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Metacognition: Thinking About Your Thinking

Summary: “Think about your thinking.” 

How often do you slow down and seriously reflect on the content and quality of your thinking? Most people live busy, cluttered, chaotic, stressful lives nowadays; so my guess is that most don’t spend too much time reflecting on such matters. If you are one of these people, slow down for a moment, take a deep breath, relax, and think about the following statement.

“Nothing can come from corn but corn.”

Okay, I know this is a corny statement, but this happens to be one of my favorite statements from a book titled As A Man Thinketh by James Allen. First of all, James was definitely not among the masses caught up in chaos. He got up an hour before dawn each day and walked to the hills overlooking his village and the sea…and thought about his thoughts. Biographers describing his daily routine often said he would go to the hills and meditate. However, if you read his works, he seemed to be doing the opposite of meditating. Meditation is about clearing your mind of thoughts. Rather than clearing his mind, James would focus on a specific thought (such as, nothing can come from corn but corn) in an effort to clarify and anchor his beliefs related to the thought. Here’s one of his conclusions related to thinking about corn:

“A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind.

Thus, nothing comes from corn but corn. Think about it!

James also clearly articulated the significant benefits of thinking about your thinking: “Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. Its presence is an indication of ripened experience, and of a more than ordinary knowledge of the laws and operations of thought. The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. People will always prefer to deal with a man whose demeanor is equable. He is like a shade-giving tree in a thirsty land, or a sheltering rock in a storm.

I encourage you to get in the habit of thinking about your thinking. Especially your thinking related to your career, marriage, parenting, relationships, money, religion, politics, success and happiness. Spending a little high-quality time with your mind will help you escape the chaos and become “like a shade-giving tree in a thirsty land.” A version of Allen’s book titled As A Woman Thinketh is also available for those of you with no Y chromosome.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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The Flow of Money

Summary: “Gracefully accept and welcome the incoming flow of money.”

Suppose someone compliments something you’re wearing. You can respond in three ways:

  1. You can discount the compliment – “Oh, this old thing. It’s no big deal. I’ve had it a long time.”
  2. You can “milk” the compliment – “Yes, I only buy the finest…blah, blah, blah”…and on and on.
  3. You can gracefully accept the compliment and move on in a reasonable amount of time.

Which response do you think is most appropriate? Which response demonstrates the healthiest mental attitude and self-esteem?

Now, transfer these same thoughts to accepting potential material wealth, or more specifically, the flow of money into your life. Yes, I know wealth is not all about money. But, let’s talk about the monetary aspect of wealth. You basically have the same three options with regard to accepting the flow of money into your life:

  1. You can discount the attainment of wealth and consistently tell yourself it’s never about money and that money is not important.
  2. You can “milk” the attainment of wealth with the attitude that if you can’t make a lot of money doing something, it’s not worth doing.
  3. You can gracefully accept and enjoy the flow of money into your life.

I believe your attitude toward money can influence its flow, or lack of flow, into your life. It’s not really that mysterious. If your mental attitude concerning money dictates that wanting money is bad, or people who want money are greedy, or similar negative inner-voice messages, you will probably avoid whole-heartedly engaging in legitimate activities that could increase the flow of money into your life. These unproductive mental tapes running in your psyche could be limiting your material wealth.

If you are interested in some highly insightful thoughts on the flow, or lack of flow, of money into your life – buy a copy of How To Run Own Life by Jut Meininger (out of print, but available used) and read chapter seven – “How to Decide to Get Rich.”

By the way, the book will probably be a bit pricey, but there are many, many fascinating lessons in this book that will help you joyfully participate in life. It’s a great resource for those interested in human behavior and personal growth.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

 

 

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How You Can Help Those Who Are Dying

Summary: “Make it all about them”

A few years ago I found myself in a position of wanting to help a friend cope with difficult circumstances – he was losing his wife to cancer. I really wasn’t sure what to do, so I called another friend, a physician who unfortunately deals with death and dying all to often, and asked for his advice. Among other things, he suggested that I read Final Gifts by Maggie Callahan and Patricia Kelley. For me, and my friend, and his wife, this turned out to be very good advice.

