Any thought starts with another thought. Any concept is connected to some other concept. It’s a relative web, and connections are being created and destroyed continuously. I can’t really think of a case where a thought (or a concept) will hang in mid-air without being connected to something else. This view of things is just one of the mind model and might not represent how it works inside our brains. It’s useful, though, for the purpose of re-associating.
But first of all, let’s talk about associations. An association is a connection between some entities: ideas, concepts, thoughts, physical objects, models, etc. The keyword here is “connection.” It might be anything. You see a person, and you feel happy. You think of math, and you get an elevated feeling… it’s different for everybody. Some people will be screaming out of despair when they think about math.
Associations are not static. Strong associations (food preferences, for example) comes mostly from childhood experiences and genetics combined. On the genetic side, it’s mostly how your body reacts initially to sensations and stimuli. For instance, some people have hypersensitive skin or a high number of receptors in their tongue.
It all creates the whole Map of Associations (bear with me). A network where one element might be connected to many other elements. Funny thing, connections are not limited by anything. You may feel the same disgust when you see spiders or looking at math equations. If you are into science, you might imagine it as a hypergraph (I love them, can’t help myself…).
Like any network, it has a balance. Some associations are stronger, and some are weaker. Some are fresh, and some have 20 years of history (I want to highlight here again that it’s just a useful model and not 100%-crisp-and-fresh-explained-reality).
When you are traversing through this network, you might notice that some ways are a fun experience where you glide as you are in the waterpark. Others are slow as fu… as a snail. Repeat a ride on a snail 1000 times, and it will become a waterpark slide.
Now, imagine you are trying to build a business (bear with me). You have a lot of trouble, my friend, if you grandpa told you 1000 times that money is a root of evil; you saw in the school how rich guys are jerks; your first love choose a guy with money; your dog died the same day you made your first $1000 bucks; your first business failed because you picked the wrong partners or suppliers; your first city was not rich and your company earned 5x less than others. Not only that, but also you associations with other businessmen, talking with people in general, and many many others. Imagine how many variables are creating your view on things?
It’s an asymmetry here. In our tiny experiment, asymmetrical associations are pointing towards one thing: money. They are negative, as well.
How could you move if you are under a big pile of rocks?
“Pfff, it’s minor, Tiki. Doesn’t mean anything,” - you might say. Is it? Are you really sure? From my observations, it’s always accumulating, and the effect is always non-linear.
I prove it to you.
When you think of creating a business, for example - what do you feel? What are your thoughts? If you answer it, may I ask why? That’s funny, right? We have almost an instant answer in our heads. We can come up with justifications like “business is freedom “or “business ruins life-work balance” (whatever you feel).
That’s your collective experience “livewired” (I love this term from a great fella David Eagleman) into your brain by what has happened before. All of it. At once.
We just don’t remember it because our minds compressed it. We might remember some of it but not all. Such associations are already “baked” (it’s hard to disassemble a loaf of bread into raw materials while restoring raw materials into the original form).
Now, please tell me - what is a sum of -5 and -10 and -42 and 5 and 10? It’s minus forty-two. This small equation contains much more negative than positive ones. In our Map of Associations model, it means that there are more negative associations rather than positive ones.
That way, if we have an asymmetric network (unbalanced) - we have troubles. We can’t start a business (too many negatives); we cannot go and ask a person for a date (too many fears pointing towards a future situation); we cannot start writing or learn something important; we cannot, we cannot, we cannot…
The sadness and irony are that we don’t know why.
We are like prisoners of our own minds.
I propose it’s an association problem. No, actually, let’s make it capital and more epic - The Association Problem.
We are under the rocks of our own associations. We cannot move freely without pulling all such weight along. When you think about something - the whole network responds with pictures, sounds, emotions, and even predictions based on what’s stored in memory.
Without the why. Why do you like yogurt? Why do you love speaking in public? Why are you afraid of speaking in public… You can come up with justifications easily. It’s not so easy to think of reasons and situations that created such a connection.
It’s all good, and it doesn’t really matter how you call it. What matters is what to do with it?
Psychologists come up with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), that focuses on… well, it’s a complicated technique. It includes learning to recognize distortions in thinking, reevaluation, understanding the behavior of yourself and others, developing a sense of your own skills… yada-yada-yada.
It is extremely useful for psychologists who saves lives but too vague for other people handling life in day-to-day settings. Let’s say it requires a little bit better re-communicating (or re-marketing?) and disassembling to byte-sized modules.
I’m suggesting using one of the modules of CBT: something that we might call Re-Association Self-Therapy.
The main idea is super simple. Every day, you take some time (15 minutes is enough) and watch your associations in life from a 3rd-person game perspective. Like you are somebody who is not you, but at the same time you are somebody who knows all your story and all your thoughts and all your peculiarities. Outside your head (not literally, I hope…)
While traversing (hypegraph! Ahem…) such a network, you are in the mode of only one ultimate question: “Why?”
You have some terrible association with doing business? Why? Good association with something painful? Why? Hate math? Why? Why? Why? Why?
You get the point.
That way, you will be cleaning and rebalancing your network (hype… okay, I got it - no more h-graphs). After a while (usually 2-3 days), you will see how you start thinking and feeling differently. It might be quite surprising why you feel or think a certain way. It might also puzzle you because you will see how unlogical or unemotional or unreasonable (add any un- here) something is.
Keep experimenting and adding some more questions like “where” or “what” after a while, and voila!
You have a different view of things. You earned it! Drink yerba tea (or whatever you prefer) and keep living to see what’s ahead of you and what new crazy associations your mind will produce…