Emancipate yourself from mental slavery

None but ourselves can free our minds.  

Bob Marley


Imagine that someone presents you with a to-do list and tells you that you better hurry and start crossing things off.  Anxiously, you begin working your way through the list.  One of the first to-do’s is sending your resume to be considered for a boring, desk job.  You had hopes and dreams of being an innovator and maybe building your own business, but this person laughs at the mere thought because you could never do that.

The desk job, while not really engaging or challenging, is on the stable, safe path and is the much more practical alternative.  When you finish writing the cover letter to accompany the resume, the overseer criticizes the result and belittles your effort.

Taking a break from marking things off of the list, you watch a little television news. The whole time, the annoying slave driver won’t shut up telling you how you should think and feel about each item that comes on the news justifying why they are right.  They do their commentary long enough to point out that you’re being a “lazy bum” and nagging you to get back to work.

Even when you go to bed, the pest just will not leave you alone.  Standing by the bed, they chatter incessantly, picking apart the events of the day in minute detail, dredging up the events of the past and telling you that you need to worry about this or that in the future.

You’d certainly be justified in wanting to backhand this person and tell them to “shut up!”  Understandably, you probably wouldn’t want to be around this person or consider them very nice, yet many of us allow our own minds to treat us like this, or worse, every day without thinking anything of it.

In his book, Beyond Mental Slavery: A Guide to Breaking Free and Thinking Clearly, Steve Gillman explains that we all have subconscious, reactive programs and mental processes which guide many of our thoughts and decisions and limit the clarity and effectiveness of our thinking.  He writes:

Quick rationalizations provide obvious but ‘untrue’ reasons for our beliefs and actions, biases prevent us from examining new ideas, and desires push us to win arguments rather than search for truth.  We are led around by these parts of our minds that we’re only vaguely aware of.  ….[W]e can either use the mind or be used by it.

To break free, think clearly, and go beyond the mental slavery of our minds, Gillman suggests the following:

  • Challenge your own thinking.  Use your reasoning power against itself to make logical arguments for opposing beliefs and theories.   Be honest with yourself and recognize your own biases.
  • Pay attention to your thoughts.  Learn to observe your mind by developing self-awareness and consciousness.  Routinely challenge your assumptions and their origins. Be willing to see how conditioned you might be. Start with a desire for the truth – no matter what it might be.  Meditation and mindfulness practices are a great way to do this.
  • Become aware of the effect that certain words have on you.  Notice which words generate strong reactions or feelings for you. Identify words that carry extra meaning for you or that may mean something different to others.  Doing so will prepare you to listen more objectively and to be less reactive.  He offers exercises in the book to help you do this.
  • Learn to recognize when your thinking is being corrupted by your ego.  Specifically to overcome the influence of the ego, he advises to:

– have fewer opinions
– argue less
– question your motivations and challenge your assumptions
– borrow instead of buying ideas
– become interested in and make the opposing argument
– be open to changing your mind
– understand limitations
– admit ignorance

  • Doubt the reality of any true authority. In fact, stop using the words “authority” or “expert” in your thinking and speech.  He’s not suggesting a lack of respect here; just that you never let someone think FOR you.
  • Do not measure and judge by self-reference.  Become aware of your own mind and its limitations and biases.  Your ideas and beliefs are not the standard against which all things are measured. While your beliefs are natural and obvious to you, others feel the same way about their own beliefs and judgments no matter how conflicting they may be with yours.
  • Question your habitual following of fear’s advice.  Look past fearful thoughts for better ideas and assumptions.  Purposefully, work through the fear and do that which scares you.  Stop serving fear and think and act in spite of it.

Gillman advises that an essential step in breaking free of mental slavery is for a person to make the commitment to themselves to do so.  Like most everything in life, mental slavery can only happen if we allow it.  I can attest that taking control of your mind is taking control of your life.  It has allowed me to dramatically change myself and my life for the better. Gillman writes:

Your progress toward a mind that truly serves your highest purpose will always depend on your willingness to observe yourself.  When you do that, you’ll start to see where you are giving your freedom away in bits and pieces to this or that momentary master.

image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7477245@N05/


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  1. I live with a number of competing mental “petty tyrants”, as Castaneda would call them, similar in effect to Gillman’s concepts of unconscious behavior drivers. I’m aware of them, but I haven’t been able to shake myself of their influence except through dissociation (not good), or practicing detachment through meditation (better).

