I have found a really great way to improve motivation and help me to realise my options is to check in, morning and evening – a little review, if you like. Some people have a routine called ‘morning pages’ where they write or verbalise their plans daily, and this routine can help to inspire and direct. The swan groups on Facebook have morning and evening check ins which are there to help people recognise behaviours which may or may not be helpful to them.
For most of us, not everything always goes the way we want or plan it to. There are times when we will think that we could have done better or wish we hadn’t done ‘something’ in a particular way. If I had a pound/dollar for each time I messed up, I would be living in a villa in southern Spain and swimming in my pool while staff looked after my every need…
We could all spend time beating ourselves up and feeling sad about what could have been. It’s a choice. Another way to deal with these ‘somethings’ both big and small are to treat them as learning opportunities. What we learn from our ‘somethings’ can very easily be transformed into something more important.
They can be transformed into new and different behaviours, options and responses that could make a difference in how we take on the world and the effect we have on others. From my own point of view, as part of my recovery journey I went through a stage of wanting everyone to just stop drinking, now, immediately, no compromise, no negotiation, no ifs or buts. My language was often harsh and my comments frequently cutting. I upset people. I still do, but in life there will be people who you upset no matter what you do…you can only try your best. It’s part of the territory when you learn to stop people pleasing and follow your heart’s desire.
I still believe drinking is not ok. I will never tell anyone it’s ok to drink the drug alcohol. However I am grateful to have added compassion and patience to my list of must haves – not consistently good at this, but I have learned not to push others when they are not ready to be pushed. I have learned that I have no right to put a time limit on other’s recovery or insist they do things ‘or else’… I have learned that I am not responsible for others’ recovery. I can be there, have infinite time for them, but I am not in charge of how they deal with their stuff. None of us are. We can only direct our own stuff.
You may already have your own review system, where you learn from your ‘somethings’. If not, I would recommend at the start and end of each day you watch your own movie…where you do good and where you would prefer a different option for tomorrow. It might only take a few minutes. Consider the interactions and behaviours you want to improve or change, and maybe rehearse mentally what the new behaviours and interactions feel like. Like I say, I am still learning how to do this, but daily check-ins make a massive difference to how I deal with life and my stuff.
How to take a step back and view the world without bias or judgement
Want more articles like this as soon as they’re published? Sign up for the Crew newsletter here.
There’s a lot of articles out there telling you how to be the best person you can be: the most productive, the most creative, the best listener, the smartest self-marketer.
We all want to be the best we can and will do anything to be that 1 or 2% better than the competition.
We read and experiment and try to learn from the past.
There’s so much time spent worrying about those few extra percent that it blinds us from seeing the potential for bigger change.
So here’s a different idea.
Why not instead of trying to push that extra bit we tear it all down and start from scratch?
Why you should lose it all
I’m a firm believer that most of life’s great lessons can be learned from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club:
“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
You may feel like you’re pretty free in your current situation but I think it’s fair to say we’re all a little bit trapped. Trapped not only by the financial and social burdens we put on ourselves, but by the mental walls and biases we unconsciously build up.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes ‘the old South Indian Monkey Trap‘ — a hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake with some rice inside that can only be reached through a very small hole. When the monkey grabs the rice his clenched fist won’t fit back through the hole and he’s trapped — not by anything physical, but because he just won’t let go.
In our lives, we’re all guilty of holding onto the rice — whether it’s ideas, emotions or beliefs — even if we know it won’t benefit us. We feel trapped by our experiences when all we have to do is let go.
A more scientific name for this is the Einstellung effect — the idea that preconceptions and past experiences can blind us, literally, to the point of not being able to see better options.
To prove the extent of the effect Austrian psychologist Merim Bilalic ran a series of experiments where she presented chess masters with boards arranged to offer them two paths to victory: a well-known five-move option, and a more obscure one, requiring only three moves.
Almost every single master went for the more well-known, but ultimately slower route to victory. As Bilalic puts it:
“Even these masters couldn’t see the best way to win because the one they knew so well colonised their mind.”
Experience can blind just as much as illuminate.
The hardest thing about all of this is that it’s almost nearly impossible to see. We create our worldview through our past experiences and hardwire our brains to assume that future events will mirror the past.
In this way our experiences can easily become blinders, blocking us from seeing the endless (and often better) options just out of sight.
So how can we train ourselves to see again?
Forget about your ego
It may be an unlikely place, but Buddhism offers some key insights into how to let go of the ‘self’ or the ego you’ve built up through years of experience.
A core principle of Buddhism is to let go of our desires and attachments to material things and unhealthy relationships (both work and personal). The problem is that we become addicted to these relationships out of fear of the emptiness that will replace them if we push them from our minds.
