“It’s Not Me, It’s Them!” (#945)

During a presentation on the impact of state of mind in education as a part of this weekend’s 3 Principles Global Community annual conference, one of the presenters said:

“The most important state of mind in the classroom is yours.”

What I love about that statement is that it points to a truth that is as relevant in a business as in the classroom and as meaningful in a conversation with your spouse as with your children. When we are in a relatively clear state of mind, open to our in the moment wisdom and inspiration, we tend to do really well regardless of what’s going on around us; when we are caught up in the spin of our moment by moment thinking, temporarily blind to the thought-created nature of our personal experience, we tend to struggle – again, regardless of what’s going on around us.

Now, if you happen to be reading this in a relatively clear state of mind, chances are you can see this for yourself – after all, it would never occur to us that we were going to do as well in a game of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” after we’ve been blindfolded and spun around three times as we would if we were allowed to play with open eyes and a “no spinning” rule in effect.

But if you happen to be reading this while caught up, you might be inclined to take it personally, thinking that in some way it suggests that you’re to blame for whatever circumstances you’re facing in your life.

In fact, one of the things I hear most often when I suggest to people that their state of mind might be a more significant factor than they think in both their perception of a particular situation and their resourcefulness in handling it is “It’s not me – it’s them.”

So if you ever find yourself thinking that other people need to change before you can be OK, here are a few things to consider that you might find useful…

1. Our state of mind exists independent of circumstances, including the state of mind of the people around us.

I remember being puzzled growing up at how out of sync my moods and circumstances seemed to be. At times I would be surrounded by people who loved and cared for me and feel absolutely miserable; at other times, I would be around people who were shouting at me and feel absolutely at peace.

It was only when I began to see that there is no mechanism in the outside world that can “make” us feel anything in our inner world that this disconnect began to make sense. After all, if I’m living in the feeling of my thinking, then when my thinking changes, my feeling state will change. And since I don’t know what I’m going to be thinking five minutes from now, let alone what someone else is going to be thinking and feeling, the idea that my reactions are dependent on what’s going on around me makes no more sense than the idea that if I put on a music video on my computer with the sound turned down and put on a song on my phone with the sound turned up, the music and images should somehow sync up.  (The fact that occasionally they do seem to sync up is one of those perceptual illusions of the mind that make exploring this stuff so much fun!)

2. The world we see with a quiet, clear mind is not the same world we see through a distorted lens.

One of the coolest things I’ve come to see about the human mind is that it works more like a projector than a camera. In my TEDx talk called “Why Aren’t We Awesomer?”, I illustrate this through the use of several optical illusions, including the one below known as “the Kanizsa triangle”:


Nearly everyone who looks at this image can clearly see a bold, white, upside down triangle connecting and overlapping an equilateral black triangle and three black dots in the picture. Yet in a clearer state of mind, we can see that we are not only imagining both triangles, we are also imagining the dots.  (Personally, I think they look like little “pac men”, but I’ve heard “fortune cookies” and “pies with a slice missing” equally often.)

In the same way, when we settle down a bit more on the inside, we may still marvel at how much it looks like another person is “causing” our reaction, but we are far less likely to act on that illusion. They may well be upset – but the idea that their upset is causing any upset we may be feeling is as illusory as the “white triangle” we hallucinate when we look at the image above.

3. We are only ever one thought away from a complete change of heart about anyone and anything in our life.

A friend was recently telling me about how she went from being a complete “football-phobe” to a rabid fan of her hometown team. Her husband’s love of the game used to be a source of great upset for her, a hangover from a childhood spent being ignored by the men in her household once the weekend games would start.

Then one day, in the midst of protesting against his going to yet another game on yet another Sunday, she had a change of heart. It occurred to her that her dislike of football had to be as much of a thought-created illusion as his passion for it, so she decided to put it to the test and go along with him to the stadium. As she described it to me, “The first time I went I was pretty neutral about it. The next time I actually enjoyed it a bit. And by the third time, I was shouting for the team as loudly as my husband.”

When I asked her how she made the shift, she couldn’t really answer. She just said “I love my husband, and he loves football, so I decided I might as well see if I could learn to love it too.”

While this is a somewhat innocuous example, imagine if you could feel this change of heart for your spouse, your family, or your work. What if you didn’t have to be stuck with the way things look to you in your relationships as they are? What if a simple shift in your own state of mind and level of understanding of where experience comes from was enough?

You probably can’t will yourself to do it “on demand” – no one I know can – but wouldn’t it be wonderful if the simple desire for a better, more loving relationship was enough to begin bringing it into being?

Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!

With all my love,

Michael

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