Are there any monsters in your closet? What about in your head? The other day I realized I’ve been carrying around all kinds of monsters in my head…and I came to this conclusion just in time for Halloween.
My first book “What Is Stopping You?” is subtitled “Breakthroughs Using The Work of Byron Katie. The Work is a very simple set of questions one can use to question stressful thoughts and I have been using this form of inquiry since October of 2007. In fact, I did The Work every day for two years or more, and recently I have renewed the practice.
A few days ago I left home very early and began doing The Work in my head as I went for my morning walk. The stressful thought that came to mind was “It’s going to get worse”. Later on I wrote down the answers to the four questions in a notebook. When I was thinking about “It’s going to get worse” I was thinking in general terms about the future, and my future. This included the real estate market, my finances, our business, the economic climate, and a host of other things. Here is my inquiry…
It’s going to get worse. Is it true? Yes. It’s going to get worse. Can I absolutely know it’s true? No. And what happens when I believe that thought? I lose energy. I feel negative. I want to hide out. I am uninspired. My mind travels to some negative, imaginary future. I justify and further construct my negative future story. I don’t see opportunities in crises. I treat others as a means to keeping myself safe and secure. I want to give up. I focus on myself and not on what I am doing. I gather more and more evidence to prove I am right about how bad things will be. I look for, and find, negative future trends. I see no positive trends.
What do I fear would happen if I did not have this thought? That I would be in denial, wrong, or eventually blindsided by predictable, negative events. What is stopping me from giving up this negative thought? The belief that I need to be prepared. The belief that I need to be realistic, and that this would be better and smarter than being deluded in the positive.
Then I asked myself “Where and when did I first have the thought ‘It’s going to get worse’”? And I hung out with that question for a minute or so. Eventually it occurred to me that I had had a recurring dream when I was about 5 years old, of being chased by a werewolf around the island in our kitchen. I think I’d watched a scene from Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein’s Monster, or something, and was also convinced the closet in the back room in our basement was home to this scary beast.
So how would it get worse for me? The werewolf would catch me and I’d be no match for it. I’d be torn apart. Or eaten. Or both! I was terrified. Was there a real werewolf in our house back then? No. It was imaginary. And the things I think will get worse as an adult? Interestingly, in reality, they are ALL imaginary too!
Who am I without the thought “It’s going to get worse”? Focused on this moment. Able to appreciate this moment. Able to be thankful. With the thought I am pessimistic. I am less happy. Whatever happens doesn’t matter to my negative outlook. I think the werewolf is going to get me. I think the bad things I am thinking about will happen.
Again, who am I without this thought? Not only won’t the werewolf get me but there’s no werewolf. It’s entirely imaginary. I start to see that the imaginary monsters of my childhood are made of the same stuff that adult fears are made of. I’ve been afraid almost my entire life. I’ve had a negative future story for decades. Hearing about Nostradamus fed this story. Watching Jaws fed this story. Watching the news. Economic disaster, rampant crime, the Cold War, nuclear war. None of the things I’ve been afraid of over the years have actually happened. I wasn’t eaten by a shark when I was in the dinghy by the dock at age 12 after seeing Jaws. The many airliners I’ve been on have never crashed. Y2K was a non-starter.
So what is stopping me from letting go of my fears? (And let me add that I’m not wanting to be so fearless that I’ll freely and joyously leap to my death from some rooftop. - Fearless doesn’t mean stupid.) In some instances fear seems healthy. It is prudent not to leave money lying around in open view in my car, for example. Often fear masquerades as “healthy caution”.
Again, with this thought my fear actually closes my mind. I’m a victim. I have a victim mentality. I am helpless. I justify and explain my position and shut out opposing ideas. I need to prove myself right.
And without this thought? I am less concerned or preoccupied with the future. I am more present. I am living in a realm where I actually have some measure of control, impact, and power. I become open to seeing how blessed I am. I am better able to gain perspective on what ails me.
