There is no such thing as a belief without consequences. Either it’s helpful or it hurts you.
If this were true what consequence do the beliefs have that you are conscious of?
When someone says that what you want to do cannot be done what they are really saying, is that they can’t do it. When they say, something is not going to happen in the world, it means that they don’t believe in it enough to work on making it happen. Based on my experience it next to never has anything to do with what either the world or you is capable of.
What we think is true often depends on whether we are backstage or spectators to what’s happening.
Outsider: Coachsurfing is nuts. Have you heard of that guy who was forced to have group sex?
Insider: Coachsurfing has helped me make friends with whom I am still in touch years later. They often are involved in interesting jobs like setting up refugee camps.
Outsider: I am going to the hospital to rest and get better. The advice I get there is beyond question.
Insider: I don’t know anybody who has more dangerous health habits than average medical employees.
Outsider: Fame is luck and luck sometimes favors people with no skills whatsoever.
Insider: Oh man the three AM calls are driving me nuts.
Sometimes it’s better not to know too much. In this case let’s leave some room for our personal misjudgments. And sometimes it’s worth to get the inside view because it is often radically different from what outsiders perceive.
Today I woke up with a slightly stiff back. The explanation I give myself will change a lot about how I feel about it and the whole day.
- That happens when you’re over thirty. I will just have to live with it.
- My muscles are tensed up, I should see a chiropractor.
- Maybe I got cold during this snowy night. Let’s see how I feel in two days and decide then.
- Why always me? I hate seeing doctors all the time.
- I may have made an usual movement during soccer practice.
Each of these explanations has very different consequences:
- Takes power away from me. I can’t change my age so I can’t change the hundreds or thousands of ailments coming for me.
- This is a solution focused explanation which takes the problem seriously without feeling sorry for the self in a wimpy way.
- Similar to number two, but more patience.
- This also takes power away from me in a ridiculous way, as if the universe were out to get me.
- Encourages me to think things through coolly.
Same trigger, very different explanations. When in doubt let’s take the issue seriously while choosing the most empowering story to tell ourselves.
The damsel in distress belief is one that I find particularly annoying yet consistent in our culture. This idea that women can only succeed if a prince on a white horse appears does not feel romantic to me at all. Yet recently I wondered why the belief triggered way more emotions than similarly disempowering ideas. The answer is of course that I still believed it, not when it came to men, but otherwise: some idea would answer all my questions about how to progress my business. Or some doctor would figure out why I feel so tired all the time. In these cases the brilliant idea or the doctor are my versions of the prince on the white horse. Sometimes we know the most obvious version of our limiting beliefs. Yet these beliefs are savvy and they come in many disguises. If we want to move beyond them we need to weed all of these versions out, not just the obvious one.
When we think things like ‘this day is going to suck.’ it’s easy to forget that our moods and energy levels fluctuate throughout the day. Sure the day might end up sucking anyway but by holding on to that thought we of course make it more likely. Let’s reframe instead: ‘this sucks now but I am no fortune-teller so let’s see what the rest of the day will bring.’
Yesterday we talked about how the general sometimes keeps us from experiencing tangible everyday events. Often the general is a hollow vessel filled with some shadow of experiences or whatever information we encountered on the past, true or not.
When we want to change our minds it’s often very hard to convince ourselves of abstract concepts like ‘the world is a good place’ or ‘diversity is a good thing’ if we don’t already believe these things. The more we learn specific things the easier it is to change our abstract ideas.
So for example if we set out travelling and everyone from the kebab seller to the person sitting next to you on the train is helpful and open you will find it much easier to believe that people are generally good. You experienced it yourself, it’s not something that you just heard from others. Similarly if you have worked on a team where people from very different backgrounds successfully worked together and you experienced that the creative energy and level of interest was higher there than in more homogeneous groups believing in diversity is not so hard anymore.
Therefore one part of changing your mental climate lastingly in a positive way is to seek out the experiences, books and movies which turn the abstract into tangible concrete examples.
We are so used to talking about either X or Y that these things become opposites in our minds without us even realizing it. You have to be in service of others instead of looking out for yourself. This throws us into moral dilemmas which don’t necessarily exist. Because there are things where your self-interest and other people’s needs overlap. Where doing something for others brings forth the biggest joy in yourself. Are any imaginary opposites limiting you?
The moment we think we’re experts we become less knowledgeable about stuff. This is not only true for domain experts but also for life. The moment we assume we know how things work chances are we stop being curious about them. That’s not necessarily a tragedy: I am quite happy to never find out how engines or dishwashers exactly work. If we fail to see everyday miracles it might be because of our assumptions.
Rainbows are not rainbows. If you look down on a rainbow from some elevated perspective you will see that they are perfect circles (physicists might point out that they are actually cones. As far as I know there’s no vantage point where rainbows appear as cones to the eye, but hey I’m no rainbow expert and would be thrilled to be staring at a colourful cone one day).
What else might we be delightfully mistaken about?
