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I Think, Therefore I Am

You’ve undoubtedly heard the well-known idea attributed to Rene Descartes that says “I think, therefore I exist” or “I think, therefore I am.” But what if Decartes’ famous dictum or equation doesn’t provide a complete answer?

The book entitled “Descartes’ Error” by Antonio Damasio takes on Descartes’ famous pronouncement with the idea that our feelings and emotions are much more important than ever imagined. In other words, Damasio believes that it is wrong to think that only minds think. You may want to read that statement again: It is wrong to think that only minds think. What if our feelings and emotions play a key role in the way we think and what if our feelings and emotions are actually at the core of our thinking making them required for rational decision-making? I find his hypothesis extremely fascinating.

It’s always interesting to take something that is considered an undeniable truth and then dig in deeper to see if what we’ve been told, or if what we’ve come to accept or believe, might require more analysis. Antonio Damasio’s book might change the way you think about the mind as well as how you think about thinking itself. What if our feelings and emotions are actually the most important parts of who we are and how we live? What if they are more important than our thoughts and/or what if they somehow guide our thoughts? What if feelings and emotions are actually at the root of our thinking?

I personally believe that a great deal of what we think about comes from the questions that we ask ourselves on a daily basis. But what if even the questions we ask ourselves are bubbling to the surface based on our feelings and emotions? This is indeed an intriquing area of study.

So if you want to stretch your mind with some interesting concepts and ideas relative to thinking and the mind, I recommend reading “Descartes’ Error.” It might change the way you view yourself and the world around you.

Just for fun, think about this for the next 30 days and see if anything changes in your life:

“I FEEL, THEREFORE I AM.”

It’s more than just a philosophical mind bender. Giving your feelings and emotions more significance might lead you to a completely different life. In fact, what if your feelings and emotions are the most intelligent part of who you are? And what if they are trying to tell you how to live a better life but you’re just not listening?

I was going to end by saying “it’s worth thinking about” but maybe it would be more accurate to say “it’s worth feeling.”

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Icebergs and the Direction of Your Life

In the early days of sailing ships, sailors who were brave enough to venture into the waters of Antarctica would witness a strange sight. They would notice large icebergs moving against the wind. In other words, the wind would be blowing in one direction and yet the icebergs would be moving along in a totally different direction. The sailors were obviously puzzled by this sight because their ships were powered by the wind and they wondered why the icebergs were not being blow on a course based on the direction of the wind.

This interesting phenomenon was studied and the answer was revealed. It was discovered that even though what the sailors could see of an iceberg looked like a towering skyscraper, the truth was that the majority of the iceberg, or some 90% of its mass, was beneath the surface of the water and caught up in the deep currents of the ocean. So regardless of what was happening with the winds or the tides on the surface of the water, the icebergs would move along quite purposefully based on what was happening below the surface of the water.

This story makes a great analogy to think about in that each of us needs strong currents in our life so we don’t get blown off course by what’s happening all around us on a daily basis. The push and pull of life is so often in the wrong direction. Yet we don’t have to get caught up in the noise and distractions on the surface. Each of us can stay on course if we remain connected to the great ideas and simple truths that always result in a life well lived. It may not be easy, but anyone who has achieved something worthwhile already knows that having the courage and resolve to not get blown off course by the surface conditions of life is the only way to get to your desired destination. It’s also the best way to stay focused, balanced, and at peace on a daily basis so you can enjoy the process.

So ask yourself what great ideas make up the deep currents of your life. Stay connected with those ideas that will take you in the direction you really want to go and you won’t get blown off course even if there are storms on the surface. You can be one of those rare people that have a quiet resolve that comes from knowing you are heading in the right direction.

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Finding Your Place

Years ago, I remember Earl Nightingale relating a story about finding your place in the scheme of things. It seems that a marine biologist was working to save a group of seals that got caught in a fishing net. He was able to save all of the seals with the exception of one who turned out to be pregnant. While the marine biologist was unable to save the mother, he was able to save the baby seal who he decided to take home to give special care. The baby seal not only survived but actually thrived. In fact, the seal became something of a family pet. The seal enjoyed being with the family and took a special liking to the man’s young daughter.