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar” Thich Nhat Hanh
But, like so many great authors have told us, that emptiness isn’t something to be afraid of, but rather an opportunity to face the world with fresh eyes and without the limitations of your past experiences.
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere. So just keep on rolling under the stars.” Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Leo Babuta’s Zen Habits blog offers some great advice on facing the emptiness and how to use it to your advantage. Check out this article on the Empty Container and this one on Letting Go to get you started.
Get rid of your judgments
When we create our unique worldview we fill it full of our likes, dislikes, opinions, morals and ethics and while these are important, they also are a huge part of what blinds us.
The way we unconsciously judge people before meeting them is the easiest way for us to reaffirm who we are instead of opening us up to new ideas. We draw from our past experiences and judge rather than allowing for the randomness and chaos of life.
It’s in this chaos where we become the most creative. As Maria Popova, the founder of BrainPickings.org, says, creativity is the ability to connect the unconnected.
Get rid of your judgements and let yourself be open to random ideas and connections.
Be a beginner again
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” Shunryu Suzuki
The zen principle of ‘Beginner’s mind’ talks about the advantages of experiencing life as a beginner again.
Think about if you’ve ever seen a toddler learn to walk: They stand, wobble and then fall time and time again but continue to get up with determination.
When you’re first learning a new skill you become absorbed in the basics. You experience each moment fully and live in a state of concentration and determination.
Once we become an expert in anything, we lose that ability to see so clearly what we are doing and go into a sort of mental autopilot.
Acting like a beginner means not throwing your experiences away and being naive, but rather looking at them as tools you can use when it’s to your advantage.
“Beginner’s Mind doesn’t mean negating experience; it means keeping an open mind on how to apply our experience to each new circumstance.” Mary Jaksch
Let your mind wander. Not just for an afternoon or a weekend, but for a week, or a month.
Mind wandering has been shown to not only help us plan for our own future, but also to boost creative problem solving by allowing ideas space to float freely and associate. It’s why so many solutions seem to ‘appear’ out of thin air (think Isaac Newton and the apple tree).
What you might ‘miss out on’ in the meantime will be more than made up for when you experiment and go down a different path.
Reflect on the hard stuff
Reflection is one of the most important tools we have for learning from our past, but it becomes even more powerful when we do it objectively.
Think of yourself as an outsider watching the actions and choices you made in the past. Why did you do that? What made you make the choices you did?
This can also have a powerful impact on our ability to learn new things. A Harvard study recently showed that those who take part in a dual-process of learning and ‘deliberately focusing on thinking about what one has been doing’ improved their score in both lab and real-world experiments by nearly 23% over those who don’t.
Reflect on your biases. Reflect on the things that hurt you and ask why. Don’t just reflect to say you did the right thing. Use reflection as a means to really dig deep and discover what unconsciously causes you to act the way you do.
If there’s one major lesson to take away from this it’s that our past experiences can color how we see the future and blind us from the multitude of opportunities out there.
The weight we give to our past might help us react quickly and make decisions, but it also can trap us into going around and around in the same circle.
Break the cycle. Step back and give yourself a chance to look at things objectively without biases, preconceptions or judgments.
When you stop defining your future by your past you’ll be amazed at what you see.
If you have ever made a lasting and successful change in your own life or helped someone else to do so, one of the things you will likely have noticed is that the change is created in some kind of altered or more powerful emotional state. We have to drum up big reserves of emotional energy to make the decision, and it can leave us exhausted.
This change in our way of doing things can be a completely new ‘understanding’ of a problem. A profound emotional release or a change induced in an altered state like we have gone into a sort of autopilot, almost. We know what we now have to do and we get on with in in a sort of determined trance. Thinking about it too deeply might give us an excuse to think our way out of the decision, find an excuse, and agree a reason to step down.
What are some of the ways in which you create change more easily in your own life and that of the people you care about? What mindset do you adopt to ‘get things done’? The same sort of determination to get a DIY job finished or get the shopping in, etc., can be harnessed for other areas of our lives too, to effect change.
One of the simplest and most effective methods to effect change is by creating a powerful and different state by some activity, say juggling for 10 minutes, or running, or meditating, and then introducing elements of the problem you want to change into your mind, so the surmounting of the problem becomes associated with the achievement of the activity you are smoothly continuing. You are adding neural connections which your subconscious associates with another activity – if I complete the activity, I also overcome the craving for a drink, for instance. Some might call it resource addition – when you start a specific activity such as meditating or running, that is your cue to overcome a craving for a drink, for instance. With me, it has been having baths (I had a long bubbly, reflective bath every night for months at to overcome my alcohol cravings). I need to apply similar thinking, attaching certain behaviours to craving management, to my overeating. I have recently introduced knitting and my allotment into the mix.
