- The book teaches you how to reprogram your brain and change the way you think, feel, and act by adjusting the code that runs your brain, which is composed of thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, and habits.
- The book shows you how to use neuroscience-based skills and techniques to break the cycle of negative and irrational messages that are generated by the little voice in your head, which is the result of an outdated and faulty software that runs your brain.
- The book also provides examples, exercises, worksheets, and resources to help you apply these skills in your daily life and improve your mental health and your quality of life.
That Little Voice in Your Head (2022) is a guide to understanding and optimizing your brain so you can live a happier life, using concepts from computer science and neuroscience to map the mind as an operating system. It includes many simple exercises to help you take control of your brain, thoughts, and emotions to reshape your own experience and positively affect the lives of others.
Introduction: Learn from a top computer scientist how to reprogram your brain for a happier life.
Table of Contents
- Introduction: Learn from a top computer scientist how to reprogram your brain for a happier life.
- You control your thoughts – which do not define you
- Start troubleshooting the four reasons our brains can cause unhappiness
- Use questioning and new habits to debug your brain
- Optimize your brain, and have a positive impact on the world, through useful thinking
Think back to your earliest memories. Can you recall being a child, free of responsibilities, expectations, and other pressures? Oh, to be that happy again!
Did you know we can reset and retrain our brains to our “default state” of happiness?
That’s a guiding principle for former Google X top executive and computer scientist Mo Gawdat, who studies and promotes the concept of happiness, including his third best seller, That Little Voice in Your Head. In it, he offers a “user’s manual” for our brains, which includes many exercises for preventive maintenance and debugging issues to achieve a happy state.
Gawdat combines his experience in computer science with neuroscience research to lay out a model of the brain and its functions like one would, with a computer and its software. He adds many personal insights and anecdotes for relatability and relevance – chief among them the death of his son, Ali, which inspired him to refocus his life’s work on helping people find happiness. He even founded a movement called One Billion Happy. Perhaps you’ll be one of those one billion after finishing this summary – or at least be on your way toward it.
Gawdat asserts that the key to happiness is a better understanding of the parts of the brain’s operating system and the programs it runs – or rather, our thoughts and what causes them. With that, you can accurately identify when and where to intervene and make adjustments. While we’ll only cover parts of Gawdat’s user’s manual, you’ll get insights and exercises you can put to work immediately.
Grab a pen and paper or your notes app. You’ll need them for a few quick exercises we’ll do as we go.
Let’s take a look at your operating system.
You control your thoughts – which do not define you
Before we go any farther, there’s one concept you must accept: You are in control of your brain just as you are a computer, and that includes the messages it sends. The essence of “you” is more than just your thoughts.
While Gawdat credits the brain with being a marvelous machine, he says it’s like any other organ in the body in that it processes and produces things. Just as the lungs take oxygen from the air and expel carbon dioxide, the brain takes input and produces thoughts. Now, you don’t think of “yourself” as carbon dioxide, do you? The same should go for thoughts.
While we are making sure you separate your identity from your brain’s byproducts, also consider this: You can observe your thoughts. So, if you were merely your thoughts and nothing more, there would be no need for an internal voice to communicate anything — you’d already know. To Gawdat, it’s more proof that while the brain is critically important, it’s not all of you.
This leads to the hopeful conclusion that you have power over your thoughts. That little voice in your head? Well, you don’t have to do anything it says. You can choose not to listen to it at all! Better yet, you can train it to think in ways that bring happiness to you and, potentially, the whole world.
Feeling empowered? Great. As promised, we’ll start with the top-level operations of our brains, so you can begin to identify what needs attention. Gawdat starts with a basic concept — an operational diagram — of how all computational systems operate. While he expands on it with a model that’s more complex, we’ll stick with the simple one to keep things brief.
First, we have inputs. They account for all the information that you put into a system. Next are processes, which describe what a system does with its inputs. Finally, there are outputs — whatever those inputs and processes produce.
If you are looking for happiness in life, then it’s likely you aren’t entirely pleased with your output. You may have tried a few things in your processes with no big improvements. With a computer, that would be like updating software, yet the machine still runs slowly. For you, maybe you’ve picked up meditating or established an exercise routine yet still are not feeling it, much less seeing results. Don’t worry. We’re getting there.
Let’s start at the beginning of the operational diagram to consider what may be happening with your inputs. Here’s a quick exercise to prime your mind. Take five minutes in a quiet spot and reflect on the past week. Jot down everything you can recall hearing, seeing, experiencing, or even feeling. and any thoughts you may have had about them. That’s it!
Keep your list. You’ll want to return to it after we look at the various things happening in your brain that can cause trouble.
Start troubleshooting the four reasons our brains can cause unhappiness
Count down from four slowly. Four. Three. Two. One.
