You Feel How You Think, Not How You Are

“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.” – Viktor Frankl

I love this quote because it shows us the simplest path to happiness. It explains why the daydreaming fools is usually happier than the focused CEO of a successful corporation.

It also goes a long way in explain much of my behavior and mood. I am a dreamer who suffers when others inhibit my dreams. I believe that I can do almost anything and when I day dream or allow my mind to float I do great things. Most often these thoughts of greatness boost my mood and charge my focus creating a mindset that allows me to actually make some progress towards doing the things I dream.

The inverse is always true – when I am brought back to someone else’s reality and am reminded of all the limitations, hurdles and potential setbacks that exist in my quest towards greatness and soon I feel like garbage. I make the decision to come to their reality and allow my mood to nose dive – in fulfilling my part of the social contract and engaging those who engage me, my ability to actualize my purpose is hindered by the constraints of what the other person has created as their reality. Beauty cannot be created when one is dealing with the thoughts of what is wrong/bad/negative in the world.

Viktor Frankl should have been suffering when he came to the conclusion he wrote above as he was in a concentration camp. However, he wasn’t. He was working with the other prisoners trying to help their mental health as they were worked to the bone. As their therapist, he was their guide towards a more enlightened way to thinking that would produce hope and lead to happiness. He believed that ones experience of life in the camp was determined by their thoughts about their experience vs. what the experience is actually like. He realized that what one believes reality to be very quickly becomes reality.

My first experiences with Frankl’s approach came in the time immediately following Natalie dying. I had been suffering pretty badly and had started to wonder if she had ever really known just how much she meant to me. My counsellor at the time mentioned that the type of sadness I felt now was the inverse of the joy I felt before so it was unlikely that Natalie hadn’t been able to pick up on the positive feelings I had. As I let this statement float over me I started to feel better because I knew it was true. She did know how much I cared for her and how much joy that she brought to my life. While this realization did not remove the grief, it did change my thoughts so that I no longer doubted that she knew how I had felt about her. This eliminated the negative consequence to the thoughts of doubt and freed me from some of the darkness.

Recently I have reconnected with Frankl’s lesson. I spend more time thinking about the world as I want it to be vs. how I believe it to be. I consume the news less because I am powerless to change much of what I see on the television or read on the Internet. I spend less time engaged in political discussions or talking to people about things they don’t like but have no interest in changing. I try to spend time around the people who radiate happiness and optimism and try to avoid those who are dark or conflict prone because their reality will infect mine. All in all these choices have allowed me to accomplish more of what I need to get done while helping me maintain a bright outlook. I am feeling how I want to feel.

“Living The Dream” – Self-Talk and Mood

Ravi Raman’s Living The Dream post is a great example of the power language has on our thinking. What he outlines is very similar to the technique’s taught and encouraged by GoodLife Fitness clubs with their sales staff; before we went to meet any prospect, we would use some form of self-talk to get ourselves in peak attitude in order to authentically embody the “Good Life” that physical fitness affords everyone who chooses it. While GoodLife’s approach comes down to good business – people buy from happy people so I closed more sales than those who were not happy – it also improved my overall level of happiness.

Ravi touches on this as well, citing an improvement in his mood when he responds in a happy way to others. In my experience it is a universal truth that negative self-talk will lower ones mood and when someone is depressed their self-talk is always negative and defeatist.

When you’re depressed it is very hard to see anything as positive. One of the best exercises I have found for improving this is to write out reasons why you should be happy or reasons why some of what you are saying to yourself is inaccurate. It doesn’t have to be very much, just enough to plant a seed of doubt about the accuracy of the negative self-talk to mitigate your response to it. For example, when I say that things are never going to be any different from how they are now, I’m quickly able to see the word “never” as an over generalization. Once I realize that things are not always going to be the same, I’m able to start to believe that there are other alternatives to the situation and I am free to work on achieving one of them as opposed to remaining victim to my perception of an unchanging world.

The first couple of times I tried this exercise I was amazed at just how gullible I was when it came to believing self-talk. Frankly, I believed everything my internal voice said without questioning it until I learned that I CAN question it. The power of this lesson is the realization that it works the opposite way too – you believe the positive stuff as strongly as the negative and you will continue to believe it so long as you continue to create it. The only thing you need to do to create it is to make the choice to be happy.

So when you go to work or do anything that isn’t 100% your passion, make sure you remained yourself that you are living the dream and make it the truth by saying it.

Feedback Destroyer – Mitigating an Automatic Response

The best way to stop someone from giving you feedback is to make the person regret giving it to you. The quickest way to do this is to attack the person and call their credibility into question because these things will evoke a visceral reaction in them.

