Psychedelic drugs might be just what you need.
What does it mean to get “stuck in a rut”?
The analogy comes from a dirt road that’s been worn down by horse-drawn carts from ages gone by. The ruts — the narrow grooves into which the wooden wheels would fit — could become so deep that it would be difficult to exit the road.
Being “stuck in a rut”, then, means you’re on a path and you can’t get off of it. You might know that you should’ve taken the off-ramp seventeen exits ago, but try as you might, the ruts are simply too deep.
Many of us get stuck in our own kinds of ruts. Whether we worry about our jobs, our relationships, our children, or something else, we all suffer from repetitive thoughts from time to time. These thoughts, and the ensuing emotions, can be debilitating, or at least, uncomfortable.
What if I get fired and lose my home?
What if my partner cheats on me?
What if I never see my son again?
I’m not sure that anyone has a good explanation of why our minds run through thoughts like these. But, they do. And it’s worth asking whether there’s anything we can do about that.
Our brains are the problem
When it comes to the brain there’s a famous saying: neurons that fire together wire together. Neurons are the cells in our brains that somehow make our conscious life possible. They are what give us memories, intentions, thoughts, and emotions. And they’re constantly changing.
The brain is ever-adapting to its circumstances. Each time you act, the brain notices, and that ever-so-slightly increases the likelihood that you will perform that action again. If you continue to perform that action day after day, you will continue to increase the likelihood that it will happen again tomorrow.
When you perform the same action over and over, the neurons in your brain respond by reorganizing so that they fire in sequence to allow you to more easily perform that action. At a certain point, this sequence becomes second-nature and you don’t even need to think about it.
This sounds like habit-building, doesn’t it?
But, this is a double-edged sword. Your brain doesn’t discriminate between “good” and “bad” habits. If you do something repeatedly, your brain will assume it’s important and the connection between the neurons associated with that action will become strong.
With bad habits, this can cause you to get stuck. Say, you’ve developed the haabit of thinking that you’re a failure at work and that no one has any confidence in your abilities. Of course, this thought is associated with negative emotions, like fear, anger, sadness, shame, and others. So, when that thought arises, the emotions arise, too.
This kind of thinking is difficult to kick because that thought and the associated emotions have become a habit. The neurons that connect the thought with the emotions have become entangled, so that when the thought occurs the emotions are triggered — and those emotions can be overwhelming.
The question is, can we disconnect the thought from the ensuing emotions? If we could, think about how much less power the thought would have. If the emotions aren’t triggered, we can allow the thought to simply float away and get on with our lives.
Resetting our brains
The connection between our thoughts and emotions is the rut we’re stuck in. We can’t get off the road because the ruts — the connections between our thoughts and emotions — run too deep. So, we’re stuck in a place that we don’t want to be.
But, can things really get any better for us?
Unfortunately, we’re only privy to what’s going on in our brain. We don’t get to peek into anyone else’s head. And this can be problematic for us because we can start to think that life just sucks and can’t get any better.
There’s a useful analogy here to sports. Imagine you’re a tennis player. You practice and practice and you think you’re getting pretty good. But, what is the standard against which you’re judging yourself? How do you really know what you’re capable of?
With sports, we’re able to watch athletes who have dedicated their lives to improving their performance. We’re able to witness first-hand what is possible and this can inspire us to achieve what they’ve achieved.
But, we don’t have this same example when it comes to our states of mind. We don’t get to see how much better off or worse off anyone else is. So, we feel stuck with what we’ve got.
This is where psychedelic drugs have their uses. Taking the right dose of one of these drugs can give you insight into another way of being — another way of thinking, feeling, and acting in the world that is beyond your present set of experiences. Like watching a professional tennis player, it can give you a glimpse of what could be.
If you don’t know anything about psychedelic drugs, it’s worth mentioning that tons of scientific research has been conducted on them in the last two decades, in particular on psilocybin and LSD. Whereas these drugs were once thought to cause people to literally lose their minds, we are now discovering that they can provide users with insights that last a lifetime. Currently, some of these drugs are in clinical trials to treat depression, anxiety, and PTSD, among other illnesses, and the results are encouraging. Within the next 5–10 years, these drugs will likely be used in clinical settings.
What do these drugs do? Well, there are still many unknowns. In part, they seem to quiet the part of the brain that creates self-referential thinking — the part of the brain that forms repetitive thoughts and is all about me. With that part of the brain silenced, a user can experience what life is like when it’s less me-focussed. This can provide them with a more useful perspective on their situation.
It’s this shift in mindset that could bump you out of the rut you’re stuck in.
While that might sound fantastic, it doesn’t mean I’d recommend you take one of them today. These are powerful drugs that deserve our respect. If they are used at all, they must be used cautiously. If we don’t take precautions, we put ourselves and others at risk of harm. There’s also some evidence to suggest that certain people shouldn’t take these drugs at all, like people at risk of psychosis.
If you don’t know much about these drugs, you might want to consider looking into them. There’s an excellent book on the science of psychedelic drugs by Michael Pollan called How to Change Your Mind that I’d highly recommend.
Now, I’m not saying that psychedelic drugs are the only answer to pulling yourself out of a rut. I find meditation and operationalizing Buddhist and Stoic philosophy useful to ease my mind.
What I am saying, though, is that psychedelic drugs are tools you could use to show your mind that a different way is possible. And with that newfound knowledge you might just find that your rut has disappeared and you can finally move forward.
Thanks for reading!
The thoughts presented here have been influenced by Sam Harris and Michael Pollan, among others.