Add new resources (neural networks) to the problem state; a distraction of attention by introducing a specific type of activity when the cravings come, and make a new chemical brain cocktail. A complete new neural network takes some fifteen minutes to grow and solidify, so choose a distraction technique that will last at least that and repeat often.
Create and maintain some powerful state; juggling, meditation, breathing patterns, running, whatever you need to do, for ten minutes. Bring the problem and its context fully into the front of your mind and maintain the positive / powerful state for a further ten minutes. The problem state will never be the same again. Try this one at home!
Some thoughts occurred to me whilst out walking with Dave, my beloved hound and bestest recovery buddy, in the pouring rain. I was trudging along, slipping in the mud wrapped up in my usual dog walking garb of several layers, hat pulled down, scarf pulled up doing that walk we do in driving rain and wind – huddled up, head down, hearing nothing, seeing only my own muddy boots.
Not so for Dave. Dave does not give a flying rat’s arse about the weather. Dave doesn’t give two barks which, if any, paths he takes. Dave doesn’t have his head down. Dave is alert to every sound, sight and scent- all of which need thorough investigation. Dave misses nothing – like the two swans looking very tranquil in the fast flowing river – a bit like af, sometimes it looks so easy – well it’s not, there’s oft times when there is a great deal of frantic paddling just to stay afloat let alone move forward. – But this is Dave’s blog – always ready to help round up those ducks, ready to play with any other dogs who will put up with him and a few who won’t, immersing himself in everything including the odd ditch. Dave knows the countryside where we walk better than I do and I’m the one supposed to be taking him for a walk.
The river, fields and woods really looked quite beautiful even in the rain – now that I had bothered to look, really properly look. There was a heron on the opposite bank standing so still I would have missed it but for Dave’s radar.
We can miss so much, head down trying so hard reach our af goals. It’s not the destination but the journey for Dave and he takes in everything en route .
Dave lives in the moment and every moment is his best.
I’m going to try to be more Dave on our next walk, anytime in fact.
Walk tall and proud, chin up, deep breaths and really use my senses so as not to miss anything and really live in the moment, enjoy the moment and those moments add up and make days.
Try it lovely Swans – just for today – Be More Dave!
I am learning about self-hypnosis at the moment as part of my fascination with how the power of language affects our behaviour. I have discovered one of the most hypnotic language patterns involves pivot words, sometimes called pattern interrupts.
Pattern interrupts have the purpose of leading someone, anyone, yourself, to somewhere more useful, creating new neural pathways, possibly by confusing or derailing a train of thought you did think you believed, but when you look in more detail, you realise you can change how you think after all.
By interrupting a pattern of thought with something different to the predictable outcome, you can jog your subconscious into changing behaviour.
So if you can begin to learn to change your patterns of thought so that you deliberately introduce the unexpected, then it becomes easier to stay on track with your new intentions.
Patterns of words are of course a natural part of language and how we express a thought or feeling can change at the drop of a hat – or should I say at the drop of an expected sentence structure – one which is attractive to you at a subconscious level.
Any spoken or written sentences, as you hear or read them, are being processed to make sense at the same time, and our impressions formed even before the sentences have finished. What for example do you see in your mind as you read this sentence to yourself or someone else:
Walking down a road or a pathway, you may see a flower or a tree, which grows from a seed and evolves a life as you walk by…
Suggestion in the way you speak to yourself or others is a collection of experiences that can form our impressions. Language generates experiences that are then imbibed by the nervous system and to a large part create our subjective and individual version of reality.
So how to use the power of suggestive language to ensure we continue to stay sober, perhaps (or for any other use you choose)?
Here’s a pattern you may choose to use when a craving or self-destructive intention comes along…
Choose a sentences starting and ending in a noun. For example:
People do go out at night sober…
Then choose to take the last noun and continue the story, as it were:
…Sober makes for a great night’s entertainment…
Then continue the pattern, taking the last noun of each sentence to start the next, for example:
..Entertainment involves friends and conversation…
And so on, so you are effectively leading your subconscious through a series of positive thoughts which are embedded as ‘the truth’. Each of the nouns at the start and end of each sentence are the pivots which lead your brain to an expectation of certain outcomes.
As you read the sentence(s) you create in your subconscious a ‘script’ for yourself or others, and you can now believe something in a different way … Making this self-hypnosis technique work for you is all about experiencing something novel, new, weird, and unexpected. Remember the brain LIKES unexpected, weird, and different and is likely to remember it all the more this way.
