Posts Tagged 'circumstances'



Our moods cloud thinking and judgement. It’s usually somewhat nuanced, but without a doubt we know that certain decisions and reactions are impacted by emotions, which are partially triggered by moods, which are impacted in a variety of ways.

Cloudy days…just don’t feel the same as the bright, sunny days. Our bodies, and ultimately our psyches react to these conditions in ways we don’t fully understand or have control over. Further, moods affect our perception of the relative cloudiness.

It’s possible the tipping point of perception driving an important decision would differ depending on whether it’s cloudy or sunny outside. It has implications into the element of chaos or seeming randomness in everything that happens.

Fascinating how we are cognitively (emotionally…spiritually?) connected to the earth and environment in these ways, and in how much dissonance we produce by ignoring or resisting it.

Layers of Lost


Being lost produces a dreaded feeling of helplessness. We hate/fear that feeling. Thus we rarely will intentionally venture beyond the known. Too bad, because the security provided by standing pat is somewhat of an illusion.

Nevertheless the fear is real to us. The severity depends on how lost one feels he is or could become. A puzzling computer problem may upset you, but once you research it and find the solution you can pretty quickly get back to normal. You could survive an airplane crash somewhere in the Amazon, or just get confused about some turns you took in a big city. In either case there is a systematic process one can execute to find your way. You may not have the competence to make the best choices, and your efforts may not succeed before some other fate befalls you, but you’re probably going to try something, at least until you give up and give in.

Another kind of lost: An addict usually knows he’s addicted, and like the person who is lost in the woods or a city, usually even knows what to do about it. The difficulty arises from not having the will to be able to. He may try a thing or two, but when the results don’t come, or when the pain is too great, the will erodes. It can make cowards of us all.

Not always our fault in a strict sense. Certain dependencies are extremely hard to beat, but even in those cases the bottom line is we just don’t have the will to do it.

It would seem to be so much easier if our problems were based on ignorance, like the aforementioned computer issue. That’s usually the easy layer of lost to solve. The one where we know what is going on, and can’t get out of our own way, is much harder. Our emotional and electro-chemical needs, and the lizard brain protecting us from fear, wreak havoc on our lives. We may keep reading and learning, as if some new information or realization is going to come to light that will finally solve it for us.

The idea that we need more information is outdated. We have a universe of it at our fingertips. By all means learn. Learn as much as you can, but the first step to a true solution is to stop tranquilizing ourselves through seeking more and more information. Yes, finding something interesting, provocative, or soothing can provide momentary emotional relief. That’s fine, for a while. But if you find you’re going in circles, then you’re stuck (a variation on lost I will tackle tomorrow). Eventually moving it off center means applying more will, giving up, or some more radical action that you probably already know is an option.



Your purpose is what you are constructed for. Constructed – as in built, wired, crafted. Your unique way of thinking and acting.

Many get confused and believe purpose is made from what is liked, or what one happens to be good at. Being good at something is a clue, but there is more to purpose than just having an aptitude and interest. It’s even more than passion. Purpose includes the assessment of where you can make the most difference. The stuff that’s on the top shelf of your capabilities. You may not even be good at it yet, but you will be, because you will stay in the game in spite of signs to the contrary, even when you get decked.

In 1988 Steve Jobs was in the wilderness, having been fired from the company he started. But while he may have initially set out to make some computers, his true vision started to come into focus. He believed computers are for the people. He saw a world with thousands of users versus one computer a 1000 times more powerful. That was his purpose. He was relentless about it.

It’s not about how grand your purpose is. It can be small. It’s big to you, and that’s what counts. Start by figuring out what you’re unwilling to give up on. Within those things there is one that you actually shouldn’t let go of. Part of life is figuring that out. Difficult. It may even require some trial and error. That process is important to recognizing the real deal when you find it.

