Mindset

The Absolute Worst Thing You Can Do When You Feel Down or Depressed

Over the course of the past 5 years I have read a lot of books on emotions, depression, peak performance, anxiety and overall cognitive functioning. Through my aikido, meditation and several other practices have begun to understand these things on an experiential level. I have been to the lowest of lows (a deep depression) and the highest of highs. And after enough time spent in both places, I have come to some level of observation and self awareness with what goes on during each of those experiences. Today, I want to present to you a simple strategy for dealing with a down moment or a bout of depression that takes you under and engulfs you. 

I am speaking from my own experience in a depressed state as well as several other people who report a similar experience. In an emotional state of depression, everything looks bleak. I feel lonely, disconnected from society, helpless and hopeless. I see absolutely zero potential for anything positive to happen in my future whether it be in terms of relationships, money, experiences, work- whatever. I literally feel like a “shit-magnet”. Bad shit seems to stick to me. Everyone I encounter is a selfish jerk. The best way I can describe depression is a complete and overwhelming tunnel vision for everything negative. And as Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania has affirmed, the bleak perception of our reality feels permanent (like it’s going to last forever), pervasive (like every aspect of our life is fucked) and highly personal (like we as a person are majorly defective). 

 I have noticed that when I have been depressed, I will freeze frame my current “shitty” reality and conceptualize it in my mind that it is going to be this way forever. It makes me not even want to live anymore. I feel like giving up. I then begin to ask myself questions like, “what is wrong with me?” and “what’s the point anyway?”. I try to go up in my head and think my way out of the problem.  If there is one thing to take away from the lesson today it is this:

Intellectualizing and trying to rationally think your way out of a troubling emotional state is the worst thing you can possibly be doing to feel better. Your trying to solve a problem from a impaired level of thinking. It makes no sense, however we as humans love to see ourselves as smart creatures who can think our way out of shit. 

Einstein nailed it right on the head when he said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”. And this quote is quite applicable to depression.  When we are in a low level of consciousness, it is impossible to get ourselves out of it by thinking more. 

Instead what needs to be understood is that our feelings are a signal. And this powerful signal of “I feel like death” is telling us that our thinking is off!  Way off. Therefore, the only thing you have to do when you start feeling like absolute crap is begin to not believe in the thoughts that are creeping into your mind. I just read Garrett Kramer’s peak performance books Stillpower and The Path of No Resistance and I really love his paradigm regarding this. He asserts that you should “feel what you feel, but don’t believe what you think”. Our terrible feelings are a powerful signal- to disregard and be disbelieving of our thoughts- not to cling to them and try to rationally joust with them. 

The more you can begin to simply sit with your feelings and not try to create a story around them about why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling- this is when you will escape the grips of your depression. What keeps the depression in place is the constant thinking that ‘this event’ or ‘that person’ is to blame for my depression. This type of thinking is not going to get you out of your depression, it is only going to ensure that you stay in that state of mind longer. If you just sit still and begin to quietly retreat to the silent confines of your mind- you will start to notice that your depression will begin to subside and eventually drift away. Our brains and bodies have the natural tendency to self-correct. There is a built auto-pilot mechanism built into our nervous system if we simply let go of needing to control every process along the way. 

When we try to think our way of our depression- we are trying to “will” it and control every step in the process. This absolutely shuts off our self-corrective mechanism in our brain that is the skeleton key to our emotional regulation. The less energy and power you give your depressing thoughts- the sooner you will start to see your emotional state rise. And then pretty soon thereafter your perception will begin to broaden. You will start to see things in brighter color, see the hopeful (and realistic) future and get out the blame-game you’ve been playing with yourself. 

This process takes a keen level of self awareness. Most people get into a depressed state and they try to fight it- but that just gives it more energy. Think about depression like your little brother or that neighbor of yours who is a shit-grinning twerp. The more you engage with your little brother, the more he is going to try to annoy you and rattle you. However when you laugh at him and not let what he is doing bother you- he goes away because it is no fun for him anymore. Depression is the same way. Begin to watch your hopeless thoughts come into your awareness. Don’t let them hook you, just watch them and be accepting of them. Sit there through the painful experience and become an outstanding observer of your own mind. This is the secret to mastering your inner world- becoming a master observer of your own mind and it’s default patterns and tendencies. 

Once you begin to observe and not absorb or attach to these negative thoughts- your consciousness will begin to rise and the heavy feelings will start to lighten drastically. It will feel like a exhilarating experience. The more you can practice this, the better you will get. As Garrett Kramer loves to say, it’s all about STAYING IN THE GAME. If you hang around long enough and don’t fight the negative thoughts and bleak perspective- it will all turn around. It always does. But the minute you begin to try to understand why you are feeling like crap and begin to create some narrative about your depression- you have lost the game. 

We all have a unique inner life force. I believe it is God within us, others call it a whole lot of different things. However, this force is the very thing that guides us intuitively and if given the freedom to work for us- can produce miracles. I know relinquishing control and not engaging with the depressing thoughts is a major challenge that most will probably fail at their first few times. Yet, all it takes is one breakthrough and it will change your life forever. One experience of letting your inner guide take over and guide you out of your depression will allow you to never be a hostage to this crippling condition ever again. It’s amazing. 

So you have 2 choices. You can either be a victim and continue to fight with your annoying shit-grinning little brother (depressive thoughts) and continue to feel agitated (depression). Or you can begin to observe and allow your annoying little brother to “try” to bother you, but never actually bite the hook (depressive thoughts)- therefore making him disinterested and leaving you alone so that you can be in peace (free of depression).