I noticed myself almost doing this the other day. My Group Ex cycling team leader took my class and we team taught. After class I asked him for his feedback. He likes the way I teach and believes that I have a good handle on what I’m doing. He suggested that I verbally coach and cue the riding positions to help the participants find a more athletic position. My automatic reaction was to think “I did that” and then “I did it more than he did” then “who is he to say that?”

What do these thoughts indicate?

I did that” – this one really amounts to me interpreting what he is saying as an attack on me. My reaction was to assume his suggestion to do it more meant that I didn’t do it at all because I am not very good at instructing.

I did it more than he did” – this is the beginning of the personal attack on him. It is basically something like “I did it more than you, you are saying that I need to do it more therefore you really didn’t do it at all”. It draws his credibility into question and it starts to paint him as being a hypocrite.

Who is he to say that” – escalation the personal attach by belittling him; basically calling his qualifications into question so I don’t have to consider what he is saying.

In less time than it took to think it my brain had perceived and defended against an ego attack with no conscious input from me. The thoughts just presented themselves one after the other and in no time at all I had create the reason for not listening to what he was saying.

Fortunately over the years I’ve became more aware that I have these automatic reactions to the things I unconsciously perceive so I didn’t say or do anything other than listen to what he was saying and let the thoughts wash over me. I trust my team leader because I believe he is a good person who has my best interest at heart. He’s also a good instructor with good form and great fitness so his advice and feedback are both useful and honest; I know that it will help me and that is why I asked him for it.

Talking back to the automatic response:

I did that” – I did, I know I did because I remember doing it and I do it every class. I do it out of habit because I’ve been instructing for a while. However, there was nothing to indicate that more positional cueing would have had a negative impact on the class or that it wouldn’t have helped them out. In fact, more of it would have been a good thing. It’s good feedback.

I did it more than you did” – I don’t know if I cued the class more than he did but it really doesn’t matter. His feedback is good feedback – it isn’t good feedback because he or anyone else does it, it’s good feedback because it would have made the class better.

Who is he to say that” – who is he not to say it? He’s an expert so what he has to say about it is worth hearing. Even if the feed back was to come from one of the participants it would have been worth hearing. People have a sense of what has order and what is unnatural; you don’t need to be an expert to offer advice on ways to improve something. This is particularly true when receiving feedback about an experience. Anyone having the experience BECOMES an expert so their feedback is worth hearing.

This week I took his advice and cued more. I did notice an improvement in the performance of some of the participants. Their shoulders stayed back while their chest remained up and open. When I cued their posture towards the end of the tough tracks some of them seemed to respond and increase their effort. By remaining open to his feedback, I became a better instructor.

If you notice that you have a tendency to close off when people offer you advice or feedback, you may want to consider talking back to your automatic response in order to reprogram it.

My Thoughts On Facebook

I signed up for a Facebook account in May and I deleted it last Thursday. I had it for about 12 weeks although I didn’t log into it in July or August other than to delete it. The site is fantastic; it’s very easy to use and offers a lot of features to make the experience simple and straightforward.

What it is good for:

1) Social networking
for people who like being online. If you are one of these people you will really enjoy it because a lot of your present and past peers are on there.

2) Helping to remember your past. Initially my brain came alive because I saw the names and faces of so many people I used to go to school with. Given that I didn’t keep in contact with many of my high school friends, I haven’t had the chance to reminisce these memories into my long-term conscious awareness. At the beginning, it was fun to remember the parties, trips and random acts of my youth.

3) Reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances. Being able to exchange emails with people I used to know was fun. Seeing how their lives have evolved and what they have become was eye opening. It was shocking to see just how few of them DIDN’T end up doing what you thought they’d be doing – it seems that people don’t change, even as they continue into their mid 30’s they remain very much the same.

4) Creating a visual and interactive time line
of your past through life experience mapping. Probably the best thing about facebook was the ability to look at your social time line and see how you knew the people you did. It was particularly good to see when and where I worked, whom I lived with and how and when someone came into my life.

Why I deleted my account:

1) It is time consuming. They call it “facebook crack” because it is so easy to lose yourself in it. When you are engaging the site, it feels like you are doing something important because your brain is very active. While not real work it does have the feeling that it is improving the quality of your life. After a while I started to become aware that it was taking up more of my time than I had really intended to give it. After that, I stopped logging in.

2) It fosters a sense of obligation to people who I may never come in contact with otherwise. I’m used to getting email from people I know or work with, so I’m used to spending time replying to them because there is a pre-existing relationship that needs to be maintained or because my job depends on it. I had fewer interactions with my close friends on facebook than I did with people I hadn’t seen in years. While I have implicitly agreed to engage my friends and co-workers, I never agreed to engage strangers. When I began for feel a sense of obligation to interact with people I haven’t known for more than a decade, I made the call that it was time to eliminate this potential source of stress from my life.

