Self-insight hacks (off-label)

[This blog uses we/us and I/me pronouns interchangeably]

I sort of hate the term “hack,” as in “life hack.” Life hacks are supposedly ways to make your life more effective and efficient. And it is relatively apt when we find a sneaky, clever, or unintended way to accomplish something useful.

The self-insight hacks I’ve tried deliberately and stumbled upon serendipitously might be useful for others.

Have you heard of pharmaceuticals that are used off-label to treat another ailment? Sometimes a medication intended to treat one illness helps treat another illness it wasn’t originally intended to treat. In some cases, a clinical trial is conducted to ensure efficacy and safety of the new use. Other times, doctors and/or patients use the medication to treat the “other” ailment even without official approval. We don’t do this with medication. We do this with books. Let me explain.

The parts of myself do not always get along. Taming the savage inner-critics–whose job it has been for decades to protect us from physical harm, embarrassment, detection (as flawed, imperfect), sexual predators, etc.–is an ongoing effort. Probably everyone has some version of this inner-critic.

One hack we tried was to read books about peacemaking and mediation. These books were intended to help warring factions come to the negotiating table or to heal fractious business relationships or broken marriages. We’ve used them to try to heal out inner disputes. One book in particular that helps is Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication.

What is so special about Rosenberg’s mediation technique is that it is not about compromise. In Nonviolent Communication (NVC), everyone gets their needs met. How? Spoiler alert: when people listen to each other openly, compassion is the natural result. Rosenberg helps readers cultivate a language and process of identifying feelings, needs, and reasonable requests.

These internal protectors of ours are children, and so reading parenting books provides major insights into how to interact with children in ways that foster healthy development and communication. One book we are reading right now is Enough As She Is by Rachel Simmons. This book about parenting a teenage girl will help us parent our actual teenage daughter in a healthy manner, and is having the unintended consequence of helping us look internally at our own values, challenges, and needs.

There is no reason these books in particular–and this hack in general–wouldn’t work for anyone. You don’t have to have PTSD, OCD, or DID to benefit from a book that teaches you how to help get your vital needs met and meet other people’s needs nonviolently. You don’t have to currently have a daughter to benefit from a book that helps you explore how society creates anxiety for girls (defined as a female under 25, the age when the prefrontal cortex solidifies in biological adulthood) and offers compassionate, healthy solutions. Anyone could benefit from reading this book, no matter where on the gender spectrum one identifies.

We have recently come to the metaphor that our internal landscape is like a natural prairie that turned into a Dust Bowl and needs to be restored. As in the real Dust Bowl, our natural beauty was mistaken for fertility, and we were plowed up by misguided people. Years of drought followed as is typical in the southern plains of the US, and our topsoil blew into suffocating wind storms and dust blizzards. Life has become a literal struggle for survival. And the answer may lie in restoring the native species of the original prairie–or as close an approximation as possible.

We read a book on the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan–which is where our metaphor derived. Now, we are looking for books on restoring native prairies as a way to stimulate the theory of self-restoration. We visited one of the few remaining original prairies over the summer. And it was beautiful. Just like I was probably was before my bison were extirpated and my natural beauty was torn up for someone else’s gain.

Do you see how thinking outside the label could help you imagine yourself in new and powerful ways? You don’t have to see a superhero movie to feel like a superhero. You can read about The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and begin to see the world in an entirely new way that makes you feel as though you have special vision. We feel so much more connected to the trees around us now that we know about their communication, sharing, roots, fungal networks, decisions, and personalities.

If I’m a former prairie in need of restoration, what are you? What might you read that could be interesting and hack you into some self-insight? If you haven’t looked to your local library recently, thousands of books are waiting for free lending–including ebooks, if you are so inclined. Find your metaphor first or browse the shelves first and trust your instincts about what resonates.


Native Prairie: full of grass, birds, insects–full of life!

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