The seal learned to play with balls and rings along with numerous tricks that included singing (or barking and grunting as the case may be) when the young girl would play the piano. Over time, the girl and the seal became constant companions. But the marine biologist began talking with his daughter about the seal and the fact that it would soon be time to return him to his true home, the ocean. His daughter didn’t like that idea and tended not to think about it.

But eventually, the time had come to return the seal to the ocean. The father took his young daughter and the now fully grown seal on a boat ride back to the place where the seal had been found. The girl knew it was time for the seal to go home but she was very sad about what was about to happen and tears flowed down her young face. Surprisingly, the seal didn’t seem very excited about being out on the water and nuzzled up against the girl with what looked like tears forming.

When they reached the desired location, the man and his daughter worked to help the seal into the water but the seal didn’t want to go. He kept trying to back away from the ocean but the dad and his daughter kept working to get the seal into the water. Suddenly, they were able to get the seal in the water all the while listening to barking sounds of sadness from the seal. But then something interesting happened.

As soon as the seal hit the water, he was immediately transformed from an awkward and lumbering creature on the land, into a thing of pure beauty and grace in the water. The seal realized as soon as he hit the ocean that this was the place he was meant to be. This was home. And as the girl watched him dart about the boat with style and ease, she knew it as well. Even though she knew she would miss him, she knew that he was where he was meant to be.

I often think about this story when I think about finding our place in the scheme of things. It’s not always easy to find our way in life, and sometimes it’s downright scary. But have you ever noticed how many great things in life often come from a dive into the unknown? Have you ever noticed how things that seem really scary often turn out to be just fine, and you look back and ask yourself why you were so afraid?

The seal was afraid to get back into the ocean because he had somehow forgotten that it was his home. Upon hitting the water, though, he immediately experienced how his special gifts fit perfectly with this environment. He could move through the water as if by magic. I believe we can each have the same kind of experience if we’ll have the courage to uncover our special gifts even if it means jumping into the unknown and experiencing some uncertainty to explore who we are and what we are meant to do.

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The 10,000 Hour Rule

Have you ever read the book “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell? He is the same author that wrote “Tipping Point” and “Blink” among others. I was recently having dinner with a friend and he mentioned the book “Outliers” that I originally read when it first appeared on the scene in 2008. We had a fun conversation discussing the book.

If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. After our dinner conversation, I decided to reread the book which is often a great idea if you are dealing with a book of substance. Gladwell’s book certainly qualifies in that regard.

Gladwell’s position in “Outliers” can be summed up with this statement: Success and failure are often not the result of what seems obvious at first glance.

I really like this idea. After literally decades in the personal development industry, I can tell you that a lot of what is taught is not only wrong but utter nonsense. There is always more to success (and failure) than meets the eye. I’m not going to spoil “Outliers” in case you haven’t read it, but I will give you a couple of my favorite points as well as something that I think would improve the book. (To get the most out of a book, it’s helpful if you don’t assume that everything an author says is correct. It’s always better to have a healthy skepticism that allows you to debate the points based on your own knowledge and experience.)

One of the people Gladwell discusses in the book is Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. He writes about how most people credit his success to his amazing intelligence. And while it’s certainly true that Gates was gifted with the raw material for high level thinking and analysis, he also was the recipient of many other benefits that aren’t usually mentioned. For example, he came from a wealthy family where education was held in high regard. He was born at just the right time for the computer revolution. And perhaps one of the greatest benefits he received was access to state of the art computers at a time when they were quite rare.

Gladwell did an outstanding job of looking into the many factors that influenced the enormous success of Bill Gates. Certainly, Bill Gates gets a lot of the credit for his achievements but he can’t claim all of the credit. In fact, had certain factors not been present, he may still have been successful on some level but certainly not into the billions and billions. That kind of success, which Gladwell labels an “Outlier” or way out of the norm, requires a mix of factors that more often than not requires just plain good fortune or luck.

Many people that study personal development or success, don’t like the idea of luck. They want to control everything. Even one of my early mentors Earl Nightingale would often say: “Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity.” In some ways, I think Earl used to think that you could control opportunity by getting prepared but that’s not always the case. You can certainly influence opportunity and/or be ready for when it appears, but you often can’t control it. Great opportunities often resist being forced or controlled. What I like to say is that many of the doors in life that lead to opportunity can only be opened for you by someone else.

