As we grow, we're subconsciously exposed to various 'life scripts' that can have a profound effect on the way we lead our lives, without any conscious control on our own part. In this episode, we discuss some of the invisible shackles that bind us, and how to 'break free' from default modes of thinking to carve our own path through life.

Some of the highlights from our discussion:

The concept of invisible shackles is the idea that people go through life bound by invisible, default scripts that we’re not aware of but form a significant part of our lives. Personal growth or personal development are about noticing these different sets of invisible chains and recognising how we can liberate ourselves and lead our own lives.

Our culture and upbringing can have a significant impact on what scripts we adhere to. The life scripts that you are exposed to growing up through family and friends can have a salient effect on the nature and extent of your invisible shackles. For instance, Taimur talks about the importance of social ties and social obligations that extend further in certain cultures compared to others. In fact, understanding and seeing the social obligation dynamic is one of the invisible shackles that we should be thinking more consciously about.

Perhaps the most pervasive invisible shackle is the broad life script that characterises the lives of so many in the twenty-first century from school, to university, to institutional career to retirement. This is best surmised by the Parable of the Mexican Fisherman – link below – which Ali describes first coming across in the 4 Hour Work Week – a book which changed the trajectory of his life and made him aware of the alternatives to the standard life script that we are expected to follow.

It’s not about thinking outside of the box, it’s about widening the box. The most useful thing to do in order to notice invisible shackles is spend time with people who are playing different games, playing by different life scripts or have had different upbringings. The alternative is to do it by proxy by listening to podcasts or reading books – whilst this isn’t as good as having close friends – exposing yourself to multiple books or podcasts is a meaningful substitute and can help to normalise a life script that diverts from what you have been brought up to believe and follow.

The things we end up believing are down mainly to the quantity that we hear them. The quantity of time one is exposed to an idea can make as much of a difference as the quality of the advice itself. On average, it takes 7 hearings of the same advice to actively start to internalise that advice. Ali explains this is why he supports the information arbitrage that he engages in because it will provide value. Therefore, a good general strategy for expanding the box is exposing yourself to a diversity of different life scripts and ideas.

It’s entirely acceptable to expand the box an inch at a time rather than try to leap out and create a new box.


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What is this? Not Overthinking is a podcast about happiness, creativity, and the human condition. We talk about things to help us think, do, and be better. Things like social interaction, lifestyle design, mental models...things that are hard to examine, but important to explore. And hopefully, things that make for a fun and interesting chat every week.


Follow Not Overthinking on Twitter: https://twitter.com/noverthinking.

Who are we?

Ali is a junior doctor and YouTuber working in Cambridge, UK. He makes videos about medicine, technology, productivity and lifestyle design. His links: YouTube, Blog, Newsletter, Instagram

Taimur is a data scientist and writer, working on his own startup Causal. He writes on his blog and as a columnist for Medium. His links: Blog, Twitter, Medium, Instagram