Sifting: Chapter 19 – Resetting Bob’s Direction

This posting is part of a series on my book Sifting. If you have not read the previous postings, please visit the menu above (click on Sifting) for a chronological listing of any previous chapters. Thanks!  


Chapter 19: Resetting Bob’s Direction

Bob: Hello, Sift.

Sift: Hello, Bob.

Bob: That little exercise you suggested turned out to be another eye opener for me – and quite a history lesson. As I got more into it, I started remembering people and events I hadn’t thought of in years, including some major life-shaping people and events.

Sift: That is what usually happens. Did it help you understand how your tapes influence your current choices?

Bob: Absolutely! I had no idea that so many things that happened in the past are still influencing my choices. You were right. It is like solving a puzzle and understanding how I created my current circumstances. I had many interesting thoughts about my history, but I had one huge aha moment.

Sift: What was that, Bob?

Bob: I thought I was a pretty good decision maker, but exploring my tapes taught me that I wasn’t really making a lot of new decisions. Many of what I thought were new decisions, were actually old decisions. That’s another way to think about tapes, isn’t it? Tapes are old decisions. And I didn’t even make most of the decisions. Others made them for me, and I never challenged them. I just accepted them as my own choices, and they created patterns of behavior around them that carried over into my adult life. That’s what you were talking about earlier when you told me to make sure my decisions were my own decisions, right?

Sift: Right.

Bob: The thought that I have been doing that, relying on tapes to make choices, is frightening, fascinating and, in one sense, exhilarating! With what you have already taught me, I truly believe that, as they say, my life will begin again at 40. It’s a bit weird, but I think it is time for me to begin making my own decisions.

Sift: Bob, you are turning out to be an extraordinary learner. I am impressed with how you are putting all the pieces of this puzzle together.

Bob: Thanks, Sift!

Sift: Bob, the exercise I suggested placed you mentally and emotionally in the past for an extended period of time. There was value in doing that, but I think it would be best if we spent some time talking about the present and future now. Are you interested in doing that?

Bob: Yes.

Sift: Good, let’s talk about resetting your direction.

Bob: Uh, okay. What exactly does that mean?

Sift: Now that you understand more about obstacles that can prevent you from pursuing your calling, this is a good time to begin talking about the process of going forward – about some things you can do to get on the right path in life and stay on it. When you go on any journey, including a hero’s journey, you need some way to determine if you are at least going in the right or wrong direction. That’s why it is a good idea to establish a directional benchmark to evaluate your new choices. Tell me, Bob, at this point in your life, what do you most want to move toward? Can you think of a way to clearly articulate that?

Bob: When you asked me that, the first thing that popped into my mind was all that stuff you told me earlier about emotions being my only direct source of knowledge.

Sift: Good, can you remember the five broad categories of emotions, Bob?

Bob: I think so. Joy, sadness, anger, fear…what was the other one?

Sift: Affection. It has a lot to do with people’s desire for acceptance by those important to them. Bob, I think your spontaneous thoughts are absolutely taking you in the right direction. Now, with those five emotions in mind, can you articulate what you most want to move toward in life?

Bob: Uh, yeah. I want to move toward joy. Can I use that as my directional benchmark?

Sift: Tell me a little more about what you mean when you say you want to move toward joy.

Bob: Sift, can I take a few minutes to think about this?

Sift: Yes, I think that is a good idea.

Bob sat up straight in his chair, breathed in and out deeply and slowly, closed his eyes, and sat still and silent. After a few minutes, he nodded his head, opened his eyes, and continued his conversation with Sift.

Bob: I want to move in the direction of joyfully participating in life.

Sift: Bob, I like the way you stated that. I like it a lot. I just want to make sure I fully understand what you mean when you say that.

Bob: I want to be happy. Is that a better way of saying it?

Sift: No, I like the way you originally stated your directional benchmark better. I just think it is important that we expand on what it means and take it beyond the idea of just being happy.

Bob: What do you mean by “expand it”? I thought happiness was the most sought after thing in the world?

