Rough Seas: Time to Adjust Your Sails

It is great to be out there, interacting with the world again. A few months ago, I was involved in a car accident that made a really good point about symbols and how we perceive them. Semiotics, or the study of signs and symbols, could be applied to something as simple as traffic signs and lights. Or even brake lights on the car(s) in front of you! Though afterward, I also got a good reminder of why beliefs are so important.

I was in Tampa and was heading back to my hotel for the night, and I exited the freeway. Ahead, I noticed that the cars had all stopped. How did I notice, when this was still at a distance ahead? The brake lights. Being of at least average intelligence, I saw the lights ahead and realized that all the cars were either stopped or were stopping. I slowed, as this response made the most sense to me. As I drew closer, it became obvious that indeed all the cars were stopped for a stop sign at the cross street. I stopped as well, and waited for traffic to advance.

The Jeep behind me also seemed to notice the significance of the red lights and slowed as well. Strangely, rather than stop, the driver behind me actually tried to pass me on the left. This made no sense to me at the time, as it was a frontage road, I was in the left lane, and traffic was stopped. As I heard the screech of brakes, however, it made some sense (at least later). The car behind him had not noticed the red lights at all and was driving far too quickly into the rear of the Jeep. That driver, in turn, saw that the advancing car would not be able to stop in time and was trying to pull out of the way. He underestimated just how fast Mr. Distracted was going, however, and he only succeeded in making the collision more artistically stimulating. That is, instead of a simple front-end-to-rear-end, front-end-to-rear-end domino effect, he managed to create an interesting pattern: the Jeep angled around my rental car, then as Mr. Distracted hit him, he was pushed alongside my car, enabling the Jeep to sideswipe the left rear corner of my car, while Mr. Distracted still managed to then hit my rear. The resulting collision left cars glancing off in various directions, almost as though Godzilla had picked one up and tossed it into the others.

At the time, I dug my phone out of my pocket and called 911 to report the accident, then the car rental company. It was odd to be coherent, as I was in a great deal of pain at the time. It was later, after the adrenaline had leveled off, that I was diagnosed with a concussion, a relatively common injury. The commonness of the injury, by the way, did little to comfort me. For at least a couple months afterward, I found it impossible to concentrate, work became impossible, and even something like reading a book or watching a movie proved too challenging. Either would result in a severe headache, nausea, vertigo and lightheadedness. I also discovered that it is possible to sleep twenty hours in one day. This is something I never thought possible, and I certainly had never approached such a feat. While healing from the concussion, I decided that it was easy. I’ve since reconsidered it, however, as I no longer can sleep more than seven or eight hours. That magic power vanished as the concussion healed.

I mentioned that a concussion is a fairly common injury. At least for people likely to get struck very hard in the head. For professional fighters and football players, this happens all the time. But the brain is as delicate as it is hardy. That is, the tissue of the brain has proven to be able to recover from a surprising amount of trauma. Though if that trauma is sustained, there is little ambiguity in the outcome. Remember Muhammad Ali’s latter day interviews?

I confess that for a time, I was humbled by the awareness that if I did not make a full recovery, I might not be able to do the things in my professional life that bring me the most joy. It was frightening to imagine not being able to write, or to read and learn new complex tasks.

While following the doctors’ orders, and getting lots of rest, I worked with my beliefs, understanding that our beliefs largely dictate our reality. It’s not what happens to us that matters most, it’s how we respond. A wise man once said, “You can’t control the wind, but you can control your sails!” That’s absolutely true. There will always be people like Mr. Distracted out there, and if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you may encounter some heavy winds. But you can adjust your sails, leveraging the winds, or if they prove too unpredictable, draw your sails in until the storm passes. A common example in yachting is heaving to in the face of a bad storm. Too often, we try to control that which we actually cannot. This expends a lot of energy, to little or no effect, resources which could have been used to adjust the many things we can influence.

