Your Mind & Thriving: Thriveology Podcast Episode 3

If your brain is the hardware, what is the software?  Your mind.  And your mind does one thing:  it creates thoughts.  Some thoughts are helpful and some are useless.  That is just what a mind does.

And that is not a problem. . . unless you forget this.

You can thrive MORE with just a little more understanding of your mind and your thoughts.  Discover how to deal with those pesky thoughts and how to use your emotions as a barometer to your thriving.

Your thoughts. . . are they helping you to thrive or are they keeping you stuck?

Rule 10: Be open to having your beliefs challenged.

Be open to having your beliefs challenged.  In other words, hold loosely to your outlook.  That does not mean that you have no beliefs, only that they will change and evolve over time.  That is the nature of everyone’s outlook or “worldview.”  Perhaps authors are more aware of this than others, since we have our words recorded for us to see as we evolve.  I often read what I wrote in the past and just sit and wonder “what was I thinking?”  Funny thing is, I don’t ever really remember choosing a difference in my beliefs.

Paradigms (a big, overused word for our worldview or outlook) are like that.  They are ever-changing and evolving.  As we process more information, we tend to make shifts along the way, many quite invisible.  Sometimes, but not often, we have our belief system turned upside-down, an event we often refer to as “life-altering” or “life-changing.”  So, setting those brief moments of life aside, I am thinking more about those small shifts.  The ones that move us closer to clarity and reality, those are the ones I am pointing toward.

So why hold loosely?  Because we usually notice and look for events that confirm our beliefs, and we ignore or undervalue and avoid that which contradicts our beliefs.  That is “confirmation bias.”  We look for what confirms our bias.  And we all have biases, as much as we would like to think otherwise.

We are awash in information, and our senses are only able to process so much of it, so we all take shortcuts.  These mental shortcuts end up molding and shaping our beliefs as time goes on.  It then becomes what we notice, and don’t notice, that creates our bias.

Being open to having your beliefs challenged (not the same to “let your beliefs be changed”) means that we accept that our perceptions are just that:  perceptions instead of reality.  There are others with different views of reality.  We may not accept them, but we do need to be open to the challenge.  It is too easy to merely dismiss someone as “irrational,” “crazy,” “senseless,” or any other dismissive label we tend to us.  The challenge is to let them be a challenge.  What if they are correct?

A lack of our own imagination does not negate the imagination of others.  Think of our current financial situation.  The “tipping point” was the risky bundling of even riskier assets by financial institutions.  Few people saw the crisis coming.  The few that did were somewhat quiet in announcing it — they knew that in those boom years, their voice would be underappreciated and seen as pessimistic.  Now, looking back, we see that the signs were there.  It is all-too-obvious now, but we missed it then.  Lack of imagination.  Unwillingness to have a belief challenged.  Either way, we were not noticing what was going on until it became inevitable.

Paradigms are like that:  our own incapacity to imagine something else keeps us from seeing what might be coming.  It is nothing new.  Even with mounting evidence, many (especially the religious leaders) refused to hear that our planet was circling the sun.  As observation after observation mounted evidence on top of evidence, it took a long while for the shift to happen.  But once the Copernican Revolution finally happened, it became nearly impossible to see things the other way.

So, Rule 10:  be open to other possibilities.  Let your beliefs be challenged.

Rule 9: Mistakes Don’t Matter

OK, let me say just a bit more:  “Mistakes don’t matter.  How you deal with them does.”  You see, we often get so caught up in fearing that we will make a mistake that we don’t stretch.

We stop ourselves before we even begin, or we freeze up in the midst of trying, all because we might make a mistake.  But that really is the nature of life.  We make mistakes, pick ourselves up, learn from the mistake, then move on.

Well, that SHOULD be the rhythm of life.  In fact, when we don’t live that way, we have trapped ouselves into what Carol Dweck refers to as a “fixed mindset.”

Dweck distinguishes between the fixed mindset that refers to our expectations that we have innate skills, natural abilities.  A mistake would seem to be an indication that we lack in skills or ability from this frame.  So, for instance, a child is told that she is a “natural athlete.”  As time goes on, the child fears that she cannot live up to that, so she either quits trying or constantly works to prove others right.  In either case, she comes to fear making a mistake.

