Transformative Thinking

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

“A thorough look into our thought processes may reveal some hidden surprises”

The ability to quickly and correctly remember information we’ve learned is a different skill from that which uses reason and logic to make rational conclusions. However, what they both have in common is the capacity to think. From the first day of school, many encourage us to sharpen and maximize our brain power, knowing it will serve us well as we continue throughout life. Whether it’s recalling facts on a history test or calculating a string of algebraic equations, most people work hard to be perceived as smart. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be intelligent. The perception alone often adds to one’s credibility and is advantageous in many circumstances.

My five previous posts have all been centered around the thinking process and more specifically, continually questioning the substance, intent, and viability of those procedures and methods developed during our lifetime. Uncovering the errors and misconceptions of those processes can ultimately become gigantic moments of learning and self-development.

There are countless examples of how centuries-old scientific facts were proven incorrect. Some of these ancient and prehistoric truths are still debated today. Similarly, there have been many people whom history has highly praised yet further research has discovered some horrible attitudes and convictions about human rights and dignity. This is not a declaration nor admonition of anyone being wrong, it is simply pointing out that ideas, beliefs, and even facts, can and have changed.

One of the most frequent phrases repeated to my clients is: “Always ask questions. Answers may change but if the question is never asked, there’s no need to seek the answers.” Personally, I feel better when I’ve had a “transformative thinking” moment than when I spout some highly-regarded philosophical thought I’ve treasured for years.

Conviction and certainty in our own beliefs is something we all seek. It provides a sense of comfort and consistency in what has made us who we’ve truly become. However, it may also create a propensity to seek out others with likeminded ideals; leading to groupthink, exclusion and the feeling that everyone else disagreeing is completely wrong. Conversely, there are those who claim to be openminded yet may frequently dismiss points of view from those they perceive as narrowminded; which in and of itself, seems narrowminded.

The key is to constantly reexamine our thought processes. Be open to the possibility that change may be needed. There isn’t anyone alive who hasn’t had his or her mind changed about something. And merely asking a question does not demand the answer must change. Sometimes reevaluating our truths enhances our resolve and offers additional insights into why we believe the way we do.

In today’s world rife with division, blame, and animosity, now more than ever it’s important to repeatedly and relentlessly analyze our thinking processes. Are there any selfish motives behind our exclusionary wants? Do our efforts promoting goodwill mask self-aggrandizing intentions? They may or may not; but without asking the question, we may be refusing or denying the truth. Sometimes when we take an honest and sincere look at our own thinking processes, we may be surprised at what’s been hiding.

My thanks to Ben White of Unsplash for the wonderfully fitting picture. I look forward to your comments.

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The thinking gap

Red Rock Canyon, outside Las Vegas, Nevada USA

“Forcing others to do things your way will often constrain them to make your same mistakes.”

The one inevitability about personal growth and development is that it typically points out something within ourselves which needs to be changed. Often, it indicates a part of our thinking, perceptions, or awareness which we believed were correct, but now realize contained flaws. It is a daily goal of mine to find at least one growth moment no matter how small or major it may be.

A rather compelling moment happened last June. I play second trumpet in the Henderson Symphony and the upcoming concert featured some popular jazz standards. We recruited the assistance of a trumpet player from the local university named Kurt. This was his first time performing with the orchestra and after hearing him warm up, he had on him what brass players refer to as quite a “set of chops.” One of the pieces on the program was, “In The Mood” which featured a solo for my part. I hadn’t practiced enough before the first rehearsal and wanting to spare myself some embarrassment, I asked him to trade parts. He shook his head no and immediately my thoughts went to, “whatever happened to respect your elders”?

Needless to say, I was a bit agitated but shortly after the first note, I realized he was playing the first part and had he agreed to switch, the music would have been more demanding than my current one. When the time came for my solo, I stumbled through it and after the first run-through, I thanked him for not obliging. This young man’s refusal to accept what was essentially a demand, spared me additional awkwardness and also forced me to go home and “woodshed” the part; compelling me to do a better job.

Not only was this a lesson I’ll never forget, it also sheds light on another important subject. Many in my generation often dismiss or scorn the attitudes of those in younger ones; but I have a different outlook from most Baby Boomers. Gen Xers and Millennials are frequently criticized for many faults; however, I also recall being a teen and having adults criticize me and my friends for not doing things the way they did as children. It’s nearly engrained in the human species to do so and complaining or forcing our own will on them won’t make any change except perhaps for the worse.

