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Changing Your Personal Reality – Part 1

Changing Your Personal Reality – Part 1

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    My Head Hurts…

    While the subject of “Personal Reality” might seem somewhat esoteric, philosophical and even confusing to some, it’s something that’s not only relevant to every one of us, but also something that impacts on virtually every area of our existence and human experience in a tangible and practical manner. All the time. Just as we each have different DNA, so too do we each inhabit our own “personal” reality. That is, the way we experience our world. Notice I say “our world” because the world and our world are two very different places. For the most part, one is absolute (forgetting that whole global warming thing for a moment) and the other is in a constant state of flux and transition; often changing drastically in a matter of minutes. You and I both know people who exist side by side with someone else (often in the same house), yet each of those people live in a total different reality. You may well be that people. Er, person. Why? Because physical environment (for the most part) doesn’t determine reality, we do. We make things good or bad. Hard or easy. A lesson or a failure. An opportunity or a problem.

    A Universal Reality?

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    How you and I will experience things is determined by each of us individually, not by what “appears” to be going on to the rest of the world. There is no universal reality because every moment of every day you and I are interpreting, processing and reacting individually to a non-stop stream of information and stimuli from our physical world; the place we inhabit. Not to be confused with the place we live; our head. It could be suggested that the majority of our living (how we each experience life) is actually a cerebral, emotional and spiritual experience, not a physical one. Although some people work very hard to make their life all about the physical; which invariably leads to misery (another exploration for down the track).

    We Create Hard. And Easy.

    Yes there are universal situations, circumstances and events but there is no universal reality because things only have the meaning that we give them. Just as things only have the power (influence, control) in our lives that we allow them to have. Which also means that there are no “difficult” situations (for example); only different situations to which we each react individually. Some well, others not. Difficulty is a human construct; a label that you and I each assign to the various happenings in our world. Despite what most of us believe, there is no universal “hard” or “easy”; only our personal interpretations of, and reactions to, what goes on in our day-to-day practical lives.

    Where we Live

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    By “living in our head” I mean that our experience of the world – that is, how we see various situations, circumstances and events, how we allow those things to affect us, what they mean to us and how we react to it all – is individual, unique and self-determined. Which is why we can see two people going through what appears to be the same experience at the same time (some might erroneously say, the same reality) – a very similar court case for example – yet they are both impacted in totally different ways. One learns a valuable life-lesson, grows emotionally, becomes more aware, compassionate and enlightened, while the other suffers from extreme physical, emotional and psychological stress – all self-created by the way (situations don’t create stress, people do) – loses confidence, becomes angry and bitter and slides into a depressive state for a period of time. Why? Because the two individuals weren’t actually going through the same “experience” at all; they were each creating their own experience. One positive. One negative.

    The Puppet

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      Until we acknowledge that we each have the power to determine our own reality and create our own experiences, we will continue to be a puppet having our strings pulled by situations, events, circumstances and other people. We will continue to be the Reactor and not the Creator. Step one on the path to enlightenment, consciousness and lasting change (from the inside out) is to acknowledge that we can control our own destiny, we can each create our own reality, our world is not “the” world and our history will only become our future if we allow that to happen. Step two (in the Harper book of life-philosophy) is to understand that good or bad, hard or easy, happiness or misery are all choices – and to then live accordingly. And remember; by not making a decision, you are making a decision. Be mindful that the decisions you don’t make will have just as much impact on your personal reality as the decisions you do make. One way or the other. So don’t delude yourself. If you have the ability to think, reason and choose, then you have the ability to change your personal reality for the better. If you consistently choose to not take action, to not use your potential and to not take back the power you’ve given away, then you vicariously choose mediocrity and misery and have nobody to blame but yourself. Subscribing to the “things will work themselves out” philosophy is ignorant, naive, apathetic and shows a distinct lack of courage.

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      You are the author of your life. Start writing.

      But What About My Sick Aunty?

      Okay, I can hear some of you saying “but what about people who are diagnosed with cancer; surely their reality is decided for them?” And I would reply, is their disease their reality? Does it define them? Determine them? Is their reality determined by what’s happening to their (temporary) house? Is it possible for a terminally ill person  to experience joy, pleasure, connection, fulfillment and happiness? A personal reality of calm and contentment perhaps? Of course it is. One of life’s great curiosities is that we often see terminally ill people who are much happier (happiness being the one universal goal) than their healthy counterparts. Why? Because they have let go of that which made them unhappy; fear, insecurity, greed, anger, bitterness… ego; the destructive crap. They have created a new reality to inhabit. A much better one. While they will deal with the disease in a practical and intelligent manner, they will also have an ever-present awareness that they are not their body or their disease, therefore they do not need to be miserable. And yes, I know that this paradigm messes with our very Western thinking but that is our loss – and another example of logic and science getting in the way of potential. Cultures much more evolved than ours have understood and embraced this wisdom forever.

      One Doesn’t (need to) Equal the Other

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      In truth, the absence of physical disease doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness or success (we see evidence of this every day), just as the presence of disease doesn’t necessarily equate to misery or catastrophe. So while cancer may affect my body, there is no need for it to determine my reality. I will choose my reality, my reality will not choose me. A disease is not me and I am not it. Just as the chair that I currently sit on is not me, neither are cancerous cells that might inhabit my body, me. While others may rationalise misery and catastrophe, I will choose happiness and calm. Because I have that option. Because my reality is my choice.

      As is yours.

      Tune in for Changing Your Personal Reality -Part 2 next week.

      More by this author

      Craig Harper

      Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

      The Neurology of Ownership

      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

      More About Goals Setting

      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

      Reference

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