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Is your brain working against you?

This excerpt, taken from the New York Times bestseller THE FOUR DOORS, will help you understand how your mind works, how to succeed and why you sometimes get stuck in unhappiness and failure.

On July 16, 1945, at an army testing site in the desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico, the first atomic bomb was tested. No one who had gathered that day to witness the blast was sure what would happen. In fact, there was a pool among scientists about how big the explosion would be. There was an outside chance–voiced one scientist–that the bomb would set off a nuclear chain reaction that would destroy the entire universe.

While the universe was spared, the explosion was enormous, its energy equivalent to that released by 40 million pounds of dynamite––equal to all the energy produced and consumed in the United States every thirty seconds: That’s every car, lamp, diesel, dishwasher, jet airplane, diesel train, factory, everything.   However, this bomb’s energy was released in a few millionths of a second, and in a volume only a few inches wide.

The resulting explosion was terrible. The 100-foot steel tower on which the bomb was mounted was completely vaporized. The ball of air formed by the explosion boiled up to a height of 35,000 feet, higher than Mount Everest. For hundreds of yards around the blast site the surface of the desert sand turned to glass.

Remarkably, the atom that started the explosion was so small that a million of them, lined end to end would roughly be the width of a human hair.

The atom is the perfect metaphor of an idea. Like the atom, the infinitesimally small spark of an idea can start a chain reaction that can not only change our lives, but even the world. The Egyptian pyramids, democracy, communism, the great wall of China–all these creations began as an idea in one mind. These ideas, once shared, interacted with others’ ideas which set off a chain reaction that grew in force until they were of sufficient energy to create massive physical change. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote correctly, “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” To understand the truth of this assertion, just consider the global impact of ideas such as Christianity, communism or Charles Darwin’s evolution.

 “Every revolution was thought first in one man’s mind.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

All creation begins in the mind as a thought or idea. Though all thoughts do not originate within our minds, that which we choose to focus on grows in significance. The power to focus and direct our thoughts is, in itself, an act of will. In order to change our circumstances physically we begin by changing them mentally, focusing our thoughts on a specific idea, thereby nurturing the idea. The ultimate potential of the growth of an idea may be far greater than we can comprehend.

MAGNETS AND MAPS

A new idea, once accepted in our minds, (whether true or false) becomes a mental magnet: a collecting points for similar and complimentary ideas. These ideas collect as mental pictures, stories, legends, philosophies, ideas, etc. Psychologists sometimes refer to this compilation of beliefs as our mental maps. We all have mental maps. Many fail to recognize that these maps are no more the real world than a folded paper roadmap is a paved road. These maps are merely symbolic representations designed to help us reach destinations. Unfortunately mental maps always contain errors.

These maps, initially drawn during our infancy and childhoods, are powerful and difficult to change. There’s a good reason for this. These maps were created for our very survival. This is why even years after they have largely become obsolete, we still persist in clinging to them–transferring outdated interpretations of past experiences to new and unrelated conditions. This is like concluding that since a roadmap of Chicago had guided you through that city, it would serve you just as well in Beijing.

Unfortunately, the mistakes in our mental maps are usually not as easy to spot as those on paper. It takes discovery, work and focus to correct them. Some people just never go to the trouble. To these people life seems confusing and stacked against them, just like it would to someone trying to navigate the crazy streets of Beijing from a map of Chicago.

Any alteration to our mental map can have a very real effect on how we see the world. (Religious conversion is a good example of this.) But change doesn’t come easily. For the reason I stated earlier, we resist change to our maps. Most people spend more time defending their beliefs than seeking truth. There are two main reasons we resist changing our maps.

First, to significantly alter or abandon a map is to leave us vulnerable in a dangerous world–an understandably terrifying proposition.

Second, we’ve learned that most of the ideas that come to us should be filtered. There was a time when people believed just about everything they heard on the radio or television or read in the newspaper. Media advertisements were considered gospel. So was Walter Cronkite. So was the gospel, for that matter. But we soon learned that sometimes the “truth” wasn’t truth. We discovered, oftentimes painfully, that the “truth” being fed to us was sometimes skewed by ulterior motives or others’ flawed maps. Eventually, experience taught us to filter out most of what we hear. We learned discernment.

Discernment is a blessing. With the amount of information that bombards us daily, if we didn’t screen it out, we would be changing in impractical and ridiculous ways.

Still, our maps change. They change through new experiences and meeting new people. Travel is a powerful way to change maps. Maps may be altered through education. And some changes come through repeated commercial, social and political propaganda.

Sometimes significant change comes to our maps when significant things happen to us, including trauma. For instance, research shows that people are more likely to make a major life change after someone close to them has died.

On some level all honest and mentally healthy adults accept that their mental maps–if they are even aware of them–contain incongruities and falsehoods. They have discovered through life’s experiences that sometimes their maps fail them or lead them to wrong destinations. This why so much money is spent on counseling, self-improvement courses and self-help books. Unfortunately, this is also why so much money is spent on drugs and alcohol. Wise people want accurate maps. And accurate maps require a devotion to honesty, study and experimentation.

This might seem like a lot of work. But life is a lot of work. Operating with a faulty mental map only makes it more difficult. On the other hand, few things promise more excitement and joy than learning, self-discovery and self-improvement.

The purpose of my book, THE FOUR DOORS, is to help you quickly correct and alter your mental map in ways that will bring lasting, positive change into your life–to bring you to a world of personal joy, success and freedom. Beginning next Monday, February 2, 2015, I will begin posting on my blog the entire Four Doors book, 3-5 chapters each week. I hope you make the decision to join us. You will progress faster working with others, so Share this link below and invite your friends to join you on this journey. Blessings.

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Richard Paul Evans is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Christmas Box and the Michael Vey series. He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller The Four Doors

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