Last week’s article highlighted a view that if I believed in something passionately, it doesn’t require everyone else to believe the same in order to be “right.” Today’s young adults are not shy about dealing with issues differently from my peers. At times, I wish they were more open to heeding my experience and learning from those mistakes. Albeit, there’s no doubt in my mind those adults who critiqued me had a similar thought.

There is one fact which cannot be denied nor overlooked about the younger generations and that is they ARE the future. If there is anything grim about it then it ought to be our responsibility to help build it and not complain or in some cases, even sabotage it.

Rather than only looking for reasons to gripe about their actions and behaviors, focus also on seeing positive ones in today’s young adults as well. Recognize constructive behaviors and freely compliment them. This nurtures and inspires productive conduct and is the best way to leave a greater footprint on the future of this planet.

Granted, certain behaviors should never be ignored but that’s true regardless of your peer group. There is no reason why all of us – both young and old – can’t work together to mold the brightest future ever. My generation can offer words of wisdom while at the same time, learn from the energy and enthusiasm of younger ones. The worst thing we can do is force them into doing things the way we did. Otherwise, they’ll be prone to make our very same mistakes.

This week, see how much kindness you can compliment and inspire; especially from those younger than yourself. Thanks as always and I look forward to your comments.

Universal Thought

“The beliefs of the Honorable do not always align.”

Children often dream of what they want to be when they grow up. Adults, however, mainly want to have jobs they enjoy; one in which they feel valued, respected, and with opportunities for growth. There are plenty of studies showing how employment impacts our health and mental wellbeing which is far more valuable than what wages alone offers.

Choosing a profession such as a counselor, therapist, or life coach, is frequently initiated by a difficult or challenging event which radically changed that person’s life and now inspires them to help others. That was certainly the case for me. After my marriage fell apart, I was fortunate to find a great therapist. But it wasn’t until three years later, upon completion of my book, when that feeling truly ignited.

I’ll always remember the freedom I felt when my problem was finally pinpointed. The moment I realized it was my own thinking and the negative beliefs I had about myself that was the biggest stumbling block in my life.

Others have described these awakening moments as a weight lifted off their shoulders. Mine was more of an incredible feeling of liberation while ironically giving me a better sense of direction. Although there was still plenty of healing and spiritual growth to be had, there was a confidence before that I’d never fully realized.

My book chronicles part of that journey but mainly focuses on shame and low self-esteem I did not want to admit. The title of the book is: Shame On Me – Healing a Life of Shame-Based Thinking. It details how pervasive shame is, yet continues to go unnoticed by most people. It creates feelings from total unworthiness to complete arrogance. I believed this one concept was the most important one and what the world needed to hear to answer many of its problems.

To this day, I continue to be passionate about this message and wish that everyone could undergo a similar awareness to mine. But there is also something else of equal importance I learned and that is no matter how committed I am to that message, if others don’t share that same passion, it does not make them wrong.

This is perhaps one of the greatest obstacles for many. When we experience something so transformative and lifechanging, we want everyone else to experience that same excitement. No matter how altruistic, unselfish, or noble our concerns appear, we cannot demand or expect everyone to be on board with our entire train of thought. No one philosophy holds the solutions to the entire world’s downfalls.

This realization does not put a damper on my enthusiasm. I continue to become more passionate about helping people understand the devastating effects of shame and guide them through their emotional healing process. But I also understand there are others with a message as passionate and healing as mine. The ultimate goal is helping others, not for everyone else to validate and honor my beliefs.

My thanks to Photo by Alfred Schrock on Unsplash for the beautiful photo and I look forward to your comments.

I’ve never thought about it that way

Artwork “Devine Oneness” by Katja Koevoet

“Seeing from a bird’s eye point of view brings a whole new perspective.”

Personal development is gaining broad appeal as well it should. One of the key components to self-growth is being able to take an extremely critical look at our own selves and discern what needs to be changed. Last week’s article discussed how thinking patterns we developed as children can be a huge barricade to our growth. However, there are times when the truth is blaringly obvious, but we look the other way because of the consequences it may bring.

This was one of the most eye-opening and transformative concepts I discovered after starting therapy. My 22-year marriage crumbled and I was feeling like a total failure. Oddly enough, that feeling created a mindset which allowed me to look openly at anything that might be an issue. There was nothing I wouldn’t consider about myself because I was determined to “fix” what was wrong. I carefully reviewed my thoughts and actions, and even considered how or if I loved my wife at the time.