Gawdat says there are four main reasons our brains can cause unhappiness, and understanding them will help you troubleshoot when it happens. The countdown also helps you to remember the details of each. There are four types of faulty inputs, three defense mechanisms, two “polarities,” and one bad type of thought.
As we just covered, inputs are all the information that enters your brain. If you don’t like your output in your life, look closely at what you’re allowing into it.
The four types of input that can wreak havoc are conditioning, old thoughts, pent-up emotions, and hidden triggers. They all connect to beliefs you have formed based on all you’ve experienced throughout life. The first three are similar in that they’re internal. A big problem with all of them is that they aren’t always true. The fourth, hidden triggers, refers to all the messages you take in from sources around you, like violence and consumerism in the media or even well-meaning advice from a loved one.
The next reason our brains may cause unhappiness – number three in our countdown – is our three defense mechanisms. Gawdat turns to neuroscience to explain how our brains function in these ways. We have deep neurological responses like those of other animals, starting with our “reptilian brain,” which helps us avoid threats. Our “mammalian brain” leads us to seek pleasure and not pain. Last, we have our advanced “rational brain” that helps us do the complex things that other animals cannot do, like program computers or write books.
They all serve important purposes, yet can cause trouble when they have too much influence. For example, avoiding any hint of danger can get us stuck completely in reptile-brain mode. Always prioritizing pleasure with our mammalian brain can cause us to hang on to things and people that no longer serve us. Now, you may think the rational brain could solve all of that, but not so fast! Overanalyzing can make us think negatively and feel generally dissatisfied with everything.
Now for the two polarities. You’ve probably heard about them before — the right brain and the left brain. Gawdat compares them to the separate processors in computers, where one handles vivid graphics, while the other focuses on numbers and tasks. Studies show the right side of the brain fires when we are processing creative and emotional matters, while the left lights up as we tackle structured things like strategy and organization. Just like a computer, we need both processors to work optimally and evenly. Outputs aren’t so great when they do not.We are down to the “one” in the countdown: It’s the one thought – or type of thought – that causes unhappiness in our brains. Gawdat calls it “incessant thinking,” or rumination, a word he explains comes from ruminant animals, like cows or sheep, described as such because they throw up their food to continue consuming it. While that sounds pretty gross, it’s useful for them. It is not for you and your thoughts, especially if they’re harmful. If you keep repeating a negative thought, it becomes part of your program and affects everything you do.
Now that we’ve covered the four causes, let’s get to the fun part: debugging.
Use questioning and new habits to debug your brain
We just covered the four main reasons your brain can make you unhappy, complete with a handy countdown to call them up as needed. Remember “4, 3, 2, 1” every time you sense a problem in your operating system.
To counter them, Gawdat offers many exercises for awareness and to reprogram your mind for better outputs.
The four faulty inputs — conditioning, old thoughts, hampered emotions, and hidden triggers — can be addressed by developing a practice of questioning yourself, if you aren’t already doing so. Take the list of thoughts from the first section’s exercise. Put them to the test with questions like, “Is this belief serving me?”, “Where might that thought have come from?”, and “Is this belief even true?”
You can take a similar approach to confronting your reptilian brain. Question yourself about the actual danger level of a situation, and gauge your overall safety. Are you facing a matter of life and death? Can you think of other people who endured what you consider a worst-case scenario and yet came out better for it? Frequently reminding your brain how safe you actually are will balance your avoidant instinct.
Questioning exercises will also shut down the incessant thinking, or rumination. When the little voice starts talking, let it go. When it stops, ask it for another thought – a different one. Give yourself 25 minutes; set an alarm. According to Gawdat, eventually the voice shuts up simply because you’re paying attention to it.
In addition to questioning, you can also create other habits to balance or reverse problems. To address the fourth faulty input, hidden triggers, try reducing your exposure to mass media, to desensitizing violence in shows and games, and to celebrity gossip. Just cutting them out may make you more aware of their influence. Gawdat, for example, eliminated any movies with violence or gore and limited his news intake to just headlines every three days.
Since we know our pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding mammalian brain can cause attachment issues, it’s a good idea to start getting rid of some of your stuff. Routinely purging things you don’t need will get you in the habit of weeding out other things, too – like thoughts and scenarios that don’t serve you. For example, Gawdat says he allots an hour each Saturday to choose 10 items to give away.
As for balancing your polarities, practice using both sides of your brain as you confront challenges. Start by examining an issue from all angles to become fully aware of it before you do anything. Gather all the information you can, then act. Gawdat calls it “Be. Learn. Do.”
Remember that you have the power to dig into what is motivating your thoughts, emotions, and choices. Don’t fall into a spiral of self-doubt. Instead, use a healthy dose of skepticism to develop awareness about why you think and feel the way you do. It will build confidence in who you are and inform your next moves as you seek to improve.
Once you’ve started to control and eliminate the neural reasons for suffering, you’re ready for more advanced programming to fully optimize your brain and life experience.