You can then use this technique of pivot words at the start and end of your sentences to offer very helpful and well-meaning suggestions again and again, in all areas of your life…you might consider trying this method of language patterns on others too…it’s about communicating positive intentions. Write your positive intentions down and say them out loud, perhaps record them on your phone…
Sometimes when people behave in ways that I don’t understand or don’t grasp ideas that I think are obvious because they have a different view of the situation, I have a tendency to catastrophise. Like pretty much every person under the sun, from time to time I experience what people honestly call a ‘problem’ or two with the perspectives of others.
Something I find useful in trying not to panic about how a situation will turn out with someone is employing what NLP practitioners call an alternative perspective. It doesn’t necessarily change the problem, but it does change the way I look at it, and the sense of doom that something bad is automatically going to happen starts to recede.
I have struggled with anxiety about people and how they behave, and how people perceive how I behave, for most of my life, and sometimes it is simply agonising because I hate confrontation, and yet I have this deeply held belief about fair play which means I cannot walk away.
I have found a great deal of inner peace through studying CBT and NLP methods to manage my anxiety. For instance, to adopt the perspective of someone else when dealing with a problem can enable a different point of view which brings relief from anxiety about how things will turn out. If for example, you try to adopt the point of view of a doctor, a religious leader or guru, a psychiatrist, a teacher, an engineer – anyone you like. Then compare their perspective with your own.
It’s a very easy and cost effective way to get a second opinion and a third and…!
I find that when trying to understand why someone would behave in a certain way, seeing how they act from the perspective of someone else really helps. To see through the eyes of a teacher, for example, might show me that the person with whom I have an issue really needs educating and hasn’t acted in a selfish or thoughtless manner on purpose. To see through the eyes of a doctor might help me perceive that the person has a series of health issues that might alter the way they interact with the world. To see the person or situation through the eyes of a spiritual leader might help me develop compassion for their situation which may be affecting the way they relate to others.
Much of the reason why I drank was about anxiety around other people. I used it to calm anger and frustration, I used it to calm nerves about meeting up. I used it to squash emotions about people who I disliked but had to deal with. I used it to squash my instincts about the motivations of people who appeared to care but had really quite selfish interests. I used it to cover up what I suspected about myself.
Getting sober hasn’t just been about learning to deal with people without a chemical prop, it has/is about learning to cope with my feeling about myself and how I feel others perceive me. I am deeply insecure despite the bluster. What I do love about myself now I have got to get to know myself a bit better, sober, is that I am stronger than I knew. That’s quite exciting. I bet you are too. What have you learned to love about yourself? I would love to hear xxx
How we mentally cope with (or frame) issues in our life, like staying sober for instance, is very much about how we choose to define those issues and the kind of attention we give them. Some common ways to look at the issues around staying sober for instance might include the following. Maybe you have heard people talking about drinking in these ways – I know I am using several of them at the moment in my feeble attempts to deal with dependency on sugar!
• Stopping (this behaviour) is a problem for me because…
• I blame X/Y/Z for my difficulty in stopping…
• It’s as if I have no control over my own actions….
• I cannot see the outcome will be worth having
• No one can show me evidence that it is worth doing
• I cannot see a solution to X/Y/Z
• I keep having to start all over again so what’s the point?
Some therapists, when dealing with a client who is apparently ‘stuck’ in a certain way of thinking about an issue in their life, may choose to use a technique facilitating an understanding in the client about what type of ‘frame’ or perspective they are applying to their particular situation. That is to say, are they, often without realising it, applying thinking to the situation in which:
• they label it as a problem rather than an opportunity?
• they are blaming others?
• they are denying control over their own actions?
• they are not seeing the possible positive outcomes?
• they are expecting others to show them the benefits rather than seeking them out?
• they assume that past performance is ‘always’ an indicator of the future
It may be that the therapist suggests a series of questions we can ask ourselves to generate movement forward:
What is the problem?
Who is to blame?
If the problem was gone, what would it be like?
What then is your outcome?
When you have the outcome, how will you know?
So what are the steps (first step) to your outcome?
Framing issues around these thinking processes is a method of focusing attention on what is actually going on in our heads – why we cannot move forward. It is a kind of solution based work, rather than concentrating on the problem itself. All questions by their nature will frame an issue to an extent and as such will direct attentions and internal processes. If you feel you cannot move forward with a particular issue, using questioning can make a massive difference to your motivation.
So, what are some of the ways, as you think about this, that you can find new and different uses of framing; when you choose to deliberately think about an issue using a different perspective? That is to say, can you choose to frame an issue differently and see if you get a different outcome? In terms of my own sugar bingeing, I am very much about thinking ‘well I’ve never managed it before’ and also not focusing strongly enough on the final outcomes I ‘think’ I really want. I need to reframe how I approach my own issue and see if I improve my motivation. How about you?