It is what it is…wasn’t it — “reality” revisited

In a prior post, I challenged the sacred adage, “it is what it is”, a comforting and familiar expression that reassures us that reality is solid and immutable… Just as it implies that we cannot change things all that much, and it’s best to just accept our lot. Well I’m not done picking on that idea, not by a long shot. Because I don’t accept any of those premises at all, and I urge you to similiarly refuse to be limited by them.

I dare say that there is a darker side to this seemingly innocuous statement… Isn’t “it is what it is” a bit too much like its evil cousin, “that’s just the way it is”, and their more challenged sibling, “you can’t change the world”. So my challenge with this statement isn’t just aesthetic or based on the physics of the matter (which would, you must admit, but fairly hard to disprove). I have a real beef with the limitations that statement imposes on creative beings.

“Reality” has grown complacent with its comfortable reputation as being, well, real. Many of us already know that reality is as malleable as a child’s first mud pie, as elusive and ethereal as mist on a cold morning. If you didn’t know that yet, you are in for a treat – the world is yours to create as you wish. Really. We’ll begin by looking at how the Distortions, Deletions, and Generalizations can be either a sail or an anchor, depending upon how you use them.

But the first key is to recognize that they are within your control – without that, you will be forced to live life as others have shaped it for you. If you’re perfectly happy in all facets of your existence and see no need to go for more, I respect that, and you can clock out. You’re done. Not just with this site, but with learning and growing in general. Drop me an email though, please, as I have yet to meet the perfect person. I’m quite anxious to do so – assuming such a person really does exist!

When I last picked on the adage “it is what it is”, I had morphed it into “it is what I expect it to be”. Evolution doesn’t sit still, however, and I now suggest that it’s more accurate to say, “It is what it will become, now.” Everything is dynamic, so while mathematically “it”, is “it”, this is trying to describe a dynamic system. “It” won’t be the same thing in ten minutes, and perhaps completely different in a week. Like a single drop of water in a stream. To paraphrase Heraclitus, we can never step into the same river twice, as the river itself is always in flux. That definition is also continually changing, and as our own perceptions change it, (and we can radically influence our own perceptions), we are the ones redefining it.

So we in essence own “it”. We can make of it what we want. So if reality is really in our own hands, that we shape it and alter it like wet, soft clay, why don’t we all enjoy the reality we truly want? Three reasons – first of all, most of us don’t yet know that we can do this, that reality is ours to change. Though second, even once we do embrace this enormous power, we have to learn how to do it, we need a strategy and the skill to use this power with precision. But third, we need to take action, engaging our beliefs, challenging the ones that don’t serve us, amplifying or even creating the ones that do, and using our Distortions, Deletions, and Generalizations in useful, supportive ways – not in ways that limit us.

Therefore it’s like most other things in life, simple, though there’s a lot to it, and as you commit to it, and take action with your mind every day, you will get really good at it. We’ll talk later about the second and third reasons, as they are very important to getting and keeping what you want. However let me leave you with the first, and look now at how the river of your awareness has changed. The river kept flowing, it’s very different than it was even ten minutes ago. So while you previously may not have known the power you have to shape reality, now it is flowing on the waters of that never-ending current, toward you. Notice your power. Embrace it and allow your curiosity and desire to drive you toward using it in every moment.

Your happiness is worth it. And happiness is what it is becoming…yours.

Losing a loved one…still easier than loving a lost one

I was recently asked why the lack of activity in this blog during the month of November. First, I was very grateful that someone commented on this – thank you! I will share with you the reason, because within it I think we can find something useful.

My mother passed away after several years’ bout with dementia. This is a bizarre family of disorders that hurts more than many people are aware. A bad joke I heard many years ago took on a painfully poignant relevance: “Dementia is when you live longer than you think.”

It was very difficult for my family to watch my mother slowly deteriorate before our eyes. The adage, “Healer, heal thyself” came to mind, and I used my training and skill to adjust to this change in the matriarch of our family. I called upon nearly every bit of skill I had developed in order to manage things effectively and still help hold the family together.

I was advised by a friend that it would be easier to cope with by viewing it thusly: “That’s not the same person you’ve known all those years. That person is gone. In her place is someone wonderful and new to get to know.” The notion is that it makes it even tougher to deal with as you take all you know about your loved one, all you’ve learned about them, with all the shared experiences you have had, and attempt to reconcile them with this person in front of you, in the throes of dementia, unable to even recognize family members. That strategy was helpful, and my brother, sister, and I got to know this wonderful woman, if a bit agitated at the world. She did not, in the end, know us at all, as is commonly the case. Taking the advise above, that fact was easier to handle.

If we thought of our mother as a new person, she had some quirks. But if we thought of her as Mom, something was clearly and very painfully wrong. I’ve heard dementia patients referred to as “the lost”, people so out of touch with their former lives that they can no longer relate to them. I dislike the term, though I reluctantly see the point. She did indeed appear to be lost. For someone who works with human psychological and strategic challenges all the time, this was a new frontier, a place where only the most basic of approaches would likely work. Very basic pacing and leading worked, so NLP served me very well there. Simple hypnosis worked to alleviate anxiety, though anything requiring complex thinking was out. It was a bit like doing hypnosis with someone who didn’t speak your language. It is still very much possible, though we may have to use a more simple approach than the verbal techniques we might frequently employ.

It was not all that different from several years prior when my father had suffered a stroke. He was deeply impacted, both phsyiologically and psychologically, by the damage the stroke had done. While hospitalized, his physician advised that he was no longer on an IV, but needed to drink a good deal more water than he was. The nurses reiterated this, threatening to put him back on an IV for fluids if he did not empty the water bottles brought to him.

Reasoning with him was somewhat pointless, as he was depressed about his situation, and had no concern over his fluids. He refused the water, though my mother and I begged his cooperation.

I began using trance language to make him feel thirsty, and soon he had emptied the water bottles he had and was gesturing for more. The nurse was astounded, and thought we had just asked really nicely and he chose to cooperate. Most people are thusly amazed at how the unconsious is so easily influenced. Frankly, my mother, who noticed the unusual language patterns I was using, though was not clear as to why, was more than a little disturbed by it. Subliminal communication typically does scare people when they first learn how effective it can be. Trance language is incredibly effective at motivating us to behave in one way versus another. My mother thought of what I did and the seemingly miraculous results as being akin to voodoo or a form of black magic. All the scientific explanations, the discussion of trance phenomena in everyday life, did little to alleviate that fear.

