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  • Writer's pictureEric Rushton

Is My Subconscious A Hack?

I feel like my subconscious needs some new material.

If there has been any benefit of the pandemic for me, I would say it’s helped me get into a better habit of writing. I’ve been chucking a lot of content out into the insatiable void that is the internet, and so I’ve had to come up with loads of stuff.

Maybe void is the wrong word there. I just looked up the definition of void, and Google says it’s “a completely empty space”. The internet is certainly not empty. Making content is more like chucking stuff into the ‘anti-void’, a space so full it’s gonna throw up. Its knees are about to buckle and type-2 diabetes is on its way. The internet has gorged itself so much on content that soon we’ll have to cut off its toes.

But during the lockdowns, with live-audience shows being illegal (fucking hate the pigs man) if you wanted to express yourself and be creative, what else were you gonna do except for chuck it into that void/anti-void? The only way to get better at something is to practise, and you can’t really practise a creative pursuit without putting it out there.

It’s like cooking a meal. You need someone to taste it to tell you if it’s good. You don’t just cook the food and then throw it directly in the bin. Actually, I do that with jokes a lot. Just chuck them out. Delete straightaway. I have a lot of jokes that are the equivalent of a burnt piece of toast.

Posting on social media is more like putting food down in the middle of someone’s table when they didn’t ask for it. They’ve already eaten. They can sometimes eat a few more nibbles, that’s why everyone’s making short form stuff. You’ve always got room for a cocktail sausage; and you’ve always got time to scroll through a few Tik Toks.

Before the pandemic, I was travelling around doing a lot of stand-up, and although it entailed writing new jokes, a lot of the process of stand-up is saying the same thing over and over again. It’s maybe 20% trying new material and 80% refining the set you already have.

You perform to different audiences every night so the material doesn’t have to change. That can be good because it allows you to polish what you’re saying, but also it means you can get lazy; you can fall back on a set that you know gets a decent reaction. In fact, some comedians will do roughly the same 20-minute set for decades. It can mean you really stagnate creatively.

The internet doesn’t allow that. The nature of online content requires you to be hyper-productive. If you’re a comedian, you just have to keep thinking of more and more jokes. I couldn’t put out the same blog every week and expect people to still react to it.

The reason I’m describing these two approaches is that I went a bit mental last week. I spiralled into a depression and got really sad about my silly little self. I had three thoughts going round in my head: you’re ugly, you have no talent, and your future will be very bad. Then I realised something: those are the same three thoughts I always have when I’m sad. They sit there patiently in my subconscious, waiting for the right moment to rise to the surface, and then every few weeks, there they are.

Essentially, my subconscious is a lazy writer. My subconscious is that old-school stand-up comedian doing the same club set for 30 years. It goes, “here are the same three things I told you last time” and I react to it like it’s brand new.

And because I give my subconscious the reaction it wants (i.e. I go batshit mental), it doesn’t see the need to come up with new stuff. I wouldn’t drop a joke that gets a big laugh every time, and my subconscious isn’t gonna drop a core belief that causes the delicious mental spiral it’s after. I act like a new audience each time.

I try to write new stuff for my subconscious as well. I’ll read a self-help book and I’m like, “How about we try a bit of self-love, a bit of gratitude, maybe a cheeky bit of avoiding catastrophic thinking?” My subconscious is like, “Nah, I’m good, I’m gonna stick with what I’m doing.”

I need to take a leaf out of the internet’s electronic book and be a bit more unimpressed at my subconscious for churning out the same old shit. I’ve heard it before, mate. I want some new stuff, or I’m unfollowing you.

Next time I fall prey to a mental spiral and those dark thoughts rise to the surface and accuse me of being ugly, talentless and hopeless, I’m gonna see them for what they are: the tired catchphrases of a mediocre comedian, desperate for a reaction.

I will refuse to give it that reaction, and I will mentally scroll through my brain for thoughts that are new and original.

I should do it with a bit of caution, though. Just like there are downsides to the stagnant club-comedian way of doing things, the constant churning out of material on the internet also has its downsides. Most new internet content is new/original on surface but on closer inspection can lack the depth of something that has been worked on over a long period of time, that has been refined.

Do I want a subconscious with the same quality-control as a Tik Tokker, just constantly presenting me with new but uninspiring material?

And with a lot of the content I’ve been putting out, it could be argued I’ve just been rehashing the same ideas rather than genuinely doing something new.

The internetting of my brain could face the same problem. Say what you want about my subconscious, maybe the reason it’s still able to move me to madness with the same basic premises is because it’s developed its routine over the last 25 years. It’s put in a lot of hard work.

Maybe the metaphor of feeding bite-sized self-help content into my subconscious doesn’t really hold up. I probably actually need to do a lot of work on myself to eradicate those thoughts that get me down.

Turns out this metaphor is way more complicated than I anticipated. I haven’t got time to delve into that nuance though because I want to put this blog out tonight and see how many likes it gets.

Anyway, that’s about it.

See you next time with some new stuff.

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