it will die.

This happens when we hit a wall. This happens when the water comes up to our noses, and we can no longer ignore the truth: We have to change. This scenario comes with six of my favorite words in the world: “I just can’t take this anymore”.

And then we finally look outside of our box.

If you find yourself saying these words, bless you. You are in a magical place. Cherish it, appreciate it, and follow the urge. You are bound to come to a higher ground, if you can be courageous enough to step up to it.

I love this place.

And what about nations?

How do nations change?

Much in the same way as people: Nations change when they hit a wall; when enough people say “I just can’t take this anymore”. The water has to reach its boiling point, in order for us to understand where we really are, and what we have to do about it.

We are living in a magical time.

Be courageous. The world is calling you - to step up.


Update, January 2023

I had a conversation with my sister shortly after I wrote this blog post. She brought another possibility to my attention. Maybe even two. In this time of crises, I felt compelled to come back and add them in:

The first is that we are often drawn to change by the forces of love. Many people experience life changes when they meet someone special, or have a baby for the first time. This is a huge source of hope for me.

The second is that people can change when their life situation changes - and not necessarily in a bad way. People who spend a substantial amount of time away from their regular routine and habits, by long-term traveling for example, are known to develop new perspectives. I spent eight months in India and Nepal when I was younger, and it changed a lot of my views about the world. I know others who have had similar experiences.

Moving permanently (as opposed to traveling) might have a similar effect, but it’s more about the habits than the location: If you take your habits and routine with you, then I wouldn’t expect as much of a change.

Try placing yourself in some completely new and foreign way of life - not just a different city that looks more-or-less like the one you’ve been in before, but a different world altogether. Seekers often go to far off places. As beautifully illustrated by Paulo Cuelho in his book “The Alchemist”, this is not because they are looking for the ancient pyramids, per se. What they find, in the end, is themselves.

Photo by Miriam Fischer, Pexels


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