Ever see yourself in the pit of despair or really upset about something and ask “How the hell did I get here?” or “why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?!”
Boy, I sure have.
But now I know questions like that only give my subconscious mind something to answer. Ask shitty questions, get shitty answers.
It’s not that I really want to know why I’m a victim and deserving of this situation. [duh!]
What I’m wanting really are two things;
to understand how can I avoid this in the future and
to find a way to feel better now
As a lifelong student of personal development I’ve picked up a few tools that really serve me when I’m beating up on myself. Let me be clear. I’m not here to tell you that I have achieved that state of Zen-ness or enlightenment where I never say negative things to myself. I mean come on! I have a brain and I’m human. Pretty inevitable that negative is going to pop up. And that’s cool.
The good news is I’ve picked up two things I want to share with you that are helping me get closer along my path to a higher and lighter state of living (aka thriving!). Another way of looking at it is that I have negative thoughts or mini breakdowns…sure. But I’ve learned it’s how fast I pull myself out of them that transforms my overall happiness level.
I don’t think we should expect to never have contrast or negative show up. Instead our work is to keep/practice ourselves into a high flying place so that when we face resistance (self-generated or in the world around us), we know how to adjust and shift back to a place of happiness.
Tip #1: Realize You’re A Meaning Making Machine
Something I first learned at the Landmark Forum nearly 10 years ago and I’ve learned at new levels is around the notion that our brain is largely a machine. We might call ourselves “meaning making machines“.
Your brain is constantly evaluating every experience in order to catalog, categorize and file that experience away for future reference. As a young pup (say under 6 years old) our brains are in a very formative state and we’re soaking things up all around us.
The brain at that stage is in a constant state of receiving, cataloging, storing and giving things meaning. “Is this good/bad? Is this helpful/harmful? Is this something I want to experience again/not again? Is this something I enjoy/detest?”
The brain is like a machine constantly evaluating the experiences around us. It’s very rudimentary processing is to evaluate and store our experiences. This is very helpful in that we have all of our memories and experiences nicely cataloged and we learn to lean towards what we like and don’t like.
What we forget as adults is that as a young pup we evaluated a situation, made a meaning about it and that meaning is what’s driving us in how we make/spend money, interact in relationships with men, treat our kids, feel about our weight/body and on and on. We’re often driven by the meanings we made up as a three year old and now we’re 30, 40, or 50+. Those childhood meanings are still running the show.
The other thing is that in every moment that part of our brain is always (yes always) giving our situations meanings. It’s just doing its job. What happens is we don’t realize we’re in mechanistic mode and so we never think to change or look at something in a new way. Unless we have an upset or enough pain to cause us to re0evaluate something and say,
“Hey, wait a minute! I don’t have to keep doing this stupid behavior and getting these crappy results!”
So, my first tip is to remember that your mind is a meaning making machine so you begin to become aware that you’re doing it.
Not sure what I mean by making meaning?
Here’s a quick example. You have a set of neighbors who are always working to keep their house in good shape, take care of things and are always very polite when you’ve interacted with them. One morning you come out to go to work and realize their lawn is really overgrown and they’ve left their garbage cans out on the street more than a day or two. In that moment your brain links up past experiences and creates a meaning – or a story – about the neighbors. Maybe even a story that includes you!
Your brain may send you thoughts like “Gosh, they’re really letting the place go. I wonder if they’re out of town and forgot to have someone take care of things. I hope they’re ok and aren’t sick. I wonder if their lawn mower broke. Maybe I should go over and see if they’re ok. Perhaps I should call and see if they’d like me to….”
All sorts of meanings come to mind just by seeing long grass and garbage cans.
What’s so is… their lawn is growing and they have garbage cans out in front of their house. Your mind made up a few meanings to help you evaluate the situation (a story).
Now this is just one example. I hope you can see how this quickly applies to you.
For now, just realize that you’re doing it. In fact, start to become aware that you’re doing it all the time. The miracle of transformation begins in awareness…self-awareness of who we are and what we’re doing.
If you have a mental practice or habits that lean towards fear-based or negative thinking, your mind may have made up some thoughts about the situation that sounded more like “Those stupid neighbors, what’s wrong with them? Don’t they know we’re trying to keep the riff raff out of here? What if they stop mowing the lawn all together and then what? What is going to happen to the value of my house? This neighborhood is really going downhill…”
Wow, that’s some awful shit those neighbors are creating! The world is coming to an end!
See how the mind can get into a groove and look out! Let’s call this momentum meaning making. We get momentum going in one direction (positive) or another (negative). It’s up to us to notice we’re having a thought and a single thought without any momentum can be adjusted relatively easily.
If you start to let that negative thought spiral or build momentum in a direction it takes a lot more work – and may be impossible – to stop it from really ruining your mood or rest of your day.
Believe me it happens. Still happens to me, too! I’m just practicing slowing the momentum earlier and finding relief faster. Doesn’t always work. It’s a practice, right?
Now that we know we’re doing what we’re doing…what the heck do we do about it?! Who wants to get all wrapped up just from a couple of garbage cans in the street, right? Hell, stuff like this is going to happen all the freakin time…I need tools to avoid letting something so small take me off course! Great, I’m glad we’re on the same page. Now let’s turn to a tool or alternative to letting that momentum meaning making mind get off course.
Tip #2 – STOP! Then Choose What Meaning Makes You Feel Better
Now you understand you are constantly making meaning of everything in your life. It’s time to be more deliberate and intentional about your meanings. That is where your power comes in. It’s time to guide your thoughts.
If you’re living your life at the mercy of your reptilian, machine mind then things will continue the way they’ve always been. When you want to chart a new course, it’s about beginning with the meaning you give to situations so that you’re empowered to live from thoughts and stories that support who you are and what you’re up to. If you’re living from your three year old child, you’re living in survival mode.
I’d like to share a few ideas with you.
One of the things you will want to have in your toolbox and remember to use when facing things that don’t feel good when you think them are questions. Yes…questions!
Questions help us guide our experience of life. Ask an empowering question and your mind will figure out an answer that will feel good. Ask a dis-empowering questions, get a life that doesn’t feel very good.
One of the questions I ask myself when I realize I’m not feeling good about something is, “What else could this mean?” Instantly my brain is turned on to finding alternatives…new solutions…new meaning. You’ll be amazed at how effective this can be!
The next time you find yourself upset, frustrated, angry, sad, depressed, about to eat something…you name it…ask yourself “What else could this mean?”
Another couple of ideas along this same line are “What could I do to feel better now?” and “Is that true?!”
The “what could I do” question is meant to help you focus on your feelings and to reach for ideas to help lift you back up to a higher place. The “is that true” question comes from the remarkable work of Miss Byron Katie – an amazing inspirational teacher.
When you ask yourself “is that true?” it really helps you face the reality of the situation – to look more closely at what is really happening. The purpose is to give you a broader perspective, and ideally a more wise one, that will cause you to evaluate things that are happening with more aware and unencumbered eyes.
I’ve shared a lot here…now it’s time for you to put this into action!
Your assignment today and for the next two weeks is to STOP! Stop when you find yourself reacting with negative emotions and ask yourself questions. Choose one of the ones I’ve shared or come up with one of your own. And then trust the process of your higher, wiser self to step in and bring solutions that help uplift you and allow you to feel better.
Please remember to share your comments below!
I look forward to reading your comments – or email me a question if there’s something I can help you with.
With love and light,