So now, years later, as my mother was struggling to remember who she, and and anyone around her, was, she was oblivious as I used trance language to help alleviate her anxiety. Without knowing the mechanics of it, just being a great parent, and also a great daughter, my sister did an amazing job as well. She worked with the unconscious forces exerting influence in our mother’s mind, helping to calm her, to cheer her up, and to make Mom’s life more pleasant. Kara had in the past few years been the one among Mom’s three kids to have spent the most time with her. That experience enabled her to observe the gradual decline in cognitive function. I believe this enabled her to continually adjust to the changes taking place before her eyes. For Chad and myself, it was often jolting, as, though we knew it was happening, seeing the dementia’s advance was frequently alarming and for us, abrupt.

Mom only lived about eight years in this state of gradual decline. I’ve known people who have had loved ones endure declines lasting longer, and for them, loving someone who is becoming “lost” (if I can accept that metaphor for just a few minutes longer), is incredibly challenging. My hope is that as we learn more about the various levels of communication, we can not only alleviate our families’ anxiety and stress over such an experience, but even reach the “lost” loved one on whatever level they still can be.

For instance, my sister noted that Mom liked having her lower back rubbed, much as a mother might soothe an anxious child. She did that when Mom started becoming stressed and it quickly changed her state. My sister also realized that Mom wouldn’t know it was one of the days of the week when she visited, so she stopped trying to get her to remember. However Mom never lost her love of chocolate, and perhaps some of you can relate! So Kara made a point of bringing Mom’s favorite sweets with her when she visited. Though Mom no longer knew that Kara was her daughter, any more than she could recall that Chad and I were her sons, she developed a slight ability to remember “the nice lady that brings the treats”. Each of these things enables us to reach someone in a different way than mere facial recognition and conscious conversation.

Mom left this world and we are carrying out her wishes to be cremated and have her ashes scattered before the Black Angel in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She was always a poetic, romantic thinker, and such a wish was not surprising.

One take away from this story is that of reaching someone who doesn’t “speak our language”, or seemingly any language at all. This includes people with physiological maladies, like dementia, purely psychological challenges, or even people with simply very different strategies from our own, people who may seem so different that we have trouble relating to, communicating with, or working with them.

Remember, even if they are very different, they are still conducting internal mental processes. They are still thinking to some degree, and we can connect with them as long as that’s the case. Our verbal communication is our typical “go-to” means of communicating, relating to, or influencing others. But keep in mind that verbal speech is only a very small percentage of the overall communication taking place. Body language, word choices, verbal tone, and the like all exert tremendous influence over the message received. Since most of us interpret these items unconsciously, it helps if we understand how to use unconscious communication effectively.

Perhaps even to the point of becoming unconscious of what we’re doing, ourselves.

Pay Attention…Or Pay Dearly

I travel quite a lot, and as anyone who does that will tell you, it’s much less exciting than it might sound. Some of the most stressful experiences human beings have now take place in airports and on airplanes (and I’m not talking about phobics, here!). Thanks to 9/11, boarding a plane is infinitely more challenging than it used to be. Though once you board, there are several things we all still have to contend with. For instance, you no doubt realize that a multi-million dollar piece of aeronautic engineering can be undone by anything at all that has a power switch on it. As a flight attendant (who no doubt finds this as annoying as the rest of us – maybe worse because they have to enforce this rule) recently announced over a crackly PA, “That includes Kindles, iPads, iPods, cell phones, and anything with an on-off switch, all must be turned to the ‘off’ position.”

I completely respect that this must not be easy for the airline industry or its employees. Most, even those who would argue vehemently about navigational controls being interfered with by small electronics, likely feel a bit silly enforcing the power switch rule.

All that is a preface to make clear that while I may or may not like the rule, I understand it, and realize that it’s inconvenient for everyone. Some Amish sadist, I suspect, was originally behind it, trying to persuade the rest of use to eschew our technology like he did. Then again, how many Amish do you know flying into major airports weekly? I actually apologize to any Amish out there, as they never did anything to me…

What then however if you are predisposed to perceive an object a certain way, behave accordingly, even if it’s something entirely different? That’s where the old advice our teachers gave us comes back to haunt us – “Pay attention!”

Knowing that we were minutes from being asked to turn off our laptops and e-readers, I had stowed mine, and had a really cool and amazingly preserved artifact in my lap, a hardback copy of Joyce’s Ulysses. That’s right, physical ink print on actual paper. Young children stared and pointed, imploring their parents to explain this weird, foreign device. An older passenger glanced wistfully at my book, as though about to say, “I haven’t seen one of those since…” and then really scanned their memories to try and recall when indeed they had last seen such an analog device.

But the really strange part came when the flight attendant glanced quickly at my book and chastised me with her frown and tone: “Sir, I’m going to need you to turn the power butwiton to the ‘off’ position for takeoff.” For a moment genuinely confused (as I knew what it was, and realized that there is no way to in fact “turn it off”, I had to scan for meaning in her words, to discern what she meant – a great reminder of how we do that every day, though most often unconsciously. A moment later, I grasped it, but before I could explain, I turned it sideways to show her where the power switch should be and how I could not find it (with my ostensibly limited tech-savvy), and answered in a tone intended to sound sincere and confused, though it likely came across as much more smart-ass than she deserved, “I’m new to these things…I’m sorry I don’t know how to turn off the power”.

She flashed first confusion, as she herself tried to make sense of the situation, then embarrassment and irritation as she got the joke.

I don’t advocate mocking people this way, and in the interest of karma, I should admit that I got my drink later than most people in my section after that. To me, it was worth it to mark the lesson out clearly – if we don’t pay attention to what we’re doing, and just assume that everything around us is as expected, we will miss important details. Sometimes it’s a matter of a little embarrassment as life, the frequent joker, delivers its punchline, but sometimes it’s much more serious. Sometimes we operate on autopilot so to speak, and fail to notice important details that don’t match our expectations. We spoke about Deletion in an earlier post, and this is a great example – it doesn’t fit our expectations so we just ignore it or delete it from our sensory perception. How many relationships do you imagine have been lost due to such negligence? How many great career opportunities have been missed, how many opportunities to make our loved ones feel, well, loved?

There is a price for every misstep, even though we are learning from every outcome. If we take our partners or our friends for granted, and just assume that’s how it should be, that somehow they should just put up with it, one day they may have had enough, and the price we pay may be our relationships, or our business, potentially profound losses for most of us. If I\we take our customers for granted, just assume that things will run on autopilot without our paying attention to new information, new details, we may lose them. And a business with no customers is…no longer in business.

Details matter. Life is not as fulfilling or successful on autopilot. When we actively participate in our world, we can find new levels of fulfillment previously unimagined. When we just assume that the next day will be like this one, as it was like the day before it, we aren’t really living, but rather existing.

