Behavioral Change Step 3: Cultivating Perspective Change

I am frequently reflecting on how I have in the past months come to certain realizations and perspective changes. In the first two blog posts on this subject I wrote about how I first try to cultivate and increase my awareness, where after I reach a point where I consciously aim to integrate the newly gained perspective in to my life. In this third and last blog on the subject I will explain how I try to cultivate a change of perspective.

First off, I think it is important to consider that any change I make is part of a bigger process. This is important to me because what on one day might seem like a life altering outlook can be normal the week after. If I want to optimally profit from the alternations I go through, seeing things for what they are will allow me to take appropriate steps to keep continuing the road I am on without getting lost in the moment.

Being conscious will also allow me to put setbacks in to perspective. If I am solely focusing on the present, disregarding the bigger process, a setback might really feel as a setback. Whereas, if I look at the bigger picture, a setback usually is an opportunity to learn.

Nevertheless, it is impossible to integrate anything learned directly in to all parts of my life. There were so many times I had to reinforce certain decisions after being caught by the novelty of a situation. When other parameters in my life differ from the regular, I find it hard at times to reproduce a satisfying decision based on my values. For example, going out to eat in a different country, with a different language and food culture, there might be signals that might normally make me say I do not want to eat that. Whereas, in this case there is so much new that I perceive these signals differently. The same goes for responding in a preset manner to friends or family just because there was a time specific interactions were bothering me. Having set the intention to put these interactions in to a different light does not mean I solved the issue forever. This is definitely the case with patterns within a family. Having lived together for so long, there was a lot of time for patterns to get intertwined in a lot more ways than we tend to be aware of.

On a more material level, to make any changes last, I believe it best to literally start living them. If I talk about them in my social environment they are already more real than if I would keep them to myself. Asking for support to help me maintain a certain direction can be as simple as telling me when I am off, but also conversations about obstructions can be a great way to redirect intentions.

Taking this one step further, I believe that a set of values will make life inevitably lighter to manage. It is easier to make decisions in relation to a certain context than when I am simply drifting from stimulus to stimulus. However, by this I do not advocate blindly subscribing to a religion or becoming a full blown radical left-wing supporter, nor does it need to be a fixed set of values. Rather, if I figure out what is important to me and my happiness, I can relate my decisions to that.

From my own experience I have noticed that if I stick to my values this generally gets accepted by the environment I am in. Even when the values of my environment are entirely different. I have been in a lot of situations where I deliberately had to emphasize that I do not eat any animal products, nor can you make me happy with a glass of Coca Cola. When I communicated these intentions clearly, I never had the idea people thought me unthankful, something a lot of people worry about in this regard. Nevertheless, if I would be in a less confident state of mind my intentions were bound to be received with more apprehension.

The take home message for me here is, that if I live my change, my mindset and my values, I believe people will realize that that is who I am. The form of feedback originating from this makes the cultivation of this same change more sustainable. Ultimately, strengthening the fundament any authentic life can flourish upon.

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Behavioral Change Step 1: Increasing Awareness

I am frequently reflecting on how I have in the past months come to certain realizations and perspective changes. When I notice that something does not fit or feel right, the first step is, to become aware of it’s origin. After, there is the challenge of fully realizing this new knowledge in to an alternative mindset.

I thought it would be interesting to break down this process, that I myself have gone through so many times already. From becoming aware to integrating new views, hopefully inspiring you to do the same when you think it necessary.

In this first part I will explain how I try to increase my own awareness to make me see things I would like to view, do, or feel differently about. For me this is the first step to adjusting perspective. Without awareness I would just keep living a misty reality where everything seems devised and uncontrollable.

I believe that awareness comes with regular discomfort. Accepting that I know nothing, even when I think I do, enables me to learn new outlooks. When I go out of my way to talk to different people, trying things I never did before and saying yes to the unknown all provoke this widening of my view.

Also, I try to keep questioning the world around me. Even when things seem totally obvious it is all the more important to do so. As things go, that is the moment I get comfortable in my current reality. Even though, I recreate my reality every second. This means that when I start believing in something to be the way it is, it inhibits my capacity to adjust. I start living an irrelevant version of a past me that has nothing to do with my current state of affairs.

