Robin Williams, dead at 63. He made us laugh and he made us think. In the end, he made us cry.
Much has been written about movie and music stars who seemed to have had it all – fame, success, wealth, sometimes even a good relationship – then who shocked us by taking their own lives. This is tragic, though I don’t want to say what has already been said many times. What I think about as often is the map of reality from which that person lived and functioned. If our map is rich, full of perceptions and beliefs that support us, being happy is just a natural outcome. On the other hand, if we have a map full of self-doubt, self-criticism, self-loathing, and distrust of the good things in our lives, we tend to find ways to be miserable – no matter how perfect our life appears from the outside.
Our Reality Map is something that begins forming, and continually adjusts, throughout life. But we can make conscious choices about which components to keep and which no longer belong on that map. We can, and should, consciously make choices that update that map to maintain its usefulness and functionality.
Don’t believe me? Haven’t you ever stumbled across a very old map, carefully unfolded it, and tried to make sense of it? Even if it covered the same space, perhaps your own town, it was from another time. Sure, the main roads may still be the same, railroad tracks and bodies of water will likely be the same. But cross streets, highways, and many landmarks will be entirely new, not present on the map. Likewise, some roads may be closed, many landmarks will have been built after the map was drawn. Your life works the same way. Sometimes a set of beliefs and values serve us exceptionally well when we’re very young. Though as we start to grow up, a lot of those beliefs no longer make sense for us. At different stages of life, we may need entirely new beliefs that at an earlier time, perhaps had no purpose.
But we humans are superstitious, and sometimes the new beliefs and generalizations we form are guesses, and have no actual functional value. A bit like the superstar pitcher who wears the same socks for every game that he had worn during his first no-hitter. If socks could lead t0 a 100 mph fastball, science would have figured that out by now. So we waste a lot of energy on map features that frankly aren’t accurate. NLP of course is even less concerned with accuracy in that context than it is with usefulness.
If we make a decision to update our map in a destructive way – to choose a belief, for instance, that undermines our happiness, gives us a shortcut to depression or a sense of helplessness, then we short-circuit our own fulfillment. When we have done this, and perhaps have not yet noticed the likely impact of that choice, it is easy to become distracted. The busier our life becomes, the more people demand our time, the more activity going on, the easier it is to overlook the significance of that choice and to inadvertently choose misery. For a superstar, beloved around the world, portraying joyful characters and making us laugh and feel good, it would be incredibly easy to become thusly distracted.
And yet, it’s never too late, once you realize that you’ve made a bad choice, to change your mind. The difficult part, of course, is that realization in the first place.
Naturally, we don’t want to oversimplify or undermine the tragedy that such people have experienced. Rather, it’s to draw attention to the fact that for every Robin Williams, Kurt Cobain, Brad Delp, et al, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people going through the same experience. There are naturally some things that are not solely controlled by the mind. For instance, when you break a leg, you don’t just want to visualize yoru leg healing and go about your business. You must get the bone set and likely have a cast put on it to protect the healing bone. But once you’ve done that, there is a lot of evidence that the visualization process just mentioned will expedite healing of the leg in the cast.
I appreciate that depression is an illness. There are several treatments that have been proven to have great success in treating depression with a great deal of success. Though again, we must first choose to believe that our situation is treatable, we must choose to commit to treatment, and we must choose to commit to follow through and do all we can to improve. Are you starting to see a pattern here?
Our choices dictate everything in our lives. Sure, some things occur without our actively and consciously selecting them. Though our choices play a role in just about everything else. You may not have consciously chosen to be in a car accident, but you chose to drive at that time. You may not have been distracted with your radio or cell phone as you drove, but you chose to drive when it’s possible that others on the road were thusly distracted. You chose to either wear your seat belt or not. You chose how to respond after the impact. You could choose to panic and struggle to get out of the damaged car, possibly injuring yourself after the fact. You could choose to make the stress worse by focusing on all the negative consequences this wreck could bring? You could choose to have kept your insurance current. When viewed this way, most of us can begin to see how, even when we don’t choose a specific outcome, we choose just about everything else. So our choices always have enormous influence over what we experience.
Things happen in our lives all the time, and if we asked a dozen people we trust to agree upon the objective truth of what those things are, we would, likely after a bit of negotiation and compromise, arrive at a reasonably objective list of events. But that’s where any semblance of objectivity leaves us. From that point forward, and I would argue, well before that point in most cases, we choose what everything means.
What does being paid millions of dollars to appear in movies that will be loved for generations to come mean? Subjectively is that good or bad?
Sure, for some of us that doesn’t sound ideal, but I would dare say that a lot of people would say this scenario is resoundingly “GOOD”.
Next question: what does being world-famous, loved by millions of people, most of whom have stories they can tell you of how your work helped them through a tough time, or inspired them to do something wonderful, mean to you? Is that good or bad to you?
Of course, some people don’t like the idea of fame, but for many of us, that still sounds like a “GOOD” thing.
Next: would it be good or bad to be able to just pick up your favorite book, pack a bag and travel anywhere in the world you want, at any time you want?
If you don’t like to travel, maybe you would be a lone dissenter, but again for most of us, this would be “GOOD”.
I’m oversimplifying the life of a Hollywood actor, of course, and I’m making it sound almost as though they have no pressures, no responsibilities, deadlines, or any other mundane challenges that all people face. And naturally that’s incorrect. Despite all the wonderful things we have in our lives, we will still face challenges, no matter how wealthy, famous, or loved by the general public.
The irony is that when we, on the outside, evaluate someone in such a position, and therefore don’t know their private challenges, we are tempted to assume that life for them is a matter of choosing which Ferrari to take to the film premier? Or should we use a limo? Such choices… I’m being facetious of course, because life is not easy for anyone. We all make continual choices about what things mean to us. One person’s mansion is another’s prison or fortress. What determines which it will be for us? Choices! We must choose actively, in accordance with our individual reality map, and if we share our life with a significant other, hopefully also in accordance with our Relationship Map™ (To learn more about what we call the Relationship Map™, check out www.happinesseverlaughter.com.)
Should we make choices that do not serve us, it’s entirely possible to take those questions above, and where most of us judged them to be “GOOD” things, it’s very simple to turn them “BAD”. It’s all a choice.
This is not in any way to diminish the tragedy of those we’ve lost. On the contrary, it is a warning, a call to choose actively, to actively participate in, and make decisions about our lives and the meaning we ascribe to the events and items in those lives. Let us not allow those tragedies, those losses, to be in vain. Let us allow them to teach us something positive, something healthy, something that perhaps will prevent further such tragedies in the future.
As challenging as this may sound, as overwhelming as it might seem sometimes…
It’s a choice. Choose happiness. Choose success. Choose a great relationship. Choose to choose well!
And one final caveat – choosing is the first step, and we must take it seriously. Yes, there will be work involved, and yes there will be play. But the habit of actively choosing will make this much easier in time. Your future is far greater than you can imagine, right now, it will be. But you’re heading right for it, so you might as well choose to enjoy it, and to make it as wonderful and fulfilling as you possibly can. Choose to.