Skip to content

When you were younger, who were your role models? Did you want to be more like your mother? Father? A teacher? Maybe it was a celebrity or person in history that you wanted to be just like. Or even a fictional character in a book or TV show. We choose role models because there is something about them we want to emulate. Many children go into Mommy’s and Daddy’s closet and put on their clothing, accessories, makeup; they practice being just like them in the future. And what was it about that role model that captured your interest? A little girl might admire in Hermione Granger (from the Harry Potter books) her intelligence, as well as a certain noble spirit. A young boy covers his room in Superman decor because he hopes to be strong and brave one day. A young woman in a university pre-law program doodles “RBG” on the front of her notebook, dreaming that she will have the dedication to make an impact in a male-dominated courtroom, earning her respect and maybe even a future seat on the Supreme Court. Each of them may find themselves thinking “If only I could one day have [brains/courage/commitment] like them…,” completely missing that “one day” perhaps isn’t as far away as they believed.

I had a music teacher when I was younger who would check whether instruments were in tune using a more old-fashioned method that I’d seen. Before the era of digital tuners, musicians and manufacturers would strike a tuning fork (pictured below) against a hard surface, causing it to emit a particular tone. The tone is constant every time, its pitch determined in the fork’s construction by tine size and material. Older tuning forks cannot have their pitch adjusted without changing the shape, resulting in a permanent alteration. It is perhaps because of this that tuning forks demonstrate an interesting property.

Tuning Fork

If you take two tuning forks that are built for the exact same pitch and place them in close proximity to each other, you could perform a feat similar to an effect seen in stage magic. Strike one of the forks, wait until you hear the steady tone, and then hold the prongs so they stop vibrating. You will continue to hear the tone, coming from the other fork. This is a harmonic phenomenon known as sympathetic resonance. The waves coming off the struck fork travel through the air and cause the other fork to begin vibrating, continuing the tone without having been physically touched (except by air). This cannot be done with any two random tuning forks, it will only work with a matched pair. If one of the forks is tuned even a half-step off, the second one will not resonate. It only responds to what it already is.

In the same way, in order for you to recognize a trait or quality in another person, it already must exist in some form within yourself. It may be buried at an unconscious level, or happen when you’re not paying attention, but you have the capacity for that trait you have admired in that other person. If you did not, you would not be able to mark it in them or know what it is. So when you remark to yourself how brave that person is for standing up for what’s right, or how kind your neighbor is to even the rudest person, that quality is resonating with the like quality you already hold within.

In what ways are you already resonating in harmony with the people in your life, and how will your example inspire the beautiful music in others?

I had a stressful week at work, with work piling on and deadlines looming. Perhaps someone out there might be able to relate to that? As I thought about the things that were stressing me out, I noticed that they all felt very close, like they were crowding my physical space or breathing down my neck. As a result, whenever someone new came into the picture, or said something that added to the stress, I snapped at them when sometimes they were just offering a simple question. This could not continue.

Someone asked me last minute if I would change the time on a scheduled group meeting because it was inconvenient to his schedule. I had talked about the time several days prior, and this person was either not paying attention at the time or was not attending the other group meetings. My initial response was “How DARE they be so pompous as to imply that the rest of our schedules should work around theirs when they're barely a contributing member of this team! They need a serious lesson in consideration of other people!” The irony of that last thought interrupted the pattern of my ranting, as I recognized myself being similarly inconsiderate. So I paused, took a breath, and stepped back, metaphorically speaking. Rather than respond to how I interpreted the words, I considered what else I might be missing with such a myopic focus. This meeting was an extra session outside of normal business hours, which no one was required to attend. The fact this person was willing to give up their weekend mattered more than the 50 or so others who weren’t even open to the idea. And with that distance, I was able to see a greater scope: was this one sentence text message really worth elevated blood pressure and anger ruining a perfectly pleasant Saturday?

Try This

Consider a situation that would get you very emotional in a negative way, whether that’s sad or angry. Get a really good sense of that situation, enough to feel those emotions getting stirred up; perhaps you might see it in front of you, or just know that it’s there without seeing it consciously. Notice where you are in relation to what is happening: are you in the scene, only able to see/be aware of the others? Or are you seeing it as if it were on a screen (television, movie, cell phone, computer) in front of you? Wherever you perceive that scene to be, move it closer to you and feel that emotion intensity. Then move it back to its original position. Now, imagine doubling that distance and notice what happens to the emotion. What happens if you double that again? What else can you be aware of in that scene now that it’s further away. Notice the change in emotion as that scene moves so far off in the distance that it vanishes. When you move something further away from you, you have less connection to it. By dissociating from it, you gain more power to affect and influence, or even outright change it.

This technique of dissociation is helpful not only in managing emotional impact, but can help with physical discomfort as well. If you have an unpleasant sensation in your body--whether that is tightness, pressure, or pain--really get a sense of it by focusing in to start. Then, in whatever way resonates with you, imagine that sensation being just outside of your body, followed by a few feet away, then the other side of the room. Notice how the sensation changes in relation to the distance. I wonder if it would become more comfortable if you move it away to the left, or away to the right.

Where is one area or situation in your life where a change in perspective will open new possibilities?

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?