Sunday, April 23, 2017

What's holding you back, and how to beat it easy

We all have our beliefs and biases. Beliefs are collections of ideas that appear to fit together in a way that makes sense. The appearance is often shaky at best, but very powerful, guiding the behaviors of millions of people.

Biases I like to describe this way: Anytime I agree with something or disagree with something, that is a red flag of my bias. Whether I agree or disagree doesn’t matter, but the fact that I have a pre-existing opinion of something that automatically approves or disapproves any fact, person or situation floating by - that is a bias. It leads to prejudice and discrimination without basis. Bias vs. basis.

April 22 was Earth Day 2017, and across the country there were local examples of the March for Science. People came out to demonstrate their belief that government decisions should be guided by evidence-based facts instead of the belief that regulations cut into profits. Both are beliefs, and both are biases.

Religions use a code of beliefs – dogma, doctrine and rules – to explain suffering and give a reason to keep living in positive ways. Religions teach that, when a person dies of murder or accident, that gods or God is in control and has a reason for it. They hold that, if we’re good, we’ll go to heaven when we die. These beliefs help us cope with life challenges. When we believe it, and the surrounding rules of behavior, we hold a bias.  

The point is that, whatever our beliefs and biases, they help us to feel better about ourselves and our lives. Beliefs and biases help us function better because they save us from having to examine the evidence behind every decision we make. If we knew all the facts behind everything we do, it would overwhelm the mind and stop us from taking any real action. We’d starve to death trying to decide what to eat.

But we don’t starve. We stuff random bits of edibles into our mouths without a thought. It’s only when a group of people begins dying from the same “food” that we stop and think about it. Reality comes calling.

It’s an important thing because reality is very powerful. It can kill you or it can give you a long, prosperous life. If our beliefs and biases become too disconnected from reality, our ability to function in healthy, constructive ways is hindered. I could step off a cliff and either God will send his angels to save me or I’ll end up in Heaven. Either way, I’m good … according to my beliefs.

But if I check reality, I have a natural, inbuilt fear of falling. Normally I don’t step off a cliff. My God-given nature stops me. If my beliefs allow me to jump, I’m out of touch with reality. I’m insane.

It’s not always that extreme, of course. Sometimes my beliefs just keep me from getting rich or from getting the exercise I need. Something stops me from trusting my own ability to prosper: I belief having lots of money isn’t spiritual and will keep me from going to heaven. Or I think people at the gym or the park are all going to judge my body shape, so I avoid the embarrassment and the exercise.

My belief systems hold me back from becoming the person who deserves the things I love. The reality is that I don’t believe that I deserve these things. I want good things for myself and for others, but I’m afraid to try. If I try, I might fail; and if I fail, people would talk bad about me. Horrifying! Deal breaker! Life-stopping. I’m just not good enough. I’m unable. I’m worthless, hopeless and helpless. Nobody loves me.

What a crazy set of beliefs.

But consider what Jesus said: Love your neighbor as yourself. It wasn’t just ‘love your neighbor.’ There’s a premise in there: Something is assumed to happen before you love your neighbor. Love your self!

The reality is that, when I love myself, it flips all the old fears and limiting beliefs on their heads. I need to take care of myself. It’s the natural, built-in thing. But not only that, I need to take care of myself first!

Until I love myself and take care of myself, I don’t have the energy or ability to love or take care of anything. I’m just a blob on the face of society. I need to be forgiven. I need people to love me. They need to love me because I’m not loving myself.  Everybody needs love. If I’m not getting love, I need to start loving myself.

It’s not egotistical; it’s self care. When I love myself, I’m able to make positive changes easily. I love me so I feel good. People around me sense that I feel good, so they feel good, too! They are attracted to me. Because I love me I can do whatever I want. I might fail, but that’s okay because I’ll just go on with life. And because failure doesn’t matter, I can try over and over again until I get it right … And I’ll still love me! And because I still feel good about myself, the people around me feel good about me, and so they feel good about themselves, too.

People have been failing for millennia. Successful people have failed at least seven times to achieve what they are trying to do. That means they tried seven times and didn’t get it right, but they just kept right on trying. Because they love themselves.

In the end, it’s your beliefs that make you or break you. “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right,” according the Henry Ford.

That’s the reality. I’m not perfect. Never have been, never will be. But I love myself, and I’m having fun trying out new things. I don’t ever get it perfectly right the first time, but I keep trying and, in the end, I never fail. It’s impossible! I have unlimited tries! I could play this game the rest of my life. Fun!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Enlightened leadership: How far is too far?

My book study group is reading The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, by Dethmer, Chapman and Klemp. It’s a great book. I enjoy it and recommend it to others, whether you’re a leader or not. 

It describes Four Ways of Leading defined by perspective on how things get done: To Me – victimhood, By Me – taking responsibility, Through Me – surrender to a greater guidance, and As Me – oneness. There is no particular order, ranking or level to the Ways in daily practice. We all find ourselves acting in each of these Ways at different times of the day or times of our lives. However, the authors do stipulate that 95% of people are stuck in the To Me fault-blame-guilt trip 95% of the time.  

