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How to Build Mental Bridges
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Karl Staib of Work Happy Now.
Listening to public radio always gets my creative juices flowing. I live in Austin and the public radio station always plays little clips from interviews of random people around Austin. This one woman described her experience of growing up in Dallas and how the Texas heat made her feel.
I’m paraphrasing, but you’ll like her point:
As a teenager, during the summer, I worked in the Galleria Mall when I was growing up in Dallas. Every time my shift ended I would walk outside and that hot humid 95 degree air would hit me. It wasn’t bad. I loved the feeling. It meant freedom.
So even when I walk out my front door in Austin and that hot summer heat hits me I still get that feeling of excitement. Even after 22 years it still makes me feel like going to do something fun.
It made me think about my experience of the Austin heat. Every time I took a break to go to lunch, my first thought as I opened the door was usually brace yourself here it comes. Like the heat was something to dread. Austin summers are hot, but not as bad as I often make them out to be. We don’t have the humidity that other regions must cope with.
Reframing Your Perspective
A Dosh Dosh article about reframing news content gave me an idea. I could reframe how my brain viewed the hot air.
I needed to create new brain pathways instead of rewiring old ones. The old thought patterns may always be there.
That’s why an alcoholic always refers to him/herself as recovering. They can relapse at any time, although the more time that passes the less likely that this will happen. The new synaptic connections, like when the person drinks soda instead of alcohol at a party, become more comforting the more that the person does it.
When we first create a bridge to this new way of feeling, the connection can be weak. We need to keep adding to this bridge in order to make it stronger. It’s like a dirt path in the forest. When someone first starts a trail in the woods, there isn’t much of a pathway. As more people travel the path, the ground becomes more worn, making it easier to walk. If we neglect this path, the grass, tree roots and bushes will envelope it. So it’s up to us to keep it worn and easy to follow; otherwise we’ll lose the trail.
I started a thought experiment to see if I could change my view of how walking out into the hot summer heat made me feel. Notice that I said, “made me feel.” It’s a bad habit to think that it’s an outside influence, like the hot air, that makes me feel when instead it’s my thought process that create my reaction.
The thought experiment was simple. Five minutes before I was to leave for lunch I would imagine myself putting on my sunglasses, opening the door and letting the warm air envelope me. As the hot air made me sweat I thought of freedom. I could choose to go home, to a restaurant, library, Starbucks, or anywhere I wanted. It wasn’t just an hour before I had to go back to work. It was an hour of whatever I felt like doing. I would repeat this process about three times before I clocked out and actually went out into the hot air.
I was mentally prepared for the hot air, but now I had to feel the experience for all it offered as I actually walked outside.
You must be in the moment instead of letting your thoughts go to something more pleasant because the beauty is in the details. If you are thinking about what type of lunch you will eat then you are allowing the heat to sneak up on you. You’ll probably have a quick reaction of “Argh, this sucks” to then wanting to avoid the feelings. You have to give yourself a chance to reframe the feelings.
When you are in the heat, it doesn’t matter whether you are in your hot box of a car or walking to a restaurant. You need to allow each feeling to be there, repeat the word “freedom” and think of why you enjoy this freedom. It’s important to associate positive feelings with these thoughts. You’ll never be able to convince yourself that the experience is enjoyable if you can’t see just a few positives in the situation.
Why It Works
The reason why this works is because you are reframing the way you look at the situation. You are teaching yourself to enjoy the hot air.
You can do this with almost any difficult feeling. If you have to run and analyze reports at the beginning of each month and this always results in feelings of dread, then you can create your own thought experiment and try to apply it when you are experiencing the situation. When the situation occurs, you’ll be mentally prepared to find the positive even when analyzing reports.
By creating new neural pathways, you are blazing a trail to help you instill a new reaction.
Some Feelings Are Just too Deep
You may try to use this process in certain situations and it may fail. The reason why it fails is because your feelings are too strong to reframe the circumstance. If you love to draw but you graduated with a business degree because your parents wanted you to have a practical education, there is nothing you can do to fool your true desires. In this case you have to trust your heart and go with what makes you happy.
I like to use perspective reframing when there is nothing I can do about the situation. It comes down to accepting the experience and allowing myself to see the positive. I’m not able to change the fact that I’m living in Texas. Well I could, but I love living here 9 months out of the year. So instead of moving I can change how I view the experience.
Let’s say you have a mortgage to pay each month and you don’t want to sell your house and live in an apartment with your wife and child. In that case, your passion for drawing will have to be a hobby for now. That’s when reframing your current career to maximize your happiness is vital to your success. You are able to make even the toughest situation somewhat enjoyable.
So apply creative reframing at your job, and then in the evenings you can work on your passion by creating a website to exhibit your drawings and start taking baby steps toward your ultimate career goals. Giving yourself an hour each day to do something you love is worth your time, but that’s for another blog post.
Have you ever tried to reframe a situation and succeeded? Let us know what it was so we can discuss and learn new techniques.