Part 5 | The Nine Laws of Life

strengths-photo-18February 23, 2017

Law Five: We Face Challenges

When it comes down to it, there is a comfort in staying the same.  Even if we are miserable in our staying-the-sameness, we can oddly appreciate—even depend on—the certain level of predictability that is provided there.  For some, the anxiety of change outweighs the pain of staying the same.  Whether we are trying something new or doing only what we know, we are being tested in both directions.  For this reason, facing challenges is unavoidable.

Importantly, the act of making changes can feel scary, overwhelming, and even impossible.  So, it’s good to remember up-front that in every transition there will be challenges.  Just as, doing what we’ve always done can be challenging.  The only difference is, when we are pushing ourselves to grow and evolve challenges are good and necessary.  They are, in fact, an integral part of the deal when we start to make changes.  We grow as a direct result of them.  Some would even say that challenges are indispensable—a pre-requisite—to growth.

After all, can we really say that progress is even possible without challenges?  Could it even still be defined as growing if nothing needed to be overcome in order to achieve it?  Change without challenge is just a different shade of “the same”, right?

And, we are talking about challenges—growth opportunities—not struggles.  While each word points to a similar idea—they are not the same.  Struggles are our challenges in disguise; we can think of our struggles as challenges which are at the wrong volume.

A challenge, by definition, is a test of our abilities; whereas a struggle is a difficult effort.  At a basic level of linguistics, we can feel the difference between the words in each definition.  A “test of abilities” vs. “a difficult effort”.

While struggling is an aspect of life that we have all, to some degree, experienced, it isn’t necessary for growth.  That is to say, we can face challenges without necessarily struggling.

Indeed, we may even transform what was once a struggle into a challenge—but to struggle is not itself an essential element to our evolution.  Overcoming challenges, on the other hand, is.

Think of it this way, it may be a constant struggle to “stay the same” because doing so involves emotions like boredom, fear, self-loathing, jealousy, and guilt—but, no one would say that staying the same is particularly challenging.  In terms of mindset, struggles appear to be happening to us, while challenges are things that we happen to.

We are wise to consider this nuance and to ask ourselves, “Am I struggling or am I being challenged?”  If the answer turns out to be the former, we know that it is time for a test of our abilities.

So, the question becomes, “How do I turn a struggle into a challenge?”

The answer has two parts.  The first is to become aware of the struggle: Name it.  The second part is to take action.

We can start by grabbing a piece of paper and writing about it—getting really clear about what it is we are struggling with, how it feels, and the history of how it got this way.  Writing it down “exposes” it.  A lot of what we struggle with is difficult to pin down unless we either talk about it or write about it.  Until we do either, our thoughts and emotions are likely to feel like an amorphous cloud bouncing around in our brains and whirring.

Once we have named it, we can begin to truly examine its parts.  In this process, we can look at the situation with greater objectivity and begin to ask ourselves, “What can be done about this?”

(The answer is rarely “nothing”, but if that is the case, the solution is: Acceptance.  If nothing can be done about a situation, the answer is to accept it, which is when it moves from a struggle to a challenge.  It is, after all, a tremendous struggle to not accept a situation that we can do nothing about.  So, the challenge—the thing that tests our abilities—is to learn strategies for accepting it.  In doing so, we may feel the pinch of leaving behind the “comforts” of anger, resentment, and self-righteousness, which, while miserable, kept us feeling a certain level of safety and control in the situation.  In a nutshell, in this example: The struggle is non-acceptance, the challenge is acceptance.  And, this model can be applied to most of life’s scenarios.)

So, once we have named the dragons that we face, we can look at the situation with a greater level of objectivity.  This allows us to identify specific points for action.  Say, for example, that we are struggling with money—let’s say that we never feel like we have enough.  The first step in moving this dynamic from a struggle to a challenge would be to define that word: “enough”.  Once we have done that and taken a look at our lives in such a way that gives us a specific dollar amount, then we can take action toward a concrete goal.  As in, instead of working to have “enough money”, we can work to have exactly $4100 per month, which would cover our bills, savings, investments, plus give us some money to play with and have fun with.