    To some degree choosing to change the big environmental influences has helped – working less, owning less, living in a smaller, slower (therefore safer/less fear inducing) place. But I’m still full of opinions, though I try not to grant too much allegiance to them aside from acceptance that I like what I like and vice-versa. Work in progress I guess. As always, I enjoy having new ways of looking at it through your eyes, and those who write what you are reading.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Sounds like you have found a way to deal with the “petty tyrants” that works for you. Smart man. That is the important part! I have found that just being aware of and recognizing them for what they are and, then, consciously choosing to ignore them or weigh their input works for me. Isn’t that a type of disassociation, really? Basically, you are recognizing that they are not you. They are coming from you, but you are not powerless to them.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Tony, thank you for the kind words. Indeed! Follow and listen to your dreams not your doubts.

  2. One of your best writings to date, for me particularly. So many great points to reference! Thanks again for your hard work and references that you share with us!!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks for the glowing words. I am glad you found it helpful. I aim to please! 🙂

  3. Judy M. Hampton Reply

    Hi there, good recap of the harmful “self talk” and the positive influence of affirmations, which I remember you have used.

    I was once asked if I did not get tired of all the voices in my head. I replied that I had one voice expressing one opinion, another expressing the opposing viewpoint and another moderating! Tiring, yes, but helpful in making decisions.

    Again, another stellar writing. Love, Mom

  4. Paula Froes Reply

    Another great article.

    I’m grateful for them.
    I was wondering if it is ok with you that I make links to some of your articles on my site.

    Sorry I’m using this to ask you, but I don’t know how else I can get in touch.

    Thank you.

    Paula Froes

  5. Mike Mathews Reply

    I really would like to interject, you guys are all so happy go lucky about how easy it is to forgo judgment and all that. What if you are in a environment which is hostile, just by the existence of a person who is tyrannical and you, practicing all these happy thoughts in space stuff are subjected to a constant everyday and night barrage of one degrading comment after another. If it isn’t directed at you then it is directed at someone else and the person is so loud that even with doors closed and headphones in you can hear them loudly proclaiming the evil in men and how you HAVE to be a certain a way and how they are just being protective.
    Anyway, if you are in this situation it seems easy enough to say, O, I can just leave. When you realize its been over a decade and your lives are completely intertwined and this person shows no signs of changing. When you walk away you will have nothing and maybe even end up in prison for a long time because of the choice you make to leave and have no financial support to pay for the mistakes

    • “you guys are all so happy go lucky about how easy it is to forgo judgment and all that.” Easy? You are obviously a not a regular reader of this blog and don’t know my story. After taking care of my brother for two years as he died of AIDs, 2 miscarriages, the end of an 18 year marriage and a subsequent 3 year relationship, I tried to commit suicide resulting in a serious brain injury laving me physically and mentally impaired. At that time, my ex sued me for custody of my sons, won, and promptly moved out of state with them.

      It was anything but easy. If I seem happy-go-lucky now it is hard won In the years of my recovery, alone and brain inured, I can tell you that when I quit focusing on what other people think, expect, and do, I became a lot freer, happier, and saw many more options available to me. All I hear in your message is your “can’ts” Yes, these are real situations, but the limiting beliefs, the can’ts, are in your thoughts. Your beliefs are limiting you and keeping you in your situation. No, it’s not going to be easy. Changing your life for the better rarely is. But you can do it if you stop focusing on all the reasons you think you can’t and start thinking of ways you can. Maybe just small steps at first. Nothing too drastic.

      If you don’t like your situation, change it. It really is that simple. Not easy, but simple and worth it. On the other side of all your can’ts is happiness. Walk through them.

  6. It all starts with you challenging yourself, your mind! When your mind accepts the challenge, it shows you the super power potential it has which you never knew as you were being busy being a slave to your own mind.

  7. Sharon Shapiro Reply

    Nice article! May I add from direct experience and success: Any true spiritual master, or guide, will make it clear that, to live free of mental slavery, first you must detach and seclude, as much as possible, from the masses and society (including family, friends, and other personal associations); otherwise you will continue to be a victim of what’s known as mental contagion (a primary sociological method of spreading, and reinforcing, mass mental slavery and conditioning). The extent of your ability to detach is directly dependent upon your capacity for self-reliance and self-sufficiency. You cannot depend upon any external sources for freedom from mental slavery; they too are contaminated. Few can attain this worthy goal. FEW!

    • Sharon, thank you for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts. I experienced the seclusion and correspnding freedom you speak of as a side effect of recovering from a brain injury. It was a blessing in disguise!

  8. Tirus Kariuki Reply

    I think I am tomented. Can’t think right ,n no injury. Someone help

  9. Joshua Crampton Reply

    Hey, I wish I seen this earlier. Are you still in need of help? I may be of some service.

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