 If you tend to fall down the “rabbit hole” of depression, I suggest hanging two signs around your place as a reminder. One is from Kramer’s book:

“STAY IN THE GAME”

And the other is from the Navy Seal movie Lone Survivor:

“No matter how much it hurts, how dark it gets or no matter how far you fall, you are never out of the fight.”

The second quote is what gave me the hope to carry on in the darkest of my depression a couple years ago. Though I really had no where to turn and felt almost entirely hopeless- I kept looking at that quote and it kept me looking for another way- another answer. I’d read another book, I’d watch another youtube video, I just kept going. Until pretty soon, I was guided to meet my mentor. And that was the moment that changed everything. So I suggest you adopt this belief. If you believe there is always a way- you will find a way. People, when their either going to die or succeed- they tend to succeed. Hunger is your greatest asset. Plain and simple. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Most Important Person You Haven’t Met Yet

Let me ask you a few questions.  If there was one person in the world you could meet and your entire life would turn around, who would it be? What would they be able to provide you with? How would your life be different? Just think about these questions for a moment. Sit and ponder them. And whenever you’re finished thinking about those questions (and maybe spending some time reflecting in your journal) keep on reading and you’ll see how you will come to meet that very person very soon.

The other day I was listening to some old audio cassette tapes from the 1980’s by Napolean Hill and W. Clement Stone entitled Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude. Though these tapes are ancient, they are the furthest thing from obsolete. It’s amazing how the laws of success and happiness are timeless. There’s something very satisfying about putting a cassette tape into a tape player and hearing the “click” right before it starts playing. Then when the tape is finished- flipping it over to listen to the other side. While I’m listening to these I sometimes imagine other greats like Tony Robbins, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Canfield and Marc Benioff listening to these same personal development cassette tapes decades ago. I use these old school cassette tapes as a form of learning. I have them playing in the background when I’m cooking dinner or brushing my teeth or cleaning the house. I see it as learning through osmosis. Though I am not taking notes and intently listening to every word- they are becoming deeply ingrained in my unconscious mind. Think about who you would be and where your life would be if you had the belief system and model of the world of Napolean Hill, Tony Robbins or W. Clement Stone. 

It was just the other day when I was listening to this tape by Hill and Stone and this one story jumped right out at me and caught my attention- so much so- that I had to rewind the tape and listen to it another two times! Here is story:

A lesson learned from a child. There is a wonderful little story about a minister who, one Saturday morning, was trying to prepare his sermon under difficult conditions. His wife was out shopping. It was a rainy day and his young son was restless and bored, with nothing to do. Finally, in desperation, the minister picked up an old magazine and thumbed through it until he came to a large brightly colored picture. It showed a map of the world. He tore the page from the magazine, ripped it into little bits and threw the scraps all over the living room floor with the words: 

“Johnny, if you can put this all together, I’ll give you a quarter”. 

The preacher thought this would take Johnny most of the morning. But within ten minutes there was a knock on his study door. It was his son with the completed puzzle. The minister was amazed to see Johnny finished so soon, with the pieces of paper neatly arranged and the nap of the world back in order. ‘Son, how did you get that done so fast?” the preacher asked. “Oh,” said Johnny, “it was easy. On the other side, there was a picture of a man. I just put a piece of paper on the bottom, put the picture of the man together, put a piece of paper on top, and then turned it over. I figured that if got the man right, the world would be right.” The minister smiled, and handed his son a quarter. “And you’ve given me my sermon for tomorrow, too,” he said. “If a man is right, his world will be right. ” There’s a great lesson in this idea. If you are unhappy with your world and want to change it, the place to start is with yourself. If you are right, your world will be right. This is what PMA is all about. When you have a Positive Mental Attitude, the problems of your world tend to bow before you. 

 

I hope by this point it has been revealed to you that your ‘future you’ is the most important person you haven’t met yet.  Jim Rohn used to say something very similar to what Hill and Stone were preaching when he said, “if you want life to change, you’ve gotta change. If you want life to get better, you’ve gotta get better. It’s the only way it happens. Luck shows up for people and it leaves them. But if you’re constantly improving who you and what you give- GAME OVER!” 

There are two relationships, two types of communication- that if you master these two- success, happiness and fulfillment is unlimited to you in the future. The first is your relationship with yourself. The second is your relationship with the outside world. However there is a caveat here. 99% of people try to master their relationship with the outside world. They seek approval, love, significance and acceptance from other people and the rest of the world. You may even be able to get this love and acceptance from others just by working to elicit reactions and responses from others and the outside- all while paying no focus to the first relationship (your communication with yourself). Most of our world employs this strategy. That is why we have a society full of posers, followers and people pleasers. I would argue that the issue with this externally focused approach is that it doesn’t lead to fulfillment because you are not expressing your truest nature.  If our greatest fulfillment is ultimately who we become- then how fulfilled and satisfied will we be when we spend our lives being a hostage to the love/approval and reactions of those around us?  As a mentor of mine has told me on a few occasions, “it is far better to be the right person, than to find the right person”. 

Robbin Williams, Chris Farley and John Belushi are great examples of men who mastered their communication with others and the outside world but had no relationship with themselves. They were loved, adored, accepted and very talented individuals. No one from the outside would have thought that they had a troubled internal world.  It is sad to say but they never mastered their internal communication, their relationship with themselves. They in fact neglected to even consider their relationship with them self. 

This is why the most important relationship and communication you can have in this world is the one with yourself. It should be prioritized over your relationship with the outside world- which even includes your family, relatives and friends. Without a compassionate and loving relationship with yourself, your life will be a constant struggle and suffering is guaranteed. Even better is that once you begin to master your internal communication and your relationship with yourself- your relationship with the outside world and other people takes on the same form. If you have a loving and compassionate relationship with yourself, then you will also have that same relationship with other people and the outside world. Yes, the simplicity and beauty of it. THE WORLD IS A MIRROR.

