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.

Advertisements

Self-Talk – Why the Hidden Conversation in Your Head Matters

Self-talk matters. What we say to ourselves influences our view of the world, the actions we take and the actions we don’t take, the quality of our relationships, whether we are happy or not, successful or not and so much more. We observe events. We interpret events.

We filter those events and process them through lenses known as our beliefs. Many of those beliefs came from others i.e. society, family and friends and many others. They also come from misinterpretations of experiences and events that happened a long time ago. Many are not logical and when scrutinized in the cold light of day (outside of your head)they do not hold up to logical reasoning and yet we let them become our reality. One reason for this is that many of our beliefs and interpretations were formed when we were very young. Our bodies may change and grow old, but sometimes our beliefs remain set in stone if we leave them unexamined. Too often we do not examine them even when they create havoc in our lives.

To summarize one more time: We observe events. We interpret and process events through our filters or beliefs. This is especially important since it creates our reality. Reality is highly subjective since each of us has beliefs that influence our interpretation of what happens to us and what we say to ourselves. The language we speak to ourselves is the most important of all as it constructs and reflects our reality.

Here is an example: Joe’s wife Penny tells him she is tired of him always leaving the toilet seat up at night. Penny says that every time she uses the potty at night, her posterior drops onto the cold hard porcelain. Penny has asked Joe many times not to leave the seat up, but Joe forgets. Penny believes that this is because Joe is an insensitive jerk and doesn’t listen to her or care that it upsets her. Joe is annoyed that Penny keeps finding fault with everything he does and sees her nagging as an attempt to control him. He will not allow anyone to do that. Penny and Joe are not speaking except in terse angry sound bites.

Observable Fact: Joe sometimes leaves the toilet seat up at night. He knows it bothers Penny, but he has trouble remembering when he’s half a sleep. (Self-talk: Joe wonders how he supposed to remember when he is half asleep. He wishes Penny were not such a nag.)

Observable Fact: Penny gets upset when Joe forgets and she receives a nasty middle of the night potty surprise. (Self-talk: Penny tells herself that Joe doesn’t care about her. Otherwise, he would not forget this and subject her to such discomfort.)

Observable Fact: Penny complains to Joe. (Self-talk – Penny tells herself if Joe really cared, he would make this effort, but he is an insensitive jerk. After all the things he has done for him, she tells herself, why can’t he do this small thing?)

Observable Fact: Joe rebuffs Penny’s complaint with anger and a few choice words. (Self-Talk – Feeling under attack, Joe tells himself it’s no big deal and Penny should put it down herself if it matters to her. She is not the boss of him and is always nagging him.)

Penny and Joe are at odds not so much because of the toilet seat, but because of their interpretation of events (including past events) and the meaning they have added to them. There is no conversation that is productive, just arguing and distance because each believes they have the facts. They are engaging in mindreading, projection and exaggeration. They use extreme words like every and always and never.

For Joe and Penny, reason has gone out the window and both are responding through highly charged emotional filters. The event itself is small; the interpretation each has made is big and can lead to the unraveling of a relationship. The events matter far less than what each party tells their self about the event. Penny believes that Joe does not care about her and if that is the case, she thinks to herself, she should leave him because she deserves better. Joe believes that Penny doesn’t think he can do anything right and secretly feels that he cannot. He tells himself that Penny is a hopeless nag and he would be better off finding someone else. If they split up, their future is predictable: Rinse, Lather, Repeat.

If each leaves the relationship without looking at the underlying dynamics, they will most likely jettison one partner for another and repeat the same sad pattern. Why? It is because the other person is not the problem, although we often shift the blame away from ourselves to support what we believe. When each minor conflict is processed through emotional filters both parties can avoid looking at the role they are playing in this drama.

I work with clients one on one and we work at separating facts from emotional fiction and unhelpful beliefs. This is how real sustainable change takes place. Several coaching slots are available for this important work. If you are interested in changing your self-defeating patterns, please contact me at psych-hacker.com for more information.

Emotions

First, let me thank all of you have stopped by and visited, commented or are following. I am very excited that you are interested in these topics and I hope you will join in the fray!

Why do I write about emotions? I write about emotions because emotions rule the world not thoughts, not logic. Emotions can hijack the most logical of us and run away with our reason. The language we speak to each other is the language of emotions. Feelings can end a discussion because they cannot be argued with. Yet, we learn little about emotions, how to manage them and how to even understand which one is operative. It is why I believe so strongly that we all must learn about our emotional life just as we learn about any other aspect of our health.

Emotions can be tricky hiding in the bush masquerading as something else (example fear hides as “dislike”). Further, your emotions are often dictated by the socio-economic structure you operate in. Are we courageous enough to question our emotions and find the root? Are we brave enough to look at the social constraints that induce and or force negative thoughts and emotions upon us? Can we free ourselves from any of this? Your psychological freedom depends on your doing so and education is the key. That is my goal. Why? Because I have often felt like the proverbial stranger in a strange land and learning the landscape of emotions has been necessary.

