Hacking the matrix of personal transformation
7 codes for unlocking your superpowers and reprogramming your life
What do you wish you could change most about yourself?
Struggling with an addiction and want to break free for good?
Keep getting pulled back into reactive and destructive emotional patterns and want to cultivate more inner peace?
Feeling trapped by fear and want more confidence?
Or maybe you keeping hitting ceilings of limitations but the problem is that you don’t know what needs to change?
Whatever it is for you, creating radical and lasting change in your life always comes down to the same basic principles.
Remember the movie The Matrix? Neo, the main character, discovers that what we believe to be reality is really just a software program (the “matrix”) running in our minds, created by sentient machines who use human bodies as an energy source.
As you know, the climax moment of the movie is when Neo stops seeing the software program and instead sees its underlying code in real-time. Instead of seeing people and buildings, he sees strings of computer code.
By hacking the matrix and seeing that the code was always in his mind, he gains superhuman abilities to do whatever he can imagine.
And so it is with you: If you want to change anything about yourself, you can spend years spinning your wheels inside the matrix of your mental and emotional programming. You can beat your head against the wall of the matrix with superficial things like willpower, time management, or productivity management.
Or you can simply “hack the code” and reprogram your life at the root source of all your dysfunction and mediocrity.
The 7 essential codes of personal transformation
Computer hackers can hack systems and use them to their advantage by uploading programs from thumb drives.
Likewise, living these seven principles is like plugging a thumb drive into your brain and uploading new code that rewrites your programming. Then and only then can the external results that you want appear in your life.
Code #1: See your basic goodness and meet your needs.
All human beings have core emotional needs: to feel loved, seen, accepted, safe, and whole. We need to feel connected with others. We need to feel like we belong and that we matter.
When these core needs are unmet, we close off our hearts and develop defense mechanisms. These defense mechanisms take the form of our bad habits, addictions, emotional reactivity, fear, shame, and everything else that drags us down.
At the root of everything you have ever done wrong or hated about yourself is not an evil or corrupt nature, but rather deep, unmet emotional needs. You’re not self-destructive or self-sabotaging because you’re a bad person, but rather because you’re hurting.
Transforming ourselves isn’t about motivation or willpower. It isn’t about “conquering our nature.” Rather, it’s simply about meeting our core emotional needs.
When our core emotional needs are met, our self-limiting defense mechanisms — the things we want to change most about ourselves — naturally fade away because we no longer have any use for them.
We stay stuck when we believe we’re fundamentally “broken,” “bad,” or “unworthy.” If this is what we see, we can’t see the underlying unmet needs, and therefore can do nothing about them.
Code #2: Replace shame with self-compassion.
Once you see the basic goodness in your unmet needs, you can change the voice in your head from shame to self-compassion.
We use shame for a logical reason: believing our basic nature to be bad, we think the only way to change ourselves is to “punish” ourselves into submission. Shame is simply a misguided attempt to transform ourselves.
But think of it this way: Imagine you have two people in your life. Every time you screw up, the first one says, “You’re such an idiot. You make the same mistakes over and over again. You’re a total loser. You’re never going to get it right.”
The second one says, “Hey, it’s okay. You got this. You’re amazing. I see how much you care. I see how hard you’re trying. You can do this!”
Which of those two will have a greater impact on you? And why is it so obvious to see when we externalize the voice of shame, but not so easy when it’s in our own mind?
Research published by self-compassion researcher Dr. Kristen Neff shows that, as contrasted with self-critical people, self-compassionate people:
- feel greater motivation to make amends and avoid repeating moral transgressions.
- are more motivated to improve personal weaknesses.
- are more likely to take responsibility for their past mistakes.
- are more likely to set new goals for themselves after not meeting goals.
Self-shame and self-criticism simply don’t work. Self-compassion is the only sustainable way to create radical and permanent change in your behavior and your life.
Code #3: Stop arguing with reality and turn inward to change.
There’s an ancient Buddhist story of a pampered princess who was walking barefoot in her father’s kingdom when she stepped on a thorn. In pain, she demanded of her father’s advisors that the entire kingdom be carpeted.
One advisor made her a pair of sandals and kindly encouraged her to wear them instead of carpeting the kingdom.
We stay stuck as long as we’re in victim mode, believing that our problem is someone or something outside of ourselves. In essence, this is arguing with reality and, like that pampered princess, demanding that the world be carpeted.
