Andrew Wright doesn’t need the computerised Sigmund Freud to give himself advice, he came to his own conclusions. In a Datsun.

 

The best piece of advice I ever gave myself, I gave sitting at a set of traffic lights in my 1972 Datsun 1600 which, up to that point, I had been in the habit of driving everywhere at between 80 and 180 kilometres per hour; the faster, the better. Up to that point I lived a life where speed was the imperative factor. Sitting still at the traffic lights was really anathema to me. Slow cars aggravated me. I tailgated, I swore, I signalled my frustrations with universally understood sign language.

The advice I gave to myself was to find something useful, not just to myself – not even to myself – that I could do for someone else. I reasoned that finding something else to do would take my mind off the fact that I was not able to do the speed I wanted to do. I knew, deep down, that doing something nice and helpful for someone else, with no return for myself, would still benefit me.

So, from that day to this, whenever I have seen a car ahead of me with a brake light not working, I try to tell them. I attract their attention, wind down my window, even in the rain, and let them know.

Now, some 20 years on, I often sit down to write at 4am; it gives me a lot of space and time to ponder on things. You know; life, the universe, everything. I’m extremely grateful to my past-self for making that decision to slow down and accept that life cannot be lived – at least not for very long – at high speeds. I am grateful that I had the insight, long before I knew about Martin Seligman’s Positive Psychology or Socrates’ “unexamined life,” to look at my actions and demand something better, more sustainable, from myself.

The results of a new study have been released, where the participants used Virtual Reality (VR) equipment to trick their minds into thinking they were Sigmund Freud. This study found that when a male person embodies Freud and then gives himself advice, he gives better advice than when the VR is set so that he interviews himself, giving himself advice, face to face.

We have known for some time that through the use of this VR equipment, we can trick our minds into thinking that we are someone else. An earlier study found that a subject could react to an unattached rubber hand being abused as if it were their own hand.

My contention with this research is not whether these sorts of brain shenanigans can work. We know they can. My question is more along the lines of, just because we can, does that mean we should?

Should I counsel myself? Can I give myself the best advice? This study has shown us that our advice is better when we give it via someone else than if we give it to ourselves, but how does that compare to the advice given by friends, relatives or professionals? Oh, and how do you measure one piece of advice against another to judge which is “better” anyway?

My research sample of one has found that the best piece of advice comes by cogitating about one’s current position and seeing it relative to the position one would rather occupy, and allowing your brain to come up with a pathway between the two. It was not, in my sample group, requisite that I trick my subject into thinking he was Freud, talking to said subject. It involved the subject examining his own life, with the help of his friends.

I must disclose something at this point. I am an extrovert. For those of you who have any knowledge of the Myers-Briggs system of personality testing, I am off – the – scale – extrovert. The reason I disclose this is that, to my way of being, there are very few good reasons to spend time alone. Writing is one. Reading is another, but even that is better done over coffee and in the vicinity of my significant other. Eating isn’t. Don’t ever eat alone if you can help it.

I should, you should, we all should reexamine our lives. We should decide what we value – what will lead us to live the “good life” – and work out how to get to that point for ourselves. At least that’s my advice so, naturally, I think you should take it. Or don’t. Obviously, I’d like a lot more self-examined and self-aware people around, but it’s not up to me is it? Otherwise, where is the use in having a “self”?

 

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