The authors are medical professionals who work with dying people. In their book, they provide excellent and often counter-intuitive advice for those who are dealing with friends or loved ones who are dying. The big takeaway for me was that it’s all about the dying person and what they need and want. It’s not about you, or anyone else. Sure it will be tough on you, and you will probably need help, but your best role in this situation is to do all you can to make your friend or loved one’s death as comfortable, stress-free and peaceful as possible. I strongly encourage reading this book. If you do, here are just a few things you will learn.

Pay close attention to certain occurrences that are indications your friend or loved one’s time is very limited and in some cases they might need your help. Comments from the person who is dying or those around him or her that “something is different.” They look through you, or stare into space, or interact with people that you cannot see – reaching for them, talking to them, pointing at them, or waving at them. Confusing comments and the use of symbolic language, especially about going on a trip or traveling, waiting in line, or getting ready for something. Talking about vivid or recurring dreams. Talking about the need for reconciliation or getting closure on unfinished business. The book discusses examples of these and many other occurrences, and gives specific advice on handling each of them.

Overall, it’s best to accept and validate what they are trying to communicate. Don’t argue or challenge them. Instead, ask a lot of open-ended questions about their comments or actions. For example, say, “Will you tell me about that?” If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything – maybe try touching or holding their hand and smiling. Don’t force them to talk about death, but don’t shy away from talking about it if they want to do so.

In general, if you keep your focus on the dying, their needs and their desires – you will likely do the right thing. It’s all about them! Basically you need to let them choose how to spend the time they have left and support their decisions. I believe this book offers you and those you care about comfort in difficult times.

I dedicate this posting to my good friend Tom, his wife Carol, Doc Kilgore, and the women who wrote this incredibly helpful book. Read it – because sooner or later you will need it.

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Worry Pivoting

Summary: “Focus on positive pleasurable events to counter worrisome thoughts.” 

We all worry at times. Here’s an idea the experts (including Jeffrey Schwartz and Norman Doidge) suggest for serious worriers that may also help you deal with your serious worries, or even some of your garden-variety everyday worrisome thoughts.

When you find yourself worrying too much about something, refocus on a positive or pleasurable event for 15 to 30 minutes.

Here’s why and how it works. In general there are three phases to worrisome events and three brain areas that take the lead in handling the different phases:

  1. The mistake/something’s wrong feeling (orbital frontal cortex)
  2. The anxious/I need to do something feeling (cingulate gyrus)
  3. The shift gears/let it go and move on feeling (caudate nucleus)

Think of the three brain areas as your worry circuit. For various reasons, the third structure, the caudate nucleus, gets stuck at times…so you don’t move on and the worrisome thoughts escalate or persist.

Thinking of a positive or pleasurable event at that very moment (the moment you begin to feel stuck in a mental loop), in effect, shifts gears on your worry circuit manually. If you do this enough, two good things happen: the new circuit focused on positive thoughts strengthens and the old circuit atrophies or weakens. The technical term for this process is neuroplasticity (see also posting on Habits and Neuroplasticity). In plain English, the new circuit will eventually override the old circuit. You are, in effect, changing channels on your worrisome thoughts.

A very thorough and highly readable explanation of how this works is in chapter 6 of Doidge’s book The Brain That Changes Itself. Check that out if you are tired of worrying too much and want to know more.

I know this sounds too simple to work, but this is not just an anecdotal opinion. Brain scans by Dr. Schwartz confirmed that it really works and works quite well. And learning to pivot your thoughts when you find yourself worrying excessively is a good way to joyfully participate in life.

If that doesn’t work try this or this.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris        

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Choice – Your Final Freedom

Summary: “Your ability to see clearly and choose wisely is your final freedom.”  

Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, called our ability to choose how we respond to circumstances our “final freedom.”

Think about this for a moment. We can only respond to the events in our lives in one of three ways: positively, negatively or neutrally. Even in difficult times, when we do not seem to have many, or any choices, we still posses this final freedom that allows us to choose how we respond to our circumstances.

That’s a good thing to know, and it’s a good idea in theory. However, how can we implement this idea in the real world? One way is to get your brain to function like a camera, especially when facing difficult circumstances. Instead of thinking “what do I see?” think in terms of “what would the lens of a camera see if a picture could be taken of this event or these circumstances?”