Where it can be hard to actively practice awareness, there are often experiences that we can use to grow up on. They can be as simple as becoming aware that it is hard to cut with the backside of a knife, or the moment that our partner is angry with us. Both of these experiences can induce a contemplative state that might change our outlook to how we use a knife or what kind of person we are in relation to somebody else.

Furthermore, reading books, travelling, changing jobs, and trying a new sport, amongst other things, might all induce a similar reflective state. I think that everything we do is actually changing our perspective continuously. However, we tend to be so stuck in our habits that we need a relatively strong stimulus to let go of our past selves. Still, if I stay present in everything I do, it is easier to realize it’s meaning.

In my own case, travelling really helped me with shifting perspective. I was definitely aware of how certain things were not making me happy or limiting my feelings and outlook. At that time though, I did not have the capacity to fully realize the cause. Upon entering a different environment there was a reduction of stimuli pulling me in different directions. This freed up space to do something with the thoughts already floating around. This calm presence with my thoughts turned out to be the missing link.

Where I summed up a couple of things that might induce a change of outlook before. There are also certain things that you can do to stay more present. I believe for me the easiest and at the same time the most underestimated one, is to literally do nothing. When there is nothing but me and my mind present, stuff already starts sorting itself out. To increase the power of these moments I sometimes use breathing exercises or meditation to calm my mind and become even more present with my thoughts.

To sum this all up I think that to increase my awareness, a questioning and accepting attitude is a prerequisite. Where it always starts with one question, usually there are a lot to follow. In the meantime there remains the challenge to not get lost in the maze that is our material life. Rather, developing awareness time and time again to get to a more fundamental level.

The Thing About Pain

In the previous two blog posts I wrote about living a “Fear-based life” (click here for part 1, and here for part 2). There, I spoke about how fear corrupts and undermines our life and the decisions we make in non-lifethreatening situations. Our natural response is to steer clear of these fear inducing situations. We tend to respond likewise when we experience pain. In general, we do not want to experience pain, and we tend to stay away from positions, situations and relationships that provoke such feelings.

Pain on a physical level is usually a sign of tissue damage. However, it still is a subjective experience, subject to what we believe, what our environment believes and what the consequence of the pain might mean to our current life. Nevertheless, pain does not necessarily need to be provoked by something physical. Also, non-physical traumas might provoke pain. Divorce, the death of a closed one or the memory of a car accident all might provoke pain. This experience both of physical and non-physical origin, can be experienced alike. Whereas, the origin of the pain might be different, the remedy is usually the same. This means, to get away as far as possible by either blocking it out or by using medication.

Personally, I have been in a variety of situations where I would be around people, both familiar and unfamiliar to me, when I was in pain. Often, the first response I would get after saying that “I am hurting” is; do you want pain medication? Hereafter, I usually gape like a high donkey for a couple of seconds. And I wonder, how did these two things get connected so well together? Does feeling pain mean I need to take pain medication? I am not experiencing pain in the first place, because I forgot to take my pain medication, right?

From my point of view, we have stigmatized pain so much, that the majority of people try to avoid it as soon as they feel it. Nowadays, there is a whole industry capitalizing on this idea. The pharmaceutical industry earns billions, just because we do not want and get to see the value of pain. Instead, we are made to believe that we need pain medication to solve this.

However, in reality pain is a beacon to let us know where action is required. Therefore, it is actually one of the most valuable guides to aid in recovery, both after physical and non-physical traumas. After a physical trauma, it tells you exactly when you are doing too much or maybe too little to recover your body. When the origin is non-physical, it informs you of the importance of this traumatic experience. Take the death of a closed one for example. The experience of pain and loss is natural and will usually be experienced by everybody. Still, there are a lot of people that do not want to experience these feelings, just because they are considered as not nice. Thereafter, we are trying to push the pain out of our life instead of processing this loss.

Accepting that we are feeling pain though, might be the best pain medication. Signals coming from our body and mind that we ignore, tend to become stronger. Apparently the message was not clear enough to make us behave accordingly. At the same time, avoiding it we give the sense of pain such a high value of dislike, that afterwards we have to deal with this sensation as well. In the meantime, we end up behaving tense and nervous because we made part of our human experience off limits.

