Dreams can come true – at the dentist.

Today, while I was at the dentist for my coronation – a grand way of saying that I was getting a permanent crown cemented – a wonderful conversation took place between me, the dental hygienist and the dentist. The hygienist, who I will refer to as “Shakira” for reasons that will follow, was feeling a little down this morning as we began to chat.

Shakira was suffering from some mid-winter blues and a bit of homesickness for the warmer climate of her native Columbia. One of the things she misses the most, Shakira told me was dancing – specifically Salsa dancing with a little merengue and belly-dancing thrown in for good measure.  She was, she said, thinking of teaching it. In spite of not having professional training, she considered herself quite good at it and loved the fun of the lively dance and the warm colorful memories it provided for her.

I noticed how excited she got sharing her desire to teach Salsa dancing pointing out that she had support from her boyfriend.  Capitalizing on her excitement, I made a few suggestions about how she could accomplish this in her spare time.  She could have fun, I said, teaching Gringos how to Salsa and free up their trapped energies, stiff hips, and aching bodies that often held puritanical notions about suggestive movement – even when just in fun.  Dancing is a great way to change your mood and elevate your spirits. However great dancing is, most of us have forgotten anything approaching good dance moves.  Long gone are the childhood ballet lessons that blossomed into tap then jazz only to be left behind by the 6th grade when shame and self-consciousness delivered the death knell.

Dancing forces coordination between the mind and the body in a way that allows for expression while strengthening seldom used neural pathways.  Dancing inevitably leads to happiness when one frees oneself to tap into a natural rhythm long repressed.   It is the joy of a child running while trailing a ribbon, the translation of a steady beat into matching movements, it is the feel of music flowing into the body and back out again.  It is alignment with something that tugs at our spiritual nature. It is the gestalt of a thousand disconnected notes creating a blissful harmony while igniting the cells in our body in a matching harmony. I supported Shakira’s vision and we played with suggestions of how to accomplish her goal.

In between fitting iterations of my crown, I pushed the conversation along enrolling Dr. K into the conversation.  Dr. K is my South Korean born dentist and I decided to find out what his secret dream was. Dr. K who told us of his early desire to be in sports – he wanted to be a runner.  However, his parents quashed the notion as absurd.  Running, they told him, would not put food on the table.  Instead like many parents who had faced wars and direct threats to survival, they saw a profession, or as he put it a “license”, to be the holy grail for future success.  Thus sometime after that conversation he came the US and pursued dentistry, became a husband and a father or 3 young sons.  Dr. K confessed that his secret dream – if he didn’t have to work – was to travel the world.

After the fitting of my crown was complete and we headed to the front desk, Shakira asked for my business card – she was very excited and happy that she could talk about her dream today.  I assured her that her dream could become reality with a little work.  As I drove home, I imagined ways Dr. K could achieve his dream while holding down his dental business.  I wondered if I should send him a note with the many ideas that popped up on the drive home. Helping others imagine possibilities and supporting them through the process, is a big part of what I do.

So how about you? What dreams would you like to bring to life?

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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.