So I spent a few months with my sails hove to, I healed, maintained a healing mindset, continually coaching myself with beliefs that supported returning to 100%.

Note please that I didn’t do belief work instead of working with medical professionals. Beliefs are incredibly powerful, and can do nearly anything. But if you’re broken a bone, your beliefs aren’t likely to set it or ensure that it heals correctly. I’m not saying you couldn’t do it – only that its success is nowhere near as certain as if you have a doctor set the bone, place it in a cast, and give it time. What I am saying is that the two together are a fantastic recipe for healing.

Another note: Just as I wouldn’t go about healing a broken bone (or a bruised brain, as in my case) with beliefs alone, I also wouldn’t do it with medical attention alone. Any qualified doctor will tell you that once all the medical steps have been taken, it’s up to the patient. If the patient believes that his life is over, he will not heal, the body will not repair, healing tends to be a slow process – and at times doesn’t ever happen. We need both.

So I got checked out of the ER, made an appointment with my own doctor the next day, and began working with healing metaphors, thoughts, and addressing any beliefs that might impede my healing.

Why do beliefs matter so much? There are a thousand theories, but the very least that a common-sense-wielding individual must notice is that a belief limits or permits progress. You can call this progress “energy flow” (which is scientifically measurable, by the way), or “potential”, the metaphor isn’t as important as what we do with it. We look out at our world and decide what’s possible. Why would an intelligent person consistently and seriously strive to do what he’s certain is impossible? Oh, I hear you, Positive Thinkers, Great Achievers: “Nothing’s Impossible”. I get it. But notice that we’re talking about beliefs. It’s not as important whether or not the task in question really is impossible – only that the person in our example believes that it is. Meaning when we decide the boundaries of the possible for ourselves, we are simultaneously allowing ourselves or denying ourselves access outside those boundaries. If we believe it is not possible to have a fulfilling relationship. that all people will let you down, you are not likely to give your all to a relationship. Why bother if it’s destined to disappoint you anyway? Similarly, a person who believes that the amount of money he earns is all that is possible (or deserved, or fair – we all choose our own predicates!), he is not only unlikely to look for opportunities to earn wealth, he is in fact likely to unconsciously sabotage any efforts to do so.

My beliefs said that I not only could heal entirely, but that I would. I’m grateful to be back at 100%, able to work, create, write, read, and to concentrate without the challenges introduced by the concussion.

Please consider this as you encounter challenges in your own lives – storms will come, that’s inevitable. I don’t ask you to deny the storm’s reality, only to take out your umbrella when it rains. And if the seas get stormy, heave those sails in and relax – it will pass, and you will be back to smooth sailing before you know it. Believe it.

And by all means, look for signs around you to indicate what’s going on. Semiotics are there to serve us! Don’t ignore the clouds (or the brake lights ahead) and only discover the challenge when it crashes into you – or you into it.

Ignore Your Senses, Please, the Sign Says Otherwise

I stay in a lot of hotels in my line of work. A lot. And depending on the size of city I’m visiting, the choices for hotels can be either quite robust…or much less so. i was staying in a hotel not long ago where they charmingly misspelled “hotel”, using an “m” instead of an “h”. I was reminded of Olde English towns where you are apt to see signs posted which read, “Ye Olde Taverne” and such. Okay, it wasn’t quite that, but the choices were a bit limited!

As a former smoker, I hold nothing against someone who chooses to smoke. Though like most former smokers, I prefer not to stay in a room that has recently been visited by a prodigious smoker. Naturally, I always request n0nsmoking rooms, and as I reached my room for the night, I was struck by the prominently displayed “No Smoking” sign. Yet as I swiped my magic key card, the door beeped and flashed green at me, and I gently pushed the door open…I was struck by a wall of stale cigarette smoke, a bit like walking into a blues club hours after closing. Without even the soothing strings and pained wails of an old bluesman to make it worthwhile.

