By Chet Yarbrough
Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-destructive Behavior
Written by: Richard O’Connor, PhD
Narrated by: Fred Stella
In 1971, Brickman and Campbell coined the term Hedonic Treadmill to explain that people have a baseline level of happiness, regardless of what occurs in their lives. That definition infers winning the lottery, or being diagnosed with cancer have opposite happiness quotients–one joyfully positive; the other horrendously negative. The Hedonic Treadmill theory suggests happiness will return to a baseline level of individual happiness when the initial joy or sorrow subsides.
Toward the end of Richard O’Connor’s book, “Rewire”, the term Hedonic Treadmill is used to infer that America’s materialist predilection is like a psychological cul-de-sac; i.e. a mental trap with only one exit. O’Connor explains, in a different way, that the cul-de-sac is created by life experience that imprints memories that become automatic responses to current events.
O’Connor argues that rational behavior is unconsciously modified by subconscious imprinting from early life experience. The only exit from the cul-de-sac is to leave the way you came, recall how and why you entered, and teach your brain not to take that turn again. This reminds one of David Hawkins expressed belief in “Letting Go”.
More fundamentally, O’Connor infers American society is more materialistic today; and, as a consequence, Americans are more mentally unbalanced than in the past because happiness from material acquisition is a road to nowhere, a Hedonic Treadmill.
Rewire offers a great deal of information about causes and cures for individual mental dysfunction in America. A reader or listener may disagree with O’Connor’s causal analysis but his examples of psychological dysfunction can be seen in one’s self and in others. What makes “Rewire” interesting is O’Connor’s suggested cures, based on thirty years of experience as a therapist.
O’Connor endorses the belief that the brain’s functions can be rewired at any age with repetitive practice. As an example, he explains the utility of the 12 step program designed by Alcoholics Anonymous for addicts to avoid being trapped in a mental cul-de-sac. The AA steps are 1) Admit powerlessness, 2) find hope, 3) surrender, 4) take inventory, 5) share your inventory, 6) become ready, 7) ask God, 8) make a list of amends, 9) make amends, 10) continue your inventory, 11) pray and meditate, and finally, 12) help others.
Though AA presumably requires a Supreme Being in their 12 step process, the point of the treatment is to train one’s mind to act differently when confronted with influences that make a person turn into a cul-de-sac rather than back to an individuated baseline happiness.
O’Connor suggests drugs may be used to treat mental illnesses like depression for immediate results but that underlying causes need to be revealed to change longer-term aberrant psychological behavior.
O’Connor notes that drugs are sometimes used incorrectly and become part of the patient’s problem. With knowledge of triggering events for depression or addiction, behavior can be retrained to make the mind react differently.
O’Connor cautions the reader/listener to understand that negative triggers may be ingrained over years and will not disappear without repetitive behavioral training that avoids or consciously assesses negative emotional triggers. The key to success is enough behavioral repetition to make curative responses to triggers for depression, or aberrant behavior, automatic.
O’Connor offers several mental exercises to change how the mind works. Rewire is an insightful book but one wonders if O’Connor is not on the Hedonic Treadmill he criticizes. After all, one presumes the book is only selling to people who can afford it, and read it. Rewire seems unlikely to help all who are on the real American treadmill–those who cannot afford the book, pay a therapist, or practice its contemplative methodology.