Luckily, there is plenty of good fortune around if we will prepare ourselves for recognizing it when it does appear, but trying to control everything isn’t going to be a winning strategy. The people that think they can control everything usually end up old before their time because of the unnecessary stress and anxiety their approach to the world has brought about.

It’s good to remember that there are things outside of our control. It is possible to be a part of what one writer called “The Lucky Sperm Club.” Yet if you live in the United States it might not be a bad idea to conclude that you’ve already won the “Lucky Sperm” lottery. Not that there aren’t other great places to live on planet earth but it’s hard to beat the opportunities that have resulted from the combined brainpower of our Founding Fathers. I sometimes wish they were still around to keep us on track, but that’s not the case. It’s now up to us to keep freedom and opportunity alive.

Getting back to Gladwell’s book, there is one concept that I liked very much that has actually been presented by others. Gladwell calls it “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” It basically states that extraordinary success usually doesn’t happen for someone until he or she puts in at least 10,000 hours of practice. For example, Bill Gates was able to work on programming high-end computers for 10,000 hours before most people knew anything about what these computers were capable of. That put him in an enviable position. It’s the kind of advantage that is hard to compete with if you don’t have it. Those doors were opened for him.

Yet here’s the thing that I believe Gladwell doesn’t recognize clearly enough. Bill Gates had just the right mind and temperament for this kind of work. In other words, Bill Gates had a Unique Talent that he was helped to develop. If he would not have had that talent, the opportunity would not have been as valuable.

It’s no different than someone like Mozart whose first words were “G sharp” at age two. Seriously, age two! Supposedly the little guy heard a pig squealing and exclaimed “G sharp.” When his father ran to the piano to check, he discovered the little guy was right. Now that’s a Unique Talent!

But recognize that Mozart’s dad was a musician and could appreciate this kind of talent and helped the little guy develop it to the fullest. Little Mozart wrote his first piece of music at age 4 but who but a musician parent would even recognize such scribbles or be able to help him develop his gifts to the fullest?

Mozart’s father got him the best education available at the time and got the little prodigy performing throughout Europe. But this is worth remembering. We don’t remember Mozart for his early compositions or performances. What we remember is what happened after Mozart put in his 10,000 hours. That’s when he became a genius unlike the world had ever seen. After his 10,000 hours he began creating music that will surely live on forever. So even Mozart had to put in the time.

It’s not unlike Tiger Wood’s dad recognizing that his son could hit a golf ball wherever he wanted it to go. No doubt Tiger had an incredible Unique Talent but it was his dad that spotted it early and helped him to develop it to the fullest.

So allow me to suggest a new success formula:

SUCCESS = UNIQUE TALENT + 10,000 HOURS OF PRACTICE + OPPORTUNITY

It’s up to you to find your Unique Talent and start practicing it. This is especially true if you weren’t lucky enough to have a dad who spotted your Unique Talent at age 2. I certainly wasn’t. I was undoubtedly just drooling on myself at age 2.

But luckily it’s never too late with Unique Talent. The chances are excellent that the right opportunity will come your way if you do your part. It’s not guaranteed, but the odds are in your favor, unlike the Mega Millions State Lottery. Besides, you can’t lose by focusing on your Unique Talent. It’s what you are meant to do, and the best rewards in life always come from doing what you are meant to do.

We all have a song to sing or a book to write or a company to start or a child to raise or a foundation to launch or some other noble thing that only we can do. Your exact genetic make up has never before appeared on planet earth with the exact environment that exists right now. Take advantage of it while you can. It’s a mistake not to. There is no better way to enjoy your ride on this beautiful blue island in space.

Here’s the formula you want to avoid:

FAILURE = INCOMPETENCE + 10,000 HOURS OF PRACTICE + OPPORTUNITY

Maybe we shouldn’t label that failure but it certainly can be called “Nose to the Grindstone Living.” There is a better way. You have a Unique Talent that you can use in the service to others and become extraordinary in your own right. Now’s the time to take action.

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Your Constant Companion for Both Success and Failure

You may have come across this short piece somewhere in your personal development studies. I think it’s a classic. It beautifully reflects one of those great ideas that never fails to help keep us on course. I don’t believe the author has ever been identified but he or she really understood something that eludes the vast majority of people. It expresses something that most people either never learn or learn the hard way. Ask yourself if you really understand the full consequences of what the author is saying here. I’m sure after reading it you will agree with me that the sooner each of us learns who our constant companion is the better.

