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Change Your Life by Changing Your Mind

by howtolivehappily on January 28th, 2011

Are you ecstatic about your life? If you had the chance to start fresh, would you do everything just the same way? Or would you prefer to make some changes? Most of us do want to make changes but don’t know how.

When I first heard that changing my mind could change my life, I got highly skeptical. It seemed too woo-woo to be true. I was so upset with my situation though. All my attempts to change things had failed so far. That’s why I decided to explore the topic. Now I am convinced that changing my mind is not just strange theory, but a necessity.

To begin with, education can be life changing. There is a kind of education though that we never get at school: we are never taught how to use those incredibly powerful computers we are all equipped with. If you don’t know how to use a computer, the experience can be very frustrating. Your brain is no different.

A great deal of our suffering is caused by improper brain use. We let our brains trick us – and often in a bad way.

Keys

Here’s an example. Have you ever had something like this happen to you: It’s time to leave the house, but you can’t find your keys.

“Why does this always happen at the most inconvenient moments?” you think to yourself. “I need to hurry up.”

Then you proceed to quickly look at the places you usually leave your keys, but find nothing. You try to ignore that mild stir in your belly and suppress it. You try to stay calm.

“I need to be there on time!”

You start searching faster, peeping into corners you’d never expect to find your keys, and sure enough, they are not there.

Meanwhile, the minutes are ticking away. Each time you look at the clock, you feel this stiffness in your belly get a bit stronger, then slowly take over your chest, then your neck.

“I’ll never make it on time,” you think to yourself. The harder you try, the more you realize how pointless it all is. You give up trying. All hope is gone.

Feeling tired and disillusioned, you let a deep sigh out and drop into a chair, accepting your defeat.

And there you see them. Your keys are lying on that shelf where you always leave them, clearly visible from a mile away.

What happened here? Seems like you were blind at that time.

We can all be blind without knowing it, as can be seen here:



Watch some more cool examples here.

Or maybe think of this:

Did you know that as you are sitting in front of your computer right now, you can feel your chair pressing against your back and buttosk?

Did you know that as you are reading this, you can also hear the humming of your computer? Most likely there are other noises in the room, too.

You probably weren’t aware of those things before I mentioned them, were you? They kind of didn’t exist for you, but they do now. How come?

We are constantly being bombarded with so much sensory information, that we have no other choice, but to ignore 99% of it. The propensity of our minds to only perceive what they choose to perceive is called Selective Attention. What we do perceive is not reality, but just a tiny selection of it – just what our cognitive filters let in. We don’t pay constant attention to things like the pressure against a chair or to monotonous background noises, because we need it for more important things. This filtering process may also go wrong however – as we see in the lost keys example.

The important thing to remember though is that we don’t see everything, but just a small selection that our brains chose for us.

Wait, that’s not all! In his book “Brain Rules,” Dr. John Medina writes about our vision:

At this very moment, while reading this text, you are perceiving parts of this page that do not exist. Which means you, my friend, are hallucinating. I am about to show you that your brain actually likes to make things up, not 100 percent faithful to what the eyes broadcast to it.

He also writes:

Far from being a camera, the brain is actively deconstructing the information given to it by the eyes, pushing it through a series of filters, and then reconstructing what it thinks it sees. Or what it thinks you should see.

1. What We See Is Not Reality. It’s Just What Our Brains Decide To Present Us As Reality.

By the way, If you haven’t heard of Dr. John Medina before, be sure to watch this amusing video:

Brain Rules Book Cover
Click here for his Brain Rules book
on www.amazon.com.

Click here for his website.

2. Emotions Color Our Perceptions And Thoughts

Have you ever heard a drunk person say:

No, I’m not drunk. I’m perfectly all right. I can drive home, no problem!

While being drunk is not exactly an emotion, emotions to intoxicate our brains in a very similar fashion. You might also have heard somebody say:

I’M NOT ANGRY, FFS!

Here’s the deal: Emotions and thoughts are interconnected. An angry thought can make you angry. A fearful thought can scare you. But it also goes the other way round.

