“Become aware of the mind is surprisingly difficult because we’re usually lost in mind, and we just believe the mind,” says Sir John Hargrave.
“What was my mind just thinking?”
Have you ever challenged yourself to remind yourself to be aware of what your mind was just thinking? It is a “mind game,” an awareness exercise, that Sir John Hargrave recommends as the first step to hack the mind.
In this interview, he further explains the 3 levels of mind hacking technique; he shares his methods of tracking the mental loops through journaling and his five why’s technique, which is also called root cause analysis.
Watch the full interview or listen to this podcast to find out the tactic to reprogram your mind and be the better version of yourself!
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“There is no better moment to increase your level of present awareness than NOW” –Reiner Kraft
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Dr. Reiner Kraft 0:09
Hi, this is Reiner. I'm host of The Mindful Leader podcast. And today I have a special guest here, Sir John Hargrave. And I'm excited that John is actually here on the show because a few months ago, I discovered his book around mind hacking. And the whole approach resonated with me a lot, not just because of some of the technical, the way it's described, and the analogies to computers as I'm a hacker myself, so this was a lot of overlap in terms of when I look back at also from Ron's history and passion for technology and say, Oh, this is so cool. Let's see if John is actually able to join and share some of these insights. Since they're really relevant to what we're doing here. A little bit of background was drawn. I mean, he started actually, and this is also stuff we can talk about a little bit later. As a comedy writer, he is now a mind hacking expert. He's also CEO of a media company, and in addition, also a blockchain expert, and was also in CO authoring several books there. So it's quite impressive. And of course, the mix is quite an impressive mix. So yeah, it's great, then to have you here and welcome again.
Sir John Hargrave 1:37
Thank you, Reiner, I'm excited to talk with you.
Dr. Reiner Kraft 1:41
Very good. So then let's hop right into some of the topics. So maybe first, you can share just a little bit of the context around your story, how you got from writing, comedy, but actually becoming a mind taking expert. And I know there is also when reading your book, there's also a lot of details around how you got introduced to computers. This was similar to me back probably in the late 80s 90s at some point. So maybe in a nutshell, to walk us through the journey that you took to get where you are now.
Sir John Hargrave 2:26
Yeah, I feel like we're kindred spirits, right, or we have many of the same backgrounds and influences. But the premise behind what we call mind hacking is that your brain can be reprogrammed. And if you're willing to accept that premise, we show you how in my book, mind hacking, and we talk about hacking in the classic computer sense. As you said, Reiner, which is a hack, is kind of a clever tip or technique to solve a problem. So mind hacking is kind of a user manual for the mind. And my story starts out, as you said, as a comedy writer, I ran one of the first comedy sites on the web. And we were known for these big outrageous stunts and pranks, which were fueled by a lot of alcohol and drugs. And I got into trouble with the Secret Service, the Secret Service the United States showed up on my doorstep. And let me just say, when the Secret Service comes to your house, it's almost never a good thing. And that was a real wake up call for me. And I started out the book with telling the story of what led to that. But my wife said you got to get rid of the alcohol and, and the weed and you got to throw it out. She said you have to stop. But I said I had to throw it out completely. Part of it was wanting a little bit of a spoiled child. Well, if I got to stop, and I'm going to throw it out entirely just to show you. And part of it was I knew that it really was leading me down this very self destructive path in the name of comedy writing and stunts and pranks getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And I ended up throwing all of these, all of this booze and all these drugs out in one night and throwing them into a dumpster. It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. And part of the challenge was, I had like these classic bottles of wine. I remember this beautiful bottle of Italian graha in like this hand blown glass. It was gorgeous. somebody's giving it to us. And it was just amazing. I'd throw all of this away and the only way I could do it was by tricking my mind. I had to basically say to myself, like you got to just focus on the muscle movement of throwing this out. You can't think about what you're doing right now. Because if you think about the idea of being sober for the rest of your life, you'll never be able to do it. And so that was kind of this first mind hack. And I came to see that if we could build these mind hacks, I was able, then I was able, first of all to achieve sobriety, which I'm happily sober now for about 15 years. But also, we're able to hack our minds to accomplish increasingly greater things in life in business, and our personal relationships and so forth. And so that was really the start of a very exciting new journey for me. And I've really been passionate about sharing these techniques and these hacks with, with audiences like yours.