Dan Goleman is famous for coining the term “emotional intelligence” to discuss how successful people manage their emotions to their advantage. However, the data supporting Goleman’s concept of emotional intelligence is weak. I prefer to think of this area as emotional skill rather than intelligence. Intelligence implies and innate ability that one is born with and has or does not have. Skill is something that can be learned or acquired. This is why I believe this distinction is critically important.

Think about it. What runs your life – how you feel? How you think? Are you sure? How skilled are you emotionally? Would you be better of if you had better skills?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please don’t be shy – that’s another blog!

Guilt

I ordered a Wayne Dyer classic some time ago – YOUR ERRONEOUS ZONES. The unassuming paperback arrived today. It has been a few weeks since I ordered it, so I’d forgotten all about it – my cyclone of a mind moves on fast! I opened the book, a thin paperback with a faded cover and age-yellow pages (so much for being LIKE NEW) and opened to a part about guilt. As the universe seems to do at times, what I needed to read appeared in front of me. The ensuing discussion about guilt – an emotion I thought I was doing a lot to avoid – kind of hit home and I realized that I needed to read this.

Let me share with you a summary of what Dr. Dyer has to say:

• Guilt is a strategy to avoid taking any effective, self-enhancing steps today by keep your focus on the past and what has already happened that you cannot change – ever.
• Guilt is a form of self-punishment and misleads you into believing you are taking action by continuous self-flagellation.
• Guilt is a means of escaping responsibility and avoiding the hard work of changing in the now.
• Guilt can be viewed as a form of penance in the hopes that if you feel bad enough, you will eventually be forgiven. Dyer calls it the prison mentality as inmates pay for their sins by feeling terrible.
• Guilt serves as a means to return to the relative safety of childhood, a secure period where others took care of you and made decisions for you. Once again, you are protected from taking charge of your own life.
• Guilt serves to transfer responsibility for your behavior. Takes the focus off you and puts it on others.
• Guilt can help you to win approval from others if you show how bad you feel. It’s a human way to try to fit in after wrong doing.
• Guilt can be an attempt to gain others pity. The desire for pity is indicative of a very low self-esteem. You would rather have people pity you than like or respect you.

SUMMARY OF DR. DYER’S STRATEGIES FOR NEUTRALIZING GUILT

1. View the past accurately as UNCHANGABLE. Recognize that guilt cannot change it and serves to prevent you from moving ahead.
2. Ask “What am I avoiding in the present by feeling this guilt?” What is it that you are afraid of?
3. Recognize that your values may not be the same as others. Here’s an example: Let’s say you leave the corporate world because it holds little value for you. You panic and feel guilty. Instead of moving forward, you simply agonize with guilt day after day after day effectively leaving yourself stuck and in danger of collapse. In such a case, you are merely punishing yourself for making a choice that honors your true values rather than the values you adopted from others.
4. Accept who you are.
5. Reconsider your values which may be different from your family, your friends, your coworkers etc. At the very least, they may have undergone a change from what they once were.
6. Assess the consequences of your behavior. Determine if it is working for you by giving you results you enjoy and want. If not, then guilt is again punishing you.
7. Defuse guilt by teaching others that they can do for themselves – you are actually empowering them by stopping co-dependent manipulation.
8. Take a stand against guilt by stepping out and or speaking up. For example, if you get lousy service in a restaurant – leave NO tip. You will be helping that server get powerful feedback. Don’t let guilt trick you into believing that the server will starve and/or the restaurant close unless you subsidize awful service – it’s a business not a charitable endeavor. You will be made to feel guilty by someone – guaranteed. Speak to the manager if possible, but reject the guilt. You are doing more to help this server and manager than rewarding failure ever could.

Some people would say that guilt is a useless emotion, I disagree. It is healthy to feel guilt when you have done something wrong not when you do something different i.e. step away from the herd. The biological purpose of these emotions is to bring you back in line with conventional norms to ensure your physical survival – your psychological survival is of no consequence here. That is why it can be so hard, because we feel torn in an internal struggle. Some people will actually change their values to avoid feeling guilty or to shift it on to the victim. It’s an energetic exchange in which the person who should feel guilty shifts it on to the victim. That’s for another day.

The problem with guilt is that while there are times when you should feel guilty so that you can stop and think about what you are doing and make amends, if necessary, right away. Toxic guilt is guilt that serves no purpose except to stay stuck as it disallows any constructive action. Acting out of guilt, it is impossible to construct a bright future; guilt is punishing and will continue a pointless, punishing cycle if not stopped.

In what ways is guilt present in your life? What steps can you take to minimize the role of guilt?