Decision Time

BrainDiagramMany decisions come to us in a way that invites, and sometimes requires, immediate action or response. We have complicated machinery working behind the scenes that in those precious seconds will chemically and electrically influence what we do in profound ways.

I wrote recently about the role some chemicals play in our lives. The relative presence or absence of those at any given moment certainly impacts how we act as we’re stimulated. That perturbation of our system then triggers the release of still more associated chemicals, which ride around with us for a while, continuing to impact how we interpret the world.

The electrical system also has a profound influence. Because of the way our brain is physically laid out and wired there is a timing impacting how we register stimuli. Much information about the anatomy of the brain is available online, but for quick reference you can think of the Thalamus as an information hub that routes things where they need to go. The hippocampus is complicated, but in layman’s terms it plays a vital role in processing memories, inhibition, and the way we understand space (as in our spatial awareness). The amygdala also processes memories, but is more focused on emotionally oriented things. Finally the cortex, which is comprised of many subparts, is responsible for our thinking. It plays a key role in consciousness, perception, awareness, language, thought, attention, and memory.

Note how the emotional centers of the Amygdala and Hippocampus are closely tied to the Thalamus. Electrically these areas are able to receive and process information fractions of a second before the more rational parts of our brain get a shot at it. When an input triggers a memory our emotional center is first on the scene, and is able fire back electrical impulses that pull other emotionally relevant memories before we’ve had a chance to “think” about it. And then the chemicals are released to put the rest of our physiology in a complimentary state, which among other things affects the way we process further information and categorize it into memories, which are then retrieved, and so on.

We don’t stand a chance.

There are some biologically sound reasons for it to work this way, but it does trip us up on a regular basis. One can employ techniques to mitigate the tendency to react emotionally to things, but they all require time. The emotional centers have an inherent advantage. If you can pause to begin thinking about it, or distract yourself away from it, you better open the circumstance up for more rational processing. You can write things down, which also engages the more rationally cognizant portions of your brain. You can make a flow chart, or log some if/then statements, etc. You can force yourself to remember something you did well, or achieved, or (ideally) something you did that helped someone. Your chemicals will reinforce your efforts here.

It all starts with the recognition that your emotions are out in front of your thinking, which means even your thinking becomes based on an emotional context…until you change the context with other thinking and emotions.

The “I Hope You…” Blow Off

ManWallBlowOff“I hope you get it.”

“I hope you make it.”

“I hope you are well.”

“I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

What do these phrases really mean? They may or may not be genuine. Even when they are they often (not always) represent disengagement. Spoken to make the speaker feel better. But the tranquilizing effect they have on the speaker is usually not at all transmitted to the hearer.

Because hope isn’t a strategy. Doing something to help is engagement. Heck, just being legitimately engaged is something, even if you can’t actually do much to help.

The speaker may actually care about the hearer (or maybe not). Nevertheless these words are code for, “I’m not going to do anything tangible to help, so you’re on your own, but good luck.” In fairness this is usually because the speaker perceives there isn’t actually anything that can be done. It’s forgivable, even if they are wrong. But sometimes the speaker is choosing to disengage. She doesn’t want to be burdened by it. These words alleviate that bourdon in a manner that’s polite and allows the speaker to feel better about it.

It’s that simple. So we may as well call it what it is: a blow off. The antithesis of loyalty.

Some close cousins to the above phrases:

“I hope everything turns out okay.”

“I hope to be there.”

Happiness, Part xx1


Part xx1, because it’s a topic that has already been a loosely disguised recurring theme in many dozens of posts. It will continue to be so, in a more direct way.




I wrote recently that what most of us really want is just to be happy. So simple, yet how that happens, how we define it, and how we get there is the subject of volumes, and still nobody has really figured it out. I have always said and believed that happiness comes from within…but…why? How? Can we really control it?

The elusive feeling seems to stem from the result of a vague triangulation on three characteristics: Perceived Situation, Choices, and Genetics.

