Protect Yourself From Negativity

Iceberg drawing
Iceberg by Moteoo at Pixabay

Our last post covered the negativity tendency or instinct which is one of the ten reasons Hans Rosling gives to explain why many people mistakenly think the world is getting worse. He proposed three main reasons for this negativity instinct.

    • We selectively remember the past.
    • The news media and activists selectively report events.
    • It would be “heartless” to say (or think) that things are getting better when there are still a lot of bad things going on in the world.  

We ended that post by saying that, after reviewing the facts, many of us might rationally accept that by many measures the world is getting better for most people. However, it still might not feel that way to you.

In our book, Bring Out The Best In Others, we often mention the importance of our gut feelings or intuition about things. We believe that people often make a decision based on their feeling and then make up rational arguments to support their decisions. 

The Supreme Rationalizers?

Supreme court judges are supposed to be the most dispassionate people on Earth when making case decisions. For example, during Senate confirmation hearing, Elena Kagan (Obama’s second Supreme Court Justice nominee) was asked if a judge would ever take his or her feelings into account. She replied, “It’s law all the way down”. (From the Texas Law Review, referenced below.)  

However, we tend to believe Justice Robert H. Jackson, who served on the Supreme Court from 1941 until his death in 1954. “He reportedly equated dispassionate judges to mythical beings like ‘Santa Claus’ or ‘Uncle Sam’ or ‘Easter bunnies’.” (Texas Law Review, referenced below)

Strategies To Counteract The Negativity Tendency

Rosling points out that one way to keep our negativity instinct in check is to realize that the media’s job is not to bring us a balanced view of the world. Before consuming any type of media, remind yourself that you most likely read, hear, or see the most sensational and worst the world has to offer. You could then remind yourself the world is progressing for the better in many ways, although it is still far from perfect. We highly recommend that you read Rosling’s book, Factfulness, to understand the details.

However, the constant barrage of the worst of the world can seep into our pores and take up residence in our unconscious feelings and beliefs. They can remain impervious to our conscious thoughts we bring to combat them. This is why strict forms of cognitive therapy that attempt to replace illogical and unhealthy thoughts with logical and healthy thoughts may not work well for some people.

The Iceberg Metaphor 

To understand this theory better, picture the Freudian-inspired iceberg metaphor. Our immediately available conscious experience includes our perceptions of the material world and the thoughts, imaginations, intuitions, and emotions of our interior world. By tradition, this is the top of the iceberg and accounts for only 10 percent of our overall experience of mind.

The preconscious mind can be thought of as another 10 percent of the iceberg, which is around water level. The preconscious, consisting of memories and various forms of knowledge, is available to the conscious mind some of the time. In terms of the iceberg metaphor, you can imagine that during certain phases of the moon and tide, more of the iceberg is above water—and available to the conscious mind. At other times, less is available to the conscious mind.

In our iceberg metaphor, unconscious mental processes are represented by the completely submerged part of the iceberg that rarely rises above the water and comes into conscious awareness. We might get some conscious idea of the unconscious mind through our dreams or long-term psychoanalysis. Tradition tells us the unconscious accounts for almost 80 percent of the total mind.

What We Are Suggesting

We are speculating the that many of our judgments about others and the world are firmly rooted in the unconscious. One can chip away at the top of the iceberg, through rational arguments and the presentation of facts. However, this will have little impact on the deep feelings, intuitions, and beliefs whose roots lie near the bottom of iceberg. 

You may have a friend whose social, political, or religious beliefs are 180 degrees from yours. You have developed a set of facts and rational arguments that you are sure will lead her to see your side of things and maybe even join your camp. Although this rarely happens in real life, let’s say she gives you the time to present your facts and arguments. She appears to listen but her worldview does not budge. 

You then respectfully listen to her facts and arguments. A little later, you realize you also have not budged. Both of your iceberg minds hold solid. 

What can we do then?

The first thing to realize is that the roots of our own feelings, intuitions, and beliefs are buried deep in our unconscious. A quick fix is unlikely. Using some type of Socratic dialogue to make others realize their own errors and see the truth of your positions works out well only in fictional books and movies. 

Although we will be listening to others and posting about this for a long time, here we present a few possible strategies.  