Plus, we will notice the different between a book and a laptop computer, or the difference between a sidewalk and a busy street, other potentially useful skills!

It is what it is…or is it?

You’ve heard it before, “perception is reality”. This isn’t just true in specific situations, it is always true. We as human beings don’t actually own reality as such. We all see things, hear things, feel things, experience things a bit differently. As much as we try to perceive the pure essence of something, the more we become aware of our perceptual filters. Our prior experiences, prejudices, and conditioning all impact and influence our perceptions. The old notion of “rose colored glasses” makes the point well – when wearing them, everything is filtered through those lenses. Everything appears “rosy” as it were. That filter necessarily changes how we view the world.  So the notion of “it” being “what it is” suddenly sits on some very shaky ground. “It is what my biases and past experiences tell me to perceive” – though not as marketable a sound byte – appears to be more accurate.

Why pick on a common expression? What did “it” ever do to me? Because perception is reality, and perception is necessarily influenced by many things. Therefore, so is “reality”. And “it” is all about reality.

Humans routinely distort our idea of reality based on our beliefs, expectations, past experiences, and so forth. Facts don’t typically change people’s minds so much as we disort our perception of facts that don’t fit our prior expectations.

Now we have a still-greater evolved version of our expression: “It is what I expect it to be.”

So now I feel more bold in asking, “It is what it is…or is it?”

How do those rose colored glasses get formed? Milton H. Erickson MD pioneered modern hypnotherapy, and in Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), we refer to the above phenomenon as “The Milton Model” in his honor. Well, more than honoring him, we are describing a model that he used in creating hypnotic experiences for his clients. Through Distortion, Deletion, and Generalization, we alter our perceptions to match our expectations. Let’s very quickly (too quickly to capture the feel meaning, so we can revisit this later on – or you can just agree to only use these where they are useful, and know where they aren’t.)

Distortion may be self-explanatory – we distort or tranform the information we perceive to match our expecations, commonly referred to as our “Map of the World”. Likewise, when we process information that doesn’t match our Map of the World, we can just ignore it, omit it, or delete it from consciousness. Some have called these “inconvenient truths”. Generalizations are a little more, well, generic. Think of words like “always” and “never”, and you’ll start spotting where you, as do all humans, generalize. The trick is to only generalize, delete, and distort where it makes your life better – not any place it limits you or challenges your success and happiness.

Consider this contrast between two generalizations, one that could help you, and one that might limit you. “I always find a way to make things work!” and “I always screw things up once they start going well for me!”. Neither is absolutely true, only perhaps in some circumstances. After all, take the most successful people in the world, and when you look closely, you will recognize that they, like the rest of us, are often not successful, just as they often are successful. So that first generalization, while not necessarily true in all circumstances, certainly could give you the inner strength and access to your creativity in such ways as to bring out your very best. It’s also what in NLP we call a “useful” belief – whether or not it’s objectively true, it has value because it’s useful to hold such a belief.

What about that second generalization? What do you think would happen if you believed that, once things started going well, you would ultimately screw things up? How likely are you to persist when things get tough? Moreover, how likely are you to persist when things are going well? Remember, it’s still a generalization, certainly not true at all times and in all circumstances. Sure, we may have all been guilty of it at some point, but to imply that it always happens, or that we never do things right are generalizations and something we could never prove. As much as you might hold to such generalizations, our lives are filled with counterexamples.

Worse, that second generalization has the potential to zap our enthusiasm, our ambition, our drive, and perseverence. We may believe it, though we’re already clear that it can’t be proven, and while possibly true at times, is certainly not true always. However worse than being a generalization, the real challenge is that it’s an unuseful belief. Believing it has great potential to limit our success in whatever endeavor we’re pursuing. See? These Deletions, Distortions and Generalizations are not always bad – that itself would be a generalization, wouldn’t it? In fact, if you choose examples that serve you, that support your ambitions, your endeavor, you actually are leveraging the power of your mind to do more than you’d perhaps believed possible. That’s the power of a useful belief – whether or not it’s actually “true”.

So that’s just three ways we can taint our perception of “what’s real”. And if “reality” is so prone to manipulation, what can we trust? Well, what if we architected our own reality, one that doesn’t infringe upon that of others, but enables us, equips us to achieve as much as we can, to find the love of our lives, to raise the greatest children, to create the most fulfilling career or vocation, and to ultimately lead lives that we would call “excellent”? What if?

What if we refused to acknowledge “it is what it is” and instead influenced ourselves for a change, offering ourselves a useful set of deletions, distortions, and generalizations? What if we created a truly wonderful reality to live and work within?

What if we started…right…now?!

Something knew in the temple of the temporal

There is an old adage which reads, “He who dares wins”. The simple truth is that when we attempt something, we either get our intended outcome or we don’t. In contemporary vernacular, that is often called “success”, or “failure”, respectively. Much has been written about how failure is really only feedback, so I’ll only review that point here as I offer a suggestion.

Take something simple like trying to shoot a basketball through a hoop. You aim, you take the shot, and you either make it or you don’t. No, “almost” making it doesn’t count as gray area – it didn’t go through the hoop! But let’s say you have no crucial game on the line, just taking some shots for fun. You grab the ball again after your “failure” and adjust to the feedback you just got. For instance, your shot pulled too far to the left, so you adjust, and aim a bit more to the right. Then you get more feedback, it goes too far to the right. So you again adjust, grab the ball and aim with the new information in mind. Eventually, you will succeed, unless you are ignoring the feedback, and failing to adjust to the new information. We’re clear that all “failure” is just that, feedback that is intended to help us adjust our approach.

Therefore to continue using the word “fail” we must have a time constraint. For example, no “practice” shots are allowed, so no feedback. You either get the shot on the first try or no deal. How many times do we allow ourselves only one such try before giving up? Often, in my experience, at which point we cut ourselves off from further attempts, further refinements, from learning.

The temporal therefore becomes a huge part of our decisions about outcomes, about our results, and therefore about how and whether we learn.

There are many reasons for this, the most common being appearances – we like to look good. As adults, we are concerned about not being proficient at everything we attempt. Though how many times does that actually occur on the first try? Maybe you shot a “swish” through the hoop the first shot you took, perhaps you got on that two-wheeled bicycle like the big kids ride, no training wheels, and with no practice, no falling, just already knew how to ride it. Maybe…but not likely. Too many things in our world require coordination, skill, training. That’s where learning is a crucial survival skill for us. Some things we learn are trivial and perhaps inconsequential, like making that basket. However many learned behaviors are vital to survival, to achievement, to having a healthy relationship, a healthy life, well-adjusted children, and so forth.