Yes, The world is a mirror. What do I mean by this? Generally speaking, the world we experience externally is nothing more than a mirror image and an identical representation of our internal world. This might sound trite, probably cliche and possibly boring. Yet this one metaphor applies to so many different facets of our human experience on this earth that perhaps you might get one new distinction out of this, that in turn will result in a 1% change. And that 1%, which right now seems meaningless, compounded over the course of days, months, weeks, years and decades- could be the difference in millions of dollars, a better family life or more fulfilling relationships.

So what does the metaphor “the world is a mirror” even mean?

The first way that this is practical is that you will always receive what you give out in world. If you are constantly giving love and kindness to the world, that is exactly what you will receive. It even goes for money too. The more money you give away, the more it will come back to you. So you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’ll get it back- just fucking give. The same is true for negative emotions and behavior.  Why is it that depressed people keep getting negative outcomes in their life? Because they are giving virtually nothing and looking to get everything. I think Wayne Dyer’s quote sums it up best (which I might have written about in a past post: 

“When you squeeze an orange, you’ll always get orange juice to come out. What comes out is what’s inside. The same logic applies to you: when someone squeezes you, puts pressure on you, or says something unflattering or critical, and out of you comes anger, hatred, bitterness, tension, depression, or anxiety, that is what’s inside. If love and joy are what you want to give and receive, change your life by changing what’s inside.”

The second way in which the world is a mirror involves the way we view other people and our relationships with other people. Think of a time when you saw someone or met someone who you didn’t like or you believed to be “beneath you”. Maybe they were not as rich as you or not as good at something as you. And you instantly compared yourself and put yourself above them. Ironically, in this very moment you were doing nothing more than uncovering the way you really feel about yourself. When you think about others poorly and treat others poorly, that is truly a reflection of the way you treat yourself and think about yourself. You don’t see the world as it is, you see the world (and others) as you see yourself. Be conscious of this. Whenever you are being critical of someone, you are truly being critical of yourself. So when you look down on someone and consider them inferior, you are really expressing your own feelings of inferiority. The same goes for if you feel like you are perfect and you constantly are condemning others and their ways. This is just a grandiose situation of smoke and mirrors. In reality, you are projecting your feelings about yourself onto everyone else in the world you may come into contact with. That is why accepting everyone else (and everything) as they are is an incredibly powerful practice- because you in turn are accepting and loving yourself for exactly who you are. 

To nail down this point, there is a Hindi word- Genshai (GEN-shy). It means that you should never treat another person in a manner that would make them feel small. That means a rival, a homeless person or even a kid. IT EVEN MEANS YOURSELF. We spend so much time in self deprecating sub-vocalized self talk, belittling ourselves is almost like a full time job for us and we don’t even realize it. We’re on automatic, we’re not even conscious of it. Look to treat everyone you come into contact with- with dignity, respect and love. Can you find something good within everyone? I wonder what your life would look like and feel like to live with such unconditional love for all people. 

Perhaps this sheds some light on the animosity, resentment or the critical nature in which you may be operating with in your life. One strives so hard and diligently for success and sees everything as cutthroat competition. As a result, we are constantly making comparisons and negative appraisals of other people. Ultimately this pattern of thought and behavior is creating deep feelings of inadequacy and insecurity within our self. Take competition, judgment and criticizing out of one’s life and the world is their oyster. The wellsprings of success, wealth, love, joy and abundance open up and flow endlessly. Once this awareness is cultivated, the freedom to live fully and love fully becomes realized. 

The third point of discussion I find relevant has to do with how our world rewards altruism as well as loving and serving others. If your intent is only to serve yourself and only do things for your own gain, then you will only reap a limited reward. If your intent is to serve your family, you will reap a greater reward and a greater level of insight. If your intent is to help your community, you will gain an even greater level of insight and reward. AND if your intent is to serve humanity and contribute massively to mankind and everyone on this planet, then the amount of insight and reward you will receive in return is infinite. It is unlimited. 

Even when you are selfish and only looking out for yourself, it often times still tends to help someone else in some way. When the bumblebee goes from flower to flower to get nectar- it drags pollen along and fertilizes the flowers. It doesn’t try to, but it is contributing to the creation of life out of it’s own selfish act. With that being said- life serves more of what serves life. Everything has a web of connection. Reflect on this. Motive does matter. We will do a lot more for other people than we will ever do for ourselves. 

On a closing note, James Allen in As A Man Thinketh wrote something that illustrates this concept perfectly:

“Man is made or unmade by himself, in the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself.  He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace”.

