When the Road I Traveled Becomes an Open Path

Do you ever wish you were a better person than who you are? Me too. Like all the time.

A couple weeks ago we had a terrible thunderstorm with torrential downpour and lightning that sparked the night with a purple white glow. Since the street to my home is riveted with deep muddy potholes, I was nervous that my friend’s car might get stuck or damaged when she dropped me off, so I decided to walk. At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do, but as soon as the car sped away, I felt a real sense of stupidity and fear.  I was going to have to wade through knee-deep water to get to my home. The story of a colleague’s neighbor getting bit by a baby cobra was stuck in my head and it too added fuel to the fear that was sloshing in my mind. I realized that these flooded waters could very well be full of water snakes and other creatures that could cause harm. But if I was going to return home, I really had no other alternative but to walk through these deep “puddles” that were a block long. I chanted “Please God help me” as I entered the road and stepped into the dimly lighted water, my flip-flops searching for an ounce of high ground. 10 minutes later, I arrived at my gate, very wet but very relieved that I somehow managed to make it through to dry land.

the truthAs I stripped off my wet and muddy clothes, I recanted my daring act to my husband and realized that I may very well have this experience again. This is Laos and I have signed up for an adventure, clearly. Why did I think this was a good idea? I wanted a postcard type of experience, you know–coconut trees swaying in the breeze and an easy going pace to life, but this is what I chose. I had the luxury to choose to live in a developing country and now I faced the reality of what is it like to live in a country that is so poor that most of the streets of its nation’s capital aren’t even paved.

All of sudden it got me thinking, if this experience was a lesson, what did I learn? How am I going to meet this “road”–My attitude? Am I going to go running and screaming down it (kind of what I did) or can I manage this experience a different way–My actions? How else could I go down this “road”–My opportunity? And who do I have to become in order to travel on this “road” that I have chosen–My identity?

I am in the process of answering these questions and was reminded recently of a poem by a famous Indian poet,  Rabindranath Tagore, whose message made me awaken out of self-absorption and see the truth that I am not alone on this journey. (None of us are.) Although I am unique, I am not different, because we all wrestle with the circumstances and the choices that create change in our lives.

Closed Path

I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power,—that the path before me was closed,
that provisions were exhausted
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.

But I find that thy will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.

I connect deeply to this idea of  “new country”; this experience is revealing how much of me is a work in progress, as I reflect on who I am and how I see the world. There’s quite a bit that I can improve upon, let’s just say. However, to meet this challenge with self-loathing of all the things I wish I could be would be squandering the possibility for serious transformation. I still haven’t sorted out how to approach this task but I know that this discomfort is the first sign of the real potential for change. And if I keep focused….well who knows where this road I traveled where lead me.

Plasticine

It’s the second law of thermodynamics that everything moves toward entropy; so you know that things aren’t going to remain static and things are going to be changing. And no matter what you are trying to accomplish in your life, you need to learn how to not only learn how to cope with change but actually how to harness it and leverage it.

-Dr. Norman Doidge

Most of us grew up thinking that our personality and inclinations begin the calcify process when we are about 7 years old and are solidified when we are in our early 20s. But that myth has been absolutely disputed and proven wrong–if you change your mind, you can change your body and transform the quality of your life. We’ve heard countless stories of what seem like anomalies of people getting over incurable disease or other disabling health issues with a thought–one thought–that they could be a better version of themselves.  When we think a thought over and over again, it begins to harden into a belief and our beliefs become our personality which determines the intensity and consistency of our moods from day to day. However, we are merely one thought away from growing, from healing, from becoming a new and improved version of ourselves, and neuroscientistfocus meme.jpg like Dr. Norma Doidge (quoted above) is demonstrating this in spades. They are showing that these beliefs literally rewire our neural connections and, indeed, we are plasticine in nature, with these new ideas shaping our bodies, ergo our reality as well with new synapses being constructed and old ones being pruned. This is a wonderful and simple explanation of your fantastic plastic brain explained, giving a lot of insight into how your brain changes.