* * * * *

I am your constant companion.

I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden.

I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.

I am completely at your command.

Half the things you do might just as well be turned over to me and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly.

I am easily managed — you must merely be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done and after a few lessons I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great people and, alas, of all failures, as well.

Those who are great, I have made great.

Those who are failures, I have made failures.

I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a person. You may run me for profit or run me for ruin — if makes no difference to me.

Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet. Be easy with me and I will destroy you.

Who am I?

I am habit!

– Author Unknown

* * * * *

You may want to do what I’ve done with this piece. Frame it so you can read it every day.

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Thought Distortions

One of the questions clients frequently ask me is what is the best way to change their thoughts. In other words, how do you get rid of thoughts you don’t want running through your mind. If you take the time to analyze your unwanted thoughts, you will often discover that they are based on distortions of reality. Getting rid of these “Thought Distortions” can take many forms. Over the years, I have used many methods but some of the ones I’ve found most effective are self-hypnosis, sleep programming, meditation, and even something I call Hypnology which you may find fun to investigate and experience for yourself. (http://www.Hypnology.com) All of these approaches involve two key components – i.e., relaxation and visualization.

The challenge, however, is that you first have to figure out what thoughts you need to eliminate. What follows is a list of “Thought Distortions” that you many find extremely helpful. It is related to what is known as Cognitive Therapy which was developed by the American psychiatrist Aaron Beck back in the 1960’s. Beck originally used Freudian Psychoanalysis with his patients but as a researcher and scientist at heart, he decided to put psychoanalysis to the test. He was both surprised and troubled to find that these methods were not working to produce the results he expected. So he started developing and testing other methods.

As you might imagine, Beck was not originally applauded for rocking the boat but as other colleagues began trying his methods, Beck was vindicated and found to be an important pioneer in the field of psychiatry.

The essence of what Beck discovered is that negative thoughts fall into three categories: negative ideas about self, negative ideas about the world, and negative thoughts about the future. For many people, these negative thoughts have become automatic over time so they no longer even question them. But when Beck began questioning patients about these thoughts and pointing out various inaccuracies or distortions, the patients could recognize their faulty thinking and choose new thoughts. As simple as it sounds, it was revolutionary at the time and it still remains a major part of psychiatry today. It is especially significant in the treatment of depression. I find it one of the best tools available to clarify your thinking about anything.

Read through the examples that follow and see if you can find any “Thought Distortions” in your own thinking. I think it is safe to say that we all have some, but we can eliminate them by recognizing the truth and beginning to ask better questions.

THE THREE MAIN CATEGORIES OF THOUGHT DISTORTIONS

All thought distortions have their basis in these three categories:

1. The Self — i.e., the self is worthless. (Personal)
2. The World/Environment — i.e., the world is unfair. (Pervasive)
3. The Future — i.e., the future is hopeless. (Permanent)

THOUGHT DISTORTION EXAMPLES

All-Or-Nothing Thinking
– Engaging in black-or-white thinking. Thinking in extremes, such as all good or all bad, with nothing in the middle.

Selective Abstraction
– Selecting one idea or fact from an event while ignoring other facts in order to support negative thinking.

Mind Reading
– Believing that we know the thoughts in another person’s mind.

Negative Prediction
– Believing that something bad is going to happen even though there is no evidence to support this prediction.

Catastrophizing
– Exaggerating the potential or real consequences of an event and becoming fearful of the consequences.

Overgeneralization
– An example of distorted thinking that occurs when individuals make a rule based on a few negative or isolated events and then apply it broadly.

Labeling
– Creating a negative view of oneself based on errors or mistakes that one has made. It is a type of overgeneralizing which affects one’s view of oneself.

Magnification
– A cognitive distortion in which an imperfection is exaggerated into something greater than it is.

Minimization
– Making a positive event much less important than it really is.

Personalization
– A cognitive distortion in which an individual takes an event and relates it to himself or herself when there is no relationship. An example would be, “Whenever I want to go skiing, there is no snow.” Wanting to go skiing does not cause a lack of snow.

THE BOTTOMLINE

It’s important to remember that a small change in your thinking today will eventually result in a very large change in your destination.