The debate about how much influence one’s circumstances has over happiness has raged for years. Evidence suggesting the child of wealthy parents, who has every material thing in life, will be happy, is sketchy at best. Many studies have been done, and about the only clear conclusion is that a person needs a combination of enough money to take care of basic needs along with a feeling of belonging, or being loved. Beyond that, things like more money, more membership, etc. may contribute, but the results get a lot murkier. It’s pretty safe to say that aspects of one’s situation has some impact on happiness. How much is unclear.

The choices we make clearly result in outcomes that have profound impacts on our ability to be happy. This breaks down into three constituent areas itself. There are the choices themselves, and the outcomes/situations/circumstances they lead us to, plus the component of how hard we work at those choices (our engagement), and then finally our ability to manifest a feeling of satisfaction from the work, or from the act of making a choice in and of itself.

Satisfaction may arguably be another choice we make. Do we decide to be satisfied (if so, why?), or do external factors drive how satisfied we are with a given outcome? A higher degree of engagement and work toward the outcome tends to produce more satisfaction, but that’s not always enough, especially when we don’t live up to our expectations. Or sometimes just the act of making a tough choice believed the be the ‘right’ one can produce satisfaction (with ourselves), and thus a degree of happiness. These characteristics are elusive and seem interdependent on one another, as well as another elusive characteristic that we could probably refer to as our disposition. Our disposition is…often…affected by how happy we feel… (Catch-22)

Studies have shown that genetics play a role as well. In fact, given the somewhat circular nature of the points above, genetics may actually play the pivotal role. A person with higher or more easily raised levels of serotonin is likely to feel better about most circumstances that arise, and may well have an easier time navigating to and getting engaged in things that ultimately lead to more satisfactory outcomes. A self-fulfilling prophecy or sorts.

So our fates are sealed in a way. There’s not always much we can do about our perception of our situations, yet the actions we take as a result are in our control. But remarks along the lines of, “don’t worry, be happy” come off as insulting and insensitive by those who may be struggling for one reason or another. Our circumstances are what they are, and while we do have some control over them through our choices and actions, our inherent ability to find the good in all of it seems to be under the influence of genetics, or at least chemistry. Bypassing the idea that drugs are the answer (they can be), can we find effective ways to manipulate our dispositions?

To be continued…

A Beautiful Story


A man and woman happen to meet. It wasn’t particularly notable. These things happen every day. People’s individual circumstances and trajectories cause the necessary interactions that put us in proximity with others. In this case no particular sparks flew, however, over time as they got to know each other something changed. They liked each other. Their personalities meshed in a comfortable way. As they became a little more familiar with each other their discussions began to tread into areas beyond what was germane to their interactions. This was comfortable and enjoyable to them, so they proceeded, and the discussions began to take on more of a substantial quality. Pretty soon they both began to realize that something was happening. You could say that the sparks began to ignite. It felt good. They fed off of each other, and began to support each other in emotionally substantial ways. Finally, with the writing on the wall, one got the nerve to ask the other out on a date. All went swimmingly, which led to another date, and another. Soon they were in very deep conversations. Romantic ones. Discussions of the future. What they each wanted out of life, and out of a partner in that life. As these discussions flowed it seemed to them like they were more than just compatible. They were building each other up in ways that made them greater than the sum of their individual identities. As this happened the physical part of their relationship blossomed, and served to reinforce the emotional attachment that had taken shape. As time went by they made more substantial commitments to each other. The trust was deepened through the continued actions of their partnership as a couple. This is not to say there weren’t issues and bumps, even significant road blocks along the way. While it wasn’t always easy, they overcame those because they were in love, and it was powerful. There was no stopping that force. They cared about each other and wanted to be together. With each passing day it became more clear that they were so much more together than they could be apart. One eventually got the nerve to propose to the other, and they were married. They embarked on a life together, as officially recognized partners. True love – whatever that is – as the fuel that would continue to propel them forward. A beautiful love story with a happy outcome.


