Platitudes and Attitudes – How to really change your life.

You see it a lot. All over the internet you can find piles of platitudes like the ones right here. Platitudes are oversimplifications often contain a grain of truth, but are trite and temporary encouragement that does nothing to effectively help you long term.

Be true to yourself.
Be yourself.
Be all that you can be!
Love is the answer.
Just do it!

They are so easy, these over simplifications, trite and unimaginative. To really improve yourself, you must begin with changing your thinking. No platitude or affirmation will do that. You must change your mind! Easy to say, but how do you do that?

Understanding how the mind works is a real challenge. It is human nature to look for the easy way, it is called cognitive conservatism and while it easier, it is also often less effective. Platitudes, slogans, affirmations, “daily thoughts” on Facebook or elsewhere, can bring momentary relief, but real change is elusive with these methods.

We share the basic machinery and functions of the mind, but each person has different data circulating and operating within and different experiences and innate tendencies can give us very different neural pathways. Therefore, a given stimulus can exact a profoundly different response from two different people. This is because the operating system itself and the perception of the data is different. This data is comprised of experiences, beliefs, thoughts and feelings, personality traits and inheritances that make up the inner workings of your mind and lay down those neural pathways. Additionally, if you really think about it, there are thoughts and there is the interpreter of the thoughts. Are you your thoughts? I didn’t think so, but you experience and interpret them.

Have you ever questioned your thoughts?

Thoughts come to you seemingly unbidden and tend to be accepted as fact. Thoughts are constantly bubbling up and whether we are awake or asleep our “24/7/365 until we die” mind is working. It is a bit radical but you can and should begin to question your mind. There are endless theories about where our thoughts come from.

One I like is family systems theory which suggests that each of us has an internal family made up of us at various ages/stages. Examples are the child, the rebellious teen, the adult etc. We also internalize the voices of others such as our parents, our grandparents our teachers. This means there are many voices in the average mind and thoughts can come from those internalized parts. With all due respect to psychologist Richard Schwarz, I am overly simplifying the concept, but you get the picture. Further, those parts can take roles such as the role of the persecutor and/or also the persecuted, the good child, the bad seed and many more forms. How many times do you hear those internalized voices/thoughts each day? Did you know that you can stop and question any thought?

One of the nice ways is to use a simple technique popularized by Byron Katie (a new age thought guru). Don’t be put off by the new age label, the technique is a good one.

There are four steps:
1) Ask your self if it is true.
2) Ask yourself if you can absolutely know that it is true.
3) How do you react, what happens when you do believe this thought?
4) Who would you be without the thought? Visualize yourself without the thought and the attitude it creates.

There is a 5th step, which I am omitting since it borders on a significant new age theory that is not meant for this post and not really necessary here. My 5th step would be to ask if this thought is helping your or hurting you and if you are better off with it or without it. The questioning process is important because the interpreter (you) takes control of the thought.

Humans have a tendency to anticipate and mind read in stressful situations. This often (but not always) helps us to avoid danger at times of high stress or immediate harm. However, in normal circumstances, our subconscious can be triggered into believing that there is imminent danger – even if it only to our precious ego. We then may resist curiosity and not dig for additional information and simply react by jumping to a conclusion.

Again, in times of high stress or danger, this may be appropriate, but it can also lead to people shooting innocent people who knock at their door. When we are confronted by challenges in our day to day life, we often get triggered into responding as though danger or harm were present. Why do we do this? One of the reasons is the way we talk to ourselves. Our subconscious is the reactor and if it hears us saying that something is “killing” us, it just may believe that this is so, thus you get an instantaneous reaction.

How many times are we sure we KNOW what someone else is thinking and/or what their motives are?

I’ll give you an example: The other day, I went to run an errand. As I backed out of my driveway I noticed that my mailbox was sadly bent. It had obviously been struck! Not only that, just a few hours earlier a paving truck has parked just about 20 yards away. I had seen them backing up onto my street. No one was anywhere to be seen. As I headed out on my errand and my mind went to work – I was angry. “How dare they!” I thought. After running my errand, I raced home to confront the miscreants. Still no one anywhere in sight. An hour or so later, as I headed out to my walk, I saw them packing up.

I decided just to be curious and I inquired of the foreman in a conversational manner. He was very polite and came to look at the mailbox with me. Obviously, someone had hit it we agreed, but there were no tire marks in the surrounding mulch and his equipment would have flatted it and left tire marks. We walked over to his crew and he asked them how far they had backed up – to confirm. They had not backed up that far – all three agreed. The foreman said he would have come and told me if they hit it…just what I would expect. I believed them – they did not seem evasive at all. I simply asked questions and my angst disappeared.

A couple of things happened here:
1) At first, I lost my curiosity and believed that I knew what had happened – this caused a reaction.
2) I did not absolutely know this (I hadn’t seen it happen).
3) My reactions when I believed this was a cause of stress and grief. I did not allow for other possibilities which I might have seen if I got curious.
5) I saw the thought that someone had damaged my mailbox I was infuriated – this is painful. I choose another thought since the mailbox needs to be replaced any way 🙂 and thus no angst.

So forget about platitudes, change your attitude into being curious about those thoughts. Don’t be afraid to keep the helpful ones and let go of the unhelpful ones. Take an example from your life and apply the four/five steps, you just might find yourself more open minded and at peace. Give it try. I would love to hear what you think.


2 thoughts on “Platitudes and Attitudes – How to really change your life.

  1. Interesting. I wonder if you would have had the same re-framing reaction if the paving trucks had been around at the moment you saw the damage. Instead you did a “count to ten” first and had time to process the incident. I think it’s harder to change your attitude in the immediacy of a situation.

    1. Actually, Andrew, it’s a learning process. I remember a story from Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink”. We react from our subconscious generally and this can be a problem. Gladwell tells the story of FBI agents and the training they undergo in order to stay, cool, calm and collected while under fire – you know, like literal gun fire. Part of their training is to actually be shot at (they wear bullet proof vests of course) and they learn how to slow down time to control their reaction. Gladwell goes into more depth about this, but I strongly encourage you to A) Keep reading this blog and B) read “Blink” if you have further interest in learning more. Oh, and hey, thanks for visiting and following, I really welcome the interaction.

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