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This week we’re going to explore a habit that can help you make progress towards psychological freedom and help you spot alternate paths to take in life.
Illustrations by Asia Noble. She’s incredible. You can find her here: http://asianoble.co/.
Also, many thanks to Bill Ledley for his usual insightful comments.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
We recently discussed psychological freedom and the thoughts that prevent you from achieving it. While writing those posts, I was reminded of something my good friend Miguel suggested I do when facing anxious or uncertain situations. He challenged me to ask two simple questions:
- What is the opportunity in this situation?
- What can I do now to take advantage of this opportunity?
I was skeptical. What the hell could asking these questions do for me?
But then I had an insight. Our thoughts and beliefs are like gravity. You can’t see gravity, but it shapes reality. Likewise, you can’t see your thoughts and beliefs, but they shape your perception of reality.
If you believe the world is scary, that people are untrustworthy, or that you are worthless, you will attract events that confirm these beliefs. You’ll end up noticing and focusing on all the things that can go wrong, the negatives in life, and the ways you aren’t perfect. Then your behavior will follow. You probably won’t meet new people, or travel, or try to learn something new.
Those actions reinforce your thoughts and beliefs and you create a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you don’t trust people, they won’t trust you. If you don’t share your knowledge, people won’t share with you. Those events will then reinforce your beliefs and a stronger, viscous cycle begins.
Humans are wired to seek out information that confirms their beliefs. It’s called confirmation bias. Your mind will seek out information that aligns with your beliefs. So if you have negative beliefs, your mind adapts a mental filter that is primed to focus on negative events. We all know people in our life who act in this way. They aren’t fun to be around.
I don’t think we should all join a happy-go-lucky cult of positivity where everyone receives a gold medal. This isn’t Lake Wobegon. That would be ridiculous.
The Universe is supposed to have problems. Entropy is a property of creation. Life isn’t supposed to be easy. How could we learn without making mistakes? How could we appreciate the harvest without the hard work that went into planting the seeds?
What I’m suggesting is taking responsibility for your reactions and becoming proactive with your life. There are no negative or positive events. There are just events. Nothing is happening to you. Rather, things are just happening.
To remind myself of these facts, I started asking myself the two questions whenever I was feeling anxious, scared, upset, or stuck. They’re great questions to ask if you ever feel like, “I’m falling behind” or “I should be at a certain point by now.”
At a basic level, these questions give you an alternative frame for viewing the events currently happening in your life. If you experience a negative bias, then they give you the space to see the positive.
They offer you the opportunity (see what I did there?) to manage your emotions. It’s really difficult to be both anxious and excited about something at the same time. So, if you can see an opportunity and turn that insight into action, then you can switch your negative mood into excitement.
Getting Into The Habit
To get into the habit, Miguel and I would play a game. One of us would make up scenarios and the other one would shout out the opportunity. If one of us were talking about a problem in our life then the other would burst into how it was really an opportunity. At first I thought this was some woo-woo hippy shit. However, I gave it a chance and over time I realized it really worked for me.
- Stuck in traffic. Opportunity to practice being patient.
- Stub your toe. Opportunity to practice resilience.
- Break up with the person you’re dating. Opportunity to rediscover independence or meet new people.
- Get fired. Opportunity to travel. Opportunity to go back to school. Opportunity to volunteer.
- You see a good looking person on the street. Opportunity to practice talking to strangers.
- You get sick. Opportunity to appreciate life and take care of your health.
Why They Work
Asking yourself those two questions works for a couple reasons.
First, I find that thinking of how to turn negative events into opportunity can be really funny. It adds an element of humor into life. It gives us room for the acceptance of negative events and a chance to move on. When you look at it from that angle, the questions are a form of catharsis that is severely lacking for many of us living in the 21st century.
Second, they turn your focus away from outcomes and onto processes. Seeing opportunities isn’t an outcome, it’s a process. And when you get into that process you throw yourself into the ocean of life and force yourself to swim. You become a participant rather than a spectator.
We live in a rapidly changing and uncertain world. No one is going to tell you what to do. But if you can see opportunity, you can take action. And taking action will get you closer to wherever it is you want to go.