“Going back into the negative past to find happiness is like trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” ~ Sydney Banks
It’s easy to feel the world is against us at times.
We look at our bank balance, our past results, our jobs, even our partners, and it can seem like they have immense power over our happiness and security. Worst still, we scroll through social media and unfavorably compare ourselves and our lives with others.
Even though we know deep down that most people’s magnificent online presence is usually far from the truth, we can’t help but feel lacking. I know because I spent a long time stuck in this trap, thinking I needed to be more, have more. I was insecure, unfocused, unable to step away from past issues that I thought held power over me.
You see, despite devoting my youth to making music—I never quite made it. And the break up of my last band, coming at the same time as the break up of a long-term relationship, left me chasing my tail for many years. All at once, I lost my sense of who I was and what I could do.
Times weren’t great, and this lack of drive and confidence ended up meaning I spent the next seven years treading water in soulless, corporate roles where I was slowly letting go of my dreams.
And the thing is, I had so many things I wanted to do growing up. Like we all do I guess. Yet somewhere along the way I forgot about them, or rather, I let the struggles and stresses of life dampen them down. Like we all do I guess.
I often wondered how I’d morphed from being someone so full of creative energy and entrepreneurial spirit, into this guy who now worked long hours for someone else.
Deep down, I knew the answer of course. It was down to me.
It was a culmination of self-doubt, fear of failure, impostor syndrome, and some plain old lack of focus and direction. Sure, I still had ideas, things I wanted to try, but because of all those things I never took the ideas out of my bedroom, or even my head.
Thankfully, all that changed one day when I had a powerful insight. After a particularly rough session of beating myself up—overanalysing the past and worrying about the future—I suddenly had a moment of clarity.
Looking back I’d say it was a real road to Damascus moment, though at the time it felt more like, “Oh man! How have I only just seen this?”
In that moment, I realised that the things I was imagining weren’t real. The past had gone and I had no way of knowing what the future held. I realised too, nothing outside of me could actually affect me (psychologically speaking) if I didn’t let it.
I also knew at that moment I had everything already inside of me to be able to create a life more on purpose. With that one insight, I was able to change my internal monologue and begin to take back full responsibility for my life.
I spent more time living in the present moment, connected more deeply to my inspiration and wisdom. And, as I deepened my knowledge of life and continued down my path of personal development and growth, I began to recognize that we all fall prey to three big misunderstandings in life.
What’s more, these misunderstandings are the root of most of the problems we’re up against as individuals, organisations, societies, and as a species. But, what I also now know to be true is that just by realising where we’re going wrong, we can have life changing results.
Misunderstanding #1: Where our experiences come from.
The biggest misunderstanding we are all up against as humans is about where we think our experience is coming from. I know first-hand that it’s really, really easy to get fooled into thinking that your external circumstances are making you think and feel a certain way. But here’s the thing…life doesn’t happen to you, life is always created by you.
Anything that happens in life is by and large a neutral event. It’s only how you react to the event that makes it a problem. It’s only how you react to the event that makes it personal. It’s only how you react to the event that decides whether you take action or allow it to have power over you.
If you fall into the trap of reacting to these external forces, you allow your emotions to get the better of you. You stop thinking clearly, make bad decisions, and create unrest.
However, when you realize that outside circumstances have no control over how you feel inside, you fall into a more nonreactive and creative persona. You’re more rational and free from the domination of outward conditions.
I know what you might be thinking, that “this is easier said than done. And, what about all the horrible things that happen in the world? Are they just neutral? What about disease? War? Famine?”
I’m in no way belittling these things or any of the problems faced by countless people in countless situations. I’m not inferring life is easy. Yet, even when it’s at its most tragic, we all have the potential to make life better. When people feel threatened, insecure, and victimised, it’s usually because they believe outside circumstances have power over how they feel. So they lash out. They build hate…which only breeds more hate.
We all fall for this on a regular basis. It’s a convincing trick that our minds play on us. But, it is a trick. Whilst it might not look like it at first, we all live in separate realities. Your experience of the world is unique to you. It’s your personal perception of what’s out there filtered through the extent of your beliefs, imagination, history, stories, and ideas.
Think about it. If this wasn’t the case we’d all have the same experience each day. We’d all like the same food, want the same things, fall in love with the same people. But the reality is that the mind isn’t a camera that records what’s out there, it’s more like a projector. In essence, we see what we’re looking for whether or not it’s actually there.
To help see this another way, think of a past event that at the time felt like the most embarrassing thing in the world, yet now looking back you can almost see the funny side. I’m sure we’ve all got examples of this. I know I have plenty. And it’s also easy at the time to think the event has made us feel that way. But can it?
They say comedy is just tragedy plus time, and you’ve probably heard the expression, “You’ll look back on this and laugh one day.” So if you get to laugh at something that once caused you upset, what has happened? The event hasn’t changed—yet your thoughts about the event have.
Surely then, it stands to reason that it wasn’t actually the event that made you feel anything by itself, it was the meaning that you put on the event, either at the time when it made you feel bad, or now when you feel mildly amused over what happened.
The reality of the situation is that, whatever it may look like, you are only ever living in the feeling of thought taking place in the moment. If we blame our job, finances, partner, past, future, government, or some other external force for our feelings, then guess what? We are at the mercy of them and we lose all our power.
