Posts Tagged 'wandering minds'

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.

 

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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.



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