Would you be okay if your toddler tried walking one day, fell down, and decided to never try again? Or if after riding the bike with training wheels, tried it once without, fell, and just gave up? Think carefully, because while it may seem obvious, this is a profound idea – we are teaching our kids how to persevere, measure their outcome, make adjustments, to learn. There’s much more at stake than simply knowing how to ride a bike or walking. We are establishing patterns and values that impact decisions all throughout life.

Now if you find yourself choosing to give up after your first try, consider that it’s never too late to learn something new.

As we give up ideas such as “one try and that’s it!”, we stop worshiping time as a part of our self image, our assessment of our own capabilities. One key is to let go of concern over not looking slick or perfect. Very few people have ever succeeded on the first try at anything. And if they did experience “beginner’s luck”, how often can they replicate it? To consistently perform an action successfully requires learning and practice. We have to open ourselves up to the experience of learning, which means that until something is “known”, we may not be successful with any consistency. But it’s all in the name of becoming better. If we let go of the temporal requirement, we allow ourselves the necessary time to practice and develop our skills. The notion is that in time, we will have developed that skill and capability, and will demonstrate success with consistency. Of course, to those who didn’t see your practice, you still might appear lucky. Let go of that concern as well, as it doesn’t serve you.

Becoming excellent does.

Is there an area of your life, whether personal or professional, where you have shied away from developing your capabilities, afraid to appear foolish or unskilled? Some of the hardest things to learn, for instance, being a great partner for your spouse or significant other, take experience and practice. But if your first attempt at dating doesn’t work out (or marriage for that matter!), or the second, or the third, you may be tempted to just give up. But we need companionship, even those among us who love our time alone. But taking your partner for granted, not making them feel loved or appreciated, is a certain way to lose them. We must all learn to become excellent at these things, ensuring our ability to be a good partner, and to maintain a great relationship.

Perhaps some people communicate so well with others that they managed to learn fairly quickly how to be a great partner. However, very few among us just innately knew how to do it right away. We had to date as young people, struggle through new and complicated feelings of possessiveness, jealousy, love, anger, hurt, passon, and so on. As we learned, however, as we communicated with others and ourselves, as we struggled with the times where we totally missed the basket, so to speak, we hopefully used that feedback to adjust our aim, and to eventually become great.

With no more temporal concerns, we can continue adjusting, continue learning, until we indeed become the person we want to be. And that formula works in everything we face in life.

Though if you don’t dare to show others and yourself that you don’t yet know something, you have no place from which to begin learning. So as you don’t dare, you can’t yet win.

Begin to dare, begin to let go of time constraints on your learning, and begin really learning.

Submodalities as weapons of our own destruction

If you already understand modalities and submodalities, then forgive me. In order to offer an amusing example of submodalities used badly, I must make sure that we all agree upon some shared definitions, that we understand these concepts the same way.

If you are new to modalities and submodalities, then you are in luck – this is a great time to learn about these simple, yet ubiquitous distinctions. They manipulate and influence us all the time – and by learning to leverage them instead of being leveraged by them, we learn to take control of very powerful unconscious forces. Moreover, these are influencing and manipulating everyone, so as you learn to use these to your own, one might say “unfair”, advantage, you begin to exert tremendous influence over the world around you — whereas previously it likely exerted such influence over you.

Modalities refer to our senses, the modes through which we perceive events, experiences, everything around us. There are then five such modalities, visual, kinesthetic, auditory, olfactory, and gustatory. The former three are most commonly used in communicating unconsciously, though all have their place. Submodalities then are the components that differentiate our sensory experience. For example, if the modality in question is visual, the submodalities we discuss might include brightness/darkness, proximity/size, color, and so forth. There are submodalities that are quite a bit more subtle, and don’t explicity define a sense. However their purpose is the same, to differentiate our modal experiences. Consider for instance newness, innovation, and other such words. They often are used when speaking of technology, as we all know by now that the “newest” technology is faster, more capable, robust, and also generally less expensive than its predecessor, in keeping with Moore’s Law. For instance, look at cellular telephones, computers, televisions, and music players.

The challenge is that by playing with the submodalities we use to describe something, we radically impact how others, even ourselves, perceive it.

I worked with an amusingly bad salesperson once (who shall remain nameless, but man, you know who you are!) He and I were meeting with the same customer about different things, so we attended together (often called a “four-legged meeting” – how’s that for an image? I always picture two guys in a horse costume! As you will soon see, he would have served as the posterior of said horse…)

The customer was very impressed with an innovative little computer our company had just announced and was thinking about a purchase. My naive colleague did not really like the computer and wasn’t too enthusiastic about selling it. It didn’t contain as much profit as some of the other machines in his toolbag, so he wanted to downplay its impact and appeal. Though it actually was a very cool little machine and was one of the few offerings from that company I considered buying myself that year. The customer apparently agreed and said to us, “Wow, that things is really great! I can see putting one in each of my employees’ hands! If the demo goes well, I can see buying 300 of them this week!” That would have been a pilot, and his company would very likely have bought out our entire stock that quarter – likely driving the product to be labeled a success.

My unaware colleague winced and agreed, “Yeah, it is a cool device. But you know what I want?” He even leaned forward for effect, as though he was letting the customer in on a secret, an insider’s bit of information that no one else should hear.

Suspense properly established, he aimed the proverbial gun at his foot and fired… “I want the one that comes next.

(Think about what we’re discussing – submodalities. What does the “next” model imply in the technology world? Would you rather buy this year’s model, which of course in a few months will be “old”, or the “next” one?)

The customer, confused, asked, “Oh? That’s true, it will probably be faster, right? And have more memory? And a bigger hard drive? And just be better overall? Plus, it will probably cost less, right?”

My colleauge didn’t even look down at the proverbial bullet hole in his shoe as he nodded, “It’s always like that. Yeah, I’ll wait till the second generation, when it’s much better.”

Guess what? The device didn’t sell as many units as the company hoped, so it was discontinued and there never was a second generation. Though to this day I regret myself not buying one – it was that cool. And truly that customer would have gotten great use out of those devices. They were perfectly suited to his company’s environment.

Though consider that for a moment – while yes, my former colleague killed his chances of making a substantial sale that day, there was a greater victim – the customer. He had to try using tablets instead, which weren’t as flexible as this device. The naive salesperson hurt everyone in the discussion, and if we are not aware of how we are using submodalities when we communicate with others (as well as with ourselves), we harm everyone.

What if instead of rising in the morning and saying “Carpe Diem!” as you hit the door, you made pictures of everything going wrong, and then said to yourself something comparable to the above experience. Something like, “Success will still be there tomorrow, in FACT, today is almost certainly NOT going to be as great as tomorrow. So maybe I should just go back inside, blow off work today, and try to make a successful day of it tomorrow instead.” Think about the irony of that – all we actually HAVE is “today”. Tomorrow never does come, so we either charge ahead with excitement, enthusiasm, and purpose right now, or we commit to mediocrity, to always putting opportunities off until tomorrow, hoping they will still be there.