However, when we are able to revalue the pain experience we directly let go of the tense behavior as well. After, we can look for a way to solve the origin of the pain. After a physical trauma, this means making the right decisions to enhance tissue repair. After a non-physical trauma though this means dealing with the origin of the trauma head-on. Feeling the pain, talking about it and trying to give it the right value. This way the memory attached to the trauma can be accessed without fear, and experienced without destabilizing us later on.

Also, by accepting the pain experience I noticed that it becomes a lot more bearable. It still can be an intense feeling but after seeing it for what it is, a message, the whole thought process of dislike and the energy spend on it, is gone. Where in the beginning, the pain might also create a feeling of being overwhelmed, overtime you notice that this goes away. By listening to your pain it’s intensity can be reduced and a healing process can take place. The nice thing is, that without taking pain medication you can trust that when the pain declines, you are doing the right thing. However, when you took pain medication, it is impossible to know if what you are feeling is reality.

In conclusion, from my perspective the stigmatization of pain is not serving us in any way. Rather, it is holding us back from dealing with its origin head-on. As soon as we accept the feeling of pain, we can revalue it and act accordingly. Instead of being traumatized by the feeling, we actually solved the trauma and can continue our life with another valuable experience in our pocket.

How Fear Influences Your Everyday Life (2)

This is the second post in a two part series on a how fear influences your everyday life. In the first post on fear, last week, I tried to dissect how fear is wired in to our current lives without a valid reason. In this second part, I will explore how society is actually stimulating this fear-based lifestyle at the same time offering us a solution in materialistic form instead of supporting us to deal with it internally.

Where our society has developed faster than anybody could have imagined, our bodies like plants, take a little longer. Our society requires us to behave and learn in a certain way to keep it’s materialistic parts in place. Leaving little space to actually learn to interact with ourselves. Where society stimulates us to externalize our problems, the real solution always lies within ourselves. In Buddhism for example, it is being tought that the origin and solution of our problems can be found within ourselves. This is also the case with fear-based behavior.

Fake Security

Nevertheless, we have created material constructs to give a sense of security to reduce our fears. We have insurances for health, cars, houses, belongings or even parts of our body, so that we do not have to be afraid before something happens. Still, we end up being afraid when something happens, because it might just be that the insurance will not cover the incident.

I remember sitting in a public hospital waiting room in Buenos Aires. I could barely walk, I could not stretch my left knee and I was hurting like hell. The day before I had twisted my knee provoking a sensation unfamiliar to me. The first thing my Physical Therapist brain told me, is that I injured my meniscus. This would mean long recovery and possible surgery. I wondered if my insurance would cover this, and I realized that to resolve this injury I might need to fly to Europe to do surgery.

Anyway, after waiting for three hours the doctor showed up. He assessed my knee doing two tests, and told me I might be lucky and that I probably sprained my medial colletaral ligament. Even though, the doctor did two assessments that I know to be very unreliable, my perspective changed and my fear subsided. All of a sudden everything seemed managable again. Even though, nothing about my situation had changed.

With a calm mind I realized that the doctor’s diagnosis was probably right. Nevertheless, during the 24 hours before, fear had kept me in a tunnel. Only worrying about one possible outcome even though there were more. In this process I was in touch with my travel insurance agency. They told me that I would have to pay the first 900 euros of whatever treatment would be done.

Where everybody usually takes a travel insurance, if they can, it does not prevent any accident from happening. It shows here that my organized materialistic protection did not aid me in resolving my fears after suffering my injury. It was just a monetary protection generating a false sense of security.

Everyday Worries

Furthermore, worries like: will I have enough money for next month? Will I be able to participate in the next exam? Am I strong enough to win this contest? And, can I stick to my diet change?, might provoke feelings of fear and a sense of insecurity. If we do not become conscious of the limiting effects of these feelings, we might make such feelings a foundation to decide upon. Fear seems to force our attention towards it’s origin. Therefore, it does not go well with balanced thoughts, planning capabilities and weighed decision taking.

However, a large part of our society keeps thriving on this primal emotion. A new alarm at home will make sure the thieves do not get in to the house and a new smoke alarm will prevent the house from burning down. Both of these alarms are there to protect our possessions. Interestingly, the idea that something is “ours” after we have acquired it is a human invention. Where after, a fear for losing these possessions might arise. To take this fear of losing away, we created insurances and alarms.

The Flip Side of Possession

Possession and dependence are among the most freedom undermining concepts. Where in reality we are free to begin with, these posessions actually take away our freedom after we generate the idea that we depend on them.

However, if we manage to detach from everything we have, we also lose the sensation of fear and dependence connected to it. I personally experienced this during my travels. At home, I was thinking about everything I was not taking with me in my backpack, and how this would limit me. Once I was away though, I ended up using half of what I was carrying. When I realized what this meant, a greater sense of freedom dawned on me.

Fear provokers, like possession, dependance and fear of loss are a product of society rather, than they are of me. When I realized this, it became easier to deal with them. Part of them not provoking feelings of fear anymore. Where in other situations, fear might still be present. In these situations though, I try to value it differently. In anyway, fear can and is allowed to always be a part of an emotion. It is up to us though, how we respond.

What Is Authenticity?

Two blog posts ago I wrote about why I started Quest for Authenticity and I will now continue to explore what authenticity means and how I think going on this quest has already helped me live a more fulfilling life.

Awareness

To me, the thing that stands out most strikingly in this process, is the importance of becoming aware of what is ours in our lives, and what is not. Consequently, it is possible to make a conscious decision on what we would like to include and what to exclude. Because, from the moment  we enter this world up to this very moment there has been, and will be, continuous input from both inside and outside ourselves. Regardless of the origin of these inputs, their effects on us are all equally real. The problem is though, that in most cases nobody teaches us how to deal with all of these inputs.

When we zoom out though, it becomes visible that a lot of these inputs are results of a societal belief-system rather than the result of personal needs. In western society, our culture has become increasingly materialistic and focused on education, money, and performance whereas in Middle-Eastern society, for example, a more traditionally family oriented belief-system is still in place. The result in both occasions, however, is that we end up living lives that we think are ours but are actually far from it.

Authenticity as a Painting

I like to think of this way of life as a painting. When we are born we actually have a blank painting, nevertheless society drew all the lines already. The way it is now, we are only allowed to color in our painting. The idea of finding your own authentic way of life though is, to look at your painting and question every color and line in there. Is this what I want it to look like? Where after you can decide to keep it in this way, change it or erase it, leaving space for something new.

What is Normal?

Currently though, the first thing that will be decided on is whether we are normal or not normal. Normal in this case means that we are allowed to start the path into society along the most convenient way – starting in kindergarten until we get our degree. Subsequently, we are eligible to start producing and consuming to keep the bubble of our western society floating.

However, if you are not qualified as normal, you will either have to become normal by doing therapy, using medication or just pretending to be. After this, you might still be eligible to enter the “regular” path of life. If this still does not work out, there is an alternative trajectory which reduces your chances of a free life in almost every way. The criteria for normal and not normal vary depending on where you are from. In some cases skin color or the amount of money is already enough to put you in one of the categories, while in other cases a certain mental health status might determine your trajectory.

However, the way we view skin color, mental health, body composition, physical capacity and book-learning capabilities are all labels and measurements created by us humans. We have defined what is normal and what is not normal. This way, the reigning paradigm can be kept in place easier, and threats to it can be suppressed and quarantined. Think of all the medication prescribed for certain mental health “disorders”. In this, we are made to believe that there is only one reality, and that is the one that is systematically being forced upon us. At the same time we get the false idea that all of this is necessary for our own well-being.

So when we realize this we can come to a point where we might decide to view things a little differently. We can start changing, erasing and refilling parts of the painting of life. Do you agree with the normal – not normal division? Do you think that money is more important than health? Do you agree with the amount of hours we have to work every week? Do you agree with school being more important than playing at home? Do you agree with the idea that somebody who finished his Masters’ degree is smarter than somebody quitting high-school? And do you agree with the idea that when you are not working you are not productive?

These and a million other normal things within our western society are results of this belief-system silently agreed upon. However, when we become aware of this and actively use this awareness, we can make a conscious decision on anything in life. Therefore, my Quest for Authenticity is really about reviewing these concepts and to decide on their part in my life. While there are both useful and useless things to our western society, both of them are there without question until you start questioning them for yourself, and start to paint your own painting.

Redefining Continuously

Personally, in this on-going process I am redefining concepts like the importance of work, time, laziness, health, and money. I am trying to reduce the influence of the latter in my decision taking, by looking for alternatives when it comes to spending it.