Jean Piaget, one of the most influential cognitive psychologists of the 20th century, suggested that one’s intelligence is essentially knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do, implying discernment of our experience and wagering a risk to grow. Carol Dweck adds to this definition by reminding us to keep an open mind to meet challenges and put in the effort to overcome them as the essence of evolving one’s vision and developing life mastery. Her research on “growth mindset” vs. “fixed mindset” is catching on in schools and businesses, and is having a significant impact on changing the way people learn and companies conduct business. It has given license for people to take risks and make mistakes because doing so literally grows your brain and develops you cognitively.

On a personal level, earlier this year, I decided to apply the 2 minute rule to cultivating change in my physical health. I made it a daily goal to get some exercise and agreed that I could spend at least 2 minutes a day towards this goal. I believed that this small investment of time would be worth the effort and could create change. What’s interesting is that, over time, what appeared to be drudgery has now turned into a natural desire. My 2 minutes has easily turned into 20 minutes. And what is fascinating is how it has improved not just my physical state, but also my mental state. I am beginning to not just feel more emotionally content but my attitude has shifted to agreeing that I’m worthy of something better. In other words, I exercise because I’m worth it, and this self-improvement has made a great contribution to my quality of life. I’ve had to detach from who I have been in order to give birth to who I can become. The change in my waistline is just an inevitable outcome of these new physical and mental habits. And it all started with my thought that 2 minutes, well spent, could have health benefits. Now I believe this with every fiber of my being.

This is just one example, but this shift in one area of my life has cultivated momentum in transforming other areas of my life–a snowball is in motion, as I wonder what else do I think is impossible for myself which might actually be a probable outcome if I change my beliefs around it. I double dog dare you to experiment with this concept yourself–change a thought, repeat the new thought over and over again, make a new habit around it and observe the results. I think you will be surprised at you uproot long held beliefs and recreate yourself in a relatively short amount of time.

Remember, you are plasticine.

Moving Towards Fear

I am often in awe of people who can be so deeply passionate about something–how did they turn an interest into full-blown commitment towards a problem, cause or issue? I was reading  about solving challenging math problems, and I find it incredibly inspiring and fascinating how one can dedicate years to working on a math theorem.  I know, how geeky of me, but really? — how did they overcome the anxiety, self-doubt and worry in order to explore something so diligently and deeply. Their unfailing curiosity and dedication is really something of a phenomena.

But I think that there are lots of life lessons to be gleaned from people like Andrew Wiles. And I really appreciate his nonchalant demeanor  and advice towards reaching a goal:

It’s like training in sport. If you want to run fast, you have to train. Anything where you’re trying to do something new, you have to go through this difficult period. It’s not something to be frightened of. Everybody goes through it.

-Andrew Wiles-

edison

I find his perspective refreshing, in which conquering a challenge is a skill that can be developed and mastered. However, when you look at things from his point of view, you move from fear to faith in possibility.

His belief in his ability to figure things out superseded his fear of failure due to the mindset he cultivated: just because I haven’t solved this problem today, doesn’t mean I CAN’T ever do it–I just haven’t done it YET.

I think this attitude helps you to move towards your fear, engage with it, and eventually crush it because this belief creates a feeling of certainty and compels one to keep making strides. With that in mind, thinking bigger helps one to put in more effort, to the point of success.

For example, look at these beliefs:

  • Failing at something doesn’t mean I am a failure.
  • Doing something stupid today doesn’t mean that I am going to do something stupid tomorrow.
  • I can learn from my mistakes and grow from them.

Pretty empowering, right?

If you can give yourself the benefit of the doubt, that perhaps you have what it takes right now to get started, and can acquire all the skills, knowledge and resources along the journey, then mounting an extraordinary feat seems inevitable.

As I think about the year ahead and the things I wish to accomplish, I want to do things that scare me in order to gain the confidence that comes from playing full out. Perhaps you will too.

 

 

 

 

The Empty Boat

If your mission in life is to make a positive difference and not to prove how smart you are and right you can be, then you will appreciate the message of the Empty Boat.

 

 

If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be a bad-tempered man
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,
And yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because there is somebody in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty.
He would not be shouting, and not angry.

If you can empty your own boat
Crossing the river of the world,
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you.