3) I stopped enjoying it
. The shine wore off very quickly. As cool as it was to see how my old peers were doing, voyeuristic glancing at their life has a short shelf life. In fact, after I recreated my life time line, I got very little else out of the experience. I am not a facebook pro and I’m not particularly social. My best and most rewarding interactions are face-to-face conversations, usually one on one and about something that requires a lot more communication than a 5-line message. They tend also to rely heavily on non-verbal communication and immediate feedback. For these reasons, I wasn’t going to enjoy facebook for every long.

A Conscious Experience Described

A few of my recent posts have left me wondering how other people experience reality and consciousness. It’s a dreadful thing to think about because I first assumed “exactly like I do” and then realized I haven’t been able to put that into word. I’m house sitting at Des and Sarah’s house. I’m in the basement, in front of the computer sitting on a chair. So I’m going to try. It’s probably futile but we’ll see.

Lets deal with the sensory input and it’s impact on consciousness.

Visual: It’s like a huge movie screen and what I can see very clearly is a small portion of the field of view. I am aware of everything that is in my field of view, I may not know what it is, in fact, all of it is just stuff until I actually move my eyes to look directly at it. For example, there are two speakers, one on each side of the monitor. When I’m looking at the screen, I can sort of see them in the periphery but I’m not really able to think about them clearly until I look at one of them directly and then it becomes something real. But I’m immediately much less aware of the monitor. In the same way, I have very little awareness of the key board, but I know it’s beneath my fingers and I know I’m hitting the correct keys because the letters are appearing on the screen. When I look down at the keyboard, the monitor shrinks in importance and I’m almost completely aware of only the key board.

It seems that when my eyes are open and there’s enough light to see by, my conscious awareness is based almost completely on what is in the very center of my field of view. What the internal voice says in response is varied. It may say “speaker” when I look at it, it may point out a feature, it may announce the function of something, etc… It is as though the understanding of speaker is created in my consciousness and this starts my brain looking for memories that are somehow related to the understanding of speaker.

The memories go two ways, one is about these speakers the other is about speakers in general. I’m thinking about some of the songs I’ve heard Des mix here and I’m also thinking about being at a rave and the wall of speakers they had.

Seeing not just the speaker cone, but the casing, I start to think about how they make the casing, how would they test the speakers, how many people were involved in making and shipping these particular speakers, and if the blue power on LEDs are going to give me a headache?

My eyes are moving though, they are jumping all over the place, scanning and keeping me aware of what is in the room. It’s like the eyes scanning keeps an information buffer filled with an understanding of what my immediate environment is like. E.g. after a few minutes of looking at the screen, I stop being aware of the speakers. I need to actively think about it if I want to remember. However, if my eyes keep scanning, I’ll always know that they are there. It’s like there is 15-30 seconds of a situational buffer that allows me to be aware of stuff without actually sensing it. But it empties very quickly. I know there is a drum set behind me, a TV, a dart board, a chair and a couch. But I have no idea where any of that stuff is. Any mental map I made containing this information has dissipated a long time ago. I’m keenly aware of what is in front of me, but clueless as to what exactly is behind me.

I’ve covered my eye and stopped visual input to see what happens to my understanding of the room.

Okay, I seemed to hear more, sound grabbed more and more of my attention the longer my eyes remained closed. Also, I went from knowing what the room was like to understanding what the room was like. The monitor, speakers and keyboard stopped being something that I was aware of and I felt that I was at a desk using a computer, not this desk or this computer but a desk and a computer as tools or ways to get something done vs. being things that actually exist in this basement. It seems that things quickly stop being a sensation and start being a memory. The sensations feel a little more tangible while the memories are abstract and exist as understandings of what something is.

I’ve covered them again.

Yes, my awareness of what I am hearing increases dramatically after about 10 seconds as my awareness of what existed visually fades into an understanding of what exists. With my eyes open, I hear only the computer fan, but with them closed I think I can hear the fridge in the kitchen. Without visual input, the situational buffer becomes saturated with auditory information that would normally get displaced by visual information. Maybe it’s able to work with a particular amount of energy and with the eyes closed, it amplifies the input from the ears to achieve this level.

The computer fan and the possible sound of the fridge are not creating any verbal thoughts other than my initially thought “what am I hearing, is that the fridge?” Knowing it’s a computer fan maintains an understanding of a computer as a tool but not this specific computer, the same applies with the fridge.

I’m not really sure of what to make of all this so I’m going to sit on it for a while to see what my brain does with it. Suffice to say it was a worthwhile exercise because I hadn’t thought of any many of these things before.