When you get stuck in your head, looping negative ideas and thoughts, just take a moment to step away from your thinking.
Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that you don’t need to be attached to them, that they cannot possibly define you. In this moment, any stress or unrest is allowed to drop away naturally.
You don’t have to do anything. When you get out of your thinking and come back to the present moment you take away their energy and the negative thoughts fade naturally.
This means you don’t have to ever believe your thinking, no matter how convincing it may seem. With this new insight you get the clarity of mind that can create new opportunities and see new ways of being.
Misunderstanding #2: We have to struggle for success.
The second misunderstanding we all face is about what we’re really up for in life.
The success myth says that we have to push ourselves to work hard, to struggle, and to “hustle.” To tirelessly endure stress and pain. And then, maybe, if we’re lucky, we might get there. But where is there? And, once we get there, will everything be sunshine, rainbows, and swimming pools filled with dollar bills and happiness?
There is never better than here. And, what you are right now is perfect. It’s really nothing but a false ideal we’ve been conditioned to accept—that struggle and stress equals success/happiness.
Isn’t another word for struggle and stress “unhappiness?” So, how did we get to the situation where we think unhappiness can equal happiness?
To me, it’s pretty clear that this old way of seeing things has us on a road to nowhere.
Stop looking outside for the results you want and make the decision to become the person you need to be, that will get you the results that matter to you.
This shouldn’t feel inauthentic. This is not about trying to be someone else. This is you stepping into your potential by accepting the innate potential and wisdom that is already inside of you and actively committing to new ways of being. In doing so, you begin to create new opportunities and success from the inside-out.
I didn’t always have the confidence and drive I have now. There was a time when I was pretty stuck and unfocused. Yet, now I love every bit of my life and work. This didn’t happen by accident. I made it happen because I chose to see myself as the kind of man who could do it. I spoke it out into the world and aligned myself with this new way of seeing.
I started to actively see myself as a man who creates opportunities, who works hard and enjoys creating a successful life and business. And I know I will continue to work on myself every single day because I consciously choose to do so. It all starts with choice. And this choice is always available to you.
When you choose to see yourself as a person who is happy and successful, you start to bring that reality into being. When you choose to see yourself as a person who works on their body, who eats well, and who goes to the gym four or five days a week, you will. When you choose to see yourself as someone who takes huge action toward what they really want and immerses themselves in important lessons along the way, you will.
When you go to interviews or meetings and you choose to see yourself as a person that can solve their problems and has fun demonstrating this, those around you will see it too.
All successful people have had troubles and negative experiences. This isn’t what makes them different. The difference is they choose to see themselves as people who only win or learn from the experience.
Sure, at the start it might seem a little silly, weird even. But after a while this new way of being will show up more and more unconsciously and with this you free yourself up to really connect with your best self.
Misunderstanding #3: Something is wrong with us.
The final misunderstanding we all fall prey to is about who we really are.
The self-help industry will tell you if you follow a certain set of techniques or steps then you can change your life for the better. (And yes, I am aware of the irony here but I hope you can see the distinction).
The problem is however that no two people are the same, which is a wonderful thing of course, but it means that you can’t just follow someone else’s ideas about life from a self-help book and expect it to work for you.
I now know that’s a broken model. When we hear stuff like this time and again, we feel anxious, like we’re to blame because we don’t think like the “experts.” Then we begin creating stressful experiences by dwelling on these stressful feelings.
We get stuck in our heads trying to figure out how we can change ourselves for the better. But, as we know, you can’t think properly in a stressed state of mind. You can only think better when your mind is clear.
And here’s the thing—I know that right now you have everything you need to get the life that you want. All the resources, well-being, insights, and resilience are part of you—right now.
Remember that you don’t have to be perfect to be successful. You just have to be you. (And pssst, you already are perfect at being you).
I know I’m certainly not perfect and more and more I’m realising that not only is that okay, but a place of vulnerability, imperfection, and playfulness is the best place to come from when making real connections with others.
If you fall into the trap of feeling that external circumstances are affecting you negatively, ask yourself, “Is this really true?”
Consider what you’re actually struggling with. Is the struggle in the present, or is it in the future or past?
Because here’s the kicker: you are brilliant at living in reality—but you are absolutely rubbish at living in the future or the past. In fact, I’d go as far as to say you can’t do it. But that’s okay because reality doesn’t exist in the future or the past. It only exists in the present, where you can take action on whatever it is that’s the problem.
So, when you get stuck in cluttered, stressful thinking, try to create a bit of space around the issue. Remind yourself who you are, where you are, and what you can do. When you get clear and present you’ll often find that you create a calm clarity which allows new ideas to flow.
Of course, I still fall for these misunderstandings pretty much daily. We all do. That’s not the point. The more you deepen your understanding of where your experiences come from, what you can do, and who you really are, you’ll begin to fall out of that stressful, looped thinking much quicker.
When you find yourself in an imagined future that is making you feel you can’t start something, or a past that is making you feel you’re unworthy, look down at your hands. Ask yourself where they are. Because like you, your hands only exist in the present.
In doing so, you’ll drop out of your imagined realities and fall back into actual reality, where again you’ll be clear-headed, resourceful, peaceful, and in touch with the resilient power that exists in all of us when we allow ourselves the space and clarity to access it.
Author: Matt Hattersley
Image: Malice Mirror/DeviantArt
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Travis May