As a child I needed a parent to comfort me after I had a nightmare, and they usually said something like “It’s going to be okay”. I think most of us had that experience. But as adults, when we have scary future stories running around in our minds, there usually isn’t someone around to say “it’s going to be okay”. In fact, we probably don’t even want to admit how scared we can get about the future. And so it’s up to us to question our own story.
Who am I without the thought “It’s going to get worse”? No longer blackening the world all by myself. No longer filling my life and my head with monsters. Instead I am more excited. More productive. Less paranoid. Less neurotic. More realistic … not LESS!
The Work of Byron Katie involves asking four questions (and occasionally some sub-questions) which include 1.) Is it true? 2.) Can I absolutely know it’s true? 3.) What happens when I believe that thought? And 4.) Who would I be without that thought? The final part of The Work process involves looking for turnarounds to the original statement, and seeking genuine reasons for how those turnarounds are just as true.
The first turnaround I found for “It’s going to get worse” was “It’s NOT going to get worse,“ or “It’s going to be okay.” How is that just as true or truer? Well, I can’t actually know what the future holds. Worse is just a comparative label utilizing a limited amount of data. It won’t get worse because I can question my thoughts about things. Positive breakthroughs are actually possible in our business, with our finances, and in the economy overall. There are many people on the planet working to make things better. The interconnectedness of everybody (via the internet, Facebook, YouTube etc) means great ideas can spread quicker and easier. Many people are starting to actively question their own mental stories. I am having a breakthrough around my fears right now!
The second turnaround I found for “It’s going to get worse” was “It’s going to get better!” How is that true? Well, I can deliberately practice having a more positive outlook. I can deliberately practice being more present and less deluded and morose as a result of imaginary fears. We can take small, incremental steps to improve every aspect of our lives together. It really doesn’t matter much how it goes if I can question my thoughts about it either way. I can work the systems we have to improve our business. I can write my next book. I can play more with ideas like this and be the explorer I wanted to be as a child (ie. Cabot, Magellan, Cook etc). I can deliberately renew my enthusiasm and excitement. I can take on the monsters head on. I can improve my inquiry technique.
The third turnaround I found for “It’s going to get worse” was “I’m okay right now!” How is that just as true? I have pen and paper. I have money in my pocket. I have a chair. I am in out of the rain. Not only am I not going to be eaten by a werewolf but there are no werewolves. I’m just completing another great inquiry and it will make for a good, timely blog post. I can tie the monster theme to Halloween and post it on Halloween. I have soccer games to play today and tomorrow.
And so this is an example of my recent inquiry into the thought “It’s going to get worse”. I looked at how the thought affected me, and where it originated. I looked at the impact it has had over the course of my life, and how I would be now without it. This has been a stressful thought for me, and no doubt I’ll have further fears in the future, but for now the monster has been slain. If you are interested in finding out about The Work visit Byron Katie’s website at www.thework.com. I hope you have a great, scary Halloween, but beyond that you have peaceful thoughts about the future, and a peaceful future.
In my next blog post, I’ll be writing about what certain people do, automatically, when they end up in the woods. No, I’m not talking about being in the woods on the way to grandma’s house. There won’t be any wolves in the next blog post. Just a golfer or two.
What About Bob? is one of my favourite movies. It stars Bill Murray as the strange and troubled Bob Wiley; and Richard Dreyfuss as Dr. Leo Marvin, Bob’s therapist. Dr. Marvin is not just any therapist, however. He’s also the author of a new book called Baby Steps.
“It means setting small, reasonable goals for yourself,” Dr. Marvin says in the movie. And while What About Bob? is a comedy, and a parody; setting small, reasonable goals for yourself is actually a pretty good idea!
Many of us get stuck and overwhelmed when we think about big goals like saving for retirement, creating a business plan, or setting out to write a book. And the main problem is that we haven’t broken down these big goals into the aforementioned Baby Steps.
Prior to writing my second book, 18 Holes To Your Goals, I wondered how I could be so effective as a 12-year-old golfer (making it through 18 holes/goals in a row); yet could be so ineffective with goal setting as an adult off the golf course. In thinking this through, it became obvious that a golf course is pre-designed with baby steps. A 7200 yard course is broken down into 18 much smaller segments, wherein each target is either in view or just around the next corner. A golf course is designed to have small, reasonable goals.
