How can you change the powerful loop that is your habitual life

Topic: You are a product of your friends, co-workers, family, furniture, architecture, restaurants, shops and streets

Discussion: You start out shaping your environment, but soon it’s shaping you, until you form a stable, self-reinforcing loop.

Tip: Try to identify malign loops everywhere you can think of (investing, macroeconomics, relationships, health)

Conclusion: If you’re not happy with your life you probably need to make bigger changes than you might think


Trauma induced psychopatic behavior is inheritable

Psychopaths can be identified through a brain scan. The trait is inheritable and their brain patterns are highly specific. Jordan Harbinger found out as much when he studied psychopaths. Later, when researching Alzheimer’s in his own family he found out he himself had the brain of one of the worst psychos he had ever come across. And yet, he wasn’t behaving like a psychopath, e.g., he never harmed anybody. More about that a little later…


Looping behavior and post traumatic growth

Recent research shows people often react positively to intense stress and shocks. They are beneficiaries of adverse circumstances. Other people develop PTSD from severe stress. Some people turn into raging psychopaths if exposed to a certain kind of trauma, as if the organism says “Apparently, I can’t trust other people, so instead I’m going to use them”. The good news is that they need to carry the psychopathy genes for that. What’s worse, however, is that once the genes are triggered they can be inherited in their triggered state to up to two generations.

Think about that for a while: the genes for psychopathy can be carried but silent forever, but once triggered by a traumatic experience, epigenetic changes occur that means the children and grandchildren of a psychopath can become active psychopaths themselves without the need for triggers. The pattern for inherited antisocial behavior could have significant implications for societies when observed over very long cycles. Strauss and Howe call those cycles “Saeculums” which are about 90 years long, or the span of a long-lived human. More about that in a little while.

Humans move in stable loops. We conform to our environment, move or change it until we fit in. The people we see, the establishments we frequent, what we eat, the shops we go to, the way our living quarters are arranged shape us. Once set, the context decides most of your life for you, just as you become part of other peoples’ life shaping context. If you’re  not careful you’ll live your life as a domesticated animal with hardly any active choices or enriching experiences at all.

In any case, our environment and experiences shape us, and there is good reason to take control of that process, lest we spend our lives as zombies or psychopaths.


Breaking the loop

With some effort you can change your context and break out of your homeostasis. However, unless you actually move, change jobs, spend most of your time with other people and so on, you’re likely to slip right back into your old habits.

By all means, start small: just take different routes to and from work, walk your dog in unfamiliar areas and visit new shops and restaurants. That way you might meet new people which is key. You’ve probably heard that you are a blend of the five people you spend most of your time with. Are you? And do they represent your values and ideals? If not you need to change them or dilute their influence. For that you may need to make bigger changes such as moving and getting another job. Recent research in psychology and psychedelics have shown that certain intense psychotherapy can break a decade of, e.g., depression looping in one single sitting.

Ideally, you want your environment to be like bicycling downhill rather than uphill, that your environment pushes you forward as opposed to hampering your efforts. You could compare the right technological, cultural and social context to always having homemade food in the freezer and your gymbag at the ready, as opposed to candy and cookies at the house.


Two topics fascinate me regarding this interplay between surroundings and choices: does it explain the Fourth Turning theory, and what can be done to prevent too much perosnal looping?


Could transgenerational epigenetic triggers of pychopathy explain The Fourth Turning?

  1. Big traumatic experiences that affect a whole generation of young people can trigger an entire generation of more or less antisocial behavior. Such a psychopathic generation would share certain memories, feelings and behavioral traits that make them prone to certain kinds of decisions in certain kinds of situations and lines of work
  2. Due to the mechanics of transgenerational epigenetics a certain number of their children are affected as well, and a number of their children. Then, for the fourth generation the bad blood (epigenetically pre-triggered psychopathy) is finally cleaned out, creating a generation that is quite different from the other generations.
  3. Unfortunately, when the Social generation and their children are still young, the Psychopaths are in charge of society’s most important institutions and risk causing a new cycle of trauma and psychopaths. Maybe, just maybe, this is part of the mechanics underlying Strauss and Howe’s theory of generational cycles in The Fourth Turning. Well, I’ll leave that to Howe, whom I’ve recently contacted regarding his updated edition of the book.

What can be done to counter your own laziness, homeostasis and looping behavior?

  1. Humans have a very limited agency as it is, i.e., room for voluntary action that is not immediately and deterministically triggered by circumstances. Some would say we have no free will at all. Be that as it may, but at least we feel we can change our behavior just a little.
  2. Thus it’s crucial to tweak and design one’s surroundings as thoughtfully as possible, to make them conducive to… well, whatever it is you want to achieve.
  3. The following might help: Feng Shui furniture, dark bedrooms, TV placement, computer and phone screen habits, refrigerator contents, shopping habits (I recommend shopping groceries online, right after having eaten and using fixed lists).
  4. Learn to be aware of, recognize and break non productive loops and ineffective coping behavior. Try to guide your coping behavior to loop-breaking rather than loop-reinforcing, e.g., by letting thoughts of “staying the course”, “choosing laziness” trigger the opposite. Drop to the floor right now and make 10 push-ups. Don’t feel like it? You’ll do it later? But there are people around? Those are the exact triggers you want to make you do it without delay. Now!

Conclusion and summary

Never mind the Fourth Turning, that’s for another day and another author, no matter how fascinating.

Take charge of your context. What do you want to achieve? What do you need to achieve that? What kind of traits would help? Where do people with those traits live and hang out? Seek them out. What traits are in the way? Stop seeing people with those characteristics. Design your life around people, activities, companies etc. that  on average are what you want to be. Make a plan on how to get from here to there and take the consequent action, be it moving, resigning, take a course, break up and so on.

Just be careful what you wish for; you need a very good grasp of who you truly are and what you really want, before taking drastic action.

Final thoughts: If you’re not happy with your life something is seriously wrong. I know people who are retired and pretty well off who have planned for reading books and making oil paintings but find themselves constantly renovating the house, just as constantly complaining they never have the time to relax, read and paint. They are stuck in a loop, unhappily so. Are you happy with your job, your activities after work, the level of meaningfulness in your social life, your overall level of belonging and self-actualization etc? If not, no New Year’s resolution about going to the gym or joining a book club is going to change that.

You need to put yourself in a whole new context.


P.S. If this resonated with you here are two suggestions: 1) bookmark my website, 2) check out Start Gaining Momentum and his book Breaking Out Of Homeostasis.

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13 Comments

  1. Very interesting article with a reminder for attention to the small details. I am in the process of a major life shift and re-build and have most things now pointing in the right direction but each different thought or tip I can pick up from someone like yourself adds another jewel to my chest of treasure. Your last line sums everything up “You need to put yourself into a whole new context” rather than floundering around deciding which parts are under construction or change: the whole is.

  2. Fascinating stuff, thank you.

    Got me thinking, as I understand it we have a “limit amount” of willingness to use at a time. Is it better to use it all and really BOH or better to spread it out over a larger period of time? Cause major stress at one moment or change little by little.
    Unknowingly I’ve been doing the later, changing job in the beginning of the year and just now moved.

    Also, Feng Shui furniture? I guess I have some googling to do.

    • I’m a fan and practitioner of Wu Wei — small incremental changes, almost imperceptible. Start early and start small: change without change.

      On the other hand, sometimes you’re stuck in your context, and small changes reverse quickly due to the weight of your context (peer pressure, work habits…). In that case you more or less have to make a big change, or at least move yourself out of the context while keeping all other habits constant (like eating junk food, sleeping too little, drinking etc — those can change later when you have the willpower)

  3. One of the most interesting and thoughtful posts so far, and I’ve read all of them. Thanks!

  4. Hej Mikael,
    I liked this post, the best one according to me for some time.
    Keep it up! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Hej
    och tack för en mycket fin och tänkvärd summering av vad som krävs för förändring och förnyelse. Planterade sig fint:)
    Mvh / Ingrid.

  6. Very thought provoking. You should just make a small adjustment, “Jordan Harbinger found out as much when he studied psychopaths.” is wrong. Jordan has to my knowledge never studied psychopaths. Your thinking of James Fallon who was a guest on Jordans podcast. Fallons book, the psychopath inside, is, if my memory serves me right, a quite interesting read, I recommend it. Just thought you should change it so credit goes to the actual researcher.

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