We are all afraid of failure. We're also afraid of success. Why? Change. Impermanence. Also known as mortality. The irony, of course, is that we go into our individual holes to hide. But, holes are where we go when we die--that's no way to live.
Rabbit holes are essentially psychological neural pathways. Neural pathways are carved out of our brains by repetitive behaviors, the way rabbits carve systems of tunnels in the earth. You can create new neural pathways to divert the old habits, however, the original neural pathways that support those old habits remain.
Habits are like rabbits, burrowing into our brains. That's why change is so hard. You have to want to. Sadly, change isn't as easy as saying, "I want to." Real change is powered by actions. Ritualistic actions, that is.
You don't have to sacrifice a virgin...that's not what I mean by "ritualistic." You beat bad habits by committing to new, healthier ones. By repeating healthy behaviors each and every day, like a ritual, you will create new neural pathways that divert you from going into auto-pilot, falling back on those bad habits.
Rabbit holes are a maze of interconnected tunnels; it's easy to get lost once you decide to disappear into one. The internet is a favorite place to hide for many. YouTube alone is an amazing labyrinth that offers hours of uninterrupted content. Videogames are another such rabbit hole. My affinity for numbers sucks me in to the world of analytics for large blocks of time--my favorite rabbit hole at the moment. But, there are others....
If you have been using rabbit holes to avoid success, or failure, or, living "real" life, maybe finding happiness, love, joy (take your pick!), it's time to create new neural pathways. In just 21 days, you can burrow healthy habits into your brain. Repeat the behaviors you want to have stick each and every day until it's automatic. No, it's not easy. You have to want to change. For real.
On May 17th, Chris Cornell passed away. That was just two days ago. One of the original architects of Grunge, Soundgarden's front man beat addiction one day at a time by replacing unhealthy habits with new behaviors. As a result, he had a long-term stable marriage that not only produced two children, but also created a charitable foundation to help kids in need...not much different from my #EMMA initiative. Cornell was quoted as saying how life got a lot better after the alcohol and drugs went away, "...the bottom line is really, and this is the part that is scary for everyone, the individual kinda has to want it...not kinda, you have to want it and not do that crap anymore or you will never stop and it will just kill you."
Cornell's above quote is from an interview in 2007, ten years ago. Hours before he died, I read a tweet from Chris saying how relieved he was to have landed in a city he really loved. Not exactly the words of a man who wanted to die. But this is where the seemingly innocent rabbit hole becomes a dark place where you may never see the light of day again.
If you have ever suffered depression, you can relate to that sense of sinking. You go down, down, down, further and further until you cannot breathe. Cornell had established neural pathways that led him down a rabbit hole of no return. The thing is, Cornell is one of many creative-performers who was likely dealing with decreased D2 receptor densities...in other words, Cornell produced dopamine like everyone else, but unlike others, he had less dopamine receptors in his brain. Less receptors means an individual would need to do more risky behavior to flood their existing receptors with dopamine, just to feel normal. However, a 2010 Swedish study discovered that a decrease in dopamine receptors allow for more divergent thinking. That's where creative genius comes from. And, Cornell was such a genius.
The downside of increased creativity thanks to fewer dopamine receptors is an unfortunate association with psychosis, including schizophrenia. Having less receptors creates a constant chemical imbalance. That imbalance is what often prompts a need for things like drugs and/or alcohol.
So, what does all this really mean???
Basically, it means that anyone prone to addiction is also prone to self-sabotage, thanks to your genes. As a result, aligning your thoughts with your actions is even more important. Procrastination is the least of your worries if your brain chemistry is cueing certain neural pathways to wake up.
Have you ever avoided something you needed to do for so long, you woke up two years later wondering why you never accomplished that goal? I have. It's scary to see how much time can pass with little-to-no progress. You may not even be aware of why. You see, self-sabotage isn't just psychological; it's bio-chemical, too.
Rabbit holes may seem like a fun diversion, but they often support self-destructive behaviors that are detrimental to not just your health and well-being, but your very life. Self-awareness is crucial to avoiding roads that have no return. You may not feel suicidal, but you may be killing yourself in other ways--like staying in toxic or abusive relationships, over-eating or over-indulging in food, alcohol, cigarettes, and other drugs, as well as avoiding financial and/or familial responsibility.
By the way, there is nothing wrong with you if you recognize yourself in this essay. I'm writing it because it's an issue I've dealt with in myself and others. How do we move our lives forward if we keep circling back to old patterns of behavior? The simple answer is, we don't. The lesson of Chris Cornell is that, even when you think you have it beat, an old neural pathway can activate, negatively affecting your thoughts and deeds. Chris isn't the first person I've known to die in the way he did. Though he had just performed at a concert, the high influx of dopamine from the performance itself flooded the existing receptors in Cornell's brain...the effect? For people with more receptors, you might feel scared. For creatives like Chris, you'd feel happiness. Joy. "Normal." But the moment you step off stage, it can mean weeks of depression. I experienced this while on tour...and, I wasn't alone.
Star Trek's Will Wheaton aka Wesley Crusher and I had quite a long discussion about this very thing during New York Comic Con. It's not even like being on stage gives you a rush...you just feel normal. Imagine that for a moment: "Normal" only happens when you get on a stage in front of thousands for three solid days. How do you live every day life if that's the case?
In my experience, increasing creative outlets is helpful and perhaps even more fulfilling than standing on a stage. I don't just write all day every day...I also paint. I cook. I bake. I take photographs. I dance. I go hiking. I bike 15-20 miles a day. If it sounds like I have ADD, you'd be right. That's also associated with having fewer dopamine receptors. I have boundless creative and physical energy. While that may seem ideal to some of you, there is a downside. Literally.
Chris Cornell is a terrible loss to the music community. The way we can bring meaning to what feels like a meaningless death is to recognize the need for increased self-awareness, as well as the connection between brain chemistry and self-sabotage. If you know your brain misfires and leads you to some dark, scary places, you can be more aware. Which means you can build in daily activities or routines that keep your creativity moving you, and your life, in a positive direction. Meditation has helped me a great deal in this regard. You can even plant suggestions for yourself by creating and using trigger words or phrases, like #NoMoreFear.
There's a reason positive energy is so important...one day, it could save your very life. Something to remember before indulging in whatever your favorite rabbit hole may be at the moment.
Sending prayers and healing to the family, friends and fans of Chris Cornell...he will be greatly missed.