-Chuang Tzu, a Chinese Taoist philosopher

 

I love this reminder–that no one is intentionally acting maliciously toward us. Just as an empty boat that rams into us isn’t aspiring to injure us, so too people who act unkindly are unconsciously acting out of their own desires. It’s nothing personal. We are not victims of circumstance and until we realize this, we will remain imprisoned by this offense. However if we can shift our focus,  assuming innocence and not attaching to it responsibility-quotes-you-must-take-personal-responsibility-quotesemotionally, then we can experience greater freedom and joy in our lives.

So, as we sit in our boats, we are always at choice as we traverse the rivers of life. So what can we choose?

Well, as I see it, there are 3 directions that I can cast my gaze when reflecting upon how I engage in life:

  1. Looking inward: my thoughts and judgements of myself.
  2. Looking outward: my thoughts and actions towards people.
  3. Looking at the environment: my response to the changes which I have no control over.

I know that I have to take personal responsibility for the emotions I feel, and I am at choice to greet these “empty boats” with anger or amusement.  It’s a habit that I wish to cultivate, in which I can view these aspects of my life with non-attachment and acceptance.

 

The Ultimate Power

“Words only weigh as much as the air used to breathe them unless you give them the ultimate power.”–my mind has been musing over this quote from B.A. Hunter for nearly a week now.  I’m often amused by what comes out of my mouth when I am in a conversation, but more often it’s the words that are unspoken, bobbing around as my thoughts, that are the most elusive. Obviously as I try to “quiet” my mind, it leads to a deeper exploration of  my mind’s “search engine”, as I observe the needs, beliefs, and emotions that seem to color my perspective of reality. What am I focusing on? Because what I focus on gives it meaning, and that meaning produces emotion; this emotion produces my action. What’s my model of the world?–how do I feel about the state of my world.

henry-ford-airplane-quoteWhich has got me thinking about my auto-pilot: how can I create a positive mindset that is programmed and automatic? After watching Habit’s 101 , I made it a daily dedication to study how I can create proactive habits in my life. Now that I recognize that my mindset mostly dwells on the past, and my past=my future,  I can set the intention to get new habits of mind that promote the changes I wish to see in my life.

So then focus becomes my ultimate power and my point of change. Noticing that I have a pessimistic view point seems to be the most obvious place to start. You can’t change what you aren’t aware of, right? Then once I am aware of it, I have the opportunity to pivot when I encounter a negative/ non-self serving thought. It takes deliberate practice, but with effort, comes the change. This is where the rubber meets the road!

In order to transform my perspective, I have to DECIDE that I can do this– reframing ‘impossible’ to I’m Possible–cheesy but true. Currently my confidence comes from finding some ideas that inspire nudging me in the right direction. Here are some strategies that I have found and am willing to try out:

  • Generating positive emotion by exploring possibilities with “What if”.
    • Example: What if I made that goal? What if I had more time?
  • Dr. Daniel Amen has a a strategy for countering what he calls “ANTs” (a negative thought).
  • Tony Robbins suggests that we can DOUBT IT OUT! He says “we doubt we can succeed when we should doubt that we could fail.
    • Pondering 5 Reasons why the “worst” may not be true.
    • Finding “exceptions” to the rule.
  • Influenced by Daniel Kahneman’s research on our thinking processes, David Casti suggests redirecting those mental movies to transform guilt and regret with using the sentence stem: “Next time, I intend…..”
  • Change the focus from having resources to being resourceful. This cultivates appreciation and considers how contributions are being made for improvement.
  • And I love this idea from Brian Johnson about playing Angel’s advocate and finding “what can go right” in a situation.

You know what I find so ironic and cool, that the minute I start researching how to modify my mindset, I find a warehouse of resources and tools that are out there. Most of them are super simple and take minimal time.  I also find exercises like the ones I’ve listed not only mind-opening but also alter my emotion and lift my spirit. Win-Win!- I dig it!

So,  I’ve decided to amplify this approach by using  my new favorite app: Way of Life. I understand that what I measure, I can improve; so if I keep track of it, then I suppose “shift happens”.

Until next time….Keep Breathing!