That’s the secret – while they may have all new opportunities, Today’s opportunities will never return. Carpe diem!

Oh and why didn’t I buy that great new piece of technology when it came out? Well…I figured that the “next” version would be far better of course!

Fits or Feats: What is the Unconscious anyway?

People often surprise me, and thank goodness they do. Learning never stops, so the surprises are always coming. Yet there are some things that truly baffle me. There was considerable debate in this country when Milton H. Erickson was positing the unconscious mind as a component of the hypnotic experience. Yet before him, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and their students all agreed that both a conscious and unconcious mind existed. Behaviorists didn’t like this, as you cannot measure an unconscious mind, calculate its depth or weight. It’s just so damned abstract that many othewise intelligent people just decided that it didn’t exist.

What surprises me is that there are still such people today. We all daydream, fantasize, surprise ourselves with unexpected feats (and sometimes fits) of memory. It seems improbable, and I’m being generous, that our consciousness is managing all of that and somehow still is able to sneak up on us, startling us with little glimpses of awareness, like a mischievous child sneaking up on his sister. Someone who doesn’t grasp that he has unconscious processes somehow staying in synch and functioning for him (and sometimes even against him) might have no difficulty believing in romance, in God, or in some other concept requiring faith, as no measurement will succeed. Let’s face it – you can’t easily measure a lot of things that many of us nonetheless recognize as real and important in our lives.

I don’t know the specifics of your background, whether you studied any Psychology or self-help methodology previously. There are several fields of endeavor that have recognized and made use of the Unconscious mind for years. (That’s right, I am so certain of the “unconscious” mind’s existence and validity that I am using title case for the word!) Various forms of psychological therapies are among them. However Sales, Marketing, Politics, and Religion are other examples that have a long tradition of communicating with their audiences at the unconscious level to meet their goals. I will delve further into how these fields use the Unconscious in a later post, though today we will establish a shared set of definitions and functions.

Since I don’t know your background, I can’t assume that you agree with my premise so far. So I will presume that you either have a limited awareness of your own unconscious mind, or perhaps I just haven’t clearly defined the term. Let me explain.

At any moment, for instance right now, wherever you are, there are a number of things going on around you of which you are conscious. That is, you see it, hear it, are keeping track of it via your senses to some degree, and you are aware of it. It may be the tactile sense of the chair’s arm rest beneath your forearm. It could include the annoying construction sounds outside. Or just the page you are reading at this moment. If someone were to stop and ask you what you were doing, or what you were experiencing at that moment, I’m speaking of the things that you would reply with. “I’m reading a book/blog”, “Just sitting in this comfortable chair”, “Trying to get something down in spite of all that racket out there!”. Whatever it is that you focus on at this moment, your conscious mind is focusing on it, and we could say that these things are conscious phenomena for you.

However, George Miller famously pointed out that we can only keep track of seven plus or minus two items in conscious awareness at a time. It’s for that reason that most of us, with just a small amount of rehearsal, can learn a phone number. (Since this is a weblog, I will not follow APA format for references. But if you would like to know where to learn more about any of the points and the contributors cited (however informally), please email me. However, memorizing a twelve or fifteen digit number is a far greater challenge to most of us. Why this tangent? Because as you are keeping track of these elements in your consciousness, there is a finite number you can add to your focus.

We will talk later about how that limited focus can actually serve us, provided we teach ourselves to limit our conscious energy to things that serve us, that enable us, facilitating our successes, rather than mixing in negative thoughts, disabling inner voices, and beliefs that limit or even sabotage our successes.

For now, just consider that if we are limited by seven-plus-or-minus two elements in conscious awareness, how can we do all the complex things we do every day? How can we run our autonomic biological processes while eating and drinking, working, delivering that awesome sales pitch, and so forth?

Simple – if you are doing it now, but were not consciously aware of it, it can be called an unconscious process. It is being on some level managed by your Unconscious mind.

We have learned that using biofeedback,  any human can be trained to alter their own pulse. More impressively, we can learn to change that pulse so that it varies between two different fingers. If you listen carefully right now, you can hear medicine men and healers all over the world muttering a unanimous, synchronized, “DUH!” in response. This is actually nothing new in many parts of the world, and some shamen learn to manage what for us is an entirely unconscious behavior with great, deliberate, conscious precision. So this type of person is neither surprised nor impressed by the first part of this paragraph. I therefore say it only because in our Western tradition, we have largely suppressed belief in such capabilities. It continually surprises me how many people don’t know this, so I feel compelled to mention it as you cannot leverage a force you don’t know about.

So at this moment, consider drawing up two lists, one with the heading of “Conscious” and the other with a heading of “Unconscious”. Now picture yourself jotting down under the first heading all the items you are consciously aware of right now. It may be the amount of light in the room, the sounds, the smell of your furniture, a dog barking in the distance. It’s your reality, your environment, so it’s your unique list – I’m just making guesses. Now consider the second list and all the things going on right now around you that you are not conscious of at all. It could be your pulse, the slight rub of your shirt’s fabric against your skin, the energy being emitted by the plant in the corner, and so forth. If it’s happening, and you were not consciously keeping track of it, it is being tracked by your Unconscious.

Suspicious? All objects, even non-living things, are comprised of atoms, which at their core are energy. There is nothing in the room with you now that does not emit some degree of energy, and as you are in that same boat, your own system, on some level, knows about the energy storm going on around you. But you weren’t thinking about it, therefore it is unconscious. Oh, you were fine with the plant’s energy, but you didn’t think any part of you knew about that scratchy fabric against your skin until I said it? Do you think your nerves just went to sleep until I mentioned the shirt? Did they just wake up when you heard my suggestion? Of course not – your body is full of nerve endings that are continually delivering data to your brain, constantly providing feedback on sensations and feelings. Your brain in turn must decide what to do with this glut of data. Since it knows from experience that George Miller was right, it understands that it can’t keep conscious track of everything going on. It is constantly making decisions about which data must be tracked consciously, versus which can be given up to the unconscious mind to deal with. This is a vitally important process and we will dig much deeper into it in a future post. For now, consider that the feeling of the scratchy shirt is just not important enough unless it really becomes distracting. The precious few things the conscious mind can handle will not include that data unless, as mentioned, it becomes a really big deal.