Conquering the Greatest Fear of All

Many would think that people’s greatest fear in their lives is the fear of death. It should be, however our egos have very sneaky ways of deleting the fact that we’re all going to die someday. It would actually be very healthy for society if the fear of death was number 1 on the list- this would like be a sign of a higher level of consciousness at the societal level and definitely an overall diminished ego. However studies continually report that public speaking is man’s greatest fear. It’s not the speaking their afraid of, so let’s cut to the core of what fear drives the masses. It’s the fear or rejection- plain and simple. The fear of rejection is the reason for public speaking being #1 on the list. At a evolutionary level, the fear of rejection makes sense. Those cavemen and primitive homo sapiens who were rejected and ostracized from the tribe died. The group was a safe space that provided our ancient ancestors with the resources for survival, therefore rejection resulted in the ultimate pain of death.  However in our society today, rejection is not a matter of survival. Perhaps this fear of rejection is still wired into our nervous system and our genes from thousands of years ago- I don’t know, that’s one theory. What I do know is that we as humans have 5 basic needs (survival, love/connection, significance, fun and freedom) and two of these are directly related to our overdeveloped fear of rejection.  In particular, our needs for love/connection and significance/competence are linked to this fear of rejection. Humans do crazy things to ensure that they feel connected to others. They join gangs, they do drugs, they join cults. They also do crazy things to feel a sense of significance. People get tattoos and earrings all over their body just so they can feel special and unique. These needs for connection/love and significance are so visceral that if they are not met, humans will experience anxiety and massive amounts of fear. Additionally, people will settle for avenues to meet these needs on such a short term basis that they inevitably sacrifice their long term fulfillment and happiness. For example, people will marry the wrong person because they fear not getting these needs met if they were to break up with them tomorrow and God forbid have to be single for a little while. The fear of rejection is the outward manifestation of the scarce belief of human beings that their needs of connection and significance are not going to be met.

 Another reason people so desperately fear being rejected by a potential mate, friend, group or client because they falsely attribute this as a sign that they are not worthy, lovable or a significant human being.  They have erroneous beliefs that if they get rejected by that one person, then they are all of the sudden unlovable or insignificant and that they will not be able to be loved ever again. It’s hilarious if you take a step back and look at this silly dynamic.  

 You now understand what is behind this fear of rejection, but what keeps it in place? What keeps it so firmly rooted that it continues to run our society? There are factors in our society and our family systems that really lock it in, so it keeps its frightening effect. Our families and school systems have implicit rules that if you behave and act like you’re supposed to- you will be a part of our group- you will fit in and therefore be accepted. Most don’t even see that this is going on in their own family. They have been playing the same role for the last 20-30 years that they think all is fine and dandy. However, a person will see this dynamic the minute they stop playing their ascribed role and begin to either play something different or don’t follow the underlying family rules. It is in this moment when the feeling of being ostracized, or no longer part of group begins to sting. Whether it be in a group or a family, this disconnect feels like death. One minute you felt love, connection and significant because of all the closeness and support of those around you. Then the next moment you feel like it all got taken away from you. A great sense of loss sweeps over you. The feelings can mimic that of death. You feel like someone just stole all your oxygen and now you have nothing to breathe. You lose your entire sense of certainty and begin to wonder, “who the hell am I?”. You identified for so many years with your family, group or clique that now you feel naked and unworthy. You feel like you must go back to playing that old role you had been conforming to for so many years just to get the love and approval back that you feel like has been lost. 

 Many people have no idea what I am talking about. They are still the fish in the water. They don’t yet have the awareness to get outside of their limited perception of what keeps the family, group or system in homeostasis. They don’t understand the rules, the roles and the rituals that keep the dysfunction at bay.  However, if you are at this point or have experienced this, this is not a tragedy. This is the greatest opportunity of your life. That feeling of loss of love and significance is an ILLUSION OF LOSS!  What this whole shit show of a scenario has revealed to you is that you have been basing your whole self worth and sense of self on other people’s opinions and behavior. In the words of Leslie Cameron Bandler, you have become an emotional hostage to other people. You have unconsciously learned that in order to feel good, feel loved, feel worthy and feel significant- someone else has to do something for you- they have to give it to you. This is a major opportunity for personal growth and massive breakthrough. You were living life under the assumption that everyone else had the oxygen and you had to do something or be someone for them in order to get it so that you could breathe. This is not the case, there is an unlimited amount of oxygen and you can get it yourself without having to rely on someone acting some certain way toward you. This faulty belief that people outside of you were the source of your happiness and self worth is the biggest lie and the handcuffs to your happiness and potential. Self actualization is about harnessing your inner power and living life on your own terms- not an emotional hostage to other people. 

 This level of awareness is the first step out of victimhood. Our society is saturated with codependent relationships and emotional hostage taking that it has almost become the norm. People are unaware of it- they see no problem. We have been brainwashed from a young age through Hollywood, the media , politicians and advertisers to get our sense of significance and love from others. This unconscious decision on our part to become dependent on other people is exactly the mechanism that keeps them in power. I am not telling you that you should say “fuck off” to all other human beings. What I am suggesting is that you begin to wake up and escape the cultural hypnosis that something outside yourself is going to be the mechanism for your peace, happiness and self worth. 

 In order to be free from the fear of rejection you must adopt the belief that you are in control of your emotional state and the way you feel. Nothing and no one can change the way you feel. I know this is a tall task, but this belief is the underlying belief that will free you from your fear of rejection and your victimhood. I will discuss practical tactics to allow you to free yourself from the chains of this fear of rejection, people pleasing and approval seeking in posts down the road. This is merely a discussion to raise awareness of the issue. 

 

The greatest irony of all is that once you can conquer your fear of rejection- you actually will receive even more love/connection and a greater sense of significance. No longer can anyone take anything away from you. There is no illusion of loss anymore. You are supplying your energy, your life force and your feelings of significance. People will actually flock to you because you are offering them a unique proposition. You are inherently offering them the opportunity at a real relationship with no emotional hostage taking or victimhood. It is the ultimate freedom for both parties. Both people can show up to the relationship and be exactly as they are. There are no expectations, obligations or invisible rules that dictate that people should be different or act different than they currently are. 

 I believe this topic is the crux of personal development that gets ignored and is rarely spoken about.  It is time to pull the curtain back and reveal what is running people’s lives in our culture in this day and age. It’s the fear of rejection- PERIOD.  It is behind the look in every office workers eyes when they look up from their cubicle to see their coworker leaving to pursue their dream- start their own business or move to their dream spot on the globe. The fear of rejection keeps people planted where they are, living lives of quiet desperation. Kill the monster when it’s small, because when the fear gets too big, it feels nearly impossible to overtake. 