The “growth mindset,” on the other hand, is the (correct) belief that we are all growing, developing individual capable of learning new skills and ideas.  In that frame, a mistake is just part of the process of learning.  In fact, mistakes may be one of the best ways of learning!

I help teach SCUBA classes.  In the beginning, I ran around trying to make sure the students made no mistakes.  Then the instructor pointed out that the students needed to make these mistakes in our controlled environment, so that they did not make them when it mattered.  I broke myself (mostly) of that habit, and instead turned to the idea of helping the students learn and recover from the mistakes.  I believe they are much better divers now.

As Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Start taking the shots!  Make some mistakes, then decide what to do about them!

Rule 7: Ask “What’s The Worst That Can Happen?”

Today, the question that can help you challenge your fears when thinking about doing something.  You see, fear pretends to befriend and protect us.  So it whispers into our ear all kinds of thoughts about not doing something because “something could go wrong.”  But in actuality, there isn’t much fact behind the images of utter destruction.grand-canyon-jump

So, the question is “what’s the worst that can happen?”  Then think through the answers.  Are they really that bad?  If they are, and it isn’t your exageration from fear, then perhaps you shouldn’t do it.  Say you are standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and you want to jump to a rock outcropping 6 feet out from you.  You are scared, but still thinking about it.  You ask the question:  “what’s the worst that can happen?”  And you answer “Oh, I don’t know, a 5000 foot drop.”  Then, your fear was well-intended!

But let’s face it, that is not the typical situation.  No, our fears are normally about non-lethal situations.  In fact, our fears often only serve to constrict our lives, keeping us from growning and developing.  That is when the question is magic!

How about this one:  someone asks you to give a short speech during a business gathering!  Fear whispers in your ear “I’ll mess that one up. . . that’s scary!”  Quickly, you find a conflict on your schedule, a reason why that is not going to work out.

But what if you asked the question “what’s the worst that could happen?” and you were realistic?  The worst may be that your words don’t come out as clearly as you would like.  Or people won’t agree with you.  Or you will die of embarrassment (there has never been a verified case of this!).

OK, so maybe your words don’t come out as clearly as you would like.  Maybe your tongue gets tied, but haven’t you seen others do the same in a speaking situation?  Even presidents get tongue-tied and say the wrong things.  But they are still presidents.  In other words, there is likely far less risk than you think.

You answer the question, you face your worst fears, realize that they aren’t so bad, and you decide to take a risk.  That is the nature of life, growth, and learning.  That is how we develop into better humans.  So ask the question, question the answers, and see that fear isn’t the friend it pretends to be.

Rule 5: We All Have Some Basic Fears

We share fear with every living creature. The difference is that we are able to add emotion and thought to the feelings. Sure, some animals are capable of emotions –anger in particular. But as far as we know, no other animal reflects on their fears.

Because we are thinking creatures, we take a fear and weave it into a story about ourselves. And this leads us to some basic fears. These fears rotate around the following:
1) Not having enough.
2) Not being good enough.
3) Not being loved enough.

Not Having Enough

One of our most basic fears is that of not having enough. Unfortunately, this is a fear that afflicts almost everyone, regardless of how much he or she actually has. In fact, some of those suffering the strongest pull of this fear are those with plenty. In fact, this fear is very creative. We often believe it is only about money. It is not. It is having enough of anything: friends, time, toys, health, you name it!

This fear drives in us a need to find more and more. For some, this is the root cause of tendencies to hoard. We look at people in the news whose homes are stacked from floor to ceiling with junk, trash, magazines, whatever. But we fail to notice our own ways of hoarding –hiding money in accounts or under beds, having friends that we never contact and don’t really have anything in common with, gadgets that don’t meet our needs yet lure us to buy them. We hoard rolls of tissue paper, as if there will never be more, or at least more on sale! We move to bigger and bigger homes to hold more and more of our stuff.

We are predisposed to want to hold onto things. In fact, just look at the design of our bodies. The vast majority find it very easy to gain weight, to have our fat cells accumulate the extra calories. But we find our bodies very resistant to letting the weight go. Even at a cellular level, we end up hoarding!