Also, feelings of insecurity and fear I try to accept and retrace to it’s origin. These feelings are often based on non-personal beliefs and wreak havoc in my behavior and decision-making capabilities. Seeing them for what they are it is easier to reduce their influence. Still, there are so many other things that I at least try to approach without any preconception, until there is a moment I need to decide on the value of a certain idea. Because, the idea that once we have defined something that this is forever, is an invention of ours as well. We are actually free to redefine our authenticity at any moment.

Why I Try To Let Go of Expectations

I remember before I started traveling that I had high expectations towards rock climbing. I was really looking forward to spending time in one place climbing, continuing to the next spot to do it again. Also, visiting Patagonia was on top of my list together with my main goal to improve my Spanish. Before leaving these expectations and the following anticipation were huge. I could imagine this rock climbing lifestyle up to the cramps in my fingers, I could see the peaks in Patagonia, and I could feel the Spanish words I did not know yet, flow out of my mouth.

What Really Happened

I have been traveling for over four months now, and how different everything has been. I did not go rock climbing once yet, I learned Portuguese before I got to Spanish, and I am not sure if I will make it to Patagonia at all this trip. The irony here is, that when I wrote a first draft of this blog post, I was almost leaving for Patagonia. Two days before I left though, I twisted my knee and had to cancel that part of my trip. But, do I regret any of this? Not at all, instead I experienced a million other things that got me to where I am now, happy with whatever crosses my path. Leaving a big part of my life up to the unexpected.

The Origin of Expectations

When we take a step back though, it is interesting to see where these expectations originate. We create expectations in our mind by projecting the past into the future. Because, we cannot expect what we did not experience yet. Moreover, we can create expectations about expectations. Hereafter, we create an entirely imaginary world that is clear of any surprise but is far from reality.

When you realize this, you see how self limiting expectations can be. Where on the one hand they are a tool to invest “time” more efficiently, on the other hand they take energy by dividing our attention between the past and the future, leaving little for the present. Since we create the future by how we live in the present, living in expectation actually increases our chances on experiencing the same thing over and over.

Also, expectations are reinforced by our society. Contracts, appointments, clear trajectories in school, and at work allow us to know exactly what to expect before we experience it. Since we do not have to worry about what is going to come up next, we can turn off our brain, stop asking questions and do as we are being told.

Living in this expectation-based society, life might get a little boring. Luckily, there is a lot of entertainment around to thrill us nonetheless. Cinemas, music festivals, restaurants, streetplay, theater, and soccer matches are all there to be consumed. Of course, we expect everything to start on “time”. Otherwise, the day after we might be at work later than expected.

How Expectations Influence our Daily Lives

In our personal lifes we often let expectations direct our feelings aswell. Because, do we not expect our parents to know the way when we do not? Is not our partner supposed to be there when we are sad? And, should not our friends keep your secrets forever? Again, in this case it might be harder to see, but expectations in these situations can be limiting as well. When we stick to these expectations the chance is high that any given relationship will solely develop along preset lines.

Where betrayal of a friend would provoke disappointment and anger, it might actually be the moment he or she realizes it is possible to feel comfortable sharing his or her deepest feelings. And, what if you do not show up when your partner needs you most and he or she realizes an inner strength to deal with it alone. So much for expecting anything from your loved ones.

Living in this version of reality we are limiting our own view. Where there might be a lot of valuable lessons to learn, we usually stick to expecting what we experienced already. We end up either satisfied or disappointed with the outcome. This all seems so normal because everybody around us does the same. It has gone thus far, that we have created an entire construct of ethical and behavioral rules. We know exactly how we are supposed to behave before we enter any situation. The people that act differently are usually the ones we talk about when they are not there.

Putting Expectations into Perspective

Even though, certain expectations are useful, for example, when your mother tells you she will pick you up, it is useful to think that this is going to happen. Also, certain ethical and behavioural expectations are useful to live, at least in relative peace, next to each other.

However, I think we should stop valuing expectations as something important. When we do this, we can see and adept to what is happening in the present. Because, expectations by itself are not limiting, rather it is the level of importance we ascribe to them that limits us.

Personally, I still expect things to develop in certain ways. But the boundaries around these expectations are more transparant. In general the importance of expectations is on the decline in my life, and I intend to keep it going this way. Because, when expectations are not limiting our sight in the present, there is more energy to enjoy it. At the same time staying excited about everything that we do not know yet.