Posts Tagged 'positive thinking'

Imagine a Future…

Imagine a future

We’re pretty good at playing out the future in our imaginations when things make sense, and there aren’t difficult, unanswered questions at stake.

A way of defining (non-clinical) anxiety is as, “experiencing failure in advance.” If you’re busy enacting a future that hasn’t happened yet, and amplifying the worst possible outcomes, it’s no wonder it’s difficult move forward.

Sadly our culture doesn’t have an easily found word for the opposite. For experiencing success in advance. For visualizing the best outcomes before they happen.

Writing yourself fan mail in advance and picturing the change you’ve announced you’re trying to make is an effective way to push yourself to build something that actually generates that action. One reason this is difficult is that we’ve got a false humility that pushes us to avoid it. The other is that when we’re confronted with this possible success, we have to confront the fact that we’re not there (yet).

Go ahead, write yourself some fan mail, in advance.

Imagining a future without your sacred cows is hard, but necessary if you want to be thorough, and  reasonably prepared. In business this means groping for what you’d do if the environmental conditions you rely on for success changed. Maybe energy prices fluctuate. Or people no longer read things on paper. Or phones have really good cameras in them. Or an app is developed for what you do? Or the means are invented for you to find your own audience, so you don’t have to be selected, etc. What if we cure diabetes?

On a personal level, imagining the future can be difficult because the future is messy and we’re not focused enough to make sense of it all. The past is neat. People who chronicle the past are connecting the dots, editing what we remember and presenting a neat, coherent arc. We can publish the history of Ottoman Empire in 150 pages, but we’d need ten times that to contain a narrative of the noise in your head over the last hour. Even viral videos are easy to describe after they happen. But if these experts are so smart, how come they can never predict the next one?

We’re not very rigorous in our understanding of what we want. Vague wishes and ideals are nice, but they don’t come with a roadmap. It’s not intuitive, and nobody really trains us to be specific about it. We have fantasies about happiness and contentment, families, social events, a loving and supportive companion, and a nice home. But we don’t do the hard work to sit down and map out exactly what all of that looks like and consists of.

Until we are older. By then we’ve been bounced around enough to have a much more grounded understanding of what we want. Here you are. Given that time travel has yet to be invented, your options are to give in to the inertia and play it out, or shake things up to get what you want.

Imagine a future that looks like you getting what you want out of life. Imagine it in detail. What are the principle parts? Can you devise a systematic way to you can start working to move forward on a couple of them? If one is a nice house, then take the time to learn what that costs, what payments are, what your credit worthiness needs to be, and how much of a downpayment you need. You can map it out. Not saying everything is a simple checklist like this, but you can at least figure out enough to increase your odds. Want that loving and supportive companion? Start by being awesome yourself. What does that look like? What steps can you take to be more awesome?

Or…wait around to be selected. But don’t hold your breath on that one.

 

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Fear of Fear

fear of fearMost of the things we avoid are avoided because we’re afraid of being afraid.

The negative outcomes that could actually occur due to speaking up in class, caring about our work product, interacting with the boss – there’s not a lot of measurable risk. But the fear… the fear can be debilitating, or at the very least, distasteful. So it’s easier to just avoid it altogether. We avoid the feeling of fear.

On the other hand, artists and leaders seek out that feeling. They push themselves to the edge, to the place where the fear lives. By feeling it, by exposing themselves to the resistance, they become more alive and do work that they’re most proud of.

It usually looks higher from up there. When we find ourselves on the edge of a precipice, looking down at the depths of the chasm below, it’s easy to think that our plan is far too risky, or our behavior too weird.

The funny thing about perspective is that most bystanders don’t see you standing on a precipice at all. They see someone doing something a little risky, or even questionable, but by no means off-the-grid nuts. You’re far more likely to go not-far-enough than you are to go too far, especially if you tend to find yourself worrying over what others think.

Internal monologue amplifies personal drama. To the outsider, neither exists. That’s why our ledge-walking rarely attracts a crowd. What’s in your head is real to you, no doubt about it, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can see the resistance you are battling. And most don’t care about it.