Our bodies have lived through times of feast and times of famine. Those able to efficiently hold onto those extra calories got to pass on their genes. Bodies quickly burning through the available supply perished.

But it is our fear of not having enough that leaves us scrambling through daily life, so close to our work that we miss the destruction of this drive. Few people arrive at the end of their lives with regret for time they took in leisure. But many bemoan the lost time spent in work propelled by fear.

Many would argue that perhaps it is this very fear that has led us to great successes. And in many ways, they would be correct. It is another bit of irony that humans are much better at running away from something than running toward something. In other words, we are often more motivated by fear than by a goal.

It is also unfortunate, then, that this fear extracts a heavy toll on the individual. In some sense, it is society that profits from the motivation of fear, but at the expense of the individual. Look at it in a corporate sense. The bottom line of a corporation is often directly related to the degree of effort exerted by the individuals in that corporation. If fear is nipping at the heels of these individuals, more effort is exerted. This effort pays off for the company, but rarely for the individual. The reward for extra effort and extra time spent at work? Often, it is more responsibility, more stress, and more time required.

The individual is not benefitting in the same way the corporation does. In fact, the cost can be rather heavy. Our bodies are designed to live with stress for short periods of time –not for entire careers! In the short term, stress creates a readiness in the body for that flight/fight response. But in the long term, our bodies begin to break down when exposed to a constant level of stress. High blood pressure, diabetes, even cancer all have been attributed as outcomes to stress.

As is often the case, sometimes a fear has a basis in reality. Perhaps there really is a shortage, that there really isn’t enough. But sometimes a fear is irrational. It is not a reflection of reality. We come to believe there is not enough, but that exists only within the paradigm we weave within our mind.

Not Being Good Enough

Our second basic fear is not being good enough.

This fear is one of comparison, competition. We tend to judge ourselves against another standard. This standard is often a comparison between what we “know” about ourselves and what we “believe” about the other. In other words, we end up comparing all the negative stuff we think true about ourselves to the positive image others portray to us (and we portray to them). We end up seeing “the yuck” of our own lives, but fail to see it in the other.

When this is the case, there is no way for us to measure up. I know my internal world, but not that of the person I use for comparison. So all my faults end up being placed against only the strengths of the other.

Our fear of not being good enough, in evolutionary terms, is the reality of the survival of the fittest. If I am not good enough, I will not get the resources I need (or mate I need) to continue my (and my genes’) survival.

Here’s the problem: all living organisms are in this struggle. But day to day, moment to moment, only humans seem capable of making themselves miserable over this. It is merely a long-term question for other organisms. We humans, on the other hand, constantly underestimate our individual selves (while overestimating ourselves as a species).

Not Being Loved Enough

We humans really are “pack animals.”  We need connection.  We seek community.  Studies show that when people do not experience enough affection and love as infants and children, their long-term development is negatively impacted.  In other words, when we don’t get enough love, we suffer.  That need never goes away.

In fact, one of the highest ranking determinants of life satisfaction is having loving relationships.  That may not be a spouse or partner, but we all have the need to feel a sense of belonging.  Friends and family may fulfill that role, or it may be a spouse or partner.  Notice how we build communities with clubs, churches, social organizations, informal gatherings, even lunch groups at work.

So this fear of not being loved enough strikes deeply within us.  It is a fear that this basic need to be a part of a group, to feel accepted and loved, will not happen.  This is the fear that has us worried about our relationships, our love life, what people think of us, and influences how we interact with people.  The stronger this fear, the harder we work to not be rejected.  Sometimes this ends up being a very needy approach to relationships.  Sometimes this ends up being an act of not needing anyone.  If you know people who reject others before they are rejected, that person is as much caught up in this fear as someone who will do anything to maintain a relationship.

The Basic Fears Just Are

In other words, we all have those basic fears.  Most of us have one of these fears that is more potent than the others. If you take these three categories, begin to look at those thoughts that break you into a cold sweat or wake you up in the middle of the night.  Which category does that fear fall into?

