Years ago I began putting things on my refrigerator door such as magnets and pictures, and to this day I affix all sorts of stuff. I consider it a tiny outlet of creative expression. One of the first items I ever clomped on to the ‘fridge door, right at eye level, was a fortune from a fortune cookie.

It’s a square rather than a rectangular bit of paper and it has a tiny picture of a smiling Chinese man wearing a conical rice hat – about as stereotypical as it could be. And though it is now fragile and barely legible, I still keep that little scrap right where I can see it every day because I still appreciate its message:

“All life is an experiment.”

There are so many layers of meaning that could be ascribed to those few words.  Philosophers have written volumes on this topic for millennia. But I like these five words on this tiny piece of paper that was once scrunched into a cookie.  It reminds me not to take things too seriously.  It reminds me that every day is an opportunity to try something new, or to look at old things in a new way. How can anything change or improve without experiment?  If something doesn’t work the first, second or third time, it’s OK.  That’s what experimentation is for.  We learn a little more with each attempt.

You’ve probably heard it told that Thomas Edison tried hundreds times to invent the light bulb before he discovered the affordable filament that would keep his bulb alight for hours.  He famously said:


“I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” – Thomas Edison
As you embark on 2014, try new things or finally do the thing you always wanted to try. And if something doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up – don’t be afraid to experiment!

 

 

 

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I bet you learned the same as I did that one of the benefits of studying history is to avoid the repetition of error. If we understand how the last war started we won’t start another one; or so the theory goes. And it so happens that we apply this concept in our daily lives from an early age by learning from our mistakes; it’s necessary to our survival.

When I was a little kid, maybe 4 years old, I didn’t understand why adults got so wound-up every time I went near the stove.  “Don’t touch anything or you’ll burn yourself!” they said. But up to that point I hadn’t experienced any burn other than sunburn, and cooking looked so interesting.  So, one night while dinner was being prepared and no one was looking, I quickly stuck the tip of my index finger into a bubbling frying pan to find out what all the fuss was about.  Ouch!!!  Not supposed to touch stuff on the stove. Got it!  I learned my lesson and never did it again – at least not on purpose.

Metaphorically speaking, how many times have you stuck your finger into a hot frying-pan to see what would happen?  Remember that relationship with the person you knew was already in a relationship and living on another coast?  Hmmm.  How about the job that was such a great opportunity, but required working 16 hours a day for an egomaniac boss?  Awesome!  Who needs sleep, sunlight and recognition anyway?

Next question: Have you done something that caused you pain or discomfort, sworn you would never do it again, and then found yourself in the same situation, but with another person or working for a different company?  Does that sound familiar?  Why do we do these things to ourselves?  Why don’t we learn from our personal histories?

Maybe the answer isn’t in our history, but in our present.

The science of psychology tells us that if we want to change a behavior we must first observe it.  This is a powerful notion; it implies that we are responsible for our behavior – it’s a choice, once we become conscious of it.  If you see yourself engaging in work or relationships with people that make you unhappy you might find yourself asking: How did I let this happen again?  What’s wrong with me??  It’s at this point that we reflexively dig into our past looking for reasons.  We examine our childhoods, remember our greatest disappointments and poke around in old wounds. And sometimes we find the exact source of the self-destructive behavior we want to stop.  Eureka! Now we understand why we behave the way we do!  Phew!

But here’s the catch: in the process of trying to understand how our past informs our choices today we have a tendency to replay painful memories over and over again on our mental movie screens; reliving the pain and frustration and embedding it ever more deeply into our patterns of thought.  And so we stay stuck in our histories and caught in our hurtful patterns instead of making the most of the present.

In our attempt to understand our self-destructive choices we stand under the weight of our past problems, letting them overshadow our present; our power to create a better experience for ourselves today – right now.

Whatever happened in the past shaped who you are today.  Maybe it was awful and if it was I’m so, so sorry.  I’m not suggesting you deny it.  But thinking about it and reliving it won’t help you create the life you want now.

You are bigger than anything that has ever happened to you or that anyone has ever said to you – and I mean anyone at anytime.  But, no one but you can make the choice to put your history behind you and begin focusing on the life you want to create today.

As the saying goes:  The past is past.  If you don’t want to repeat it, get out from under it and get over it instead!

 

rearview-mirror

 

 

 

 

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Do You REACT or RESPOND? – April 2013

HeadshotAre you stuck in a rut? Do you have habits that you’d like to change? When we think about habits we tend to think in terms of behavior rather than habits of thought. For instance, I have a habit – a behavior, of staying up pretty late even when I have to get up early in the morning. If I stay up too late too often I don’t feel well or think as clearly as I’d like.I think most of us have some sort of habit we’d like to change or stop; believing that we would feel better, look better or be more productive if we could just “break the habit”. And if we want to change that behavior badly enough, often we can by disciplining ourselves to notice the choices we’re making and make different ones.  Easier said than done sometimes, I know.

But, what about your habits of thought?  Are you aware of them? We all have them. Are you routinely critical of yourself and others, or are you able to have perspective and assess circumstances on their own merit? If something doesn’t go the way you want it to go, what do you tell yourself?  If you don’t succeed at something do you beat yourself up?  Do you give up? Or do you acknowledge yourself for having the energy and courage to give it a try, take note of what you learned from the failure and try again?

In other words, do you react – or do you respond?

The fact is we react most of the time. When we re-act, we are just repeating an old, familiar action, behavior or pattern of thought – an old tape playing in our head. Reactions come easily because our brains like repetition; they don’t have to work so hard to figure stuff out. But just because something feels easy or familiar, it doesn’t make it right or true.

A re-sponse, on the other hand, takes some thought; we take responsibility for the choice we have in the moment to say (correspond) or do something that might be more appropriate to the situation or more considerate of ourselves or others. Maybe even something we’ve never said, done or thought before.

Our thoughts and behaviors are habitual and it takes a conscious effort to recognize that in almost every situation we have the choice to re-spond thoughtfully rather than re-act in the same old way we always do. We can think a different thought; a better, more constructive thought. It might feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable at first, especially when we’re angry or disappointed, but we can do it if we choose to.

The next time you catch yourself in a negative frame of mind about yourself or someone else, check to see if you are reacting and consider responding instead.  I bet your response will be a lot more positive than your reaction, once you’ve given it a little thought. Like all things, the more you do it, the easier it gets – like a habit.

Things don’t change; unless we change.

~ Nancy

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