Dr. Reiner Kraft 5:44
No, it sounds great. So it definitely sounds like the birth, so to speak of the first mind tech actually arrived out of this idea, right, that you say, Oh, I have to get rid of this bottle here somehow, and the mind would suggest No, don't do it. Right. And so you had this inner struggle, and then you were able, with this trick, basically, to get it done. Was that then really, so that you decided, oh, this is kind of cool. I basically was able to get this one thing done now. Maybe there's more, right? And then the second part, usually, from my own experience, I know that there is usually also correlation. When awareness is rising, or is coming up with mindfulness exercises, mindfulness practice. Was this similar happening at the same time? Well, how did you do? How did it proceed? Basically, from there,
Sir John Hargrave 6:43
It was like a hidden wellspring of talent and potential was unlocked in the months following that decision, and that experience throwing out these bottles in the dumpster. It was excruciating Lee difficult, getting sober is really hard. And it's not fun. It's painful. But at the same time, there was a kind of a wellspring of energy that had been sort of tamped down or stopped, and you call it awareness, I think that's a good word that started to arise as a result of that. And as a result of having to work through the emotions and the feelings and all of the sort of, you know, mental and emotional growth that had been stunted during the years that I was drinking and smoking weed that now wasn't able to, to blossom into bloom. At the same time, I took up a meditation practice, which I think is the foundation of so much of what we're talking about. In the book, we call it Jedi Mind training. But I think some kind of meditation practice is key, so that we are able to achieve some awareness of what the mind is thinking. So that was a gradual process. But I would say in retrospect, it actually happened relatively quickly, after I, you know, finally made that decision to where to get sort of by a year later, my life was in a totally different place.
Dr. Reiner Kraft 8:24
And so then, it seems, then there was the combination of meditation. My guess is you probably try to meditate at that point already at a regular schedule every day. Right? Most likely. But then from one mind hacking trick, so to speak, or method, let's call it a method, right? To the end of the day, when the book comes out with several methods in there. What was the timeline between that? It was like three years, five years? 10 years, just so people get a sense on how long it takes to actually put something together? Is that comprehensive?
Sir John Hargrave 9:03
Yeah, I mean, I would say that I think the book came out maybe six to seven years after that. But I would say again, I had the foundations of this in place, probably a year by a year after becoming sober. But you know, here we are, 15 years later, and I'm still learning new hacks and trying out new techniques constantly. And that's the exciting thing about the mind is there's no limit to that we can continually find new ways of mastering our own mind and being more productive and efficient with it slowly.
Dr. Reiner Kraft 9:41
Now, maybe we can go a little bit into the techniques that you share in the book. So I'm curious but first one a definition what you said earlier, basically there is the definition of a heck mine tech and in my terminologies I often use term mind management, to remember also to different aspects of the mind that you can train and cultivate. And the underlying the fundament so to speak, I always refer to as present awareness or simply presence to basically fuel all those other activities on top. Now, mind taking, and especially here for this audience, I expect a lot of the people listening to this way of viewing it now on video have a technical background. So that means we can actually in similar to the book this is so appealing to me is that you pretty much use also the analogy of computers, software, operating systems and so on. And pretty much then take it to, you start to apply to the mind, right. So similar. This is also similarity when I was thinking about these things a few years ago, I also realized the similarity of software, software architecture and the mind itself, basically being this complex piece of software. Now, maybe what we can do is go in a few of these techniques. We can start what you already mentioned before with meditation, you actually refer to it as concentration training. Yeah. And I also was curious why you call it this, and maybe your experience around meditation, how to get started. And as already mentioned, it is like also very fundamental. I would say method that basically makes it makes your whole practice successful or remote.
