Archive for June, 2015

Winning

cross walk Jesus

Sometimes the battles you’re fighting are not as they appear, or will not lead to a result you really want. Observe how you define winning and think through what it really is. Some players at the poker table will never show you what cards they had after they beat you. It makes sense. If you show people what cards you beat them with they can start unwinding your game. I knew a player who would always flash you his hand, or tell you later over a drink, how he beat you. He cared more about your feeling in defeat than his victory in the next hand. He cared about the connection. What battles are you waging, and why? What do you really want?

Happiness, Part xx5, the Distraction

climberFocus

(Links to part xx1, xx2, xx3, and xx4.)

A recent Harvard study determined that those with persistent stray thoughts and wandering minds were less likely to be happy than those able to focus on task.

It seems to confirm what Buddhists, sages and saints have long taught – That an unruly mind creates unhappiness and disfunction and that the keys to happiness lay in mastering the mind, not in changing external factors in our lives.

The most startling part of their discovery, however, is that unhappiness doesn’t just come from the mind wandering to unpleasant things. The study shows people with minds that wander to neutral or even pleasant thoughts are still less happy than if the mind did not wander at all (1).

During the study people were asked to focus on a given activity. It was found that even if the activity was some hum-drum chore, participants were happier if their minds were fully there, focused in the moment. The conclusion is that when the mind wanders repeatedly (and for many of us it wanders frequently every day) it reduces our overall happiness and wellbeing (2).

All consistent with declarations I’ve made for years that it’s much more about what’s happening on the inside than on circumstances. It comes from within. If only we had the Spock-like ability to control our mind’s thoughts.

While we may not be able to control our minds the way we want to, we can manage by living in the moment. It’s a refrain I hear often – “live in the moment.” Again, easier said than done.

One key is to be busy. When we’re busy we don’t tend to think as much. It’s a double-edged sword, but one that does temporarily help. That’s a little too simplistic though. It’s about being engaged as much as just being busy. When you are mindful with your activity, you’re not preoccupied with regrets or worries; you’re not planning or wanting for anything. You’re not lending power to thinking processes and so they do not dominate your awareness.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a leading researcher in positive psychology, refers to this state of mind as “flow.” Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as being totally absorbed, or immersed, in the activity in which you’re engaged. It doesn’t matter what the particular task is— what matters is that you are fully present when you’re doing it.

Csikszentmihalyi, often called the grandfather of positive psychology, found that our happiest moments are when we are in the state of flow. In this state, we are highly alert. We are totally focused with one pointed attention. This focus—this mindfulness of being in the moment—is when happiness spontaneously arises (3).

It certainly can’t hurt to find and nurture activities that enable one to get into this state of flow, or mindfulness. Engaging in activities that are perceived as risky and/or important enough to hold our attention work well. But the specter living underneath is that these effects are temporary, and for some probably feel more like a disguise or distraction from ‘reality’. I’m also a proponent of the notion that one’s perception is their reality, which characterizes it as being rather subjective. It is what we make it. It comes from within.

So maybe it is just a distraction, but it’s still nice while it lasts. However the bigger rub is it also distracts us from taking more proactive and profound measures to strategically improve our lives? There is the risk of waking up one day to realize that your inertia took you to a place you don’t really want to be.

It’s a balancing act. If the pendulum swings to the negative it’s a good idea to get (more) engaged in something. But it’s also wise to step back from time to time to assess. It’s a potentially painful or discouraging exercise, with risks of getting derailed. But it’s a necessary evil unless you can Spock yourself into a perpetual “don’t worry, be happy” mindset.

What is Your Passion?

bikemountain

“Follow your passion” has become such a canned bit of advice. It’s valid, but it can be misleading. People interpret what’s wanted, or even loving something as passion. It isn’t. It’s desire, and that’s a huge start, but there are lots of wants that don’t really qualify as passions. Why? Because we aren’t actually willing to work toward them in a meaningful and consistent way. Instead it’s helpful say…

Follow Your Effort

When you observe what you’re willing to take your own initiative and exert real effort to do you probably will have found an actual passion (one of them – there can be more than one). Double check that the result of your actions is what you really want (it’s more than just the actions themselves) and you’re on track.

Burning Ships

burningheadswater

One way to get all the rats off of a ship is to set it afire. That’s a metaphor that can be applied to many things in life.

Of course, if you burn it all up everyone better get off. And then you’re pretty much stuck where you are.

There is the famous story of Hernán Cortés burning his ships off the coast of Veracruz in 1519 to remove the possibility of retreat – and therefore the idea of it – from his men. With their choices reduced to conquer or die, they conquered. This story is also used as a metaphor in life.

While it’s likely they would have been victorious anyway, it probably is valid that the desperation produced from removing the choice served to galvanize their efforts, and along the way probably squelched the questioning of motives, morals, or any other potentially ‘complicating’ factors in their resolve over their goals and means to achieve them.

When things get closer to black and white, choices are usually more clear, and can therefore be easier to make. It doesn’t make them more right though. Córtes put his men into a situation that forced them to take self preserving actions they might not otherwise have taken (theoretically). Did their actions become less wrong (or more right) because of the situation they found themselves in? Arguably, maybe. (See also soldiers in Viet Nam, or any of numerous other similar situations we may find ourselves a part of.)

While it can be true that choice can be the enemy of decision at times, it’s not valid to think that choice is bad. Navigating the various choices of life can be a brilliant adventure when we can let go of the notion that there is a finite correct answer or target we’re trying to hit as if the tally of our life is plotted as coordinates on a cartesian grid of good, bad, happy, sad. The Cortés story is sometimes used to show leadership. Does a great leader need to burn his ships? If fighting for a righteous cause one believes in…what more do you need? We may choose to eliminate certain choices from our lives, but those are still our decisions, and in most cases there are opportunities to undo them…for a while.

Ships are for sailing. Set some fires and move the rats out when you need to, but don’t give up your ship. You don’t have to be at sea all the time, just be careful about boxing yourself in to something too finite. You just may wind up dying (metaphorically) on the beach wishing you had left room to escape. If you need resolve, find it within. If you can’t, then explore why that is. It may be your Self trying to rat on yourself about something.



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