Last week I started the discussion of no regrets, a conversation that goes deeper than one blog post. This week, I ask you to catch yourself creating a problem where there was none. Our mind is full of biases. This list of cognitive biases shows what kind of filter the mind makes meaning through. It can turn anything into an issue if it pays attention. Anything! But the mind does not need to have another person or a puzzle in front of it to create a problem. It can generate one out of thin air. One of my favorite examples is when everything is going great. Here, check out this:
The Contentment Dilemma: Gosh, I feel good these days. I enjoy work. My home life is peaceful. Life has been so doable lately. I really feel the flow. Wait a minute…. Suddenly, you start thinking about this feeling of contentment, and the next thing you know, your happiness becomes a problem that needs to be solved. Why am I so damned happy? It starts with “why.” Then those thoughts multiply, using the 5W’s and the 1H to gather information. How did I get so happy? How long is this happiness going to last? Will I still be happy tomorrow? Next week? On my birthday? How can I hold onto this feeling? What future obstacles could interrupt this happiness? I need to identify those and avoid them or eliminate them or…. When we let our monkey mind run the show, it’ll turn anything, including contentment, into a dilemma. We literally think away our “inner peace” and replace it with panic, worry, and fear. We’ve all caught ourselves experiencing a feeling of bliss for a stint. And then, as soon as we start thinking about it, we wonder how long it’s going to last. And then, we start freaking out about it going away, and we find ourselves on guard, waiting for something “bad” to happen.
On more than one occasion, I bet you’ve worried away your sunny days. We all have. Don’t stress about it. Besides, you can’t change that now, as it’s in the past. Though our ego mind wants us to believe this, everything is not a problem to be solved. Viewing life this way distorts the true reality of things. True reality exists without bias and judgment. It just is. Reality exists without labels and emotions, even though the constant chatter in our mind wants to judge, attach an emotion, wants to “fix the problem.” And do you want to know what’s worse? Once our conscious mind has decided there’s a problem that needs to be solved—and we hop on board that train—our happiness is gone. It’s over because now we’re thinking about it, which means we are no longer living in the moment and enjoying the bliss of things as they are. Our monkey mind has created an issue and escorted us right into a place called if only to solve the problem. And that place is always in a past or future mental experience. If only I were thinner, had more money, a nicer car, the latest gadget, lived in a warmer climate, painted my house a darker shade of gray, had a better relationship with my mother, my boss, my employees…. If only I could fix this one thing, then I’d be happy.
Then you fix “this one thing.” You buy your dream car, and life is good for a stint. You’re content again. Until that voice jumps back in and says something to the effect: Hey, do you see that new problem over there? And you make the mistake of engaging. I know, I do! I do see that new problem over there! …If only my ears were more attractive, life would be perfect. (Oh, yes, no “problem” is off limits to your monkey mind.) And just like that, your happiness is unraveled. It found another Rubik’s Cube—your big dumb ears—and it needs to start twisting. The ego mind looks for problems like a missile homing in on a target. We unravel perfectly good relationships, create career setbacks, blow the championship game, and drop physics just by listening to this “voice in our head.”
We’ve already discussed and addressed some of this by learning to feed courage and starve fear and through the practice of recapitulation. But did you know our experiences are not just affected by this higher-level self-sabotage? Get ready for this…. Our monkey mind distorts our memories, too! This brain of ours that’s always thinking wants to not only question the perfectly fine present so that we stress about the future, it wants to change the past, as well. If only I had stopped after two drinks, not listened to my mother, finished college, started saving sooner…. If only I had stopped eating like crap in my twenties…. And when we allow it to do this, our memories live on to haunt us in the form of the emotion of regret. The power or presence and the capacity to re-route your monkey mind is a practice. Next week, I will continue to share my personal experiences and how to train your mind so that you can navigate the twists and turns of non-reality and enjoy what is real and right in front of you.