If we think in terms of actual steps, we realize that one cannot take one giant leap into retirement. For most, this process will take decades, and so very tiny steps are in order. In fact, anything that cannot be done in one step (baby step) needs to be broken down into smaller segments.
Many of the issues we have (avoidance, procrastination etc) can be overcome by breaking the task down into smaller steps. Have a book idea? Start with an outline. If the outline still has you stuck, start with the outline for the first chapter. If the first chapter outline still has you stuck, simply start jotting down a few ideas for any chapter.
Telling yourself to baby step onto the elevator is taking baby steps to the extreme. But sometimes even that is necessary when one’s resistance is high. Try it with something you’ve been procrastinating on. What very, very small step could you take that would get you from inaction to action? What baby step could you take?
And speaking of baby steps; outlining the subject of my next blog post has been a simple step I’ve been taking to maintain momentum with my blog writing. And since Wednesday is Halloween, there will be a monster theme…
In my first four blog posts, I covered the issues of starting, setting next steps, asking good questions, and practicing. What we can do, then, is practice starting, practice setting next steps, practice asking good questions, and even practice practicing.
I hate to say this, but whatever we do repeatedly is what we are practicing. So if we smoke, we are practicing smoking. Whenever we have a cigarette, it makes it more likely we’ll have another one. If we overeat, we are practicing overeating. We make it more likely we’ll do so again. The idea of practice works both ways. It works in developing good habits and it works in developing, and perpetuating bad ones.
Whatever we do now, makes it easier to do again later. Choosing not to have a dessert makes it easier to choose not to have a dessert next time. It’s a practice. Choosing to have a dessert today, makes it easier to have a dessert next time. It doesn’t guarantee the choice, but it makes it “more likely”.
So what habits do you want to develop and what small step could you take to make it more likely you’ll engage that desired habit in the future?
A friend of mine has stated on several occasions that he wants to be a science fiction writer. Yet he isn’t writing. Yesterday when I saw him he reiterated his difficulty; so this morning I wrote him a short email suggesting he write one sentence. It’s a start. He will be practicing writing. He’ll have a manageable place to go. He’ll likely engage his mind with questions like “what do I want to write about?" He’ll be laying the groundwork so tomorrow, the sentence writing or the paragraph writing will be easier.
Often we are stuck because our frame of reference is huge. Practice takes place in tiny increments in the moment. Repeatedly playing a few bars of music on the trumpet, or writing a sentence or two, or perhaps, doing yet another drill on the ice as a hockey player.
Start something today and you’ve just practiced the art of the start. Set a goal and you’ve practiced goalsetting. Ask a great question and that’s what you’re practicing.
And along those lines, I’ll continue my practice of setting up the next blog post topic. Instead of thinking big, let’s look at the advantages of thinking small.
The best book I read in 2009 was The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. And now I’m reading his follow up book called The Little Book of Talent – 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills.
One of the things I love about these books is that mastery isn’t left to genes, chance or fate. That it is within our hands to develop the skills and abilities in those areas of life we love the most.
The Talent Code was one of several books published around 2009 which outlined the idea that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice would result in world class aptitude. Deliberate practice refers to the specific type of practice where tiny, incremental improvements are made over years.
Look to any great performer, athlete, or artist, and you’ll find a person who spent hours and hours practicing and improving their skills. Many of us mere mortals forget that one round of golf per week and a couple of buckets of balls hit on the driving range simply cannot compare to the two buckets of balls a pro hits for every club in their bag, almost every day of the year. And they don’t hit those buckets of balls by rote. Rather, they are constantly honing their skills as they go.
Who are the hockey players who are first to the rink, and the last to leave? Who plays piano for another hour after the lesson is over? Who goes beyond the curriculum at school and starts learning Mandarin Chinese because it’s not offered at the time? Who saves that little bit more each month for their future?
