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The word hacker is most often and mistakenly used to describe cyber criminals. But it’s really just about being curious.

In fact, the word originated decades ago to describe technology enthusiasts who are simply curious about how technologies work, maybe why they don’t work properly, and how they can be fixed and made better.

And yes, sometimes they have to break in, and maybe even break some rules, to do that. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Steve Wozniak are just some of the many technology legends who have described themselves as hackers.

And it was my hacker mindset, from 40 years in cybersecurity, that I credit with saving my mental health.

For helping to begin to heal 50 years of mental illnesses that resulted in more than 30 years of chronic stress from trying to hide them, bury them, keep them from derailing my security career.

When my hacker brain kicked in, I was immediately thinking of my mental health as a series of risks that I had to manage. A critical infrastructure of complex networks that I had to protect. But before I could manage them, I had to fully understand them.

What was this enemy, how they were getting in, and what they were trying to do to my critical infrastructure. What damage had they done and how easy would it be for me to reverse that damage, roll back the changes.

But I also quickly realized that my brain had become shaped and hardwired according to the industry I’d spent 40 years in. I was like anyone who has spent an entire lifetime, decades, fighting relentless crime and cruel criminals. I was constantly suspicious, mistrusting, skeptical, cynical. Always on guard, always on high alert.

But the biggest difference this time, in this fight, is that I loved what I was fighting, my brain, and loved what I was fighting for, my brain.

The journey was mind opening, mind blowing, and mind healing, and the results truly profound. Not only was I able to almost completely tamed the chronic stress, but the absence of stress took the edge off my mental illnesses.

By changing my way of thinking, changing the way I’ve processed my thoughts, I was also able to challenge many of the thought processes that come with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Whatever weird and twisted thoughts they would throw up, I had now tools to process and manage them.

And ultimately I found that it was changing my personality. I was becoming happier, more joyful, more hopeful. Less cynical, less judgmental, less impatient and intolerant. Calmer, nicer, more at peace with the world and myself.

So can you do the same, hack your own mental health to see all the same benefits? The answer is absolutely yes. You don’t have to be a hacker to have a hacker mindset. You just have to be curious.