All struggles are challenging, but not all challenges are a struggle.  When we get specific about what we are feeling and facing, we can take action to improve our situation.  This can turn a struggle to stay the same into a challenge to evolve.

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

zach-profile

Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at StrengthsLife.com

His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world.  He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach.

Part 4 | The Nine Laws of Life

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February 10, 2017

Law Four: Our Actions Matter

It’s true, there are seven billion people on earth today and counting.  It’s also true that when we total it all up, an estimated 110 to 115 billion people have lived and breathed on our planet.  Nevertheless, what we do matters.

We can look at this from a number of angles.  The Butterfly Effect, for example, outlines a theory of interconnectedness wherein a butterfly’s wings in one part of the world trigger a chain of events that leads to a hurricane thousands of miles away.  While it may seem a bit farfetched in that context, the idea that we affect one another is easy to grasp.

Haven’t we all had our day changed by a total stranger?  Whether that change was “good” or “bad” is beside the point, the simple fact that the course of our day can be transformed by someone to whom we were not previously connected is worth digging into.  Because, after all, if that person had not been there, our day would have gone in another direction.  Period.

Here’s another way to look at it: Imagine the old story about the guy walking down a beach at dawn.  The sand is littered with countless starfish that had washed up at high tide.  Every few steps he stoops to pick one up and toss it to safety in the water.  After a while a little boy runs up to him and asks what he is doing.  The man replies, “I am saving these creatures from drying up in the sun.”  The boy says, “But, look at all of these other ones.  There are thousands of them who will die.  What difference will you make?”  And, as the man picks one up and throws it into the ocean he says, “It made all the difference in the world to that one.”

That is one way that our actions matter in the grand scheme of things.  While we may not alter the course of history each day, we do, indeed, alter the course of individuals’ personal history.  It’s true, we may not discover the next big cure or invent the latest must-have piece of technology; we may not have an airport named after us or a statue erected in our honor in a town square; we may not even achieve a percentage of our life goals; yet, still, what we do matters.

We each play a small part every day in the big, collective dream of our species.  Perhaps we think at times that the world would be the same without us, and through a telescope that might be accurate.  However, we do not experience reality through a telescope, we, instead, experience it through a microscope.

Let’s consider the dopamine in our brains for a moment.  The release of this chemical might feel like absolute ecstasy to the person experiencing it, and yet, in terms of measurements, the physical amount is so small that it can barely be measured.  In one sense, the difference between total bliss and baseline emotion (hum-drum) is infinitesimally small.  All the same, to the person experiencing the dopamine rush, it is a gargantuan difference.  What is little on the inside can be enormous on the outside.

Perhaps this has something to teach us about how we perceive our lives.  That is, the ways in which we measure our “impact” may not be in dollars or social media likes, which are quantifiable, but, instead, in the richness of the feelings that accompany our interactions.

Can’t we all say that there are certain people whom we would be perfectly happy doing at all nothing with—just sitting on a bench—while there are others who might make us want to crawl out of our skin after 5 seconds?  Like it or not, our very presence alone has an influence on the experience of others.

Because we don’t have a unified system of measurement for how taking a left instead of a right changes the course of history, we might be inclined to say that our actions don’t really count.  Maybe we even think that “it all evens out in the wash.”  But no man or woman is an island.  Both our presence and our absence affects the channels of world events—the same way that the tiny capillaries in our finger tips connect back to the giant arteries of the heart.

Can we really say that the capillaries are “unimportant” because they are small?  No.  Each little vein plays its part and adds to the proper or improper functioning of the organism.  Some of us are like roots in a tree (unseen but vital) while others are like big branches (seen and vital) and a few are even like the trunk of a tree (mighty and bold, unifying all the parts into a whole.)  And, still, without each part, the entire thing fails.

So, who we are and what we do matters.  We count.