How deep is the water? If it’s over your head, does it really matter?

At some point, when the stakes are high enough, you will swim. And when you swim, who cares how deep the water is?

How much does it cost you to avoid the feeling of risk? Not actual risk, but the feeling that you’re at risk? What are you missing out on? Feeling risk is very different than actually putting yourself at risk. Over time, we’ve created a cultural taboo about feeling certain kinds of risk, and all that insulation from what the real world requires is getting quite expensive. It’s easy to pretend that indulging in the avoidance of the feeling of risk is free and unavoidable. It’s neither.

The fear doesn’t care, either way. The choice is to spend our time avoiding that fear or embracing it.

 

Crystal Palace

crystalpalace

It’s beautiful. Looks fantastic. A great ideal to hold on to.

Thanks to technology, (relative) peace and historic levels of prosperity, we’ve turned our lives into a type of crystal palace, a gleaming edifice that needs to be perfected and polished more than it is appreciated.

We waste energy whining over slight imperfections, while we’re simultaneously losing our ability to engage with situations that might not have outcomes shiny enough or risk-free enough to belong in the palace. By insulating ourselves from perceived risk we spend our days in a prison we’ve built for ourself.

Shiny, but hardly nurturing. And still fragile.

Growth is messy and seems dangerous. Life is messy and inherently somewhat dangerous. When we insist on a guarantee, an ever-increasing standard in everything we measure, and a Hollywood ending, we get none of those.

 

The Critic and the Poop

pigeon1

We’ve all been criticized at times. Sometimes brutally or without thought. The intent may or may not be to help. Keep in mind that there will always be someone around to tell you that what you’re doing isn’t good enough. Feel free to listen to and act on the facts, but you’d do well to filter out the emotional baggage the sender may be trying to bestow upon you.

That’s part of the struggle of choosing your own path. Of course, nobody ever erected a statue for a critic. On the other hand, statues are the ones that get pooped on by passing birds. There is no way to avoid this if you want to get anywhere or do anything great.

It washes off.

Cloudy

cloudyballandchain

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.

Happiness, Part xx2

BaloonSunset

 

Sometimes it’s very simple. A fun activity, or even something as straight forward as a warm feeling image can make us feel good. Happy, even if only for an all too fleeting moment. Those times are nice, but the realities of life and the situations we’ve put ourselves in are draining.

We left this topic last with the question of whether we can find effective ways to manipulate our dispositions.

We know there are things we can do that influence how we feel. A leading authority on the subject is Sonja Lyubomirsky. She says cognitive and behavioral strategies can be systematically retrained.

Intervention studies with students, kids, community members, workers, depressed individuals, and hospital patients are testing the efficacy of six cognitive and behavioral volitional strategies:

  1. Regularly setting aside time to recall moments of gratitude (i.e., keeping a journal in which one “counts one’s blessings” or writing gratitude letters)
  2. Engaging in self-regulatory and positive thinking about oneself (i.e., reflecting, writing, and talking about one’s happiest and unhappiest life events or one’s goals for the future)
  3. Practicing altruism and kindness (i.e., routinely committing acts of kindness or trying to make a loved one happy)
  4. Pursuing significant, intrinsic life goals (e.g., listing and taking action on “baby steps” towards goals)
  5. Affirming one’s most important values
  6. Savoring positive experiences (e.g., using one’s five senses to relish daily moments or living this month like it’s one’s last in a particular location)

She and others are testing a positive activity model by exploring whether the benefits of such activities differ across cultures, and whether their success is moderated by such factors as person-activity “fit,” motivation, effort, social support, variety, dosage, intrinsic motivation, and expectations. They also examine the “why” of happiness-boosting interventions by testing the mediating role of positive events, positive thoughts, positive emotions, and need satisfaction, as well as genetic and environmental influences on individual differences in responses to happiness-increasing interventions.

We can do it. Being engaged in something compelling to us provides a good conduit to get started. But what if we don’t find engagement? It still seems like we may need more.



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