Is there an area of your life that you would like to change? Is there an area of your life you’ve tried changing, made some progress but somehow ended up in the same spot you started in?
Maybe you want to lose weight; you want to improve your temper; you want to control your web browsing addictions; to be a better parent; or in my case, to wake up early and to exercise regularly. Often, I’ve found myself struggling when revisiting the subject.
I came across a google talk of Professor Srikumar Rao. His mission is to help highly intelligent people find meaning in their lives. His talk deeply moved me and I knew instantly that I had to share with you. The following are part one of my notes, along with what I learned from this talk.
Learning New Concepts
Before we dig into making profound and lasting change, here’s a caveat on learning new concepts.
When we are introduced to new concepts, our mind tends to seek out ways that it will fail. Automatically, we think of reasons why this isn’t true. Of course, if you push hard enough every statement a person can say will crumble. However, just as equally, the models we are currently using which we have not subjected to the same scrutiny will too crumble.
The question is not to ask whether something is true or false, right or wrong, good or bad. The question to ask is: Does this work for me better for my life than what I am presently using?
If the answer is yes, use it. If not, don’t waste your time and energy judging it, because it may be useful to you at a later time.
There may be things present in our lives and our habits that we are not happy about. We want change, yet as hard as we try, sometimes, we are just not seeing the level of profound change we desire.
As it turns out, real behavior changes are very difficult to bring about by effort of will alone. Often times you will fail, yet even if you succeeded, there can be negative side effects. A solution to this that brings about profound change is to change our mental models, which will change the way we look at the world.
When this happens, change will rise naturally out of us.
Three Important Building Blocks
Before this change happens, we need to understand three important building blocks. They are the basis for tools that will help us transform problems and unhappiness to a life of meaning and happiness.
1. Mental Chatter
Our mental chatter is the internal dialog that is going on in our heads at all times. Our thoughts run an endless stream from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. Thoughts are flowing through your mind right now as you read this. What is she talking about? That’s a tall order they’re claiming, isn’t it? Gosh, what am I going have for dinner?
Sometimes our mental chatter is so loud that it prevents us from sleeping. It has been with us and apart of our lives for so long, that we have learned to ignore it. However, what we don’t realize is that our mental chatter and mental models are what we use to create our lives.
We think that we are given a set of things that is our reality, but that is not really the case. We construct it with our mental chatter. Much of the time, we are building it without knowing that this is what we are doing.
Be aware that we have mental chatter and recognize that the voice in our head is not us. Our mental chatter often works against us and is highly dysfunctional. This is the voice that talks down to us, challenges our self-esteem and is the source that limits our infinite potential.
2. Mental Models
A mental model is our belief of how the world works. We say, this is the way the world works. Mental models can be very useful because they simplify our lives and save us mental energy. Each of us has many mental models. For example, we have mental models for how to find a date; mental models for how to pick a movie; mental models for how to find a good restaurant.
The problem is not that we have mental models, but that we don’t recognize we have mental models. We think this is how the world works. But, this is not how the world works; this is our perception of how the world works, built in our mind.
The interesting thing about mental models is that the moment we have a mental model defined, the universe cooperates and gives you enough evidence that this is in fact the way it is working. You notice and take account of the positive evidence, and make excuses when evidence does not fit your model.
Every time you find yourself unhappy with something in your life, you can always trace it back to one or more mental models which are not serving you very well.
3. Me-Centered Universe
Most of us have a habit of living in a Me Centered Universe. We interpret everything that happens in terms of, What impact does it have on me?
For example, If our spouse gets a new job, we instantly think of how we can benefit from it. If our kids were to drop out of school, we instantly think of what our neighbors and friends will think of me?
It’s worthwhile to take a moment to think about this. How much of the time do you live in a Me Centered Universe? Where regardless of what happens, the first thing we think about is in terms of What is its impact on me?
If you spend a dominate amount of time in the Me Centered Universe, you are guaranteed to find more than your share of frustrations, of pain, of suffering, of life sucks. They come with the territory of being in a Me Centered Universe.
The only way you can live a completely fulfilled life is to design your life such that what you are doing aligns with something which will bring greater good to a greater community. You are the one who gets to define what the greater good means and what the greater community means.