A similar situation occurs when you walk into the kitchen and brush up against a hot burner. You may not have consciously registered that it was glowing orange until you touched it and it burned you. Suddenly, like an annoying itch, it becomes a really big deal, and jockeys for a position in conscious awareness. Your mind decides that it should be one of those seven-plus-or-minus-two things, and you consciously make a decision about what to do next.

Still, we experience minor annoyances all the time that never become conscious to us because they don’t appear to pose any serious threat and, in our judgment at the time, do not warrant immediate action. Similarly, we have positive experiences all the time that our minds determine require no immediate action or conscious awareness.

The purpose in delineating these two categories, Conscious and Unconscious, is that we all have them, and we all use them every day. We often create problems for ourselves, or have them created by others for us, and rather than overload our conscious minds with them, they are given over to the unconscious part of our minds. This can be either good or bad, depending upon the impact these ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and so forth, have on us.

Consider this – someone has an unconscious belief that he can do anything he sets his mind to, provided he really believes in himself, and is willing to work toward it. Now consider someone who has a very different unconscious belief – that he is incapable of doing anything right, that no matter how hard he works or plans, he is doomed to fail. Perhaps he believes he just has bad luck.

When these two people are given a challenge with potentially great reward, which person do you think is more likely to achieve it? The former person has a strong belief in himself and his success, and a built-in motivator to work hard to achieve. The second person thinks that his own hard work is largely irrelevant, and that no matter what he does, he has a great chance of failure. There are many traditions that teach belief in one’s self and one’s chances is enough to make it happen! In such a tradition, the hard work is almost secondary to belief, faith, and so on. That first person has the odds stacked strongly in his favor before he even takes action. But once he starts to act, he has a further belief that as he works hard, he will make himself successful. In that belief are stacked some of the most common attributes of successful people – belief in one’s skill, the positive outcome of hard work, and the belief that we, ourselves, control the lion’s share of our outcome. Conversely, less successful people often report a belief that the locus of their success or failure is outside of themselves. It is either a “good break” or “luck” or “knowing the right people” that makes all the difference. Not to claim that these factors never matter, but successful people believe that the far greater reason they have succeeded or failed is due to their own actions.

What happens now when you take beliefs that like out of conscious awareness, where we can easily analyze, challenge, and modify them? What happens, do you think, when you put such an ides into your unconscious mind? The realm of the Conscious mind is to create, assess, evaluate, and select among all the available data – which is in fact a great deal of information and even more noise. The realm of the Unconscious mind, however, is to manage, maintain, and automate processes. It is excellent at these types of things, but doesn’t typically analyze data all that well. There have been many people, such as the aforementioned shamen and yogi, who have trained their unconscious minds to do amazing things. However we are assuming here that you are not a yogi, and therefore we address the capabilities and strengths of your various internal systems as they typically develop, with no intervention so far.

Therefore if you have a dysfunctional belief that you consciously hold, it only makes sense that as you repeat it out loud, you can easily spot the irony or the foolishness of its premise. If your belief is that people who appear different from you are out to attack you and take your life and your possessions, you may consciously evaluate this and realize that sure, in certain settings, this might be at times a useful if too general idea. But as you walk down the street, and encounter dozens of people different from you, it’s not hard to see how debilitating this could become. You could get to the point that you are afraid to board an airplane because someone ahead of you in line is wearing a turban or other such ethnic or religious signifier. You might be afraid to cross the street because a person with radically different attire stands on the other side of the street waving a sign that says “the End is near! Pray for Salvation today!”. The conscious mind has no difficulty recognizing that the fellow with the turban is going through Security just as you are. If he plans to carry a bomb onto the plane, it’s unlikely he will succeed. Similarly, the fellow warning of imminent apocalypse isn’t necessarily trying to take something from you, or harm you. Frankly, if he is practicing truth in advertising, he truly believes that he is potentially going to save your soul from a fate he truly believes is coming. In neither case is the person all that likely to do you harm. The conscious mind is continually analyzing the available data and will, if asked, note the overgeneralizations, where xenophobia or the impact of a paranoid media may tend to inspire more fear than is useful.

On that other hand, once the unconscious mind has its instructions, it tends to just go with them and manage them. It’s for that reason that we can maintain frankly silly ideas for years and really believe in their truth or efficacy. However both minds exert continual influence over our state of mind and our decisions. Consider that for a moment. If I hold an irrational belief in my unconscious, one that holds me back, damages my relationships, limits what I will strive to achieve, and so on, that belief may go for years unchallenged. Where our conscious mind would make quick work of a really debilitating belief, our unconscious just doesn’t do such things on its own. It trusts the messages it is given. Which can be dangerous (or useful, depending upon who is influencing it) because giving instruction to the unconscious mind is not difficult. In fact, we do it all the time without realizing it, both to ourselves and others. Advertising is based upon driving us on multiple levels – some are conscious and overt, while others are notoriously unconscious and covert. And the unconscious mind is very, very good at receiving and acting upon those messages.

That’s a huge part of the work I do, working with the unconscious mind, so the first step was establishing an agreement together, that we are all of two minds – one conscious, the other, not so much…

Unexpected reframes

I was in an airport, recently, waiting for my plane to land before it transformed in an instant from 2631 from Detroit to Dallas, into flight 3144  from Dallas to Birmingham. Had I blinked for too long? How did this happen? And what must that experience have been like for those on the flight? Were their memories radically altered to accommodate this new reality? Did they notice anything at all? Did they all land in a fugue, trying to recall how they got there…?

It’s purely symantecs, I know – nothing has actually changed about the flight, other than it’s start and end points. Still…it seems like a fun example of a magical transformation. If you dare believe in that sort of thing…

The good people who run the airline had apparently realized that,  when they say we could all bring two pieces of carryon luggage into the plane’s cabin, their hope that not all of us would take them up on it had fallen through. In fact, we each brought two complete pieces of highly compressed carryon baggage… You can imagine the scene when, later in the sanctity of our hotel rooms, we carefully dab three drops of water from a medicine dropper onto that carryon luggage and it magically expands into an extire house-ful of stuff?

Before that magic, I never could find a means of trnasporting my vast metaphysical, psychological, religious, and philosophical (I know – what’s the difference?!) and computer networking libraries conveniently on an intracontinental flight.

Still, I looked down at my meager, highly compressed, carryons with pride as the clever airline represntative announced, sounding not unlike the teacher in the Charlie Brown Peanuts cartoons, “If you would like to be relieved of the burden of carrying on two full bags into the cabin on this flight, please come forward and we will check your extra bags with no extra burden or stress on you!” It came out like the old joke about the codger complaining about when he was your age, he had to trudge ten miles to school each way, uphill both times! Regardless of the PA’s distortion, the voice made it sound as though we were all suffering far more than we realized, having to carry two full carryon bags with us! And just before our arms would fall off, they were willing to offer a solution!