I pulled the door closed, called the front desk with my cell phone, and told the very nice gentleman that the room wasn’t acceptable, that I needed a room that did not smell like cigarette smoke. He sounded confused, and insisted that it was a No Smoking room. I agreed with him, that this was in fact what the sign said. However, someone before me had ignored the sign. He said that he would attempt to find me another room, but would get to the bottom of it. I walked back to the office to exchange key cards and he met me, his brow furrowed. He had the look of a man who has been struggling with some very complex math problems. Again he reiterated that it was a non-smoking room. He wanted to see this for himself, brought another key card, and we walked together to discover whether I was playing some cruel prank on him. After he already appeared to have been taunted by complex maths. Sometimes for some people, the torment never seems to end.

We reached the first room, and he gestured to the next door down, handing me the new key card. “But this room as well is non smoking,” he insisted, pointing to the sign. The two signs matched perfectly, making it clear that in fact they both were not to be smoked in or trifled with. I agreed, and invited him to open the door for himself and take a whiff. He did and immediately became distressed. “You have smoked in this room, which is clearly identified as a “Non-Smoking” room!” He was serious, and very upset.

I smiled, pointed out that I had only enough time to get my original key card, walk back to this door, and open it. Hardly enough time to pull out a pack of Luckies, light one up, stink up the room (the smell of which frankly could not be explained by a single cigarette – this room had been slow-smoked over a period of hours). He seemed unconvinced, but I shrugged and said, “I don’t smoke, so the idea is silly. I specifically requested a Non-Smoking room. I take very little for granted, sir, but I do take you at your word – If this is in fact a non smoking room as both you and the sign say, then the previous inhabitant should not have smoked in here. Clearly he did. I still trust you – I don’t think you did it. But someone did. Your nose tells you that right now, doesn’t it?”

Still suspicious, although appearing to see my point (or perhaps making some mental headway with that math problem), he smiled while saying, “Well your new room is next door – we should check it out.” I agreed, and as we opened that door, to nothing but clean air, I suggested, conspiratorially, “If I were you, I’d look through the records to find out who stayed in that room last and figure out who broke the rules and who will pay for the cleaning!”

He grinned, “I will catch the culprit!” He said it as though he fully expected that I now was emotionally invested and would be nagging him daily regarding the outcome.

I pointed out that there was another solution if he were so inclined – to simply make that a Smoking room. He could paint over the “No” on the “No Smoking” sign, find a Smoking room that didn’t smell like it had been used as such, and make that the new Non Smoking room to take the place of the first. He liked this logic, and I thanked him for a most stimulating exploration.

The thing more than anything else that struck me is how he didn’t even initially consider it a possibility that the rule had been broken. The sign was so absolute in its correctness that it almost was more important than facts our senses could perceive. A bit like a “Wet Floor” sign…is the floor in fact wet until the sign is taken down? I would say no, but what if the sign is dictating as much reality to the average person than do their own senses? What could we be overlooking every day in such a world?

At the very least, I would suggest that you we should practice becoming very comfortable thinking for ourselves, trusting our own senses, our own intuitions, and seeking out people who encourage us to sharpen these skills.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I remember clearly wondering just how often this happens around me that I don’t notice. Sometimes the “sign” or the statement of reality from some trusted authority is much more subtle than this. In such situations, it would be easy to just follow their direction without noticing that direction makes no sense.

Though let’s take it just a step further. What if you made a point of determining what environmental authorities, such as signs or “policies” are dictating the current state of events for you or the people around you? I’m not encouraging anarchy here, only suggesting that we actively perceive our environments. What’s really going on, versus how much of what we believe is happening is just due to our being told that it’s happening?

Here’s an even more interesting thought? What would happen if we all woke up and began using our own senses, and thinking for ourselves? How would the colors of our world brighten? How would our understanding of our surroundings clarify?

And…what could you accomplish if you noticed that your own senses knew more about reality than did a sign that may have been put up months, or even years ago?

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…