When we do what everybody else does, we will likely end up with the results everyone else gets. If we want different results, the opportunity exists for us to put in more time and effort. We can practice the fundamentals of our craft a little more, and fine tune our skills, instead of being a victim of circumstances.
Next time we’ll explore this idea of practice a little further…
When it comes to creating the life you want to have, is what you’re doing working? Are your habits serving you? While we don’t control the results in our lives, we certainly seem to be able to wield some influence.
Salespeople often make a distinction between results goals and activity goals. A results goal would be something like “make 3 sales/week”. An activity goal would be something like “make 10 sales calls and have two face-to-face appointments each day”. The sales professional can control their activities. They can’t guarantee their outcomes. But the more calls they make, the greater their chances of a sale.
When it comes to creating the dreams you want, those dreams are for direction and context. We really can’t control exactly when or how they come into being. Instead, we can ask and answer questions that increase the likelihood we’ll get what we want.
What can you do today that will get you closer to your goal? What small new habit could you work on that would increase how quickly you realize your dream? Who can you ask for help? What do you need to know from them? Who has already created what you want? What else can you do that would virtually guarantee you’ll realize your dream? What can you do today, right now, that would make your dream come true faster? How can you make it easier to work toward your dream systematically every day? What would your future be like if you worked toward your dream every day, and constantly worked to learn and improve what you did? How can you get other people on your side?
What other questions could you ask and answer that would help you?
What's a great book you could read? I'll recommend one in my next blog post...
At the end of my first (last) blog entry I wrote “In my next blog entry…”. This was a device used to assist both of us. It gave me a place to go, and something to write about so I could maintain momentum. In fact, it resulted in me writing this second blog entry immediately.
At the same time, you also have a place to go as a reader, and perhaps something to look forward to. It was a minor cliff hanger. I give you an idea of what I’ll discuss, but don’t deliver the goods right away. It’s like a preview of coming attractions at the movies. Writers and filmmakers use this kind of thing all the time. An author will deliberately end a chapter with heightened tensions unresolved. A TV show will go to commercial at the precise point that you want to know what happens next.
So what can you do to ensure you WANT TO pick up where you leave off?
When it comes to writing these blogposts, it would have been much more difficult for me to write blog entry #2 if I had to start from scratch without any idea what to write about. As it was, the second just flowed out of the first.
If starting is challenging, then we should look for ways to make it easier. Giving yourself a next step, but not necessarily taking it yet, helps you pick up where you left off and keep going.
So what minor action step could you take that would make starting work on your dream much easier? What can you do right now, after you finish reading this blog entry, that would get you from inaction to action? And after you have taken that step, before you move on to other things, determine what your next step will be.
And please note that in my next blog entry I will talk a little about one of my very favourite subjects: the power of asking great questions.
It is difficult to start something new. It is, and it isn’t.
It certainly seems difficult when you are at the stage of merely thinking about starting. At that stage we haven’t actually done anything but think about it, and sometimes this stage can last a lifetime.
There are many reasons why we don’t start something, but here are two of the most common. We are overwhelmed by the scale of the project and don’t know where to start, and/or we think we need to figure out how to avoid mistakes first.
I have found that breaking down a task into very tiny segments (even ridiculously small segments) helps dissolve the overwhelm issue. For example, I have decided I want to create a content-rich website. I want to have a blog, videos, podcasts, and so on. Where do I start? OMG! Oh, one blog entry . This one.
If you are stuck because of a need to avoid mistakes, I would encourage you to rethink the value of mistakes, in general. Mistakes are learning opportunities and those lead to performance improvements and innovation. And all that can eventually lead to mastery.
I love the idea of mastery, and having a complete command over a skill or ability. It necessitates playing a long-term game. It involves being dedicated to the intricacies of the craft.
Now imagine being a master of starting. Mastery gained from repeated practice over years. Where breaking down large projects into tiny, manageable steps has become automatic. Where mistakes are not only welcomed but sought out! You might even ask how you can fail faster, so you can learn faster.
So many more possibilities arise when you just start. You have something real to build upon. And so it will be, in my next blog entry, that we’ll look at what else can help you get on the road, or back on the road, to your dream.