Ironically, people around me began to shift uncomfortably, as though they had been supressing this vast suffering, and that with this little reminder, they were ready to jump at the opportunity to unburden themselves. I was amused by the subsequent rush of people wanting to unburden themselves.

For those of you unfamiliar with reframing, the magic occurs where the meaning changes. Initially each person opted to carry on each of their pieces of luggage. Perhaps they checked other items, but these two items, they singled out as important enough to keep close. For the airline to ask them to give this up, to relinquish this convenience, would likely have been ignored by all. After all, if I had wanted to check these two bags, I would have. I kept them because I either want access to them or I don’t want them being thrown onto a conveyer belt like a sack of potatoes. I learned years ago that just because the luggage maker is good, that’s no reason to tempt fate. Everything can be broken. Luggage as well as bad habits.

With the language the airline representative used, the meaning of giving up the bags was suddenly changed, as was the meaning of keeping them handy. No longer was it convenient to keep them in hand, now it was suddenly a burden.

Similarly, giving the bags up and checking them was now reframed as a great relief, a convenience far greater than having to keep the bags with the passenger.

Reframing is changing the context in some fashion to ultimately change the meaning within a communication.

Consider what marriage means to many people – being “tied down”, “restricted”, “giving up your freedom”. Many others however have come to recognize the joy, stability, sensuality, and ironically the freedom that comes from having a trusted and deeply loved partner.

The term derived from the notion of taking the same picture and placing it in different frames to influence the impact of that picture. Reframing is a powerful technique in persuasion, and we the influenced rarely notice that the meaning has been changed in us. Typically, the arena determines the frame of reference most advantageous to the host. The restaurant frames the more expensive entrees so that it means greater pleasure, so that rather than your notice the price, you are salivating at just how good it’s going to be.

One fun example in politics I recall from a few years back was when Ronald Reagan, a brilliant influencer, was debating Walter Mondale as both were running for the Office of President of the United States in 1984. Much had been said about Reagan’s age, which made him the oldest person to run for that office in US history. Some raised the issue of age being a negative for Reagan, as it was conceivable that he could die of natural causes during his term, if elected. What then for the country? Did we want to risk such a thing?

Mondale, to his credit, did not exploit this directly, and there were no attack ads trying to drum fear into voters regarding Reagan’s age. However when Reagan had a chance to comment on this, he did not argue why age is not a problem or that he was not in fact too old for the office. He instead reframed the meaning of age with a very witty statement, “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Think about that. From that frame of reference, that context, advanced age was no longer a bad thing. Rather, youth was. It’s important to note that reframing doesn’t argue facts. As John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things”. You can argue them if you like, but you will generally find eager opponents who are too well-informed to relinquish their knowledge. It’s a waste of time in most cases, though yes, it has been done successfully. But agreeing with the facts, and merely changing their context and therefore their meaning, is much more effective.

No more than a week later, in another airport, I heard another great example of reframing. I sat typing away on my laptop as the PA began to squawk. Sometimes these messages are important, so I paused and listened… “Passengers on flight 2254 headed for Atlanta, your flight is completely full and will be very crowded. Anyone wanting to depart thirty minutes later on flight 3296 will enjoy a half-full cabin with lots of extra room to stretch your legs, and plenty of overhead compartment space for your carryon items!” She made it sound like we would be winning the lottery by just opting to delay ourselves half an hour. Small price to pay, right? The meaning of the full flight, which most of us have been through, was framed as being uncomfortable and inconvenient, while the half-full flight was suddenly a luxurious and infinitely more comfortable for the passengers. And we could enjoy this seeming upgrade at no extra charge!

Notice how the facts did not change, only their context, and subsequent meaning.

Someone out there is getting a good value for their consulting dollars!

Now consider this – where in your life, your work, your family, your relationships, would a change of context make your meanings, and therefore youre experiences, better? You would be surprised by just how powerful this simple device can be.

You could argue that a reframe is not a magical transformation, but then we can also create a context or frame of reference where it feels just like that. Remember, the facts didn’t change, though we are changing the frame to create a vastly different meaning. And after it’s said and done, what is a memory of that experience? A combination of the events, the facts, and the meaning.

The First Step to Knowing (Part II of The Unknown)

One of the great things about kids is the way they (and the way we used to be) is their comfort level with new things. Kids don’t know to be afraid of heights, of public speaking, of being rejected by a potential date, a boss, an HR Director, and so forth. They don’t dread the simple fact that they don’t know something. I had an experience recently that could have gone badly, had I not managed my state. I have a very strong background in Information Technology, so being given a very complicated IT project, I have a track record of handling it well, in fact generally being quite successful at it.

Yet I was handed a very complicated project as part of a training scenario. It wasn’t a simple task that simply tested whether or not I knew facts. That we often call a “digital” phenomenon in NLP – it has very rigid and finite possibilities, in this case, “Yes”, you know it, or “No”, you don’t. Technology has a similar notion, by the way, calling it “Boolean logic”. (One day I am going to be accosted by a paranormal investigator who thinks I made that word up (I didn’t) as a way to mock the common sense inherent in ghosts, I just know it.) Boolean phenomena, or digital, lends itself to Yes/No, Black/White types of scenarios. But what about degrees? You can adjust the temperature on your stove, but it doesn’t just offer “Hot and “Not hot” options, does it? Imagine something we have all done a thousand times, changing the surface temperature on your stove by turning a dial. Each numbered tick mark on the face of the dial increments the heat presumably an even amount. This is an example of analog phenomena.

When learning about NLP, it’s a common beginner’s mistake to see two contrary examples and pick one as being better than the other. That is rarely the case in NLP, or in most other things, for that matter. Accordingly, both analog and digital approaches have their place. The key, as in most areas of life, is knowing where that usefulness is, and making the appropriate choice as the moment requires it.

“The Unknown” sounds pretty absolute, and you can easily picture classifying things in the world around you into two very digital categories, “Known”, and “Unknown”. Learning then would be the task of moving desirable things from the latter category into the former. Sounds simple, right? Actually, it’s not difficult at all, though to remember that, we have to think just a bit like we did as children. Unafraid of “not knowing”, and struggling through to find the answer…until one day we look back and realize that we’ve done it – we have found that answer. What was once “Unknown” is very much “Known”. Still, these two digital terms themselves seem so outrageous. How can we claim that, upon graduation, that Chemistry or Music, or, gulp, Algebra, are “Known”? It sounds so profound, as though we need to now get comfy in our mountaintop retreats and patiently await the novices who are enthusiastically making their way to us, eager to sit at our feet and feast upon the wisdom that falls from us continually. This is one place where an analog perspective becomes very useful. We may have learned to use those subjects, their tools and techniques, though there is far more we could learn about them if we chose. We can speak about a degree of knowledge that we possess, like a numbered tick mark on our stove’s dial. I may have a “7” on that dial when it comes to Calculus, but then it does go to 10 – there is more to learn if I choose to go deeper (some of you will know what I mean when I also admit that some of those dials go to 11.)

