We see what we want to see

I am fascinated by the brain. I love listening to neuroscientists explain their research and current findings (as long as they use small words 😉). I can still remember when I first learned about forming habits — how the brain creates “short-cuts” in the wiring when we repeat a thought or behaviour. As a life coach, this is particularly exciting to me. We can, in fact, create long-term change. We can literally be transformed by renewing our minds.

But, I am equally freaked out when I hear real-life stories and/or research about how our brains can trick us –how we can confidently recall details from memory that are later proven inaccurate.  And what about optical illusions, brain teasers and a long list of perception biases that influence what we see, think and believe? Yikes.

It reminds me of a trip with my mom several years ago.

We were driving on the New York thruway at night. After several hours on the road, we were pretty tired and also quite bored. So we decided to stop at one of the many travel plazas to take a potty break and stretch our legs.  Mom has always liked to add a bit of fun and adventure to everyday experiences, so I wasn’t surprised when she said, “I’ve got some change. Let’s play one of those arcade type games.”  In this case, the “games” she was referring to weren’t pinball machines or video games, they were like the claw crane game where you use the joy stick to try to pick up a teddy bear.

So, we went to the “arcade” area and looked at the options.  A couple of the machines caught our attention.  They had rows of DVDs – current ones! The game worked like this: put your coins in the slot and the DVD carousel will begin to spin.  Hit the button precisely when your desired DVD lines up with the arrow and you win!  (Pretty exciting stuff when you’ve been driving in the dark for several hours and entertainment options are limited.)

There were two of these Movie Stop games side-by-side. So, which one to play? Hmmmm.  We checked out all the titles available on each machine to see which movie we wanted to play for. Found one! Let the thruway carnival games begin.

I put some coins in the machine but nothing happened. No spinning carousel. I pushed the coin return and still nothing. I pushed it again, but harder this time. Nothing. We were about to look for a staff person to help us when we stood up and noticed something on the floor beside the game.  There it was. The cord and power plug were laying on the floor beside the machine.

We took a step back and looked at both machines. The one on the left was plugged in and lit up like a Christmas tree. The one on the right (the one we had chosen to play) was completely dark.

It was so obvious, we could hardly believe what we had done. And, both of us had looked at the two machines before playing. Mom even watched me deposit the coins. We laughed about it but were also a bit freaked out that we could miss something that obvious. What other obvious mistakes had we made in the past, or worse yet, might we make in the future?

“Decades of research have proven that expectation is a powerful force. It acts on our perceptions much as gravity acts on light, bending them in ways that are measurable by others, but, at least to us, imperceptible. Not only do we tend to see what we expect to see, we also tend to experience what we expect to experience.

Increasing our awareness may help us avoid some of these pitfalls and make better choices. And if not, at least give us permission to laugh at ourselves.

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Excerpt from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/kidding-ourselves/201404/we-see-what-we-want-see

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Put the book on the table

A few years ago, a friend of mine was really struggling. She was going through a season of change and was so upset by her current situation that she was obsessing about it. She felt overwhelmed and at a loss for what to do.

I listened to her share the details and she asked for my advice.

“Pretend this book is the problem”, I said. “This is what’s upsetting you.”

And then I held it directly in front of my face.

“When you look at the book from this perspective, what do you see?”

“I see the book,” she answered.

“What else do you see?”

“Nothing”, she said.

“But here’s something interesting,” I continued. “When I put the book here on the table, its not gone.  It’s still here and I can still see it. Clearly in fact. But I can also see my cup, this table, the window, other people around us and so on. All of those things represent everything else in your life that is NOT the problem.” I explained.

“You don’t need to ignore the problem or pretend it’s not here. But you can see it in the context of everything else. The truth is, you get to choose what you focus on. And sometimes you get so zoomed in on your problems that you lose sight of everything else. In those moments, you need to take a step back and put things in perspective. This puts you in a better position to work toward a solution.”

This simple enactment resonated with her and she shifted her perspective almost immediately.

Put the book on the table. It just might help.

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We’ll see

I blame the invention of the microwave.
I can have a baked potato on my plate 56 minutes faster than my grandmother could.
So, is it really my fault that I’ve become impatient and short-sighted in life? I hardly think so.

When I am upset now…like today…in this moment, I don’t remember that yesterday was a good day as was the day before that and the day before that. When I face a problem today, I don’t recall the many times I have made it through similar challenges in the past.

Most days my default mood is a combination of happy/content (thank God for that!). But when I go through a period of discouragement or frustration, the current circumstance can swallow up my focus and shift my outlook. It’s like the theme song playing in the background of my life switches from “What a Wonderful World” to “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

My hard day or hard week can start to feel like my hard life.

I. Lose. Perspective.

A few years ago I heard this simple but helpful fable…
A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living.
One day, the horse ran away and their neighbours exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well.  The neighbours shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg.
The neighbours cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few weeks later, a group of thugs marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for their gang. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury.
The neighbours shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

No event, circumstance or season of life can truly be judged as entirely good or bad, lucky or unlucky, fortunate or unfortunate. Only time will tell the whole story.