Sir John Hargrave 11:51
Yes. Well, I think that the technology analogy that we use, that we both use in this work is important because that is kind of the dominant framework of our culture today. So many of the ideas we're talking about have been around for millennia. But we're putting it into kind of a modern language, a modern mental construct. And so from a high level, what we're trying to do is first become aware of the mind. And that's surprisingly difficult. Because we're usually last in the mind, we're usually absorbed in the mind, we identify with the mind. And when the mind gives us these spots throughout the day, whether they're positive or negative, we just believe that. So the first idea is becoming aware that you're not your mind and kind of achieving a sense of higher level, we call it the super user view. So when you're in the network, you have the user login, and you have a super user login, which gives you additional powers or an admin login. And that's what we want to do is try to get to that admin level of the mind, the super user level. So that's step one is that awareness. Step two is debugging the mind. So again, like a software developer, a programmer will work through software code, and try to find bugs, or the problems with the code that aren't making the program work the way expected. We want to find those negative thought loops that are holding us back. So those are the loops that are leading to, you know, anxiety, depression, low self esteem, and so forth. And then step three is to reprogram those loops. So we want to literally hack the mind, and, and help us replace those negative thought loops with more positive loops to help us achieve health, wealth, happiness. So I think the first exercise I can recommend to you and it's not quite meditation, it's really just an awareness exercise. And you can do it today. It's a great starting point, which is, we call the mind games. The first mind game is called what was my mind just thinking? And as many times as possible, you just ask yourself, what was my mind just thinking. And it's really easy, you'll find it in about an hour. And then it gets really hard because you forget to do it. So if anyone listening to this wants to challenge themselves, you know, keep a running, write it down, if you can, or keep it on your phone of how many times today you were able to remind yourself to be aware of what your mind was just thinking. And that's a really good way of starting to build that step one, that awareness and then that can lead into deeper meditation and awareness exercises. From there.
Dr. Reiner Kraft 14:45
Now that method also reminds me of a method that I'm teaching, it's called conscious recovery. Also, it's basically very similar in a way that you observe the mind. You become aware of what we're thinking. And then of course, you can also categorize it in different flavors. Usually, I'm interested in negativity, right, that is, as you probably also noticed, there are so many, there can be a high percentage of negative thoughts, which then causes more stress, anxiety and all those types of things. I think the difficulty is what you also just said is the level of awareness. Usually, when people start with mind hacking or with what I refer to as mind management, level of awareness is just plumbing. It's just starting out, right? It's not that strong yet. And then you're keeping this awareness up requires energy, energy injury, right. And energy is usually limited. So it's similar to what you just said, right? You have this intention, it works for an hour. And then gradually, as the day goes by, it goes less and less and less and less energy. So it's hard to actually observe them. The mind.
Sir John Hargrave 16:16
And Reiner, you have this idea of KPIs or key performance indicators and kind of measuring these and keeping track over time, which I thought was similar to what we talked about, but I liked the way that you put it almost in more like technology business terms. So can you just unpack that a little bit?
Dr. Reiner Kraft 16:36
Yeah. So it's what you were referring to earlier? Right? Keeping track of things.I learned that from my own experience, knowing actually what's happening, and how do you actually make progress is one of the key things. While I was still working in technology organizations, such as back in the old days at Yahoo, later here in Berlin at solando. Then there is the business aspect of the product aspect, which is variable, what are the numbers? Right? How are we doing? And that goes back to key performance indicators, KPIs, right. And so, when I was looking at the summer, there is a similarity here that you want to know how the mind is doing. But how do you know how it's doing? Right? It starts with, for instance, what is your level of present awareness, right. And it took me some time also to figure this out. But in the end, I came up with this definition of level of present awareness, I call it LPA. This time of your awake, waking days, are you ready, let's say 16 hours, and how many minutes are mindful minutes, where you are fully connected to the present moment. And you take it as a percentage, right? It means let's say you're 1010 minutes fully, they're fully present. And then the day has six hours, roughly 1000 minutes. So you're ending up in 10, auto sales like roughly 1% 2%. And that is usually what I observe, when I, for instance, start working with leaders on helping them to cultivate their level of awareness. This is usually where many people start. And then there are more and more of these KPIs that can be derived based on this one, but I found this one is one of the most significant, it shows you basically where you are, right.