The camera lens captures only the facts. However, unlike a camera, your brain provides all types of emotional input. When you “see” something, light waves bounce off objects in your environment and are instantaneously converted by your visual sensory organs into the only language the human brain understands, electrical impulses.

These impulses race around the neural pathways in your brain and trigger responses from many different areas, including the parts of your brain associated with memory. This process builds a mental image of what you have observed. Therefore, what you “see” is heavily influenced by your memories, what you want to see, what you fear, other emotions and so forth and so on. That’s why three people can see the same thing and respond in three totally different ways.

When you encounter difficult circumstances, ask yourself:

  • What would a camera lens see?
  • Is there any possible way to respond positively to this event or these circumstances?

If all else fails, you can always default to the “what can I learn from this and what will I do differently next time?” response. Enjoy your final freedom. Develop it and it will serve you well and help you joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

 

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Double-Stuffed Homes

Summary: “Don’t assume your kids want your stuff.” 

If all goes well, people typically live until they are 80, 90, or beyond these days. That’s a lot of time to accumulate a lot of stuff. The big question is, what will happen to all your stuff when you are gone?

Maybe your children, or other loved ones you leave behind, will want all of it – but I doubt it! It’s more likely that, at best, they will want some very small part of it. So if you currently have a house full of stuff, and those who will inherit your stuff already have their own house full of stuff, then they could end up with a double-stuffed house. Double stuffing is great for Oreos, not so great for worldly possessions.

If you really take the time to think of all the stuff in your closets, drawers, attic, garage, your off-site storage facility, and other various storage places…little of it probably fits someone else’s taste and lifestyle…or in their already burgeoning storage places.

Think about who will have to deal with your stuff when you are gone and what it will be like. At a minimum, let them know what they can quickly discard. For example, I keep a lot of articles in my files in case I want to refer to them later. But when I am gone, I am fine with someone tossing the files without even going through them. And tell people what they might do with things if they do not want them. Again as an example, I’ve got a lot of books. If my children do not want my books, I would like the books to go to a prison or correctional institution library. Who knows, maybe one of the books will help someone turn their life around. A few years ago I donated 1,000 books to a local correctional institution. They seemed pleased, and it got me off to a good head start on my stuff reduction strategy. If you are comfortable doing so downsize, downsize, and then downsize some more!

In general, if you care about those you will leave behind, talk with them and come up with a plan that won’t force them to wonder what to do with your stuff, and the stuff you got from your parents, and maybe even the stuff your parents got from their parents.

Minimize the double-stuffing risk for your loved ones. It’s a great way to help them joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

 

 

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The Story of Two Wolves

Summary: “Nurture good, starve evil.” 

Most of you have probably seen or heard this story many times. Considering what is going on in the world these days, I thought it would be a good reminder for those of you who want to do something to make things better. Feed the right wolf and help others do so if you can. 

The Story of Two Wolves 

One evening and old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two “wolves” inside us all.

One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.

The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

…Author Unknown

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Perfectionism Versus Excellence and Mastery

Summary: “Pursue excellence and mastery, not perfection.”

Perfectionism is yet another form of dysfunctional behavior often disguised as a positive personality attribute. Before the majority of the perfectionists reading this tune me out, let me clarify my position on this:

  • The pursuit of excellence and mastery is a noble activity…I like it!
  • Perfectionism is an irrational, illogical and potentially neurotic activity…I don’t like it!

Perfectionism drains the productivity and energy of the perfectionist. It can literally paralyze people and keep them from starting or finishing important projects and tasks.

One of the primary sources of perfectionism is criticism. It could be that you grew up in an environment where your parents, teachers, peers or other people important to you were, shall we say, slightly overcritical. But don’t be too quick to lay the blame on others. It could be that a part of your psyche took on the role of mental parent and currently provides all self-criticism you need. Or, you may have decided to play the children’s version of “keeping up with the Joneses.” You picked a big brother or sister, or a high-achieving peer, and decided to be like them…or be better than them. You began living your life by comparison. If you didn’t always measure up, your little inner voice was quick to let you know about it.

Go ahead and take a chance every once in a while. Make a few mistakes. Won’t it feel good not to always take on the role of propping up the business, family, relationship, project or world? Then look for the birth of your critical voice. Where did it begin? Was it someone else? Was it you? Turn that voice off by focusing on excellence and mastery (a journey) rather than perfectionism (a non-existent destination).