Actively Shape Your World

Candy Buffett by Epicioci from Pixabay
Candy Buffett by Epicioci from Pixabay

We have eaten at buffets where almost every item looks delectable but will likely, in the long-run, reduce both your life expectancy and the quality of your remaining years. We have occasionally been surprised that everyone made it out of the dining room on their own power. 

The lesson here is that you don’t have to consume everything your body and mind can possibly incorporate, even when it is right in front of you. In fact, if you do this, you will most likely get sick. Just because you have a TV, phone, computer, or tablet that can feed you sensational and mostly bad news 24/7, doesn’t mean you have to consume it. 

We recommend choosing a media diet that consists mostly of uplifting stories that still give you a balanced view of the world. Choose messengers and stories that, when consumed and processed, will put you in a state of openness, receptivity, compassion, love, peace, and a drive for action. We are not suggesting you block everything distressful or violent, but to consume these media-produced events in proportion to what is happening in the real world. 

We believe that too many of us choose media coverage that leads to anger, suspicion of almost everything, fearfulness, hatefulness, and the need to block themselves off from much of the world. Note that we are referring to social media, as well as traditional media sources. 

Investigate for yourself what type of media drives down near the bottom of your iceberg—that effects your deep-down feelings, beliefs, and intuitions. For many, the most powerful media in this regard is video.  It is often easier to un-hear or un-read something than to un-see it. We might better feast on written accounts of disturbing news, if we feel the need for this kind of news at all. In doing so, we will probably get a wider and more representative view of the situation, while the disturbing aspects will not borrow so deeply in our unconscious.  

Remember that that entire world is your personal media. The places you choose to go, the movies you watch, the books you read, the friends you make, your causal conversations with strangers, and your more intimate conversations with loved ones—you consume them all, while  your own speech and actions are consumed by others. 

____________________

There are several other strategies that, when practiced regularly, can lead to a deep reprogramming of the unconscious mind. There are both anecdotal reports and research results that spending some time every day focusing on what we are grateful for leads to number of psychological benefits including increased peace of mind. We also recommend mindfulness meditation, prayer, and spiritual contemplation.

As we mentioned before, we will continue to investigate and report ways of clearing our unhealthy unconscious processes. Please comment on your own thoughts and experience concerning this issue.  

References

Texas Law Review [Vol. 93:855 Heart Versus Head: Do Judges Follow the Law or Follow Their Feelings? By Andrew J. Wistrich,* Jeffrey J. Rachlinski** & Chris Guthrie. Accessed 5-16-2019@ 

http://texaslawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Rachlinski-93-4.pdfThe 

Freedom, Goals, and Butterflies

During this time of year, there are many reminders on social media about setting goals and resolutions. After establishing a goal, specific action steps are needed to get from the start to the finish—reaching your goal.

As I sit in our open living room on the side of a mountain above the small town of El Valle, Panama, there are few signs of the Christmas spirit, although the occasional sounds of firecrackers anticipate the new year. When we walk into town, the Christmas decorations remind me it is December, despite the blooming jungle flora and balmy temperatures.

The Four Stages of the Butterfly’s Life Cycle

We have been raising Monarch butterflies for several months and today was a special day in our butterfly world. We were vigilant enough to witness the release of a newborn butterfly from its chrysalis.

As I photographed the various stages to chronicle the Monarch’s growth to freedom, I found myself thinking about the steps involved in achieving our own goals of freedom.

The butterfly’s phenomenally rapid growth and metamorphosis have distinct stages that progress in a specific sequence. First, a Monarch butterfly deposits an egg on the underside of the leaf of a milk thistle plant. Apparently, no other plant will do. In a few days, a tiny, almost invisible caterpillar emerges from the egg. The caterpillar begins voraciously eating the leaves of the milk thistle plant and nearly doubles in size every day. In a little over a week, the plump, one to two-inch caterpillar morphs into a chrysalis. The lime green chrysalis, with a narrow band of metallic gold near the top, starts to darken in about week. As it begins to darken, you can start to see the pattern of its wings through the wall of the chrysalis. As the outside wall begins to transform from an opaque black to transparent, you can clearly see colorful details of its wings. Without warning, the butterfly quickly drops down from its transparent casing. It takes several hours for the monarch’s body and wings to dry; it then begins to flap its wings. The Monarch is ready for its maiden flight.

Young Caterpillar

Maturing Caterpillars

Chrysalis

Mature Chrysalis

Emerging Butterfly

Conditions Necessary for Butterfly Survival & Development

I have learned a great deal both from internet research and watching the development of our butterflies. Some conditions are necessary for the butterfly’s development while others impede it. For instance, before they emerge as a butterfly, they need a specific plant to eat, proper temperature, and humidity. Eating milk thistle leaves not only provides the energy necessary for growth and development but also helps them create an odor and taste which is repugnant to would-be predators. Since our temperature in Panama varies little from day-to-day and season-to-season, there is little to worry about on this front. However, during the dry season (December through March), I mist the chrysalis with water to keep them healthy and developing properly.

The primary problem our second batch of caterpillars experienced was their dwindling food supply. Doubling your size daily requires a lot of milk-thistle leaves, which we did not have. After numerous inquiries, I learned that a local pumpkin-like squash might serve as an alternate food source. It worked! All of these caterpillars survived and emerged into butterflies. However, they appeared less vigorous and colorful than the first group, which ate only milk-thistle leaves.

Since caterpillars are vulnerable to predators, I remove the caterpillars when I first see them on a milk thistle leaf and put them on a plant inside an enclosure. They stay in the enclosure until they emerge as adult butterflies. Although I believe that some butterflies would have made it without my intervention, I have had a 100 percent success rate in nurturing them from caterpillar to adult.

What do Butterflies have to do with Goal Setting and Achievement?

As I mentioned above, watching the process of the Monarch going from stationary egg to an adult butterfly in free flight, got me thinking about our own process toward freedom. The first step in our freedom process was to sell our house, pay off our debts, and give away over 90 percent or what we owned—like the butterfly leaving it’s Chrysalis behind, except we had more luggage. We went from full-time working and home repairing and selling to having no specified agenda for the day. I remember that after waking on our second day in Central America, we both realized that it was the first day since kindergarten that we had nothing in particular to do and no specific place to go. Although our transition seemed remarkable, it was child’s play compared to the Monarch’s metamorphosis.

Our shedding process only truly began after Rick and I had committed to the goal of putting ourselves in the position to travel and live wherever we wanted to in the world. We knew the only way we could do this was by selling our house and most of our belongings. Our two daughters had finished graduate school, obtained their masters in social work, and were employed social workers.

We had never before, in our thirty-year marriage, created a mutual goal that required such complex planning and execution. We started with a yellow legal pad and began writing the primary objectives and the numerous steps, as well as the timelines involved. We met weekly to go over our progress and our individual and mutual tasks for the next week. We met our deadline for selling and moving out of the farmhouse, as well as clearing out and clearing up all aspects of Rick’s solo psychology practice.

What We Did Not Realize

A recent article by James Clear discussed that in setting goals, we should, “Rather than considering what kind of success we want, we should ask, ‘What kind of pain do I want?’” After reading this, I realized that Rick and I had not nearly as thoroughly considered the pain we might feel during the process, as we did the feelings of success, satisfaction, and freedom we would feel when we reached our goals. In part, this may have a blessing. If we had realized how much work and anxiety the process would bring, we might not have started.

However, if we had better thought through the struggle and pain that might be involved, we would likely have planned the process differently and would have been better prepared for the emotional upheaval of actually reaching our goals. Instead, we found ourselves in an emotional whirlwind during the ten-days that we transitioned from Kansas to Central America. The climax of this experience found us in a large Atlanta mall on Black Friday. Rick was going through a panic attack, sitting in a corner of the AT&T store, while I burst out crying as the representative asked what she could do for me. The mall experience also contained an almost magical healing episode that we would not have wanted to miss and is a story for another day. Still, we could have better planned for pain.

Just for the record, we now believe that considering both the feelings of success and the pain necessary to get there, is a critical part of goal setting. We also would not frame it as how much pain we want, but how much we are willing to take on.

