Keep your hands off Mayan calendar! or What a fortune cookie can teach us, part 1

There’s a great joke that’s circulated the web for some time that’s also a great way to view the supposed Mayan Apocalypse of 2012. Forgive me, but I can’t recall exactly who said it first, but I’ll admit that it wasn’t me. The idea is that since the Mayan calendar ended on Dec. 21, 2012, a new calendar would make an exceptional gift for your Mayan friends.

As humorous as that is, there’s a great illustration of how to interpret a statement more usefully. The idea that a calendar was ending sent (admittedly faint) ripples of concern throughout even the non-Mayan world. As though if the calendar ends, it also means that time just stops. That would be like not having any specific plans for next Saturday, therefore assuming it likely will never arrive. Admit it, are you one of those people who starts getting nervous around the last week of the year, until you see the next year’s calendars available for sale? Did the new dates assure you that in fact they would arrive? Conversely, without those dated squares on the new calendar, did you fear that the days would not?

I’m not superstitious, and I never saw the logic in presuming that Mayans foresaw our demise in the year 2012. After all, they entirely missed their own demise. If you’re going to foresee the future, wouldn’t you rather see things relevant to yourself and your family, in your own time? And if you can’t, why would anyone take your warnings of an impending disaster seriously, centuries later?

But whether you feared the end or not, consider the joke at the beginning of this post. Rather than dwelling on a gloomy outlook, either likely or not, spinning it in your own mind to find the opportunity. After all, upon the end of the calendar, they certainly would want another. That is of course if they had survived the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores.

Sometimes it can be tempting to assume that there’s only one way to interpret a set of facts. As life becomes simpler, albeit by taking such shortcuts, we don’t have to think as much. But what if there are two, five, or a dozen different ways to view the facts? And that’s of course assuming these “facts” hold up to scrutiny. In my experience, many “facts” do not. And if you shift the context, even the most solid of “facts” can suddenly become suspect, a bit like the laws (laws, mind you, not mere proclivities or preferences) of physics, which though more or less stable in ideal circumstances, can be bent or even shattered when the context is changed (i.e. the speed at which we travel, the perspective of the perceiver, different gravitational influence, etc.). Do you honestly believe that your life is more involved than the physics of all reality? So if context changes meaning in such laws, isn’t it possible (c’mon now!) that context may also influence your own life, your own circumstances, and the events and experiences you have every day?

Let’s consider a trite, though potentially useful, expression we’ve all heard. “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” Sure, it’s groan-inducing, but at a literal level, doesn’t it also make sense? You could sit in a pile of lemons, complaining that they’re going to start rotting and stinking…or you could use them in a way that’s useful (and delicious!). You could make a fortune being the Next Big Lemonade Czar. (Now in a world where a Reality show has been created about everything else, it seems to me that wouldn’t be the strangest. So you could not only be wealthy from your lemonade sales, but also the star of your own reality show about your life as the Lemonade Czar.

Or you could just complain about life dropping all these lemons in your lap.

I know it’s a silly example, but it makes the point. “Particle Board” was created when someone looked at all the wood shavings and dust created in wood mills, and wondered if something useful could be made from it. I’m not a big fan of particle board, but I have to admit it was a clever use of waste materials, the by-products of milling “real” wood. Someone changed the context and suddenly saw a possibility.

What about you? What do you presently interpret in a way that doesn’t serve you that perhaps you could shift context and find something useful? Is there something about an employee or coworker that you find irritating and in their current capacity, seemigly useless? Is there another way that “useless” attribute could in fact create value? Or perhaps it just opens a new opportunity.

What if you believed that when something bad happens to you it just means that something really good is that much closer? As if we must take the bad with the good? Of course, there’s no objective truth in these statements, there’s only belief. As we’ve spoken about earlier, beliefs are very powerful things. The beliefs themselves are more important than “truth” as we know it. The only real question becomes whether the belief is useful or not. Does it sustain you? Does it encourage you to persevere, to up your game, to work harder or smarter to achieve your outcome? Or does it discourage you and make you want to give up?

That’s really what we’re talking about here. Events happen and we notice them. But until we assign meaning to those events, they have none. So choose that meaning with your outcome in mind. And if you’d rather not be that outcome-oriented yet, just play with it a little.

Have you ever heard the old joke that whatever you read on your fortune after cracking open your fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant, you should append the phrase, “–in bed” to the end. So “You will have much success and joy” becomes a slightly more fun and certainly more exciting message: “You will have much success and joy…in bed”.

Since I want to keep this PG-13 at worst, let’s do something a little different. Let’s add something I made up entirely at random (you might choose something more appropriate for you) — “in Siam”. Identify five limiting beliefs you have, perhaps just negative statements you noticed yourself making about yourself or to yourself. Something like, “You’ll never get this right!” or “They just don’t like you very much”. Next, add our new phrase to the end… So now you realize that “You’ll never get this right…in Siam”, you can take heart that with enough persistence and practice, you’ll likely get it right where you are. And while “They just don’t like you very much…in Siam”, you’re probably liked by quite a few folks in your vicinity (obviously if you do in fact live in Siam, please adjust accordingly).

Like the fortune cookie joke, this new addendum changes the sentence quite a bit. As its meaning shifts, due to the context change, we feel different from before. That’s our objective, to play with context until your old statements become more useful.

If you simply don’t speak critically or rudely to yourself, limiting your possibilities with your own self-talk, then congratulations. You can still play with this. Is there some way you can shift the context to make it even better?

What if your statements are more empowering, like, “I can do anything I put my mind to”, or “I will succeed because I work harder and smarter, with more commitment and passion than anyone else!” Those sound great, but imagine you see those on a fortune after cracking open your fortune cookie…

And you add “…in bed” to the end!