However, I have a problem with the As Me way of being, it is described with phrases like these: Money “is just another form given and received with freedom and joy,” “time is an illusion,” happiness just another passing state, can you find the one who is disciplined?, “Being and purpose are the same,” “It’s impossible to be off purpose,” and “There is no one to lead and nowhere to lead to.”

This As Me way is kind of like saying, “It is what it is, and it’s all good.” And that’s fine and dandy as long as you include it as one of the Four Ways. But people living in the 95% fault-blame-guilt trip are always comparing, and they will inevitably want to be the most “enlightened” (read “best”). From that perspective, they’re going to look at the Four Ways and attribute greater value to the As Me way. In application, they’ll want to live every moment of every day in the world of “Don’t worry, be happy.”

This is a clearly Buddhist approach to life, and applying the principle to its “ridiculous extreme” (a term from formal reasoning) in Dzogchen Buddhism, it leads to “nothing matters,” “emptiness is worth pursuing,” “fade away to nothingness,” and the ultimate extreme application “spiritual suicide.”

Is that enlightenment? Not. In the overly focused thinking of non-valuing everything, it gets stupid.

Instead, a better way of looking at this “It is what it is” Way of Being is to see it as a detached way of looking at circumstances. If it's a stressful catastrophe, this Way is a starting point for seeking a solution. It's hard to clarify the real situation do when you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Even if everything has become boringly routine, recognizing the reality of the situation is a great start toward planning for “better.” 

So, fair warning here: Don’t go to the “It is what it is” Way of Being and live there. If you’re perceiving illusions, you can exhaust yourself trying to change them, but they aren’t really there! You change them! 

Instead, release all the emotion (anxiety, boredom) surrounding the immediate situation, and see reality for what it is. When you see reality, you can have a real impact and create better. And that, to me, is fun! 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

How to fix 'dwelling on it'

Brooding guy: Don't dwell. Choose a higher feeling.
Yesterday I had something bad happen. It doesn’t matter what it was. It hurt me, and I was angry that a person hadn’t done what I expected them to do, what I had paid them to do.

I found out about it about four months later, and only then did I feel hurt and angry. For the intervening four months, I was neither hurt nor angry. They had done what they had done, but I was ignorant of it, so I had no feelings about it.

But when I found out, I felt hurt and angry. Not only did I feel badly about what they had done, my brain started dredging up all the old memories of times I had the same feelings. All the times I had been lied to and lied about, misrepresented, not given credit for outstanding performance, shortchanged, conned, ripped off and stolen from, all those old bad stories came flying to the surface. All these experiences – events in my life – carried these same feelings.

It wasn’t that the same things were a repeating pattern in my life. It was that I noticed them at the time and again in the present. A couple of early childhood experiences had sensitized me to them, and so they caught my attention whenever they came up. I had learned the lesson from those experiences, but the feelings associated with them still came up now and then. And when the feelings came up, the old memories came up. Bunches of them, one after another.

That’s when I realized that, while I had intellectually learned the lesson, I was still choosing the same emotional response, and worse: I allowed that emotional response to draw up multiple old memories that I didn’t care for and really had nothing new to teach me.

I found myself asking, why are all these old things coming up again? I know that I did the best I could at the time, and despite that, someone misused and abused me. I wasn’t responsible for their behavior, yet I had felt unjustifiably bad about it. I had believed their story about me over my own story. I understood that I did great stuff, but others felt insecure about that and attacked me. I got it.
But there was another lesson I hadn’t learned yet. 

Emotions are tied to memories. When I have a feeling response to some occurrence in my life, my amygdala is trained to protect me. It stimulates the rest of my brain to come up with similar examples of those emotions looking for how I resolved it in the past. When my brain recalls those emotions, it also calls up the memories of the events, and not just one event, every possible event associated with that feeling.

It seems like I’m dwelling on it, but I’m not. My brain is just doing its job. It’s looking for solutions to a situation that caused me pain. It’s asking, how did I deal with situations that caused me that bad feeling in the past? And I remember – intellectually – how that worked. The short version is that I’m a basically good person and sometimes people do mean things to me even when I’m doing great things. It’s their problem over which I have no control.

So, how can I get my brain to stop dredging these things up? That’s easy: Don’t feel those feelings. Of course, I can always sidestep feelings, even if that were desirable. However, if have some strong feelings, I can recognize that my brain is dredging up all the examples looking for possible solutions, and CHANGE THE FEELING! Stop repeating the bad feeling, which stops repeating old bad stories. Choose a positive feeling, and change to it every time the old feeling or old story comes up.  Every time! 

I don't need all those old feelings and old stories to come up. I just need to apply what I previously learned to the current situation. 

I'm a good person! I feel good about myself. I make the personal changes I need to make, and guess what? Now I'm an even better person! 

So that's the lesson from these repeating old feelings and repeating old stories. They are the cue to change the feeling. When you catch yourself dredging up old bad stories = change the feeling! 

Frickin' brilliant.