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Subtraction

Michelangelo said, “Inside every block of marble is the perfect statue; my job is to take away what is not that.”

This quote gives me pause. It shifts my perspective.

Maybe because I have over-filled my schedule at times in my life. I have added without subtracting — said yes more than no. I have wondered what ELSE I should be doing (in addition to what I am already doing) to get me where I want to go. And many of the “additions” have not been things that move me closer to my goals.

This quote reminds me that it’s important to decide what not to do. Because adding can distract me from what’s important. Adding can create more noise and busyness.

And time spent adding is time not spent carving.

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Some really great stuff

“I hate quotations. Tell me what you know,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. (See what I did there?)

I must say that I disagree with Mr. Emerson. I love quotations. Some inspire me, some challenge me, and some help me find the right words when I just can’t seem to find them on my own. Funnily enough I have often quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson himself. And why wouldn’t I? He said some really great stuff (but likely never used the phrase “great stuff” in his speaking or writing…which is kinda my point).

But I digress.

I want to share one of my favourite quotes from the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree, Helen Keller. Helen is quoted as saying, “So much has been given to me, I have no time to ponder that which has been denied.”

Talk about a glass half full philosophy! No sight. No hearing. And yet no time to ponder that which has been denied. Amazing.

When I slip into self-pity or jealousy, I often recite Helen Keller’s quote to help me reframe – to remind myself of all that I have to be thankful for (it’s a long list).

What if we borrowed Helen’s lens on life? What would the impact be?

What would happen if we focused our time & energy on the things that we
DO have rather than focusing on those things we DON’T? (Things: our relationships, skills, passions, talents, accomplishments, resources etc.)

As humans, we are quick to see what’s not working in our lives…what we still need to work on….how far we have to go.

What is already “working” in your life?

What do you have? What has been “given to you” that you can be thankful for?

I sincerely hope that you discover, rediscover or remind yourself of all that you have, and all that you are.

And that your mind is filled with so many of these things…you would have no time to ponder that which has been denied.

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Confession

 

It’s time for a confession.

Are you ready for it?

For the first many years of my marriage, I felt resentful toward my husband for a lot of little things: things like not buying water softener salt (c’mon, who wants water spots on the glasses?), or not changing the furnace filter.

Shouldn’t he take care of that kind of stuff? Why should I always have to remember?

As I said, these are little things…but I turned them into BIG resentment. And since thoughts are kinda magnetic, I attracted lots of other little frustrations into my mind.

This wasn’t good for me. It didn’t create a lot of good feelings. It wasn’t helpful. And it certainly wasn’t good for our marriage.

One day I asked myself some questions, “Is Kevin a good husband? Do you love him?”

That was easy to answer, “Yes, absolutely! He is loving and caring, a good dad, and my biggest cheerleader.”

“So then, is it really a big deal to remember to buy furnace filters or softener salt?” (I knew that if I simply asked Kevin to do it, he would take care of it. I resented him for needing to be reminded.)

“No, it’s not a big deal at all.”

“Can you handle taking responsibility for remembering to buy softener salt and furnace filters for the next 30 years or so…IF nothing changes?”

“Yes, I can handle that.”

(And yes, I do actually talk to myself like this!)

I chose to let go of my imposed expectation that he SHOULD remember these things.
If he is willing to help if asked, what’s the big deal if I am the one who remembers?

The result? Those yucky feelings I carried around are gone (at least around these issues 😉) I am happier with my hubby because I spend more time enjoying all his GREAT qualities – which in turn, makes me happier too.

The moral of the story?
Let’s stop “shoulding” on people. It’s just not worth it.
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Back on track

You started a new exercise program or diet plan.
Within the week, you missed a workout OR you caved and ate some of those Cadbury Mini Eggs leftover from Easter. (Who can blame you? Those things are like crack.)
Your internal monologue went something like this, “Crap, I blew it. What’s wrong with me? I guess I will start again tomorrow.”

Sound familiar?

And then maybe, just maybe, you did start again the next day.
Or maybe, just maybe, you felt so discouraged by the failed attempt that you scarfed down a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

We are, for the most part, completely oblivious to the subconscious beliefs or thoughts that run our lives: beliefs like, “If you eat something ‘bad’ when you are on a diet, that day is now ruined. It can no longer be a perfect eating day.” So, your options are to start-over tomorrow, or the following Monday (no wonder we hate Mondays), or to accept the lie that you just can’t do it.

Where did this belief come from? I don’t know. But I do know that it’s not a helpful one!

Several years ago I read a book about about balanced nutrition and the author made a statement that stuck with me. He said, “If you make a poor choice, you are only your next meal or snack away from being back on track.”

WHAT?? That’s genius! You mean I don’t have to fall into the trap of eating more crap because I feel guilty for blowing it in the first place? I can hit the restart button with my next meal or snack choice?

This principle, which I am cleverly calling the “You-are-only-your-next-choice-away-from-being-back-on-track” principle, can be applied to EVERY goal we set.

We all make mistakes. BUT…we can minimize the impact by how we choose to respond (phew).

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