Be it calculated by leaps or by baby-steps, the actions that we take (or do not take) ripple out into the lives of our fellow humans.  And, in turn, their actions ripple out into our lives and the lives of their fellow humans—and so on into infinity.

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

zach-profile

Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at StrengthsLife.com

His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world.  He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach.

Part 3 | The Nine Laws of Life

strengths-photo-15

February 2, 2017

Law Three: Our Thoughts Matter

The thoughts we think affect our external reality.  They tell us what to look for and how to react to what we experience.  The more we repeat a thought or a thought pattern the more it influences our state of mind, which is how we see and perceive the world.  And, how we see and perceive the world is, in fact, our reality—regardless of who else see it that way, it’s real to us.  In that way, our thoughts affect our reality.

This is why we will never meet a truly happy person who has mainly negative thoughts—that is, thoughts which dwell around bitterness, resentment, judgmentalness, anger, jealousy, and impatience.  Because happiness is a state of mind, it can only be produced or created by thought patterns that promote this state of mind.  After all, we cannot plant an apple seed and expect oranges.

To take it a step further, some would even argue that our thoughts create our reality.  Or, in a phrase: Our thoughts become things.  This is not necessarily saying that everything that we think about turns into a physical reality.  No way.  It is, however, saying that when we focus our conscious attention on an idea or thing, we are more likely to bring it into our experience.

To be clear, a person who imagines an object—say, a blue coffee cup—doesn’t magically bring it into existence from the ethers.  That is not what is meant when one says that our thoughts create our reality.  Instead, for example, if a person imagines a blue coffee cup and thinks about it all the time, they are giving their mind something concrete to look for in the world.  And “like magic” their mind will notice the next time that a blue cup is around and point their attention toward it.  Whereas, without such prompting to see and find that object, the mind would simply gloss over it, filter it out, and not register it.

So, let’s take it to the next level.  Imagine that there are two people standing in a room and looking out the same window at a park outside.  One person has been told that something fun and exciting is about to happen while the other person is told that something illegal and dangerous is about to go down.  Despite the fact that both people are looking at the exact same park, their attention will be drawn to entirely different aspects of the outdoor scene.  Each person will interpret the actions and activity of the passersby in different ways, each finding “evidence” of what they think will happen.  Because they are looking for different clues, they will be seeing differently and “reading” the scene in a particular way.

The mind is a scanning system.  It takes in stimulus and turns it into information.  Because there is a lot to take in all at once, the mind grows selective about what info it lets in and evaluates.  The value of this information is based on the significance that we attach (with our thoughts) to it.  The scent of cigarette smoke will trigger an array of different responses based on who is smelling it and their particular history with the odor.  An avid non-smoker might recoil, while another person, a smoker, might be drawn to it—meanwhile, someone else might not even notice it at all.  Same smell, different responses.  And, this is happening every second of our lives.

So, the thoughts that we attach to the various elements of our lives influence how we react and respond to the world.  In this way, the inner informs the outer.

In many ways, our reality boils down to what we notice in our surroundings as opposed to what all is there.  For example, if we happen to notice that someone has a habit of saying “um” a lot, we pick up on it every time they say it—and, it likely gets exaggerated in our minds and really sticks out until we can no longer concentrate on what the person is actually saying, because all we can hear are the “ums”.

The thoughts that we think matter because they encode our brains through repetition, which allows us to scan for some elements and ignore others.  Again, our reality is based largely upon what we notice in our environment.  By acknowledging this Law of Life, we are acknowledging that we have choices.  When we practice noticing qualities in the world that promote our best self and feed our brain those thoughts, we, in a way, change our reality.  Some would call this “counting wins” and it can be developed by taking a moment before bed to jot down the day’s “wins”.  This gives the mind a fixed point to focus on that is positive and after about a week of this practice, it becomes easier and easier to find and focus on the qualities of our lives as opposed to the perceived defects.

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

zach-profile

Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at StrengthsLife.com

His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world.  He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach.