“Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I” wrote US songwriter Lorenz Hart about the feeling of infatuation. It’s blissful and euphoric, as we all know. But it’s also addicting, messy and blinding. Without careful monitoring, its wild wind can rage through your life leaving you much like the lyrics of a country song: without a wife, […]
Um. Before you say, “duh???,” let me just say that the title of this post is the title of a new insightful book by Steven J. Fogel, business leader and Renaissance man, with Mark Rosin. A refreshing combination of psychology tips and motivational themes, the book outlines why our mind goes awry, leading down the slippery slope to depression and anxiety, and how we can try to better hold the reins.
Now if you are so clinically depressed right now that you can’t get out of bed, I don’t think many of the chapters will help you. However, if you are at an okay place, functioning but pretty freaked out about the change that’s going on in your life like I am, well, I appreciated Fogel’s guidelines.
He starts by examining our childhood (Yes, you get to blame mom and pop again … it’s wonderful). He writes:
We are born with no limitation on communicating our feelings and thoughts. A young child speaks without censoring him- or herself, but then something happens and we begin suppressing ourselves; instead of communicating our feelings and thoughts as they occur, we begin holding back.
The “something” that happens is an event that we experience as an emotional trauma. Observed from outside, the event can be large–a death or divorce–or seemingly small–a parental reaction of irritation to something we’ve done–but even an event that looks small from the outside can be emotionally traumatic for a child. How we react to this trauma and to subsequent traumas establishes patterns of behavior that we tend to unconsciously allow to determine our behavior as we react to new events.
True growth starts when we realize that our actions are being triggered by an event that activates old patterns of behavior and we begin to understand which old patterns are being triggered by which particular external catalysts. The key is mindfulness–the mind’s ability to stay conscious–so that we can be aware of how and when our machinery gets triggered. This means that we have to see and understand they ways our machinery reacted to past traumas and the programming that formed at that time, which is still with us.
Fogel goes on to explain how we might recognize our Organizing Principles, the automatic pilot or lens through which we experience things, and the messages we end up shouting to ourselves.
One of the most helpful chapters for me was the one on guiding principles, or truths that can help us transform. Fogel writes:
We have the power to replace or supplement our dysfunctional Organizing Principles–and thereby interrupt our programming and fight our complexes–with new Guiding Principles. These Guiding Principles can help us create the future we want for ourselves by allowing us to consciously choose actions that are not past based and that allow for new possibilities that create aliveness and joy. They allow us to become good parents to ourselves, giving ourselves the guidance, support, and nurturance we need to become the people we want to be.
I use the following Guiding Principles to help me move into the now. I’ve made my mantra:
- The truth is just the truth.
- Feelings are not facts.
- You can’t argue with another’s perceptions.
- Conflicting feelings can co-exist peacefully until they are coupled with action.
- Every time something new happens, I go back to my old ways–and I need to snap out of it.
- Don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t have them do unto you.
- Don’t stay with familiar pain out of fear of awkwardness or unknown pain.
- We can put our bad feelings into others, just as they can put their into us.
- Life is lived in the little things.
Well, those are enough big thoughts for the day. I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes by Shakyamuni Buddha, which Fogel includes before the Preface: “Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts.