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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Blueprint, Part Four Redux

I have re-written part four because I want to talk about negative emotions a little bit and how I was able to corral and minimize them. Sometimes eliminate them entirely.

This is how I changed my belief system. I accepted that life is fair. That was a huge departure from common rhetoric and conventional wisdom. Like many of you, I bought into the "life isn't fear" rhetoric- hook, line, and sinker. The problem with that line of thinking is that if you believe life is unfair, then you might want to believe that you are a victim. Victims wallow in self pity. I sought to eliminate all of that thinking and in my case, the only solution to eliminate victim thinking and self pity was to adopt a life is fair- belief system. It has been working.

Fear. I have a whole host of emotions that are fear based. They all manifest themselves as negative emotions. If I fear something, chances are I will dislike it or even hate it. I will try to control something. People who try to influence or control others are imposing their fears on others. Fear manifests itself as non acceptance. So in order to conquer fear, I have to accept things like death. I have known since the age of 5 or so, that I am going to die. It has never been a mystery. The only mystery is how and when. I accept that I must die. I also accept the crazy and fear ridden belief systems of others. I allow them to impose their beliefs on me to a great extent. If in fact their fears become overwhelming, I will simply ask myself if this is something I need to continue to subject myself to.

Managing depression. I don't believe that any two depressions are the same. Yours or mine. Therefore, I can only focus on managing mine. I do that two ways. I focus on what is good and what I am grateful for. I always start with clean socks. I work up from there. In times of great stress, I focus on NOW. I eliminate any past or future thinking. I am only present in this moment. I develop a plan on which I refuse to place any expectations. I work on the plan piece by piece. Constructively. I do not place any expectations on outcomes. Therefore if it goes well, I am happy. If it goes bad, I am happy. I did my best.

Intolerance. People are simply reflecting who they are. They say and do incredibly funny stuff and they do insane and horrific things, like suicide. Strict adherence to my belief systems means that I have to be ok with that. That doesn't mean I encourage or promote that behavior. I simply do my best to help and if that doesn't work, I'm ok with it. I accept it. I don't engage in critical self talk or self abuse. I don't impose my beliefs on others.

Anger. Anger is fear based and contrived in the mind. I let people be who they are. Sometimes they are miserable and I accept that. I do not allow them to transfer that misery, anger, or self pitying behavior to me. Sometimes angry people need to be reminded of their belief systems and roles in the behavior that caused them to be angry. Sometimes I let angry people be angry. But anger is a luxury that I do not try to engage in. I see nothing useful in it and to a large extent, I have eliminated it altogether. I have unmasked the fear component.

Jealousy. Jealousy is a fear that someone has something we want or cannot have. Like all negative emotions, it is conjured up in your head by an ego that says, I must tell the world that I am a success. I must prove to someone that I am not a failure or I am entitled to this luxury because it will make me feel better. I am entitled to this or I need this. I really do believe that advertising targets this human insanity. Sometimes we make others feel diminished because we want to be special. We brag about our accomplishments. We do not know humility. I deserve this mansion, jet, or Lamborghini. In the relationship world, it works the same way. We fear the loss of relationships. We fear loneliness. And if we fear something, we will try to control it.

Controlling people. Controlling people have a set of fears, many of them ridiculous and insane, which they believe to be true. And because they believe those fears, they will act out in some of the most fascinating ways. I have learned to accept these people because I understand now that they are simply reflecting who they are. It has nothing to do with me. And if I disagree with them, my ego is in check to the extent that I simply let them continue to believe whatever fear is manifesting itself at that moment. I try hard to agree with them. Unfortunately, I am not there to help them get better. Controlling people tend to be very resistant to any type of self scrutiny and often simply lack the capacity to identify thinking errors. They get frustrated easily at non compliance as they set about trying to change their exterior world to satisfy fear driven needs. Which leads me to the last point.

Think of yourself as a guest on this planet, like a wonderful vacation that last 75 or 80 years. You are not here to change the planet, let the planet change you. I love the metaphor of Bach's underwater organism. Underwater organisms clinging to rocks, afraid of letting go. They have acquired a belief system that says if they don't cling to those rocks-that they will surely die. They believe that. They fear death. So they doom themselves to that miserable existence, clinging to rocks. Until one day, one of the organisms lets go of the rocks. He lets the water take him on a wonderful journey. Could all of those other underwater organisms be cheating themselves of a wonderful life, driven and controlled by fear? Could they all be wrong?

I asked, answered, and found the solution to that question. Unconventional solutions require unconventional thinking. If you want real emotional freedom, you must cast conventional wisdom and thinking aside. It doesn't work. Two thousand years of anger, rage, and killing on this planet have convinced me of that. Living in a greed driven society where its ok to screw the people less knowledgeable than you and call it "business." I might have spent a lifetime hating criminals, or evil men like Osama Bin Laden. Clinging to that conventional wisdom, those belief systems- that peer pressure that says we must hate. Billions of us, clinging to rocks. Until I noticed a couple of organisms sailing by me in the water. Enjoying their lives. I wanted to try that. Rocks bore me.


  1. Good article.

    I once read a book called 'The Consolations of Philosophy' by Alain De Botton. It talked about some of the lessons we can learn from Philosophers throughout history.

    One such lesson came from Seneca (of ancient Rome). It boiled down to something very similar to what you say about expectations - that expectation leads to frustration. The reason being that when we expect something, we don't plan for alternate outcomes, and we get frustrated when we don't know what to do.

    For instance, you might expect an easy trip down the highway to an appointment as it is out of peak-hour traffic. So you leave with only a small amount of time to spare. You then encounter road works and get very angry. Why? Because you had built an expectation of an easy drive and did not account for other possibilities. If instead you approached the situation with low expectations, you might have left earlier or checked the traffic forecast, etc.

    This kind of thinking - lowering expectations, particularly of other people - has led to a huge decrease in stress for me personally. Instead of 'expecting' and being frustrated or disappointed, I don't 'expect' and I am either pleasantly surprised or I use one of my alternative plans.

    Incidentally, expectations relating to other people is quite a common issue - particularly with friends - where you expect certain behaviour from people (like punctuality or remembering your birthday), and for some reason they don't come through.

    That'll do me, i'll stop now :)

  2. Thanks Pete. I learned to manage expectations because they lead to resentment and internal anger when "we think" people have failed to meet them.

    I have reduced expectations to nearly zero. This can be done in conjunction with not taking anything personally.

    Road rage examples are fantastic. There is a situation where drivers immerse themselves in heavy traffic every day- hoping for a different result. And of course whining when the result doesn't change. The only changeable, controllable thing is your perception of the situation. It can suck for as long as you want it to...and you can certainly find thousands to commiserate with.

    Do I get angry and frustrated in traffic? You bet. When it happens, I instantly realize I am the problem. I regain emotional control when I practice pure acceptance and I don't take traffic or other drivers insanity personally.

    I didn't cause it and I can't fix it.

    Thanks again.

  3. Thanks Brian.

    I think one of the things people find hard to do is to identify when they are feeling something, without getting completely absorbed into the emotion and blaming other things.

    It's easy to identify things in hindsight, but harder in the moment. Some certainly find it easier than others.

    Ever notice how it is particularly hard to point it out to someone else? They'll usually attack you rather than thank you. That's life I guess :)

    - Pete

  4. (I mentioned that because you noted that you're able to identify problems as they're happening)

  5. Thanks Pete. I really do think we get swamped by emotions that literally take us over before we know what's happening to us.

    That used to happen a lot to me. Now it's pretty rare. I generally will only have a couple of incidents a year that swamp my boat when in the past it was a weekly, sometimes daily event...ugh.