BOOK OF THE WEEK: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman

Oliver Burkeman’s book is a phenomenal account of Stoicism, Buddhism and displays an overall contrarian philosophy that is highly practical for leading a happy life amidst an ever changing and uncertain world.  It is very well written and provides highly relevant and effective strategies and stories for anyone who wants to improve their life.  Though this isn’t the most popular self help book on the market, I believe it to be a great starting point for someone who is just getting their feet wet in personal development.  It is written for the lay person, so the concepts and strategies he includes are clearly and succinctly presented.  I even recommend this book to more advanced readers,as he does an excellent job integrating several different philosophies and presenting a highly practical approach to living life.  The essence of the book can be understood by the ironic fact that the happiest people are not those who experience the most positive outcomes, but rather those who are most comfortable living amongst uncertainty, ambiguity, frustration and suffering.

Memorable Passages:

“The effort to try to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable.  And it is our constant effort to eliminate the negative- insecurity, uncertainty, failure or sadness- that is what causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain or unhappy. A negative path to happiness involves learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity, stopping trying to think positively, becoming familiar with failure, even learning to value death” (7-8)

 

“The law of reversed effort, or the backwards law: the notion that in all sorts of contexts, all this trying to make everything right is a big part of what’s wrong. . . the harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed” (9)

 

“For Stoics, the ideal state of mind was tranquility, not the excitable cheer that positive thinkers usually seem to mean when they use the word happiness. And tranquility was to be achieved not by strenuously chasing after enjoyable experiences, but by cultivating a kind of calm indifference towards one’s circumstances” (29)

 

“Psychologists have long agreed that one of the greatest enemies of human happiness is ‘hedonic adaptation’- the predictable and frustrating way in which any new source of pleasure we obtain, whether it is as minor as a new piece of electronic gadgetry or as major as a marriage, swiftly gets relegated to the backdrop of our lives. We grow accustomed to it, and so it ceases to deliver so much joy.  It follows then, that regularly reminding yourself that you might lose any of the things you currently enjoy- indeed, that you will definitely lose them all, in the end, when death catches up to you- would reverse the adaptation effect. Thinking about the possibility of losing something you value shifts it from the backdrop of your life back to the center stage, where it can deliver pleasure once more. Whenever you grow attached to something, writes Epictetus, do not act as though it were one of those things that cannot be taken away, but as though it were something like a jar or a crystal goblet… if you kiss your child, your brother, your friend… remind yourself that you love a mortal, something not your own; it has been given to you as a present, not inseparably nor forever, but like a fig, or a bunch of grapes, at a fixed season of the year” (33)  

 

“Reassurance is a double edged sword.  In the short term, it can be wonderful, but like all forms of optimism, it requires constant maintenance: if you offer reassurance to a friend who is in the grip of anxiety, you’ll often find that a few days later he’ll be back for more. Worse, reassurance can actually exacerbate anxiety: when you reassure your friend that the worst-case scenario he fears probably won’t occur, you inadvertently reinforce his belief that it would be catastrophic if it did.  You are tightening the coil of his anxiety, not loosening it.” (34)

 

“Never have I trusted fortune, Seneca writes, even when she seemed to be at peace.  All her generous bounties- money, office, influence- I deposited where she could ask for them back without disturbing me. Those things lie beyond the individual’s control; if you invest your happiness in them, you’re setting yourself up for a rude shock. The only things we can truly control, are our judgments- what we believe- about our circumstances.” (40)

 

“If you accept the universe is uncontrollable, you’re going to be a lot less anxious” (49)

 

“The very thing in which you’re in flight- well, it’s the fleeing that brings on the problem.  For Freud, our whole psychology is organized around this avoidance. The unconscious is the repository of everything we’re avoiding” (56)

 

“Faced with the anxiety of not knowing what the future holds, we invest even more fiercely in our preferred vision of that future- not because it will help us achieve it, but because it helps us rid us of feelings of uncertainty in the present. Uncertainty prompts us to idealize our future.” (86)

 

“Formulating a vision of the future requires by definition, that you isolate some aspect or aspects of your life, or your organization, or your society, and focus on those at the expense of others.  But problems arise thanks to the law of unintended consequences, sometimes expressed using the phrase ‘you can never change only one thing’.  In any even slightly complex system, it’s extremely hard to predict how altering one variable will affect the others.  When we try to pick out any thing by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”. (93)

 

“The most valuable skill of a successful entrepreneur isn’t vision or passion or a steadfast insistence on destroying every barrier between yourself and some prize you’re obsessed with.  Rather it’s the ability to adopt an unconventional approach to learning: an improvisational flexibility not merely about which route to take towards some predetermined objective, but also a willingness to change the destination itself.  This is a flexibility that might be squelched by rigid focus on any one goal” (98-99).