Sir John Hargrave 18:34
Level of present awareness LPA. I love that. And the great business writer Peter Drucker said that which gets measured gets managed. So in other words, if you want to manage it, you have to measure it, and then you have to score your progress over time. And that's what I liked about these techniques. Talking about is it lets you put a number two it and unless you track your progress, you know what I would love as a Fitbit device that lets you manage your mental thoughts and lets you measure things like your I don't know, maybe you'd swipe up if it's a positive thought you'd swipe down if it's a negative thoughts, something like that.
Dr. Reiner Kraft 19:09
Yeah, but but exactly. I mean, that would make it easy, because currently, most of these things are done manually. But yeah, writing things down, journaling, reflecting. And as you said before, right, exactly. Using a good old notebook by a method that you were saying, what was I thinking, right? You want to basically keep track of how many times you have actually done it, at least at the beginning. And see, am I doing it and over the time, once you once you realize it, it gets more and more at some point. There's no need to track it anymore. But I would say in the first few months in my experience, it's critical for success.
Sir John Hargrave 19:52
It's funny, the great American founder Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography about a technique that he used just using a little notebook like this, where he had a number of virtues that he wanted to cultivate in himself. And he made a little grid. And every day, at the end of the day, he would go back and rate how well he did on living. Each of those virtues, I think he actually had one per week that he focused on. And he said, I was always greatly dismayed to see at the beginning, you know, how poor my overall ratings were, in this language we're talking about today. But he said, I had the satisfaction of seeing those KPIs gradually improve, seeing those gradually improve. So I think measuring progress on these, whether it's mindfulness, or whether it's thoughts per minute, any of these these metrics we're sharing with you, and keeping track over time, whether that's in a good old fashioned, moleskine notebook, or whether that's on a smartphone app, or something like that is, is really helpful for starting to cultivate these, these habits.
Dr. Reiner Kraft 21:05
Yeah, absolutely. In the beginning, and then later on, once you get more settled, it's less and less important, but nevertheless, it's helpful. But tell me a little bit about journaling? For instance, journaling, there's different techniques. And all this is, it can be very powerful. How do you, for instance, yourself, use journaling? For basically, for instance, optimizing resource planning. Just give me a few ideas on journaling?
Sir John Hargrave 21:38
Well, we talked about, basically positive thought loops, and you may know these as affirmations. But what we're trying to do is get to the positive outcomes that you want in your life. I've had very good results with this technique of writing down that positive thought loop 15 times a day, in just a notebook like this. And in the book, we go through a number of exercises that you can use to figure out if you want to have what you want to give? Who do you want to be? What do you want to do, and so forth, to ask those questions to help you articulate what it is you actually want these positive thought loops that you want to take the place of the negative thought loops. So we can most of us just kind of take for granted, whatever our mind serves up. And if we have any, you know, longer term plans or goals, they tend to be kind of vague and amorphous. So when we go through life, that way, we're really just kind of rolling with whatever life throws at us. So if we want to be proactive in helping move our life into a more positive direction, we have to be crystal clear, and razor sharp about what those positive thought loops, what those goals those dreams are. So the series of questions helps us figure that out. And then using techniques like writing it down 15 times a day, writing down that positive thought loop, there's a lot of neuroscience that shows that the act of physically writing something down, helps kind of carve those grooves into the brain to make that more of a lived reality. In other words, to make it something more that we identify with. And also you're just spending more time with it, you're thinking about it in a conscious focused way every day. And you can easily fit this in when you might be otherwise, just browsing Twitter, or something like that. You make this a regular practice that doesn't take much time at all, but has had really great results. For me, and for all the people who've run this mind hacking program.
