Your Head is a Houseboat - Campbell Walker
Wonderful book, 5/5. And short - you could read it in an evening. Of course the journalling will take longer - “Cleaning isn’t a one-time act, and neither is exploring and unravelling your head.”
At the end of a hard day, you probably feel more exhausted than a ﬂy who doesn’t quite understand the mechanics of a window. You know the ﬂy. They can’t see the open crack in the window and, much to your vicarious frustration, they keep ﬂying at the window pane over and over again. They deplete their energy while going nowhere. On a day where you feel like your head lost the battle, and all the stuff going in won, the ﬂy becomes very relatable.
It’s your mission, as you go about the ocean of life, to pause and collect these moments of clarity. These are moments where time slows down and the entire system can be seen for what it is: a rare and beautiful adventure. These are the moments when the window is open! You’re no longer the fly buzzing endlessly at the pane, praying for escape. You’re free … for now.
The highly-entertaining writing style:
Classic Witness Protection Bull moves include: pushing the Control Panel Puppy onto different buttons, messing up your core memories by kicking your Arts-and-Crafts Giant Squid in the face, and damaging the Yelling Elephant’s microphone.
Your brain is designed to solve problems, not store them.
Brain dump (write, or speak aloud and record)
Don’t stop writing when you’re tired. Stop when all the thoughts are on the page. You want your head to feel completely empty.
Your thoughts, for now, are the page’s problem – not your head’s.
Negative memories involving people in the past (freeloaders).
A well-meaning uncle might have once innocently laughed at your childhood dream of building the first roller-coaster to the moon. This laugh is understandable, given our current engineering limitations, but that’s not what your childhood self heard. What you heard was ‘My dreams are not things that other people take seriously.’ Now, every time you think about taking a creative risk you stop yourself. While you might not overtly hear your uncle laughing, you feel it, and you go your whole life living with the angst of unexplored potential.
Your life path: what did you want? what do you want now?
Deferral is a destination that limits our options, not a vantage point from which to assess our options. By choosing a path, more paths open, not the other way around. The further you get into the ocean, the more places you can see, and the better a sailor you become.
Your drivers (five bosses)
All positive, but no one path will completely appease all of them - we must be comfortable with compromise.
- Sensible - good job and a good house
- Liver - fun and stories
- Friendly - friends and community
- Ambitious - wealth and success
- Giver - help others
Ways you protect yourself from pain (grumpy sock puppets)
All negative, and following their guidance to them will lead to problems.
- Nihilist - pain from caring then loss
- Terrified - fear of loss and hurt
- Needy - fear of being socially outcast
- Distractible - don’t try, don’t fail
- Hater - fear of being socially rejected
- Perfectionist - pain from making a mistake
- Regretter - fear of repeating a pain
- Comparer - pain of being less than others
Primal instincts (biology)
Lack of conscious control: fight or flight, hungry/tired/cold, horny, memories (actual and rewritten)
We’re all children inside: be compassionate
For brain space
- Write down, or talk and record, your thoughts.
To hear your own voice
- What negative memories do I have involving people from my past? How accurate are the memories? How much impact did the situation - not the memory - actually have on my life?
- What did I want in life five years ago?
- What do I want in life now?
For wants and needs
- What do the different drivers want? Which is most important?
To reframe your insecurities
- When was I last unkind to myself? What was the underlying fear? What pain was I trying to protect myself from? How might this have actually helped me?
- How am I affected by cognitive biases?
- When have my base emotions controlled me? Love and reframe them.
- ✗ ‘I got really heartbroken when my boss told me to work over the weekend’
- 🗸 ‘Humans get really heartbroken when their bosses tell them to work over the weekend … and I love that.’
- Think of a time when you’ve been unkind to yourself:
- Be mean
- Imagine telling your six-year-old self the negative self talk you’re currently telling your adult self (e.g. give up on your dreams).
- Be nice
- Imagine giving your six-year-old self the positive support your parents would have given you (e.g. ‘that’s an amazing drawing!’)
- Be mean
1: THE SPACE TO SIT AND THINK
Previously full of clutter, we now know how to clean this space from our constant stream of day-to-day thoughts. With those thoughts captured elsewhere, our brains get freed up from excess noise.
2: THE ROOM OF ONE’S OWN
This room was once home to the Freeloaders, representing other people’s opinions we’ve internalised. As we examine them, we reduce the power they have over us.
3: THE RIVER
The river represents the childhood we don’t pick: a prescriptive journey to the ocean where we get shaped into the adults we become.
4: THE OCEAN
The ocean represents adulthood, wherein we do get to choose and customise our lives. While far rougher than the river, it presents infinitely more options.
5: THE FIVE BOSSES
These are our wants and needs, each representing a different motive. These desires are seldom all fulfilled at once, but the more we listen to them individually, the more comfortable we feel with compromise.
6: THE GRUMPY SOCK PUPPETS
These represent our inner criticism. As we get to know our insecurities, we learn that they’re often just protective mechanisms designed to keep us from pain.
7: THE WACKY WINDSHIELD
This represents the lens through which we see the world. Cognitive biases obscure the information we take in, but the more we’re aware of this, the less it will influence us.
8: THE ZOO
This represents your subconscious and your physiology: the aspects of being human that are largely beyond our conscious control, and that we can learn to recognise and accept.
9: KID YOU AND THE PHONE
Kid You is your inner child: the person you truly are deep down, extrinsic to the chaos of life. To love and connect with this person is to love and connect with yourself.
The first Freeloader I ever examined was my aunty. When I was seven, my cousins and I had an Easter egg hunt. Being the youngest cousin of a big group, I was the last to find my egg. This didn’t bother me – I really enjoyed searching. But my aunty didn’t grasp the fun of the game and thought she was being helpful by proudly revealing the location of my hidden egg. While this is a miniscule moment, it lived in my head rent-free for most of my life. On some level, this moment kept me from seeking help when I was struggling with bigger issues. Before examining the Freeloader, ‘accepting help’ felt like defeat. ‘I can do it myself’ became my default attitude as an adult because I’d experienced ‘help’ as an insult as a kid. This led me down a far more stressful path than I needed to walk. After examining the Freeloader, ‘accepting help’ just means ‘accepting help’, and that stressful path has since become far more pleasant. My aunty has left the boat.
To truly connect with others, we first must connect with ourselves. We do this by showing ourselves compassion.
Our negative thought patterns are often unintentional. Sometimes they’re running on autopilot until they’re questioned.
The old television screen turns from static to a picture of a little girl. ‘There she is,’ says the child. ‘We can’t talk to her because we’ve never met, but we can see her.’ ‘That’s not Beyoncé,’ you say, again with that annoying adult tone. ‘That’s just a little kid.’ ‘We’re all little kids,’ says the child. ‘We’re all the same child.’