 

“Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers” – Erich Fromm (99)

 

“We tend to assume that having high self esteem is a good thing, but some psychologists have long suspected that there might be something wrong with the whole notion- because it rests on the assumption of a unitary, easily identifiable self. Setting out to give your ‘self’ one positive rating may in fact be deeply perilous. The problem lies in the fact that you’re getting into the self-rating game at all; implicitly, you’re assuming that you are a single self that can be given a universal grade. When you rate your self highly, you actually create the possibility of rating your self poorly; you are reinforcing the notion that your self is something that can be good or bad in the first place. You have strengths and weaknesses, you behave in good and bad ways. Smothering all these nuances with a blanket notion of self esteem is a recipe for misery” (117)

 

“If you react to news stories about air terrorism by taking the car when you’d otherwise have taken a plane, or if you spend time and energy protecting your home from attackers that you could have spent on improving your diet, you’ll be letting your biases guide you toward a greater feeling of security at the expense of your real safety” (132)

 

“Seeing a tv report of a terrorist attack on foreign soil, you might abandon plans for an overseas holiday, in order to hang on to your feeling of safety- when in truth, spending too much time sitting on the sofa watching tv might pose a far greater threat to your survival” (133)

 

“What we are really doing when we attempt to achieve fixity in the midst of change, Watts argues, is trying to separate ourselves from all the change, trying to enforce a distinction between ourselves and the rest of the world. To seek security is to try to remove yourself from change, and thus from the thing that defines life. If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life, I am wanting to be separate from life. Which brings us to the crux of the matter: it is because we want to feel secure that we build up the fortifications of ego, in order to defend ourselves, but it is those very fortifications that create the feeling of insecurity: ‘To be secure means to isolate and fortify the “I”, but is just this feeling of being an isolated “I” which makes me feel lonely and afraid” (147)

 

“Next time you flunk an exam or mishandle a social situation, consider that it is happening only because you’re pushing the limits of your present abilities- and therefore, over the long run, improving them” (175)

 

“The psychotherapist Irving Yalom, in his book Staring at the Sun, points out that many of us live with the dim fear that on our deathbeds we’ll come to regret how we spent our lives. Remembering our mortality moves us closer to the deathbed mindset from which a judgment might be made- thus enabling us to spend our lives in ways that we’re much less likely to come to regret” (192)

 

“All external expectations, fear of embarrassment and failure- these things fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important” (193)

 

“Imagine you are 80 years old and then complete the sentence, “I wish I’d spent more time on … and “I’d wish I spent less time on …” (203)

 

“Proficiency and the results of proficiency come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, of combining relaxation with activity, of letting go as a person in order that the immanent and transcendent Unknown Quantity may take hold” -Aldous Huxley (208)

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving” – Lao Tzu (212).

 

 

Breaking the Trance of the Cultural Hypnosis

I love to watch people and observe how they live their lives and organize their experiences internally. My people watching is done in a judgmental or moralistic way, but more so with an observational and curious attitude.  I look out into the world like an anthropologist trying to understand another culture or a scientist in a lab.  It is purely from a place of learning and understanding what drives human behavior.  What I have found from my own observation (which has also been confirmed in much of what I have read) is that people have the strong tendency to avoid painful stimuli and move toward pleasure. I know this isn’t a groundbreaking finding, however it is a crucial underpinning for identifying what drives your own behavior as well as understanding what drives society as a whole.  From this basic premise of the pain-pleasure principle, one can then take the monumental step toward living a self-actualized life- a life free of emotional hostage taking, depression, anxiety, addiction, co-dependence and suffering. 

 

The advancement of technology over the past 15-20 years has created a culture of instant gratification and addiction.  People are overly reliant on external stimuli to feel good and access positive emotional states.  If they aren’t watching tv, then they are on the internet. If they aren’t on the internet, they are playing video games. If they aren’t hooked into some technological device, they are eating or drinking. If they aren’t eating or drinking, they might taking some drug or administering some medication. And when they aren’t engaged in one of these activities, it is likely they are being stimulated through some interaction with another person. Overall, our culture has us wired to be dependent on people, places and things outside of ourselves.  People who come to me often share that they don’t like to be alone and that when they are alone, they get particularly anxious. Then I ask them what they do to stop feeling anxious. Their response- they either turn on the tv, drink a beer, eat something, surf the internet or call a friend.  Our culture is becoming completely dependent on external stimuli to feel good and to elevate our emotional state. To add to this addiction, the mass marketers are feeding this cultural hypnosis through their constant barrage of advertisements that say “buy this-feel this way”.  When you really break it down, how much of our lives are really under our own control? How much of our emotional states are dependent on people, places and things outside of ourselves? 

 

I am not prescribing that you dispose of all your electronics, move off the grid and become a hermit or a monk. What I am suggesting is that if there is to have any semblance of a healthy life, one must strike a balance between between being internally emotionally regulated and externally stimulated. I would even go a step further to say that the path toward self-actualization is one of complete and total freedom from getting fulfillment or relief from external stimuli. You can choose how you want to live your life, however just be cognizant that the level of suffering you will experience in your life is dependent on the level in which you are dependent on external people, places and things to make you feel good and give you positive emotional states. 

 

As I have said over and over, “The problem is never the problem”. And this holds true for this epidemic that is plaguing our society. People think the problem is the drastic rise of depression and anxiety (and other mental health issues) in our culture. The real problem is the blatant ignoring and pacifying of such problems through means of medication and other external stimuli (tv, iphones, food, alcohol, drugs). Depression and anxiety are incredibly valuable signals that provide us with feedback that needs to be taken into consideration. These negative emotions are telling us that we need to do one of two things. We either need to change our procedure- which is changing our current actions and behavior. Or we need to change our perception- which is to change how we’re contextualizing our experience. Rather what is the typical response to such negative emotions in our culture? Drink another beer, watch another tv show, post another picture. People use these short term strategies (aka pacifiers) to run from pain and seek some degree of relief and comfort. The irony is that until the anxiety, depression and other negative experiences get addressed directly, it will continue to show up in some way, shape or form. Most people continue to ignore the signals and keep shoving the problem under the rug for another day. They become masters at finding short term strategies to escape the pain. The problem with such a strategy is that just like any addict, they will eventually hit rock bottom. There will come a point where the pain and suffering will not be able to be subdued by the temporary fixes anymore and this will create such agony and despair that one will truly hit rock bottom and be forced to confront their inner demons. The problem with letting it get to this point is that it typically doesn’t happen for years or decades. This leaves people in what they term a “mid-life crisis” when they get in their forties or fifties.  

 

In order to avoid hitting rock bottom or waiting until your so called ‘mid-life crisis’, it is time to do two things. First, begin identifying the negative emotions in your life. Rather than brushing the anxiety and depression under the rug and pacifying the pain with temporary external fixes (like relationships, food, drugs, technology, etc), begin to sit with the pain and suffering.  As uncomfortable as it might be in that moment, it will save you 1000x the amount of pain and suffering down the road. Once you can get very comfortable sitting with the negative experience, rather than pacifying it with some short term external fix, you can then move on to the next step in the equation.

 

While the first step is about identifying the problem state and just being with it. The second step is about enacting the solution to the problem. If you only identify the problem and there is no solution, one will inevitably return to the old ineffective patterns of behavior to solve the problem and escape the pain and suffering. The solution involves breaking the cause and effect trance that we need something outside of ourselves to feel good. True self actualization and person power is available when you can access peace, joy and other positive emotions without the need for some external stimuli (people, place or thing). One way to cultivate this internally driven experience is through a daily meditative practice. Whether it be through meditation, a martial art or yoga- these meditative practices teach your brain and body that “I can feel good for no reason” and that I don’t need something outside of me to feel good and access a positive emotional state.  Yes these practices do indeed have a physiological component to them that enhances their positive effect. By installing a daily meditative practice, one can begin to break the cause and effect linkage that in order to feel good and regulate one’s emotions- they need to do something outside of themselves.  

 

Personally, spending 45 minutes to an hour every day in meditation has allowed me to feel good for no reason. I don’t need an excuse to feel good. I can feel good just by being here in the present moment with my thoughts and experience.  Meditation also is very effective at cultivating a sense of gratitude. Because by sitting with your thoughts and observing your breathing- you are unconsciously teaching yourself, “I am grateful for this moment… I’m okay just being right here and now”. Now when I go out into the world I am not frantically seeking external stimuli to regulate my emotions.  Amidst all the chaos and uncertainty of the outside world, meditation creates a “happy place” where you can go to seek refuge and peace.  Meditation and other meditative practices unhooks you from the cause-effect hypnosis that runs our culture. It breaks the erroneous belief that you need some person, place or thing outside of yourself to feel good. Our culture is predicated on the do–>have—>be model. When in reality the more effective model for living an emotionally healthy life is be–>do–>have.

 

The culture through the media, politics and mass marketers has conditioned us to be slaves to external stimuli. Just look at your everyday emotional experience in this world. Look at each emotion you experience- contentment, sorrow, anxiety, peace, anger, etc. In each of these momentary experiences- what is causing these to fire off within you? My guess is that some external event, person or thing is behind the emotion. If this is the case, then you are inherently not in the driver seat of your life. Through a consistent dedication to deep meditative practices, one can begin to gain greater control over their emotional life and begin to unhook themselves from the scary reality that they are at the mercy of the feedback that they are receiving from their external environment. The vast amount of personal problems in our world come down to one’s inability to regulate their emotions.  Addiction is the perfect example. People who are addicted (whether it be drugs, alcohol, food, co-dependent relationships, etc) have inability to get themselves to experience positive or comforting emotions by themselves. They instead turn to an artificial substance to provide them with the emotional state of pleasure, comfort and feeling okay. Therefore the addiction is nothing more than symptom. If they stop drinking, they will find some other substance or activity to change their emotional state. The solution to this problem of one’s inability to cope and emotionally regulate lies in mastering one’s own internal communication and their ability to feel good amidst the absence of pleasant external stimuli. All the way back in the 17th century, Blaise Pascal made an incredibly relevant observation when he said:

 

“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone”

 

Why 99.9% of People Can’t Get Themselves to Change- HOW TO BE THE 0.1%

How often do we as human beings accomplish something and then proceed to just shrug it off like it never happened? We do something good, maybe feel good for a moment, then we just let it drift on by and we forget about it for the rest of eternity. This positive experience and emotion never even imprints in our subconscious memory. Dr. Rick Hanson, one of the world’s renowned expert in mindfulness and neuroplasticity explains it best when he said, “In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but teflon for positive ones”.   Our brains weren’t created to make us happy, they built to keep us alive.  They are constantly on the look out for threats to our survival aka negative experiences.  This is likely the root of this negativity bias that occurs in our cognition and memory.  However, this way of processing the world is also incredibly detrimental to our identities. We are so quick to raise the standard and look onto the next goal or task in sight that we never actually register the task we recently achieved as a “success”. I think this is the most underrated factor in the success equation.  The key difference in changing and enhancing one’s identity is this constant acknowledgement and celebration of even the smallest progress towards one’s goal or destiny. If you are only going to celebrate and acknowledge your success once you achieve your big goal and your ultimate destiny- it will never happen. You will never achieve your big goal because you will have not built that new and improved identity that is required to achieve that goal in the first place. The winning and successful identity must always precede the attainment of the goal- plain and simple. You must become the kind of person (and more importantly see yourself as that kind of person) that can achieve the goal before you actually can attain it. If you do not see yourself as that kind of person with 100% certainty, then good luck- you’ll never get there.  My Dad always said that true greatness comes about when competence meets confidence.  Celebrating the small victories and progress along the way is what builds the confidence.  Think about something in your life that you are 100% certain about. Something that is so tied to your identity that you experience anxiety and cognitive dissonance when you do something in opposition to that. Maybe it’s something as severe and outlandish as thinking of yourself as a murderer.  You probably are thinking, I would NEVER commit murder. Your belief that you would never commit murder is so certain and strong that just the thought of it makes you experience a great deal of unease and cognitive dissonance.  You are without a doubt 100% certain that you are not a murderer. This same level of certainty is what you will need in regards to your future desired outcome.  This confidence and belief is not an intellectual certainty, rather it is a feeling state. Belief is nothing more than a feeling of certainty- not a thought.  And the only way you get that level of certainty at the emotional level is to celebrate each tiny, little step along the way. Acknowledge and “register” even the smallest of successes and the slightest progress. You have to train yourself to be worthy, long before you are worthy.