But if we want to change anything in our reality, we must first accept reality as it is, then look for what needs to change in ourselves. The more we do so, the more we discover our limitless potential. As spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says,
“You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.”
If we are trying to “change the world,” we can know with certainty that there’s something we’re either not seeing or avoiding about ourselves — because the problem is never out in the world, but always something inside ourselves.
Code #4: Change your beliefs to change your reality.
There’s a program in our minds called “cognitive dissonance.” This program drives us toward internal consistency between our beliefs and behaviors.
If our beliefs don’t align with our behaviors, or vice versa, then a mental stress, or “dissonance,” arises that we can’t live with. To remove the dissonance, we either have to change the belief to match the behavior, or change the behavior to match the belief.
What this means is that our beliefs determine all our behavior, which determine all our results. Put the opposite way, our behavior, and therefore our results, can never expand beyond our beliefs.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family, number eleven of thirteen children, one of the beliefs I developed was, “No one values what I have to offer.”
To become successful as a coach, I’ve had to reprogram this belief. Because of cognitive dissonance, it’s impossible for me to market myself with confidence as long as I believe this.
Everything we do in life is determined by our beliefs. We may be able to make incremental progress within the constraints of our beliefs. But radical change can only happen by reprogramming our beliefs.
For more on this code, read these articles:
Code #5: Take ultimate responsibility.
As long as we have someone else or some circumstance to blame, we don’t have to take responsibility for our choices, our pain, and our lives. And as long as we blame others, we stay stuck.
If we want to break free from our circumstances, we have to take ultimate personal responsibility. We have to say once and for all, “I created this. And it’s my responsibility to change it.”
The reason why we resist responsibility is because it conjures feelings of blame, shame, and pain. We cringe at hearing “It’s your responsibility” because what we really hear is, “It’s your fault. You are to blame.”
But break down the word “responsibility” and we find “response” + “ability.” Responsibility simply means having the ability to respond.
Responsibility is our ability to choose our actions and responses to anything that happens to us. It is our ability to choose how we spend our time and energy. It is our ability to create different outcomes.
The people who take the least responsibility for their circumstances and results have the least power and ability to improve them. Likewise, those who take the most responsibility have the greatest power and ability to improve their circumstances and results.
Code #6: Reclaim your projections through self-acceptance.
We all have the most to learn from the people we criticize the most. This is true because of a psychological principle called “projection.” Project means that we see in others things we don’t like about ourselves.
For example, a woman who has been unfaithful to her husband who then accuses her husband of cheating on her. Or a thief believing that everyone is untrustworthy.
We criticize things in others that 1) we don’t like about ourselves, and 2) that we haven’t yet learned to love and accept.
And our projections always come down to something that makes us feel intensely vulnerability. For example, when an enraged Neo-Nazi screams about Jews taking over the world, what he really means is that he feels powerless. He projects his powerlessness onto others because he’s trying to get rid of the feeling. He transforms the feeling of personal powerlessness into outward-directed blame and anger.
Our rate of personal transformation depends entirely on our ability to accept ourselves in our flaws and weaknesses. As Carl Rogers put it,
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
Shame is the opposite of acceptance, which is why we can never change through shame.
Reclaiming our projections means first recognizing what’s in us that we’re criticizing about others, and then accepting that part of us. Then and only then can we transform.
Code #7: Always choose hard and scary over easy and comfortable.
We have defining moments in life. Moments when we can choose into a new opportunity that stretches our capabilities, pushes us out of our comfort zone. Or we can shrink back into comfort and familiarity.
When we’re truly committed to personal growth, we always choose the hard and scary path over the easy and comfortable path.
Growth-minded people more often than not feel like a fish out of water. They value learning over comfort and security. They don’t lounge around in their comfort zone. They’re constantly pushing their internal boundaries. They’re always on the outer edge of their competence.
To growth-minded people, psychological fear is not a warning sign keeping them away from danger. It is a beacon showing them exactly the path to follow. As Seth Godin puts it,
“…if you’re afraid of something, of putting yourself out there, of creating a kind of connection or a promise, that’s a clue that you’re on the right track. Go, do that.”
When it comes to personal transformation, we can take the “blue pill” of fear, comfort, and mediocrity, or the “red pill” of courage, growth, and excellence.
We can stay asleep within our existing assumptions, not seeing the “code” that governs all our behavior and explains why we stay stuck in self-defeating ruts.
Or we can wake up from our unquestioned assumptions. We can see the code of human behavior and understand why we do what we do. Then, we can rewrite our programming.