I always considered myself a decent person and dedicated to the marriage. But in May, 2011, everything changed. It wasn’t until a couple years passed when I realized that although I loved her, it wasn’t the kind of love which sustains healthy relationships. Here is where my thinking got in the way. Had anyone approached me in April of 2011 and said, “You know John, you are not really in love with your wife,” I would have vehemently objected. My response would have been something like, “There’s no man on this planet who loves his wife as much or more than I do”!

While this is a reasonable response from a married man, I would have answered that way because of this reasoning: what kind of a terrible husband would I be if I didn’t love her that much? How horrible of a human would I have be to live with someone for that long and not be completely in love? I didn’t even want to consider the slightest notion that I had fallen out of love with her because then I would deem myself a bad person. Even though there were clues pointing this out, my thinking was clouded and I refused to face it.

It’s natural to be proud of our mind and what we can accomplish with it. The amount of information which can be stored and the ability to put that data logically together is quite a feat. But when it comes to self-assessment, it’s also important to balance that with a frankness and honesty; especially at times when it may appear to insult or offend our own intellect. This kind of candor, however, has more to do with depth of character, integrity, and seeking a greater purpose beyond ourselves.

We can’t learn when we are surrounded only by things which don’t challenge our understanding and getting out of our comfort zone is the best way to grow physically, mentally, and spiritually. There’s not much more that makes a person uncomfortable than realizing there’s something mistaken in our thinking. This week, take some time and examine difficult issues from your past and see if there was a part of your thinking where you can now get a whole new perspective.

My thanks to Katja Koevoet for the beautiful work of art. Find out more about her on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and her website. You’re sure to find her perspective unique and creative. I look forward to your comments.

Let me think about that

Artwork “The Spirit within” by Katja Koevoet

“Change happens when we change the way we think about ourselves.”

In the world of personal development and self-growth, the basic principle is to discern what it is about ourselves that needs changing – hence the words “personal” and “self”. This is a continual theme in my articles. The opening quote is one of my favorites as well as one which I pen in every one of my books I sell. Perhaps I emphasize how we think about ourselves so much because it was a huge stumbling block to my own personal growth.

In 2012, when my 22-year marriage was hanging by a thread, I searched for a therapist to see if this once-happy union could be saved. After setting the appointment, I recall thinking, “I don’t want to go in there, lie on a couch and have him ask me a bunch of questions about my childhood.” The circumstances were dire and grave. I didn’t have time to go into all that malarkey. I needed a solution now!

It makes me chuckle when I remember that demand. Although the relationship could not to be saved, all of my issues contributing to the breakup were basically caused by how I learned to think when I was a child. Yes, you read that correctly, “how I learned to think.” I may not be using the proper neurological or psychological terms but when we are young we develop behavioral models which I call “default patterns” that innately dictate certain actions and reactions in our day-to-day decisions.

At an early age, I was very worried about doing the wrong thing and looked to others not only for advice but also to tell me what I needed to do. Whether it was my mother, teacher, coach, or minister, for some reason, I didn’t believe that I could find those answers from within and therefore had to be told what to do. Needless to say, I was mostly an obedient child.

This, however, created a tremendous lack of self-confidence when it came to making life choices and decisions, constantly seeking the approval of others before moving forward. It was not a daily occurrence but happened in all the major decisions. This kind of thinking became my “default pattern” so it felt “normal” for me to react in this way.

Not realizing this was the case, when I got married those patterns remained. My wife at the time was a recently divorced, mother of three, attractive, and had much more worldly knowledge than I. My thinking was, “tell me what I need to do to be a good husband, father, and provider.” There were many times when something as simple as where should we go to dinner was a mind-game for me trying to think what she would want to eat.

These kinds of self-limiting patterns spring from negative ideas that we learn to believe about who we are – which by the way, is how I define shame. Over the next few articles, we’ll discuss ways of how and why these patterns develop and most importantly, how they can be changed and healed. My hope is that you’ll discover some disruptive pattern that you had no idea existed and learn to change the way you think about you.

My thanks to Katja Koevoet for the beautiful art piece. We recently connected on LinkedIn and she is an amazing, autodidact (self-taught) digital painter and photographer. Her passion has already won her awards for her work. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook or her website for more information. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The Final Examination

“A passing grade does not guarantee one understands the subject.”

