The Secret Formula for Happiness, Success, and Well-being, part two: How the Mind Works (#928)

If you missed part one, “Waking Up to a Deeper Truth”, you can read it here.

Last week, I shared the story of how in 1998 I woke up to a deeper potential for human beings – our innate capacity for genius, creativity, and well-being.

In 2007, I stumbled across a new understanding of how the mind works that not only made sense of that deeper potential but also made it obvious why it seemed so hidden and remote so much of the time.

Here are some excerpts from the transcript of how I talked about it in my recent TEDx talk, “Why Aren’t We Awesomer?”:


“Some of you have seen this image before:

I want you to raise your right hand if you can see the young woman in the picture, and your left hand if you can see the old woman. Raise both hands if you can only see one of them. And look around – that’s a large part of the room.

Now is this really a picture of an old woman or a young woman?

Well both – or neither. But in fact that’s how we think the mind works. We think the mind is a camera, and it’s recording what’s really going on out there, but depending on how we use it we have a different experience.

So if I photograph her from this angle she’s really young, but if I photograph her from that angle she’s really old. If I look at life this way it’s a wonderful experience, but if I look at it that way it’s very depressing.

And that’s the idea behind positive thinking. If we change our attitude – if we change the angle from which we hold the camera – we get a different experience of life.

But here’s the thing: this is not a picture of an old woman, and it is not a picture of a young woman. It is a series of lines on a piece of paper. We’re the ones creating both the old woman and the young woman.

Let’s take another one:

This is an illusion called the Kanizsa triangle. How many of you can see the white triangle bold in the middle? Fantastic – you’re all making it up – there is no white triangle! It’s an illusion created by the mind to make sense of the negative space. It’s not brighter or duller than anything else. Now isn’t that interesting. We make up something, we can all see it, and it’s not there. I wonder if that might have implications for how we live our lives? [laughter]

Let’s take another one – this is called “the silhouette illusion“, or “the spinning woman”:

I want you to raise your right hand if you can see her spinning clockwise, and I want you to raise your left hand if you can see her spinning counterclockwise… look around [surprised laughter] And just for fun, see if you can get her to change directions. [audience gasps]

Now which way is she actually spinning? Neither – she doesn’t exist. And this is why the physicist David Bohm said “Thought creates our world, and then says ‘I didn’t do it’.”

We live in a world of thought, but we think we live in a world of external experience. The mind does not work like a camera – the mind works like a projector…

It’s like in a movie. The projector of mind takes the film of thought and projects it onto the screen of consciousness. And it really looks like its’s happening out there and we experience it in here and it’s scary or it’s exciting or it’s awesome or it’s terrible – but none of it is actually happening outside of our own minds…

And when you start to see that the mind slows down. And when the mind slows down, something else comes through.”

That something else is the deeper human potential – the source of forgiveness, resilience, and creative genius.

In next week’s tip, I’ll finish this series with some thoughts on how simple it is to tap into this potential and how easy it is to lose touch with it.

Until then, have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!

With all my love,


Related Articles

A Resource for All Ages (#853)

Some of the most moving coaching conversations I have had in my life have been with teens and young adults who have lost their bearings and lost their way. What I love about this population, besides the fact that for several years I was one of them, is how quickly they seem to be able to regain their center and tap back in to their innate resilience and creative potential…

God vs. Goals, part two (#916)

In 2007, in the midst of my exploring the relative benefits of an inner-directed life versus one spent in pursuit of outer success. I stumbled across a field of study generically known as “the Three Principles”. It was based on the work of an enlightened Scottish welder named Syd Banks. who pointed out that there were three fundamental elements, or principles, that made up every aspect of our experience of life…

The Secret Formula for Happiness, Success, and Well-being, part three The Key to Everything (#929)

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing the story of how a mission launched back in 1990 has led to the work I now do in unleashing the human potential. In part one, we talked about the infinite creative potential of human beings and the possibility of a whole new way of being in the world; in part two I shared some “thought experiments” which help highlight the way that thought creates our experience of life and at times obscures a deeper reality of peace and possibility…