An angry person tends to remember disturbing situations from their past. They will also focus on just the things around them that are upsetting.

Similarly, a scared person will be on the lookout for things that may be dangerous or scary.

Emotions have a profound impact on our perceptual filters. What we see while under the influence of a certain emotion appears to be real – and can be easily mistaken for proof that the emotion is justified.

When we feel angry, everybody around seems to be a jerk. In our mind, they appear to deserve to be yelled at, and punished for their wrongdoings. By acting on those thoughts, we antagonize others, and often get justified negative responses that fuel our anger even more. If the situation escalates, we may do really stupid things that we my regret all life long.

That’s how an emotion can not only skew our perceptions of reality, but also have real consequences.

3. We Create Meanings

Pixelated Letter A

What’s this?

Look at that small picture on the left. What do you see? Did you need even a second to think before you answer?

Of course you didn’t. You had the answer immediately:

Some white dots on a black background.

Right?

See, “letters” are merely some mental construct we humans have come up with. There are no letters out there in the universe. Letters are just an illusion we people agree upon. The only place one could find letters is in our minds. Without minds, there would be no letters.

Interesting thought, isn’t it? Did you ever think of this? Or did you just assume that letters belong to our objective reality?

Our brains are meaning-producing machines. As we look around, we are constantly asking ourselves:

What’s this? What does this mean?

A fraction of a second later, we’ve come up with an answer – a meaning – and without ever noticing, consider this meaning to be objective. And it’s not.

We do this swiftly all of the time. It’s as natural as breathing. That’s why it goes unnoticed.

Want some examples? Here you are:

I weigh 300 pounds. This means that I’m fat. This means that I’m ugly. This means that I suck.

Except for the fact that you weigh so and so pounds, all those statements are merely subjective stories your mind made up for you. Could you imagine how learning to question those stories could make you much happier?

Here’s one more:

This guy was rude to me. This means that he hates me. This means that there’s something wrong with me.

Or how about:

This guy was rude to me. This means that he’s a jerk. People are jerks. I hate them.

Or maybe:

This guy was rude to me. Maybe he was upset about something when I happened to be around.

Changing the meaning we give to a situation is called reframing. It’s a very useful technique, that deserves a whole article of its own.

I’ve got a puzzle for you:

Can you draw a rectangle with three lines?

It’s absolutely possible, and there are more solutions than I could care to come up with. Think for a while and maybe you will find a couple of your own. Then you can have a look at this…

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“I disagree. This is wrong. I feel offended.” I am sorry about that. Your opinion is important to me, so please write down all your objections in a comment below.  Thank you.

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From → Concepts, Useful Tips

11 Comments
  1. Reframing is something I’ve got much better at doing. I’m glad I do that now. Previously, I all too often found myself taking responsibility for everybody elses emotions and trying to fix them. It doesn’t work and is actually not mine to fix.
    Great article.
    Thanks

  2. Recovery International was founded by Abraham Low in 1937 and it still is alive and well today. These are three of the tools we use at our face-to-face, online, and telephone meetings”

    “Hurt feelings are just beliefs not shared” Abraham Low MD

    “Fear is a belief, beliefs can be changed” Abraham Low MD

    “The resoluteness of the muscles conquer the defeatism of the brain.”

  3. Gilbert Orbea permalink

    I’m trying to take this advice to heart. It’s quite the challenge to note how my emotions and mind and brain skews my perception of things.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Limiting Beliefs – How They Work And What To Do About Them « How To Live Happily
  2. Life Is Just So Worthless and Insignificant. Or Is It? « How To Live Happily
  3. Alex Lickerman – The True Cause Of Depression « How To Live Happily
  4. Why Do I Hate My Life? « How To Live Happily
  5. Depression Is a Wake-Up Call « How To Live Happily
  6. My Ramblings on Nihilism « How To Live Happily
  7. Tricks Your Brain Is Playing On You « How To Live Happily

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