Dr. Reiner Kraft 23:52
Yes. Now, you mentioned positive thoughts here also loops, the terminology loops comes from computer programming and yeah, I mean, it's Indian loops, loops, that the more loops you can integrate, the more stuff you can get done all loops. But then at the end, there is what I observe. Usually, it's people who have to struggle more with the negativity and all the limiting type of thoughts, false beliefs that are buried in the subconscious, right? Is there a method that you can basically discover these loops in a systematic way and possibly also write them down?
Sir John Hargrave 24:32
Yeah, there's a number of those hacks in the book. One of them is called the five whys technique. And this comes from actually Toyota Motor Company that started this business process of asking why five times and in business, it's sometimes called root cause analysis. And so in the auto manufacturing example, you know, you would have suddenly a safety belt recall, you know, are you noticing quality problems on a number of the cars coming off the line? Well, to look at the surface cause of that to say, well, we don't have the right people in charge of seatbelts. Or there's a problem with one part of the line often just glossing over the problem. And often the cause is much deeper, for example, you know, the sales targets might have been overly ambitious. So the production lines were running it at greater capacity than they could handle and that caused, you know, mistakes to happen. So you continue asking why five times five levels deep. And there's nothing magic about the number five, the idea is just to keep asking why until you get to the root cause. But when we have these negative thoughts, when we have anxiety, or when we have problems, you know, relationship problems, job problems, that we know we have a part in, we can start asking why. And again, continue looking at ourselves fearlessly at continually asking why until we can get to the root of the problem within ourselves. So the goal is not to blame it on other people, other people may have a part in it. But the goal is to get to the root cause of that negative feeling or that negative outcome within ourselves. And that is often just like a computer programmer, you know, debugging a piece of software, until they get to the root of that cause. And often it's not obvious. And often there's some trial and error and reprogramming and trying to figure it out, we can finally get to that root cause and then find that negative thought loop and replace it with something more positive.
Dr. Reiner Kraft 26:43
And unfortunately, from my own experience, there's many of these negative side loops, like an ongoing process. I mean, I would be interested actually, in the number of these negative thought loops that are typically buried in the mind. Curious if there's any study on this, but it feels like it's a large number, basically, and it never stops, right?
Sir John Hargrave 27:09
We're all running very buggy software. Probably true of all of our software all over the world, in every company, right? And probably true of our minds as well. I don't know when you get rid of them when you achieve perfection, I suppose.
Dr. Reiner Kraft 27:25
Yeah. Well, I mean, if you think about it, in the old days, there was this release of Microsoft Windows, right. And this was a big deal. But at the end of the day, it was very buggy, and other software like Office, Microsoft Office, right. So picking on Microsoft now. But the reason it is a big, complex piece of software, it was so buggy, and then what you would see. Over time, because of the continuous development and debugging, you would see the software is getting better and better, at some points actually usable. And so I'm seeing the similarity with the mind. We're leaders or people in general, listening to this podcast, we never actually worked on mind hacking, or did one mind management, I would compare, I would see the similarity here to this new release of let's say, Microsoft Office, which is so buggy, right, and all this stuff is in there. And then over time, however, if you start actually systematic, systematic debugging, as you suggested, I could see that it's you make very quick progress that something you observed is now.
Sir John Hargrave 28:36
That's a great analogy, Reiner. And to continue that analogy, you know, a game changer for Microsoft and for software in general with the Internet, and, you know, automatic updates and releases. So before this, you had to remember you had to install a patch, or something which came on a CD. And so you were limited, very, very cumbersome and difficult. Many people would never get that fixed. But then when the internet came along, they just did it automatically. Or