The good news is that once you recognize this, it is not that hard to make a shift.
Living in The Matrix
Given the building blocks above, let’s entertain an idea: All of us are living in a dream world. We are all living in The Matrix, except we don’t realize it. We believe that this is the real world, and as such, what we perceive as reality becomes definite and fixed. But is this necessary?
The answer is no, of course not. We have the power to choose what our reality is, because we are the captains of our perception.
Steps for Altering Your Reality: An Exercise
Try this simple yet powerful exercise. You can do this in a group of 2 or 3, or you can do it on your own.
- Articulate a reality – In your life, you have something of concern to you, right now. Around this concern, you have crafted a reality. You say, this is what it is. Now, articulate this reality. Write it down if you are working on your own. Every detail and every assumption.
- Craft an alternative reality – Come up with a possible alternative reality. This alternative reality must meet two criteria:
- It has to be better than the one you were describing, the one you are presently using.
- It has to be a reality that you can plausibly believe, on some level.
- Start living as if your alternative reality were THE reality – when you start to do this, you will find two things happening:
- You will get lots of evidence saying: it’s not working. It’s not working. I guarantee you will. Just ignore that. Remember? Your mind is not you.
- You will get lots of evidence saying: It’s working! It’s working! – Recognize and celebrate it.
- Write it down – When you get evidence that it is working, do more than celebrating it. Make sure you record it down. Write it down. This is a very important step. There will be a natural laziness that comes into play whispering in your ears that you will remember it. But you won’t remember. Make sure to carry a note book or notepad with you at all times.
If you consistently write down evidence that your alternative reality is working, you will find over time that, as you review your words, there is a shift happening. Slowly, your alternative reality becomes your new reality. You will find that your life has changed, for the better. And that you are living in a different reality than the one you were in before.
When we craft a statement that says this is where we are and we are stuck here. What we are doing is expressing the reality of our lives. The thing to recognize here is: It is a reality, but we treat it as if it isthe reality.
Once we define our lives as Yes, I can do all these things. Then suddenly, ways will be shown to you such that you can do it.
This alternative reality exercise is very powerful, because it can get you out of the straight jacket that you’ve put on. Over time, it’s not just an exercise anymore, but it becomes who you are.
In addition to the building blocks and alternative reality exercise above, here are some tips for making habitual changes in your life.
- Focus on just one – It’s challenging enough to make one habitual change, it’s even tougher if you try to divide your attention to make multiple drastic changes at the same time. I’ve successfully tried and failed at this. Give yourself at least 3 weeks of total concentration to change one reality before moving on to the next area of your life. Give yourself more time if you need. Some deep rooted realities can take months to undo.
- Mutual Support – Be around positive, uplifting and supportive people. Share with them your wins, joys and celebrations. It’s a great idea to form empowerment groups around you to discuss issues like this and to support each other in your personal growth. If you have a spouse, team up with them and make this a fun time to connect with one other.
- Understand Why – Be clear and specific on the why you want change. Motivation is the intrinsic drive which moves us into action and to ultimately change for the better. Motivation is created when our motives are clear. Fully understand the results of such change and results of no change. Write them down.
- Be Inspired – Spent at least 10 minutes every day reading or listening to something positive and empowering that inspires you. There is so much junk out there in our media heavy society, that if we don’t take the steps to surround ourselves with positive messages of hope, it’s easy to get sucked in to what we’re being exposed to. I’ve found this little video to be an uplifting thing to watch in the morning.
- Reward & Celebration – I can’t stress this point enough, as I am guilty of not rewarding myself for Wins (because I’m too busy beating myself up over what I haven’t done yet). I recommend physical celebrations, because those tend to leave lasting marks on our unconscious mind. Give a high-five! Jump up and down! Do a happy dance! Reward yourself and treat yourself to something nice, like ice-cream or a movie.
My focus for this week is to become an early riser. My present reality is: I can’t possibly sleep early, I’m not sleepy before midnight. I’m creative at night, so why change that? Besides, I can’t hear my alarm in the morning anyways. My alternative reality is: it is possible to sleep before mid night, it is possible to turn off all electronics by 10pm and I can get up before 7am every morning. 🙂
Wish me success!