Sift: Happiness is one of the components of overall well-being, and that is what I encourage you to focus on – overall well-being. If you explore happiness, you will discover that it is not enough on its own. It is a seemingly minor distinction, but in reality, it is not minor at all. Many people focus excessively on what you might think of as “the Hollywood- or Madison Avenue-version” of happiness and think of the smiley-face aspects of happiness. That is never enough to joyfully participate in life.

Bob: That makes sense. If happiness is a subset of well-being, happiness becomes a part of my overall focus?

Sift: Yes.

Bob: And what other kinds of things are included in well-being?

Sift: Things that create peace of mind, contentment, and other forms of life satisfaction.

Bob: Okay, so it’s not just about jumping up and down, rah-rah experiences?

Sift: No, not at all.

Bob: Okay, my directional benchmark is to joyfully participate in life, and, in general, that means I will make choices that move me in that direction.

Sift: Yes, Bob. When you are faced with significant choices or decisions, ask the question, “Will this choice take me toward or away from joyfully participating in life?” Of course, try to minimize or eliminate choices that take you away from joyfully participating in life.

Bob: Sift, this all makes sense, but why is it so important?

Sift: What was your directional benchmark before we had this discussion? How did you evaluate your choices?

Bob: I’m not really sure.

Sift: How would you categorize your life? What was your typical day like?

Bob: The word that comes to mind when you ask me that is chaotic.

Sift: Having a directional benchmark can help immunize you from chaos.

Bob: Huh? How does that immunize me from chaos?

Sift: Have you ever been to Penn Station in New York City during rush hour?

Bob: Sure, I used to catch trains from Manhattan to Long Island all the time.

Sift: Did things seem chaotic during rush hour?

Bob: Always!

Sift: I know it looked chaotic, but that was not really true chaos you were observing.

Bob: Huh?

Sift: It was not true chaos because, for the most part, everyone knew where he or she was going. Sure, they were zigzagging across the terminal and occasionally bumping into each other, and it looked much like chaos. However, if you stand above it all and observe the flow of traffic, something very interesting happens when they announce a track change. You can see subtle shifts in the flow of traffic. People do not panic; they just adjust their movement and trajectory and head in the direction of the new track. Since they know where they are headed, changes do not affect them much.

Bob: Wow, I never thought of that. If you know where you are headed, it is easier to deal with unexpected events, isn’t it?

Sift: Much easier. As we talk more, we will explore other ways to get more clarity about the goals that support your desire to joyfully participate in life; but step one is to get you going in the right direction and help you keep going in the right direction.

Bob: Sift, it strikes me that this is really the answer to the question, What do I want to be when I grow up? and it can provide me with excellent guidance on my specific goals.

Sift: Goals, by definition, involve destinations, and setting them is a worthwhile thing to do. However, your desire to joyfully participate in life provides you with an ongoing focus that supersedes any specific goal. The question of what to be or do when you grow up is not really about being a butcher, baker, candlestick maker, doctor or lawyer. It’s not about whether to marry, to have children, to buy a house, to own a certain car, to have a certain title, to make a certain amount of money, or anything like that. The question is whether or not pursuing these goals will move you toward or away from joyfully participating in life. Moving in the right direction is the most important thing. And in terms of the hero’s journey, trying to figure out your path counts as being on the path. When you start moving in the right direction, by even thinking about what your true path might be, you have begun your hero’s journey.

Bob: Sift, this is very clarifying for me. If someone asks me what I want to do with my life, my answer is to joyfully participate in life. Everything else is in the service of achieving that goal on an ongoing basis. They may not totally understand that response, but I do; and that is what matters.

Sift: Congratulations, Bob, you have reset your direction in life.

Bob: I am going to write some things in my journal now. I need to take some time to process all the thoughts on my mind.

Sift: Good idea, Bob.


End Chapter 19

Author’s Notes:

Main takeaway: Use joyfully participating in life as your directional benchmark for making day-to-day life choices.   

  1. Why do you think Bob came to the conclusion that his tapes represented old decisions? Why does that matter?
  2. What is the relationship between your choices and your potential to joyfully participate in life?
  3. How can having a directional benchmark help you minimize chaos in your life?


 The entire book will eventually be posted on this blog. However, if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for a friend, you can find it at this link: Sifting

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