Getting Out of Our Own Way

As we watch the butterflies go from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult butterfly, the process seems effortless. The caterpillar spins a small sticky web so that, as a chrysalis, it can hang down from a leaf or the netted top of their enclosure. Gravity then plays a part in the butterfly’s emergence. Sometimes the leaf may dry up and fall off the plant after the Chrysalis has attached. One Chrysalis fell to the bottom of the enclosure. I was not successful in helping it connect again or even remain upright. Even after falling from the leaf and staying horizontal, the Chrysalis emerged right on time as a beautiful and healthy Monarch.

Every caterpillar I’ve collected and brought to the enclosure has morphed into a healthy butterfly, despite the obstacles mentioned above. We have released about 40 butterflies so far with another 15 caterpillars and chrysalises on their way.

Both Rick and I have become somewhat envious of the natural unfolding of the Monarch. Even when confronted by obstacles, the Monarch finds a way to continue its development without appreciable delay.

One of our goals for 2018, was to publish our book How To Bring Out The Best In Others: Finding Joy in Your Relationships With Others, Yourself, And The World. Although we are in the final stages of editing the book, at best we will actually publish it in early to mid-January 2019. Along the way, we have encountered many unexpected obstacles. We blame our rather primitive technological skills and all the things we have needed to learn about book publishing and marketing for slowing us down. We had never heard, before 2018, the terms keywords, opt-ins, landing page, etc.

However, looking back, it now seems that we have mostly gotten in our own way by feeling overwhelmed, distracted, regretful, unenthusiastic, directionless, scared, anxious, and under-zealous at times. Thoughts of “Who are we to be doing this?” and “We need to get this perfect,” among countless other thoughts have contributed. In short, our cognitive processes that drive both our thoughts and emotions, while necessary for all aspects of writing, publishing, and marketing the book, have also undermined our goals concerning the book.

On the other hand, you can get in your own way, only when you are going somewhere or at least headed in a particular direction. We have persisted, albeit rather slowly at times. Also, we recognize that our own growth and metamorphosis—both individually and as a couple–have come as we worked through frustration, doubt, and the variety of challenges listed above.

Our butterflies do not second guess themselves. They progress from one transformation to another, likely without self-consciousness. They surrender to the natural rhythms of their bodies. They adapt when things don’t go quite right. They don’t draw up a flight plan. They just fly.

A few days ago, Rick had taken a newly emerged butterfly out of the enclosure. It stayed on his hand and arm longer than usual. As it flew from his hand, it glided to the floor of our open-air living room. It tried to fly several times, would elevate a foot or two, and then plunge back to the floor. It was getting near the side of the living room and near a ten-foot drop to the driveway. We watched as it neared the edge and then went off it. We hurriedly looked over the edge to see it rise again and fly to a nearby orange tree.

Our New Plan of Planning and Goal Setting

After reflecting on our Central America plan, our ongoing butterfly experience, and reading Clear’s article, we are changing our planning and goal setting process. We had a clear and easily identifiable goal of leaving Kansas and living in Central America. We set specific timelines. We also understood the major objectives we needed to complete to manifest that goal. These objectives included selling our house, getting rid of most of our stuff, closing Rick’s practice, and tying up other loose ends such as getting passports. We wrote down and set up timelines for the specific tasks necessary to complete these primary objectives.

Our goal of writing a book was less thought out. At some point, we realized that the sole aim of writing a book was basically meaningless. We began to realize we wanted others to read it and this would involve marketing and selling it. These goals opened up territories we knew nothing about. We are now defining our book goals as objectively and precisely as we did our intention of leaving Kansas and our former lifestyle. We now have a better grasp of the significant objectives involved in reaching these goals, as well as the specific tasks necessary to achieve them. With the help of Connie Ragen Green, we have a much better idea of what we need to do in the next several months, and what we need to continue and refine from there. It’s back to the yellow pad and timelines.

Clear’s article has helped us see that as we define our goals explicitly, we need to consider how much pain (using the word loosely) we are willing to experience. More accurately, how much and for how long?

Lastly, we are incorporating lessons the butterflies are teaching us. Their primary teaching for us now is to be less impeded by our emotional, self-talk, and real-world obstacles. They have given us an excellent model for quickly doing what we can to move beyond these obstructions and flying off the deep end.