There is a huge difference in perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence or mastery. Perfectionists never feel satisfied. They always feel somewhat restless and disappointed in their performance. In short, their activities generate more negative feelings than positive feelings. Although masters also know they can always improve their skills or performance, they feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when they perform their work (see also posting on the Progress Principle). In short, their activities generate positive feelings and enhance self-esteem.

Remember, a true friend is someone who knows you and still likes you. Learn to be your own best friend. It’s a good way to joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

 

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Are Your Choices Yours?

Summary: “Rethink your choices and make sure they are yours.” 

Sometimes we fail to stop and think about how much parents and early childhood caregivers still influence our current behavior (even when they are no longer living).

For example, nature designed us to eat when we are hungry and quit eating when we are no longer hungry. That sounds simple and straightforward. And nature even gives us guidance on when to eat and when to stop. A hormone called ghrelin takes the lead in letting us know we are hungry and it’s time to eat; likewise, another hormone called leptin signals that our hunger is satisfied and it’s time to stop eating. All in all, it’s a pretty good system to help us regulate our food intake…but then some parents decide to mess with Mother Nature. And messing with Mother Nature, of course, is rarely a good idea.

Your parents probably meant well if they constantly pestered you about cleaning your plate, but what message did you likely receive as a child when you heard this statement? Probably something along the lines of…the amount of food on my plate is the best measure of how much I should eat, not the actual presence or absence of hunger. So, given that we live in a super-size and relatively abundant food environment, some of us grow up and frequently overeat as adults. When a large quantity of food somehow gets on our plate, we feel we need to eat it…all of it!

This is just one example of how we are not necessarily in conscious control of many of our daily decisions. In this example, we are not really making a current decision to eat or not eat a certain quantity of food. We are just continuing a decision that our parents made for us years ago. We are grown-ups in chronological and biological terms, but we are acting like children who can’t decide things for ourselves from a psychological point of view.

I’ll bet you can think of other examples of how you continue decisions your parents made for you years ago. Maybe it’s your political or religious beliefs. Where you choose to live. What you do for a living. All of this is fine if you agree with the original decision. However, as in the case of the “clean your plate” decision, you might want to rethink some of your choices in life just to make sure they are your choices and not someone else’s. This is all about being autonomous, and being autonomous helps you joyfully participate life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

 

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Where the Goats Eat the Grass!

Summary: “Communicate clearly using straightforward, simple words.”

Once upon a time long ago, I worked for the CEO (the Big Boss) of a very large corporation. One of my jobs was to develop presentations for him to deliver to employees, customers, investors and others interested in learning more about the company. One day, as he was reviewing a slide presentation, he turned to me with a rather disgusted look, pointed to the screen and said, “What’s that?”

“What is what?” I asked.

“What is that word?” he replied. Apparently, I had used a word he thought a bit too sophisticated. Big Boss said, “You been spending too much time in New York City with them (translated: those) eggheads. Quit puttin’ them kinda words in my presentations.”

You should know at this point, Big Boss was a very well educated, super-intelligent fellow. Although he was from south Alabama, he completed his graduate studies at a very prestigious university … above the Mason-Dixon Line. I suspect he was using slang for effect to make a lasting impact on an uppity fancy-word using subordinate. He then advised me, “When I’m talking to folks, I want to stay down where the goats eat the grass.”

In response, I began laughing hysterically!

Although I am also from a small Alabama town, I was neither familiar with the saying nor the eating habits of barnyard animals. Since Big Boss was very task oriented and detail-minded, he never hesitated to explain his ideas … in great detail. In the interest of time, I’ll summarize his observations related to consumption patterns of farm animals left unsupervised in a pasture.

  • “The cows will eat the grass down to here.” To illustrate, he held his hands about four inches apart.
  • “Sheep will eat the grass down to here.” He moved his hands closer, maybe two inches apart.
  • “But the goats, the goats eat the grass right down to the ground! He then slapped his hands together inches from my face to emphasize his point.

Big Boss rarely left it up to you to grasp the full meaning of his teachable moments. He continued his constructive feedback, “You need to get your head straight, keep your feet on the ground and keep your words on the ground when preparing my presentations. Do you understand?” I understood!

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

 

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