Here’s another story…

One day a man came terribly close to losing his life. He was badly wounded, but survived. Certain events serve to illuminate the fragility of this thing we call life, and with his new lease he was optimistic, even though there were some serious wounds. During his recovery in the hospital he worked with various mental and physical therapists. The damage was great, but ultimately he would be okay, though scarred.

As he interacted with the various people helping him, they would talk about increasingly varied things. One woman began to stand out as special. Their conversations gradually became more interesting to him, and more compelling. She had such a kind heart and was a beautiful person in every way. In time their discussions became deep. Well beyond the boundaries of what would be considered ‘normal’ between a patient and a medical professional.

Meanwhile this woman, who was very much enjoying this man and their increasingly deep conversations, was struggling. She had been trained not to get personally involved with patients. There was a clear imbalance of power between them. So many things can go wrong. It’s considered unethical – a real taboo. She fought away the thoughts she had about liking this man, but they would return. It’s hard to control thoughts and/or the feelings we associate with them. When she was with him and talking to him, she felt something. It seemed real, and powerful.

The man, having little real understanding of the conflict no doubt going on within her, was just being himself, and enjoying getting to know this person. The woman, seduced by the good feelings she associated with this man, began to forsake her oath and succumbed to her desires. She had needs, and he was meeting them.

We’re told or trained this is a recipe for disaster. He was vulnerable. She took advantage of that to satisfy herself. Once things inevitably would go wrong, for any of the numerous reasons it can, especially under dubious circumstances such as these, it would get extremely messy. Their professional relationship would be destroyed, as both she and the hospital were in a very precarious place legally…because this sort of thing just isn’t done. There are rules against it. She put the hospital at risk, and would have been fired had anyone known. She was the trained professional and should have known better than to ‘get involved’ with a patient.

But of course none of that happened. I’m sure the reader surmised paragraphs ago that these two stories are the same story. Though this writer did provide some logical, common sense embellishments, the story is true. These people are married and happy now.

She broke the rules and risked her professional career. Put the hospital at risk, and most importantly put the patient’s care and well being at risk. Had things not worked out people would have looked down upon her, some likely going so far as to think of her as a bad person. If your thoughts disagree with that, then consider what goes through your mind when you hear about a teacher having a relationship with a student. A high school student. Reverse the sexes of the two and then experiment with your thoughts. Yet there are examples of true and lasting loves being born out of these situations.

So we say, “Okay, maybe that can happen, but it isn’t likely,” therefore we need those rules and associated taboos to prevent people’s bad judgement from doing damage. Maybe. I make no argument against the rules, such as they are. Love and passion, if strong and powerful enough, sees those only as points of resistance. Things that can be overcome or worked around. Then we have the judgers. All of the people who may look down upon the situation as being morally and/or ethically ‘wrong.’ The black and white crowd, who feel licensed for whatever reason to apply their own moral sensibilities and fears to the circumstances of others, even though they don’t usually know or understand many of the nuances, and often don’t know the people involved. It was probably very difficult for the two of them to navigate it at times.

It’s a beautiful story because love conquered all of this. The two individuals had the character to handle it and each other in a way that worked. There was risk. And yes, it could be argued the risk was too great for her to have proceeded. But now that it all worked out we don’t think about that. We tend to just see and report on the beauty of a feel good story. And who is to really say that even if the romance derailed and went wrong anything notably bad would have happened? Romances end peacefully every day. They could have moved on as friends who went through some interesting and tough times together. Who is to say? There is always risk in life. Being a good human involves taking calculated risks. Hardly anything good will happen unless risks are taken to get there. Life just isn’t that comfortable and clean.

Be careful about judging too harshly the risks others are willing to take. The perhaps more measured than you’re aware of decisions to try to find happy and good outcomes for themselves. If we give up on that, and all just live in the box…life wouldn’t be nearly as compelling. Here’s to the risk takers, and rule breakers! Happy New Year.


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