 This insight really hit me pretty strong tonight. I spent 6 hours working through the entire Tony Robbins’ book Awaken the Giant Within tonight and came up with several exercises which I believe to be the essential building blocks to transformation and personal change.  His book is a great manual and starting point for massively transforming one’s life. One exercise I found particularly insightful and effective was this:

 First, we must understand that the quality of our lives are 100% dependent on the quality of our emotions that we consistently live in (where we live emotionally). Identify your 10 emotions of power- the ten emotions that you need to start living in, in order to become the person must become. Robbins listed his ten emotions in his book and I think they are pretty good, so we’ll use his as a reference. Which 10 emotions- that if you were to live in those states on a day to day basis- would bring you the kind of life you’ve always dreamed of. For me they look like this (these should give you an idea):1. love/warmth

2. gratitude/appreciation/celebration

3. curiosity/constant learning

4. Passion/excitement/enthusiasm

5. Flexibility/patience

6. confidence/internal sense of significance\self worth/CONGRUENCE

7. Determination/Grit/Steadfastness

8. Playfulness/Humor/Cheerfulness

9. Health/vitality/physical energy

10. contribution/giving

 

Now that you have identified the 10 emotions that you must live in to guarantee yourself a great quality of life- start by asking yourself the first question (write down these questions and your responses in your journal):

 1. When have I been loving and warm? Provide 5-6 concrete examples from your life.

-Make 1-2 examples from today or yesterday.

-Make 1-2 examples from sometime in the past month or two.

-Then make 1-2 examples from sometime before last year (somewhere in the fairly distant past).

*Write down these 5-6 examples and replay them in your mind. Get associated to these experiences. Step into these moments and re-live them.  See what you saw, feel what you felt, hear what you heard.  Sit with them for a few minutes. You know how to be warm. You know how to love. It doesn’t have to be purely romantic love, but it’s good to provide examples of both.

 Now continue this exercise for each of the other 9 emotional states. Provide examples from all 3 time frames and really associate to and relive these memories. I know this exercise might take 15-30 minutes, but it will be well worth it.  Here’s why.

 Imagine the power this exercise would have if you did it every night. You reflected on your previous day and looked into the past to celebrate when you experienced these positive and uplifting emotions. Pretty soon after days of this, what do you think your identity will be? You will see yourself and think of yourself as a loving, determined, confident, etc person (or whatever emotions you think would be beneficial for you to live in.) You will also be able to engage in these emotions much more frequently because you are rehearsing them every night with this exercise and ritual. The more you practice living in these states- the more they will become your “default setting” and the more you will believe with 100% certainty that you are a worthy, successful and loving person. This conscious recognition of these “small victories”, like reflecting on times when you were loving or determined, has the power to transform your identity into the person you want to become. Truly you are already that person, but with the ineffective cognitive strategies (negativity bias) that you are currently practicing- you are disowning these positive parts of yourself. Imagine what this exercise repeated day in and day out will do to the beliefs you have about yourself. Your entire identity will expand exponentially. You will walk differently, you will talk differently, you will interact with others differently. The certainty about who you are as a person will be astounding. When you live your life in your ten emotional states of power- the quality of your life will transform. It really gives you the power to achieve anything you want because you are becoming the kind of person with the kind of beliefs and identity who can achieve that very something you desire so dearly.

 We spend so much time as humans performing negative self-talk that no wonder everyone is depressed, divorced, in debt and obese. We do something good, but we instantly brush it under the rug like it never happened. Rather when we do something wrong or make a mistake- we sulk over it for hours like it is an indictment on our character. The only difference between successful and congruent people and those who are unsuccessful are the way they cognitively process and store the events that occur in their respective lives. Here is the difference to sum it up (if you haven’t already gotten it).

Successful people celebrate even the smallest successes and the tiniest progress. Rather when they fail or make a mistake, they don’t take it personally, they don’t throw a pity party or have a major a freak out. They just continue with the process until they finally make another step in the right direction. They are process oriented and have a growth mindset (which is brilliantly discussed in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset).

 Unsuccessful people are so focused on the achieving the end goal, that they brush off every little success or minor step along the way that is truly progress. They literally don’t even consciously see they’re making progress. They believe that they will only celebrate and acknowledge themselves as a success when they get the big goal. However they never get there because it is impossible to develop that championship and successful identity unless you celebrate even the smallest successes along the way. They are purely goal oriented and this tends to persuade them to develop a fixed mindset about their ability.

We ALWAYS operate at the level of our identity. This is why change is so brutally difficult for most people. They want to change the circumstances in their life, but they are not changing their identity and who they are becoming.  What they tend to do is rearrange circumstances- which is nothing more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic…no actual transformation occurs.  Jim Rohn summed it perfectly:

 If you want life to change, you’ve got to change. If you want life to get better, you’ve go to get better. It’s the only way it happens. Luck will show up for people and it will leave them. But if you’re constantly improving who you are and what you give- GAME OVER.