Children have to learn to become anxious about a big test at school. They have to learn to fear not knowing enough, or “not getting it” when learning a concept in school or in a training session. Not us grown-ups, however! Most of us have been pretty darn good at this for a long time! We may have had to learn that response, but man, we learned it really well!

During the complex training I mentioned above, I had to incorporate many things I knew very well, though I had never used them together. Further, I had to learn several new things on the fly and weave those into my solution. It was very challenging, and my classmates and I all were surprised to find ourselves treading water, so to speak. Frankly, we were used to being able to handle anything thrown our way, and here we were truly being tested. The anxiety was palpable, and we didn’t help matters by downing twice the coffee we normally would, plus multiple caffeinated sodas “to clear our heads”. After ten times our normal caffeine intake for the day, we all looked positively panicked.

Here is the punchline, however… Not knowing is the first step to knowing, to learning. If you already know something, it logically follows that you cannot learn it. Sure you could learn more about it, but go with me on this for a moment. First you have to not know it. Then you have to find some reason to learn it. You have to be inspired or motivated in some way to pay attention to it, to study it, to discern its distinctions, determine whether you have a schema for it, whether it reminds you of somthing else you already know, compare and contrast it to that schema, and learn about it. This takes an investment on our part, so we have to find ourselves either wanting to gain the knowledge (which suggests a movingtowards strategy)…or find ourselves anxious, in discomfort, over the fact that we don’t know it (suggesting a moving-away-from strategy).

Those strategic approaches, by the way, are from the NLP lexicon. Behaviorists would call it instead the desire to gain pleasure vs. avoid pain. The concept is the same, however, and either will motivate us, depending upon which strategy is closer to our own. I personally tend to move towards desirable outcomes. I can ignore a potentially negative consequence, but will find a really desirable outcome too enticing to resist. Other people would conversely ignore a potential reward in the face of an undesirable potential consequence or even a degree of anxiety or discomfort that they may have to face. That would be a moving-away-from strategy.

So in this training scenario, I was working alongside some very highly accomplished technologists. I would easily call these people experts in their fields, and I was very happy to be working with them. Moreover, our trainers were geniuses at what they did. I have a tremendous hunger to learn more, so despite the fact that I myself am quite accomplished, and was very much at home among these experts, I felt my own knowledge expanding geometrically each hour of the training.

My own strategy drove me to push through any anxiety or struggle because of the pleasure I expected to feel once I completed the training. I saw the prize ahead, and it excited me, motivated me, enticed me to push forward. Someone who doesn’t use that sort of strategy would not have been impressed at all with what you just read. Such a person might only be motivated by a potential consequence for not learning the material. Again, resist the urge to judge one strategy as being better, and you will avoid one of the classic pitfalls of this field. And my intention is to make you really good at what you do, to leverage this field to amplify what you love about yourself, tune the things you don’t like as much, and to make you a better, smarter, more skilled professional, a better friend and lover to your partner, a better parent to your kids, better in any area of your life you will allow me. We will avoid pitfalls, we will fast-track you to Greatness, you and I.

So back at the training… I struggled with my fellow classmates, working on our projects until late in the night. Our trainer cheerfully announced that he hated to stick around after hours, so he was heading home. We each longingly looked at the clock and realized we were likely hours from a solution. A quick trip to the coffee machine and we got back to work. But then it got worse. Our challenges were all different, but we had many among us. It became clear over the next few hours that in order to finish by class the next morning, we would likely be working that entire time, and with no guarantee that we would indeed be finished.

Some left in the next three hours, I left just after midnight, and the final stubborn stragglers shut the lights out in the following hour. None of us had finished, a fact we lamented the next morning. The anxiety to figure out our training problems was high, and only increased by our delay. But sleep is necessary for our clear thinking, and caffeine, in moderation, has been shown to improve concentration. Within the first two hours of working on our projects that next morning, we all had figured it out. The void and ensuing anxiety created by The Unknown, was now filled. The satisfaction of knowing now was incredible and we all felt better for the challenge.

Now, consider this – it was the challenge, and the learning experiences themselves that made the resolution so valuable, not the anxiety, the fear, the frustration. What would have happened if we approached the challenges with enthusiasm, excitement, and passion, rather than emotions at the more negative end of the spectrum? Would we have enjoyed our victory any less? No, I don’t think so. Had we kept it an upbeat, positive experience, might we have shortened our struggle? I suspect that would in fact be the case. Certainly, you must agree that it wouldn’t have hurt. It wouldn’t have made it harder to meet the challenge.

But then we are just talking about capability, not motivation. Earlier, we spoke about pleasure or pain being motivators, but I know of no reliable research that suggests that either the expectation of a pleasurable outcome or of a painful one reduces the time required to solve a problem. Consider what that means, however – we’re talking about the impact of pleasure and pain over our capability. Motivation is an entirely different thing, and when highly motivated, by whatever it is that motivates us (whichever type of strategy has more weight with us) we can do absolutely amazing things.

I’ve differentiated between the two because I want us to understand our own motivational strategies better, so that we can use them to push our own buttons far better than anyone else can. Though I also want to avoid becoming our own worst enemy, confounding our access to internal resources, interfering with our ability to solve problems, meet challenges, and capitalize on opportunities.

The next time you find yourself struggling with The Unknown, whether it’s a language you are trying to learn, a budget you are trying to balance, a challenge at work, a problem with your home life, a relationship that is going poorly – no matter what that challenge is, I want you to realize that you are experiencing the first step, and that’s all. Many more steps will follow, each of which brings you closer to your goal. If you avoid that feeling of The Unknown, you are just delaying your first step, which of course ultimately delays your victory celebration.

Embrace that first step and take it with enthusiasm. Later we will look at specific strategies you can use to make this easier, in fact second nature. But the basis is attitude. Adopt the attitude that you are only taking the first step on what will be a very rewarding journey. As you learn more about your own strategies, you will learn how to make that journey more fun, playful, educational, and enjoyable. After all, the destination will have its great rewards – you can learn to enjoy that journey itself, making this entire experience much more complete and fulfilling.

In that way, we are remembering what it was like to learn a new game or activity as a child. That is indeed magic, and it is available right now to you, no matter what age. And in that magic, we relive our youth for eternity.