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A young lady who came to see me recently was in a bit of a bind that is typical of many high school students. It was time to choose a career: her family had always expected her to enter the medical field, and she was feeling drawn to a different profession, in entertainment and media. In the past she had always done what her family wanted, even at the cost of sacrificing her personal desires, but this was different. She told her family she was applying to the other program, which surprised her parents so much that all conversation ceased for several days.

After she explained the situation, she asked me the title question: is it selfish of me to care so much about being happy in my career, rather than doing what my family wants?

We are all motivated by a number of different drivers in our lives. The values we have and the states we want are what cause us to choose our careers, purchases, homes, communities. Psychology professor Steven Reiss conducted a large-scale study in the late twentieth-century into what motivates us, and identified sixteen basic drivers, including values like romance, honor, order, and tranquility. None of the sixteen are better or worse than the others, they can each be healthy in their own way. Understanding your own personal drivers can help you transform blocks where you may be perhaps trying to motivate yourself with something that doesn't work.

I have friends who work in jobs that they actively dislike and, if they were not getting paid, would not be doing. However, that is fine with them and they are OK with that fact, because it allows them to take care of their families and pay for vacations and expensive luxury items. That's not a choice I could have made, because I would not be able to get up and go to work in the morning if I did not enjoy what I was doing or find it fulfilling. I also cannot afford the same vacations and purchases they can, yet I would say we are both happy in our own way.

I answered the young lady as best as I could: it's not for me or anyone else to judge what another person should be doing for their own happiness. There's no apology necessary for wanting to be happy in a healthy and rewarding job, and that I hoped her family would come to understand that and the relationship would repair naturally, as opposed to her forcing herself into a smaller box.

What is it that gets you out of bed and is behind everything you do, propelling you forward like a rocket?

In last week's entry, I referenced the advice given by mindfulness teacher Pema Chodron, to notice what you are feeling in your body without judgment, the chemicals in the bloodstream from the emotional trigger will fade within 90 seconds. What does it mean, to notice without judgement?

Recently, a few disappointing and upsetting things happened to me over a 4-day period. A project I had worked on for weeks I discovered could not be rolled out the night before it was scheduled to because of a technical setting in my work account I had no control over. On the same night I discovered that one of my pets, whom I'd had for 5 years, had passed away unexpectedly and for unknown reasons. A group I had been contracted to work with for an event went over the time they were supposed to leave by, leading to my getting home late and losing sleep. Another project I had been planning for months ran into a hiccup just as I publicly announced its rollout, generating interest from several people that I might not be able to fulfill any more.

Benign attention

One of the key practices in mindfulness is to observe things happening for what they are in the present, without judgment. When learning meditation, many people get frustrated and quit over the thoughts that inevitably arise while one is trying to keep a clear mind. As we are criticizing those thoughts, we are becoming attached, holding on with hooks sunk in deeper the more energy we give. The quality of benign attention is to watch something with no attachment to an outcome, no judgment. When we apply judgment, we are adding to the experience, changing it, and no longer simply acknowledging or being aware of it in its natural form. If it's a sensation, that sensation could get stronger, or weaker, or stay the same; either makes no difference, you merely sit and watch with an unhurried curiosity. If you become aware of yourself becoming attached or judging, just notice that for what it is as well, benignly. Reduce the energy you are giving to that thought in half, then cut it in half again, and again. Until you are not sure if you are giving it any energy any more. Do I still have thoughts about the troubling occurrences that happened, even though it's been a couple days? Yes, they do rise to the surface every so often. Am I thinking about them? No.

How am I directing my attention to the things that really matter, and cultivating the best soil for healthy plants to grow and bear fruit?

Negative emotions like fear and anger can seem to last forever, but do they have to?

When something occurs and we have the thought that it might be threatening to us, one of our protective emotions is triggered (fear, anger), and our bodies instinctively respond. Chemicals are released that physiologically send us into a state of readiness to deal with the aforementioned threat. Those chemicals have a natural lifespan, leaving the bloodstream to return the body to a more neutral state, and that lifespan is 90 seconds. If an emotion seems to last for longer than 90 seconds, we have done something to restart or prolong that chemical response. Dr Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist with a special appreciation for the brain functions we might take for granted. She experienced a rare form of stroke in 1996 that necessitated her rebuilding her brain from the inside out over eight years.

"If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run."

Jill Bolte Taylor

The phrase "I have chosen to let" is powerful. How many times do we feel at the mercy of an emotion, like it has taken the reins of the team of horses and is driving down a path where we don't wish to go? We may struggle and fight with that emotion, adding more negative feelings on top of it, so that the wagon's speed increases ever faster and the grip of the emotion sinks in deeper. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun and author on mindfulness, teaches that if you allow the feeling to exist and notice what you are feeling in your body without judgment, justification, or constructing a story about it, it will dissipate in 90 seconds.

"Feel the feeling -- drop the story."

Pema Chodron

Instead of the question I usually close my entries with, I would like to leave you a quote from the novel Dune by Frank Herbert. This process has been useful to me in times of fear and anxiety, as a reminder that the feelings and distortions are temporary and if I would watch them pass without attaching, they would leave all the more quickly and easily.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, Dune

I am composing this post from the final day of the HypnoThoughts Live convention in Las Vegas, NV. This is my second year attending, and as the attendees begin to drift home from the liminal space that annual conventions occupy, I reflect on the nature of connections.

