“What we see is mainly what we look for.” ~Anonymous
A few weeks ago, my aunt was visiting for a family holiday. I hadn’t seen her in a few years so we were catching up, talking about life, and talking about the projects we were each working on.
“So I’m still working on my PhD dissertation,” she said. “It’s really exhausting, you know, having five kids and doing my PhD all while working. It’s just exhausting.”
“And the problem is that these professors are constantly approving or denying my thesis subjects, so I’ll begin to research it and then they tell me I need to switch. It’s like all these people are against me.”
“We’ve also got some debt from our last house that I lost in the divorce and I’m still trying to manage that while….”
She went on for about 15 minutes, without me even being able to say a word, until her husband finally came in and said:
“Karen, stop gettin’ in your own way, will ya? The way you talk is enough to give a sane person a nervous breakdown.”
And that’s when it clicked.
The Secret Enemy Sabotaging Our Lives
Have you ever gone into a job interview and then couldn’t stop replaying the mental image of yourself messing up? (Like telling yourself, “There are tons of more qualified candidates. I don’t know how they’ll find me….”)
Have you ever changed how you treated someone based on what they looked like, before you even knew them? (Like a random salesman coming up to your door?)
Have you ever gotten upset at your spouse over something that, as it turns out, was entirely in your head? (Like blaming her/him for a mess, when it turns out it was the kids?)
If you’ve done one of these things, then you may be falling prey to this secret enemy called your mind.
Why Happiness, Contentment, and Even Success Originate in Our Mind
I’ve learned there’s one thing that holds us back from doing as well as we want: our mind.
When we’re not doing as well as we want, it’s usually because of made-up dramas that happen in our mind all day long.
Like the belief that we can’t be successful and happy.
Or the belief that it takes a lot of money to start a business.
Or the belief that all successful people are highly intelligent prodigies.
Guess what! None of these are facts. They are merely beliefs that hold us back.
Remember my aunt who thought that the whole world was conspiring against her? It took her own husband saying, “Stop getting in your own way!” for her to even remotely realize it wasn’t a “fact,” but merely her own thoughts affecting her behavior.
So what do you do when your mind is getting in your own way?
Whether it’s messing with your relationship, how you view your job, or just preventing you from being happy, there is one key practice you can do.
Ask yourself: Is this really true?
Try to be a little scientist, and ask yourself “Is this really true?” Do it 100 times a day. Try to find experiences or people that contradict this idea in your head. I’ll show you how.
Example #1: The whole world is against me, I can’t find a job, nothing ever works out, and people are untrustworthy.
When I graduated from college, it was during one of the worst times to go looking for a job.
I talked to many people about it, and I usually ended up saying something like this:
Assumption: “The economy is just so bad. All of the jobs are taken and it’s going to be very difficult for me to find any job (let alone a good one). My college degree means nothing, and I’m going to have to work in Starbucks to pay for my bills. The last two job interviews went horribly. Nothing ever works out for me.”
The Question: Is this really true? What would an observer see?
- Yes, there are fewer open jobs, based on statistics.
- A college degree is useful, but there are many other competitors with college degrees too.
- Yes, the past two job interviews didn’t lead to a job.
But I chose to blame the economy instead of figuring out a novel way to find a job (like through personal connections or learning a brand new skill).
I chose to believe that a college degree is the only way to be competitive in a tough job market.
I chose to believe that life had a personal vendetta against me, when in reality, the only objective fact was that I didn’t get the last two jobs I’d interviewed for.
All of these assumptions were poisoning my mind and creating a filter through which I viewed the world.
And all of these things prevented me from doing the only thing that mattered: seeing reality for what it was and taking the next step forward.
Example #2: “In order to get fit, I’ve heard you have to work out two hours a day and just eat lettuce. I could never do that.”
My dad, a guy who is in his late 50s who loves watching MMA (mixed martial arts), figured he should start taking better care of his health. Unfortunately, he had a lot of emotional and mental baggage:
Assumption: “In order to get fit you need to work out two or more hours a day like these MMA guys and just eat super clean. You need iron willpower to never eat sweets and maintain that kind of workout plan. I could never do that. You’ve really got to be in the peak of your life.”
The Question: Is this really true?
The easiest way to find the objective truth for this would be to ask someone who did it.
Fortunately a family friend who is a doctor recently had a success story to compare to:
- Do you need to workout two hours a day? “I only worked out forty-five minutes, four times a week.”
- Do you need to eat only lettuce? “Actually, I ate plenty of meat, veggies, nuts, and fruits (and wine!), and was rarely hungry.”
- Do you need to restrict all the foods you enjoy? “I had one cheat day: it turned out to be Saturdays when I had free-reign on tiramisu and red wine.”
So how do you think my dad’s behavior changed when he learned that his former “belief” was not a fact?
He felt liberated. He felt in control. He felt like he had the reigns in his own life. It’s incredibly empowering.
When he learned that maybe it’s a little more realistic than he thought, that dramatically improved the chances that he’d change his behavior for the better.
What does this mean for you?
Many of us today don’t feel in control of our lives and feel like there is a game being played around us.
But what we don’t realize is that it is our mind skewing reality—and the moment we learn to control our mind, we have more control over our reality.
Next time you get into an argument with someone, ask yourself: Is my mind controlling my reality?
You’ll suddenly wake up with this incredible realization that you are much more capable and in control than you think.
Photo by herecomestherooster