Just being able to name the category is not going to end the fear.  It really is like anything else, though.  Once we expose it to daylight, it often loses its power.  Once we realize what is filling our sails, we may not be able to stop the wind, but we can learn to steer with it.  The fear may always be your basic fear, but knowing that allows you to avoid being run by it.

Rule 3: Memories Are Just Thoughts

OK, this one can be controversial, so hear me out.  A memory is merely a thought.  It is a thought about something that happened in the past, which we then pull into the present.  Some of those thoughts are helpful, but others are not.

I am NOT saying that you should ignore painful events from the past and pretend they did not happen.  That is denial.  I AM saying that we all can acknowledge that our memories are not entirely accurate.  That is what I mean in this rule.  Thoughts are always our perceptions and interpretations of reality.  And memories are those perceptions and interpretations brought into the present.

We never have an accurate portrayal of an event.  If you understand what I mean in the last paragraph, you may find my first sentence to be a rather strong assertion.

Here is why some people have a strong reaction to this rule:  people often define themselves by what has happened to them. Some people view the most tragic events as self-defining.  I often hear people say “I am a survivor of sexual abuse.”  Or “my family was dysfunctional when I was growing up.”  Or “we were broke when I was a child.”

Again, I am not saying that these events did not happen, that there is not truth in the events.  It is just that we tend to believe that we:  1) accurately remember those events (we do not), and 2) we cannot let those events go (we can).

So, let’s take those in order.  First, we do not remember events as they happened, but how we interpreted them.  We missed some facts, created other facts, and misinterpreted many facts.  That is just the nature of our memories.  It is neither good nor bad, just how our minds and our brains encode information.

More than that, plenty of research shows that memories are actually quite malleable. In other words, memories themselves change over time.  We interpret memories based on what is going on now.  In other words, we may find ourselves using memories to fit what we want to believe, not with what happened.

A friend of mine in graduate school, in his dissertation, said this:  “we create the past and remember the future.”  I love that!  It gets to the essence of what I am saying.  We would so love to be creating the future and remembering the past, but that is not the case.  We live out our future course partially based on what we believe has happened to us.  And our memories are created in ways that facilitate our current beliefs.

Which leads to the second point:  we hold onto those events.  This is where the real power of this rule comes in.  If we let go of the illusion that we remember events with historical accuracy, then we can accept that we cannot define ourselves merely based on events in our past.  When we act assured of our accuracy of memory, we get to pretend we are the victim or victor in a particular situation.  Not very helpful.

When we can acknowledge that a memory is flawed, we are less tempted to keep pulling it out as proof of who we say we are.

How often do you define yourself by your memories?  How often do you pull out your memories of events as a way to remind yourself of what you believe about both yourself and the world?  This is an invitation to hold those memories a little more lightly.

Rule 2: Recognize a Thought is a Thought

The second rule ties directly into the first rule.  In fact, it is probably step 1 in watching our mind.  What is going on in our mind?  Thoughts.  What trips us up?  Thoughts.

The problem is not the thoughts.  The problem is that we don’t recognize they are just thoughts.  Thoughts are merely constructs of our mind.  And it is not that a thought is right or wrong, good or bad.  I would prefer to ask the question of whether it is helpful or unhelpful.

First, let’s challenge the Right/Wrong illusion.  Our thoughts are our interpretation of reality.  They are not reality.  As has been said by others, the map is not the road.  The map is a representation of the road.   A specific type of map leaves off details.  Another map is based on those same details.  The details are information, and we either process or ignore information every second (millisecond) of every day.

We get caught up in believing that we “see things for what they are,” but we don’t.  Wayne Dyer titled a book “you will see it when you believe it.”  That is the truth.  Our thoughts are woven by our beliefs, not by reality.  How often have you been completely convinced that you were right about something, only to get some more details that helped you see you were wrong?

Again, thoughts only have the possibility of being partial reflections of reality.

How about Good/Bad Thoughts?  Well, we all have thoughts we are not proud of.  That, again, is the nature of the mind, and probably a good reason to not want to read someone else’s mind!  It would be one loud, ugly, noisy place!  Thoughts are just thoughts.

