Change Work February 2014

Don't talk to me about life!

If you're a fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy then you'll recognise the title of this article and know exactly what's behind it. Even if you're not a fan, you'll probably still pick up the sense of disappointment and despair that the line originally conveyed. Believe it or not, it was very funny!

Outside of that radio series (and the books and the film) it's pretty common to feel that "life" is something that happens to you and you might as well accept it.  If you're optimistic, you hope for it to get better one day!

The world around you is largely out of your direct control.  The further away events are from your immediate circle of people and activities, the less influence you have.  If you take an interest in current affairs, it's easy to get exasperated - to feel helpless.  There are many things you think are wrong and "should" be changed.  But you feel powerless to influence any of them.

And closer to home, there are many things about your personal circumstances - work, study, home, family, colleagues, friends, rivals - that you're not happy with but can't do anything about.  Life!  Don't talk to me about life!

But what matters for you isn't so much "reality" as how you experience it.  And that's your own internal world.

Many times I've expressed the view that we all live in our own world: a mental representation of the world that we each create from the sensory information that pours in.  It's not the same as the "real" world, and it's not the same as anyone else's world.

Is it crushingly hopeless or excitingly hopeful?

Whether you perceive the world as exciting or frightening doesn't, for the most part, depend on how the world actually is.  It may seem obvious that happiness depends on circumstances, and yet it's possible for different people to respond very differently to similar events. That doesn't mean that you should blindly, blissfully ignore things that you think are wrong - either in your own life or in the world.  You're still part of that world and physically sustained by it.  The trick is to avoid being emotionally controlled by it, so you can feel positive about yourself whatever happens to you.

In the end, we're talking about a state of mind - your mind!  And you can choose not to allow your state, your mood, to be determined by what's happening around you.

Now that isn't easy!  If it were then everyone would be choosing to feel how they want to feel and there'd be no need for gurus and coaches.  But anyone can learn how to take more control of their own thinking and emotions and then, with practice, get better and better at doing it.

The tools and techniques you need are available from many sources and come in a range of "flavours".  Mine are based on Neuro-Linguistic Programming and incorporate some quite simple, almost self-evident principles about how we are shaped by our own thinking patterns and how those patterns are formed - and can be modified.

I learned and started using these techniques many years ago but I vividly remember one of my earliest experiences of a shift, or change, happening for me.  It was a "penny-dropping" moment: a metaphorical step to one side that made everything look different.  And that's still the best way I have of describing what it's like.

To summarise, it comes down to two different strands:

  1. Do what you can to improve the world - whatever part of it you can influence.  Join voluntary groups, mentor someone or get political.  Above all,  "Don't let what you can't do interfere with what you can do."
  2. Take control of your own world, your internal representation, and remember it's not the same as the outside.  So no matter how bad or difficult things seem to be around you, you can still be comfortable with yourself and your contribution.

If your life isn't how you want it then don't waste it by endlessly waiting for things to change.  You only need to start the process - by taking responsibility and initiating something - for your experience to change.  And what you experience, if you think about it, is all and everything you have.