As members of the primate order, humans exist most happily in social groups and communities. Having moved on from the days of small villages and nomadic tribes, we still find our own connections of some kind with family, friends, and neighbors. Scientific studies demonstrate that humans who lack appropriate social relationships suffer in mental and physical health. As we have evolved to more complex social networks, have our brains evolved with us?

One thousand hypnotists come from all over to attend the world's largest hypnosis-related convention, putting a lot of miles between us the other 362 days of the year. During those times, we interact through Facebook, YouTube, and other social media outlets. While I may spend dozens to hundreds of hours interacting with someone online, an hour of face-to-face conversation has a noticeably different feel to it, like a more concentrated essence. Perhaps it's a reflection of the environment in which I was raised, where internet access didn't become too common until I was in high school.

I watch teenagers now who would much rather go to their individual homes and text or call up the friends they saw earlier that day. Their social media accounts have hundreds, thousands of followers, most of whom they have never met in person or possibly even exchanged words with. When the conversation is essentially viewable by the world, how can it not be different from a sotto voce private conversation in a library corner or coffee shop? I don't know if anything like this has happened yet, I think it would be interesting to conduct a study on the overall health of individuals who would consider themselves highly social where the majority or all of those connections are virtual/distant. Technology does have the capacity to connect us, and I wonder after the quality of those connections, especially as it impacts our individual health.

What is the smallest step you can take today that will empower your present and future connections, and you, in the most healthy way?

Look at the photo below: notice the faces of the children, the posing for the camera, the brightly colored shirts, the fixed attention on the turtle; nothing special, right?

Work by artist Øyvind Kolås modifying a photo by Chuwa (Francis).

Look again. The photo by Chuwa (Francis) is originally a black and white photo. Go ahead, click to open the full-size version and look at the proportions. A digital artist has placed grids of overly-saturated colored lines going across the image. Those parts where the color looks solid? That's your brain filling in the rest, what it thinks should be there. The effect really becomes hard to see when the image is smaller, or when you squint at it.

This image reminded me loosely of Magic Eye picture books, which were all the rage when I was in high school. The pages appeared to be a swirling mass of color, maybe some unclear shapes, but there was supposed to be a magic 3-dimensional image hidden somewhere in each picture. The secret was to start very close to the image, focusing the eyes in a particular way, and then by slowly moving away from it, the illusion came forth.

Do you see the shark?

Our minds are pattern-making machines; when data is missing, the brain moves to fill in the gaps so that sense emerges. It saves us time and allows us to function in the world at its current pace. When it can't, we may find ourselves becoming frustrated and will reach for something, anything, to find that closure, often missing some small detail that could make a world of difference in meaning.

Where have you filled in the blanks in the past that you can look back on now with a wider perspective and find new more powerful positive resources?

I had a blast last week having an interview with Nickolas Ely from Liberation Hypnosis. I quickly found out this wasn't going to be the typical "what's your origin story, what do you do" interview when the conversation ranged to the nature of consciousness, finding your inner game, and how do we maintain healthy connections in an increasingly digital world.

It was an honor to be the guest on your first podcast, Nickolas; I look forward to hearing where your other-than-conscious mind directs conversation with future guests!

Last week I had the pleasure of being interviewed on Business Talk Radio One about my career as a mindset coach. Thanks to the staff for reaching out to me and providing a great opportunity to share about my business with a new audience.

I heard that a lot when I was younger, especially when I said I was too sick to go to school. The thermometer would come out: no fever, it's all in your mind. In other words, what I had just told them was made up, not real, not to be taken seriously. As I went back upstairs to get dressed for school, I shrugged it off until I was reminded of it an hour later at school. I had been feeling fine, and now I had a stomachache.

Power of the Mind

While the younger me preferred to believe that I was psychic, it was much simpler than that: where attention goes, energy flows. Our bodies make millions of processes and adjustments every single second of the day, some within our conscious awareness and some not. The fields of psychosomatic medicine and psychoneuroimmunology are devoted to the link between thoughts/emotions and the body. People regularly will themselves into getting better, or getting sicker, all with the power of the mind. An athlete in the final stretch of a major competition can severely injure himself and yet, decide to put all thoughts of pain from his mind until after the competition has ended.

Phobias can be one of the most debilitating crosses a person may have to bear, sometimes leading a person to build their life around that phobia, and what it doesn't allow them to do. Most of those phobias start with one moment, where something happened in the past and the mind keeps building and overlaying and intensifying the memory and its linked emotions. A simple event, a chance encounter, a single decision, all have the potential to hex a life for minutes to months, for days to decades. And it can be, on the other side of that, another different brief moment, perhaps not even what others might consider a significant one, that undoes years of pain and limitations, when the mind is properly motivated.

Looking at it All

Considering all of that, I say there needs to be a new interpretation of this phrase. When we say something is "all in your mind", why not focus on the all? Maybe we really have all the resources we need inside to face what life throws at us, and it just takes the right circumstance, or the right combination of factors, or the right guide to help us find them.

What is it that you have all of what you need already in your mind, that you aren't even aware of yet, and how will you go about discovering that today?