The princess is waiting for the prince to save her riding a white horse. Well that is dumb we say. But yet we all carry on this idea:
- in sitcoms where the protagonists get discovered and make money from their art or eloquence as a public speaker they never once trained to be
- when we wait for the salary increase to solve all our financial problems
- when we seriously believe the whole country to change once the current president is out of the White House
Wonderful miraculous things happen out of nowhere. But if all we do is grow our hair so that our prince can climb up the tower to save us we’ve got a problem.
The comedian Amy Poehler said that she decided early on that her currency would not be beauty. What makes you the most persuasive and what do you use to get ahead? Your looks, your intellect, your creativity or some mix?
The currencies we ignore is usually the stuff we can be pretty relaxed about, a bit like Korean money: if you don’t know it’s value and you are not going to Korea any time soon, you won’t pay attention to its banknotes.
But chances are that we can freak out if we feel our currency is being devalued in the eyes of others. And once we know that we can decide, whether we go through the process of increasing the value or switching currencies all together.
Sometimes we want to do something that is good for us but we know that ‘we are not the kind of person who does X or enjoys Y’. Self-knowledge is wonderful but we have to understand that exceptions exist. Yes I might find it hard to do most things every single day but that doesn’t mean I can’t give meditation or exercising a try. Because sometimes doing something that we usually don’t do is easy or at least not as hard as we imagined it would be.
‘What are your expectations?’
-Oh I don’t have any.
But then there’s disappointment. A feeling that sucks. Except that it does tell you something that you didn’t know before: that there is a part of your brain that created expectations without your conscious knowledge. But the feeling of not having these expectations met is very conscious. Once you follow that feeling the hidden expectation isn’t that hard to find. Next time you have a similar situation you will be prepared. And you might not be able to change what will unfold. But you will respond to it better.
Apparently 40% of US employees feel like they are too busy to take a vacation. I am sure they see themselves as hard-working and responsible. If you are too stressed to take a vacation, go to the loo or get the sleep you need it’s not a reason to be proud. It can only mean three things:
1. Your boss (and his managers) is really bad at math. He doesn’t understand how much people are needed to do the work. This is not a terribly hard problem to figure out so if he can’t take care of that maybe you need a new boss.
2. You are not productive enough.
3. Your sense of self-importance is through the roof. Relax. The world was doing fine before you came along. The same is probably true for your company. It’s one of these illusions which go away once you challenge it.
Seasonal spikes occur of course. But if you can’t find a few weeks in a whole year something is definitely wrong.
We are often encouraged to fight ourselves to attain some sort of success: sleep less, work more, work-out more, do something that scares you every day and God knows what else. I am not saying that these things are not sometimes necessary to succeed but there is an alternative to being in constant combat mode with yourself. Things can flow. Most children don’t need to be encouraged to play, they do it naturally.
Sure we can’t wait for everything to flow all the time, we have deadlines and other commitments. But simply knowing that there is a space where we don’t have to fight ourselves (or others) helps. We might not always find it but we might see the right exit if we keep an eye on it.
The world, especially the business world, creates a lot of problems because people confuse expenses with investments. Expenses are meant to be cut to the minimum. Investments need to be taken care of and grown.
Sleep is an investment not an expense.
People are investments too.
What have you tried to optimize and reduce which actually should be taken care of and grown.
Faith is often associated with religion and looked at as some kind of opiate for those not strong enough to face reality. Actually life is full of uncertainty and problems we can’t solve by thinking or worrying about them. Having the ability to believe in something you can not see or otherwise verify is the basis for feeling optimistic about the future. It doesn’t insure you against all the bad things that could happen. Optimists get hurt as well. But at least the good times are not ruined by constant questioning. The neutral times are not made worse. And during the bad times you can create a space to feel hopeful again.
There is this inherent pressure to do things quickly: get home quickly, learn stuff quickly, walk quickly and get over trauma quickly.
I was never exactly living life on the fast lane but I seriously started questioning this imperative when I observed Mr. Ellis. Mr. Ellis was my English teacher and while students and teachers alike were scurrying through the school building Mr. Ellis always walked deliberately and obscenely
I’ll be happy when XY happens or doesn’t happen is quite a sneaky happiness myth. I have to catch myself every once in a while too: I’ll be happy when I can live off of positive psychology full-time, can grow my readership or have the freedom to work and travel wherever in the world I want to. These are cool goals but if I keep delaying happiness today for some imaginary happiness tomorrow chances are, that I will always strive for tomorrow.
What’s your version of the happiness myth? Will you be happy when you have found your perfect partner, job, have kids, get the promotion or the house?
That’s great but what can we do to strive for goals without falling for the myths?
It seems that the obsession for quick fixes would not be so rampant if people felt that they can stick to long-term projects. People lack confidence in themselves. But almost everything you can do today comes from something that was the opposite of a quick fix:
- your ability to read and type
- the skills you had to learn to get your job done
- how to keep order (this one confounds me to this day)
So relax. You have demonstrated over and over that you stick with things. You don’t need to delude yourself with quick fixes because you have already shown that the path that works, the path of mastery, is something you have undertaken many many times already.