Welcome to the fourth and final class of Happiness 101. In prior lessons, the object was to present happiness with thought-provoking and stimulating ideas inspiring you to approach this subject in ways you’d never dreamed. If you were able to break down and expand old barriers and notions of your previous beliefs on this topic, then you definitely passed the final exam. I always took the approach that happiness is what an individual makes of it. There were only 2 criteria that would not fit in any definition. The first is that your happiness should never be at the expense of another and secondly, if you criticized other’s thoughts about it.

Interestingly enough, there is a scientific study on happiness which at its origin, never had that objective in mind. In 1939, Harvard University launched the Cohort – Grant Study tracking the development of 75 men specifically focusing on mental and physical health. In 1944, they added men from Boston’s inner city to see if environment and education levels affected any outcomes. In 2015, current director of the study, Dr. Robert Waldinger, gave a TED Talk on the main outcome it has produced so far and that is: “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Had we the luxury of a full term of classes, no doubt this study would have been closely scrutinized for why that conclusion was made. I’ll leave that to your extra curricular activities but I would highly suggest listening to the 15 minute TED Talk.

It wouldn’t be a real discussion without some pushback or disagreement of this study (and I’m hoping to see some in the comments as well). Ironically, I immediately thought of an octogenarian who defies some of the criteria from this study. This person has a sharp and quick mind as well as being in excellent health. Many would also agree this person looks much younger than others in a similar age bracket.

Far be it from me to say that the Harvard Study is not correct. What I am saying is that we are all individuals and sometimes we can defy statistics. This is a ray of hope for those who have not been in successful relationships for most of their lives. Nothing should ever dictate to you how you ought to be happy; explaining precisely why I believe that happiness is what each person ascribes and decides what it means.

In today’s world where division and strife seem to have overtaken the concept of happiness, the Harvard Study clinched one belief for me. The idea of relationships – and not just a marriage or partner but all types – is the key ingredient causing all the prevailing contention, isolation, and discrimination. Disagreement with someone is never settled by conflict or violence. True strength is shown when we can sincerely listen to those who hold differing opinions and learn to get along. Working on building and maintaining all relationships not only brings us happiness but will cause it naturally to overflow onto others.

My thanks to Joel Holland on Unsplash for the beautiful photo and don’t forget to leave your final test answers in the comments.

Time to begin

Photo by Anita Jankovic on Unsplash

“The ‘pursuit of happiness’ will never guarantee a victorious end.”

Welcome back to the third class on happiness. Last week, the question of how to get out of those moments of unhappiness was posed and the assignment was to explain what actions are implemented to convert them back into pleasant moments. It is a rare human who can display a cheerful countenance all the time, but isn’t that largely what we are attempting to accomplish? Imagine for one moment if your life were a continuous string of positivity, smiling faces, and endless joy; wouldn’t that be an amazing way to live your life?

There is a simple reason for posing that last question. I believe people who seek self-improvement and awareness are doing so because it ultimately will make their lives better – or in essence, bring them more happiness. That is not to say that only those seeking personal growth will ever achieve it. Every human alive wants to be happy; it’s just a matter of how much time and effort a person prioritizes to achieve it.

Which brings to mind the next subject for this class. How early in life does happiness become an objective? Can you recall what age you were when the concept of happiness became important and you began diligently seeking it? We often see children playing and having fun; seemingly without a care in the world. It frequently appears that being happy is mainly all they’re concerned about. If they’re not pursuing or experiencing a happy moment, they’re pouting or trying to find ways to make it so.

I do recall as a young boy, being a fairly happy kid. I earned good grades and was a decent athlete. These, however, were probably good reasons why I was not a frequent target of bullies; a well-documented cause of childhood unhappiness. However, around the age of 12, thoughts of being happy were no longer a goal nor even a desire. I began to experience extreme feelings of unworthiness which made it feel like having fun was wrong or perhaps even selfish. My shame had begun to take it’s toll and all the negative things which people told me I was, drastically influenced me to think that happiness was not important and when there were joyful moments, those were a gift rather than something I earned or deserved.

Truthfully, my young adult years were not torturous and there were definitely lots of cheerful memories but happiness, to a certain extent, seemed wrong to pursue. It felt like I was being selfish for wanting to be happy. This is precisely the power that our own shame has and can influence us to sabotage our own success or happiness.

This week’s homework assignment is to think about your days of pursuing happiness as a child and how that journey changed and/or progressed as you got older. Was there a mentor in your life who helped shape your current aspirations? Was there perhaps an abuser who thwarted or greatly impeded your development? This exercise will help clarify your happiness goals and help motivate you in this pursuit.

My thanks to Anita Jankovic on Unsplash for the beautiful photo and I look forward to your comments.