Optimize your brain, and have a positive impact on the world, through useful thinking
When you think of someone achieving the ultimate state of bliss, your mind may go to a Zen Buddhist monk who has mastered the practice of meditation and quieting the mind. While that is a good example, it’s not practical for most of us to dedicate several hours a day to traditional meditation as monks do. Plus, it isn’t the only way to happiness.
Meditation is a useful tool to calm the mind and stop rumination, which we now know is a leading cause of unhappiness. But what do you do when you simply can’t shut out the world for extended periods of time?
Gawdat calls it “useful thinking,” and identifies four types. Just like joyful thoughts, they also push negative thinking out of the way, because your brain can only truly focus on one thing at a time. What’s more, they’re possibly even better than a quiet mind because of their ability to help others. If you can train your brain to focus only on joyful thoughts plus these four, think away!
First, there’s “experiential thinking,” or practicing mindfulness. You can do small, intentional things every day to focus your senses on the world around you, like seeking out a beautiful scene on your morning walk or listening only to your favorite music on your commute. This also works for turning your focus inward to examine emotions you’re experiencing or doing an inventory of how each part of your body is feeling.
Next is solving problems. If you’re good at it, you’re probably highly favored at work. This can also be used in your personal life. Gawdat offers a series of questions you can use each time you encounter a challenging thought or issue, starting with “Is it true?” followed by “Can I do something about it?” and, finally, “Can I accept and commit?” The actions to take after the first two questions may seem obvious. If it’s not true, let it go. If you can do something, do it. Accepting and committing to that acceptance is your only option when you can’t do anything to change a situation.
Third, there’s flow, which means you’re so into whatever you’re doing that you feel happy and highly skilled, and lose track of time. You can practice this by taking a skill you already have and like, making a project slightly harder than it has to be, then reducing it to tiny tasks. Take each task one by one, and don’t limit your time.
Last, we have giving, which can be anything from a smile or compliment to volunteering your time or making a donation. Many scientific studies have shown that giving increases our own happiness dramatically. When you give, you can’t lose.
You can approach your path to happiness like a computer scientist would troubleshoot an operating system and its software, examining your brain’s inputs and processes. You are not the sum of your thoughts but actually separate from them, and therefore have the power to control, change, or replace them.
There are four main reasons our brains can cause us to struggle: four faulty inputs, three defense mechanisms, two polarities, and one type of malicious, repetitive thought. Each of these problem areas can be addressed with consistent practices that include questioning ourselves, and other habits that increase our awareness and establish new thought patterns.
And finally, you can optimize your brain’s performance, your happiness, and the lives of others with useful thinking, focusing on experiences, problem-solving, achieving a flow state, and giving.
Self-Help, Personal Growth, Happiness, Psychology, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Motivational, Inspirational
That Little Voice in Your Head is a book that teaches you how to reprogram your brain and change the way you think, feel, and act. The book is based on the author’s personal experience of overcoming depression and anxiety, as well as his professional expertise as a former chief business officer at Google X.
The book argues that the main cause of our suffering is the little voice in our head, which is the result of an outdated and faulty software that runs our brain. This software is composed of four elements: thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, and habits. These elements generate a constant stream of negative and irrational messages that affect our emotions, behaviors, and decisions.
The book shows you how to adjust the code that runs your brain by using neuroscience-based skills and techniques. These skills include:
- Understanding how your brain works and why you have a little voice in your head
- Recognizing and labeling your thoughts as just thoughts, not facts
- Challenging and changing your beliefs and assumptions that limit your potential
- Practicing exposure and response prevention (ERP), which is facing your fears without avoiding or escaping them
- Using relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness, to calm your nervous system
- Developing positive habits, such as gratitude, kindness, and optimism, to improve your mood and well-being
The book also provides examples, exercises, worksheets, and resources to help you apply these skills in your daily life.
That Little Voice in Your Head is a book that offers a clear and practical guide to understanding and managing your mind. The book is written in a simple and conversational style that makes it easy to follow and relate to. The book is also full of scientific evidence and research that supports its claims and recommendations.
The book does not promise a quick fix or a magic solution for your problems, but rather a realistic and effective approach that requires commitment and practice. The book acknowledges that adjusting the code that runs your brain is not easy or comfortable, but it is possible and rewarding. The book also emphasizes that you are not alone or crazy for having a little voice in your head, but rather a normal person with a brain that works differently.
The book is not only useful for people who suffer from mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or OCD, but also for anyone who wants to improve their mental health and their quality of life. The book can help you gain more insight into your own mind and emotions, as well as those of others. The book can also help you develop more confidence, resilience, and happiness.
That Little Voice in Your Head is a book that can help you take control of your mind and your life. It can help you transform your thoughts into assets, your emotions into allies, and your habits into choices. It can help you adjust the code that runs your brain for success and fulfillment.