And that is the realization here.  We can get caught up in a thought so much that we continue to find ourselves pulled away from experiencing life.  We become spectators through our thoughts.  And when we forget it is a thought, we start acting in ways that represent a thought.

Let’s take a quick example.  Let’s say I walk into my boss’s office for a meeting.  I see him reading my report with an expression I view as critical or angry.  I think “he didn’t like my work.”  This leads to thinking “what if he fires me?  What then?  How will I explain it to my wife?  How will we cover the bills?”  Within a few seconds, I have woven a story about how worthless my work is, then how worthless I am, then the fact that I am soon to be homeless.

Too bad I didn’t notice that my boss forgot his reading glasses today, and going over some spreadsheets has already given him a headache, so he is doing all he can to concentrate on the excellent report he is reading!  Too bad!

Too bad, because I begin to talk with him from my assumption that he doesn’t like my work. I begin to excuse my poor writing, my lack of ideas, my lack of creativity.  Then my boss pauses and looks up at me.  He is still thinking about my great idea, but can’t process it because I just told him it was terrible.  His thoughts start rolling.  Then, we are both caught in our own thoughts, no longer relating to each other.

Now rewind it.  What if I had walked into his office, saw the same expression, and had the first thought.  But when I noticed my stomach knotting up, I asked myself what I was thinking about, realized I was writing a story in my mind, and chose to realize a thought is just a thought?  I wait for him to tell me what he is thinking.  I wait for reality to continue.

That story ends very differently.  And the difference is merely because I recognized that a thought is just a thought.  It may be correct, but it may not be.  Either way, it is still just a thought.

The Rules: A Starting Point

OK, so let’s set some parameters for these 99 rules of thriving.  You see, these rules are not pulled out of thin air.  They come from my frame for what I understand are the elements of a thriving life.

As I have studied this, four areas of concern emerge in the pursuit of a thriving life.  Each area is important, but it is the presence of all four that really put the whole thriving life into motion.  Here are the four areas:

thriving life graphic

thriving life graphic

So here is a brief overview, and we will begin to enlarge as we move through the rules:

Thoughts and Mind: This broad category basically means that a thriving person understands the role that thoughts play in creating our reality, weaving our paradigm.  In fact, I maintain that the majority of people misuse a major resource in life:  their mind.

I believe that we have come to have very poor mind hygeine.  We let our thoughts rule us, not us ruling our thoughts.  We fail to notice that we are just thinking, and instead believe that our thoughts are reality.

Let’s face it:  our mind was designed to think, to create thoughts.  But it is up to us to decide on whether this will be a productive or destructive process.

Letting Go and Moving On: Our capacity to let go of something that is on our mind, has happened to us, or has not happened to us, is in direct ratio to our capacity to thrive.  I would use the term “forgiveness,” but there is a great deal of extra baggage attached to that term.  So I will say that forgiveness is a subcategory of this.

And in order to thrive, we must be able to take the next step past letting go of something; we must move on.  People who thrive have discovered how to keep moving forward, regardless of the circumstances around them.

Gratitude and Appreciation: A hallmark of thrivers is the ability to experience gratitude.  No, let me change that:  to choose gratitude.  Not only do they live in gratitude, they live in appreciation, the application of seeking out gratitude.

This is a choice in the stories we tell.  Am I upset that I don’t have a big bank account, or am I grateful I have been able to pay what is necessary to keep going, for instance.  This is partly about optimism, but is slightly different.  Optimism is about how things will be in the future.  Gratitude is choosing to be grateful for what already is.

Gratitude and appreciation helps to shift us out of the scarcity “what I don’t have” model to abundance.  This keeps us from feeling desperate, which then leads to creative responses.

Meaning and Purpose: This is the final element of my model.  It is the most important, and yet the most difficult to master.  It is not the question “what is the meaning of life?”  Instead it is the question of “what is meaningful to me?”  Having a sense of meaning keeps us moving ahead, regardless of what is going on around us.  Purpose is the way we live out that meaning.

When we have discovered our sense of meaning and how we find it, our purpose, then life becomes a joy to live.  Too often, we pursue happiness, forgetting that this grows out of a meaningful life, lived with purpose.