My Default Setting
I had a realization a few months ago that changed how I view myself and the things I am always working to improve about myself. I realized that my default setting in personality and how I analyze what happens in life is pessimism. Internally, this can feel like the world is against me or that I have no control. Outwardly this can look like grumpiness, glumness, or snapping at others.
Those of you who know me might find this difficult to believe. This is because for the most part I am a happy person, and partly I am a good actor. I have to work very hard against the default setting of pessimism, which usually only shows itself to those closest to me. About two years ago I found methods of altering one’s mindset that have helped me to become a more calm, peaceful and patient person on the inside, and this has reflected on my outward demeanor.
My children have challenged me to become a more conscious person, to address my ghosts-in-the-nursery and alter my “parenting CD rom”. I realized that I needed to help my children do good and be helpful because they wanted to, not because I said so or because they would be punished or rewarded. I needed to help them find internal motivation instead of external motivation. This challenged my experience and my past so that I needed to change myself in order to be an example for my children.
External vs Internal Locus
All of the tools that help bring my mind into a state of harmony with life have one thing in common: they all encourage a separation from external locus to one of internal locus. Instead of thinking that what happens is up to fate/god, we have a mindset that if we need or want something, taking action is the best course to fulfillment. In like manner, living for the small moments and being at peace with life in it’s as-is state is a common theme in these methods. When I was a kid I felt tremendous pressure to get straight A’s in school, to participate and excel in extracurricular activities, prove to my parents and others that I was “good enough.” This continued through college and by the end of it I was burnt out. On top of all that, the majority of my childhood was blanketed in extreme religious views that put great emphasis on external motivation like reward systems (heaven or hell), sky-god watching every move (control), and the burden of thinking that you are flawed no matter what you do and only a god can save you (helplessness).
I literally felt like I was not in control of my own life, that I wasn’t driving the cart. At times in my young teen life, it felt so overwhelming that I gave into the idea of “put it all in god’s hands” just so I could have a mental break from worrying about all the external pressures driving me into action every day. I wasn’t doing any of it for myself. Many studies link a high external locus to depression. I wouldn’t say I was clinically depressed, but I felt very close to it for many years of my young adult life.
Mindfulness and the “ah-ha” moment
Over time I discovered mindfulness. Mindfulness is being present in every moment without judgement to the self or others. Realizing that it was ok to feel emotions as they arise was liberating for me. Acknowledging and honoring how I felt without judging myself opened up doors of self awareness. Instead of running and hiding from how I felt, I explored it and let it be. For example, in the past, I might lash out at others because of how I felt. I was ashamed of my feelings, especially if they were undesirable feelings like anger or sadness. Now that I can acknowledge my feelings without judging myself for having them, I can address the source of the emotion and not try to place the blame on others or pass the feeling along by lashing out at the people closest to me.
Eventually this self acceptance lead to my ah-ha moment a few months ago. My default setting was sadness and misery. It was difficult to acknowledge this because I like to consider myself a very happy person. In a sense, I have been trying to run a different kind of software for myself without having fixed the hardware that is sadness, programed to be motivated externally instead of internally.
Now that I understand this part of myself better, I can begin the healing process. There is a lot of emotion wrapped up in this self realization. At the same time I am elated to have evolved in my mindset to the point where the realization was allowed to occur.
A few days after making this self discovery, I was reading Eckhart Tolle “A New Earth“. A few pages about the ego and how it gets in the way of our peace really struck me:
The ego doesn’t know that your only opportunity for being at peace is now. Or maybe it does know, but it is afraid that you may find this out. Peace, after all, is the end of the ego. . . the stronger the ego in you, the more likely it is that in your perception other people are the main source of problems in your life. – Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth (p. 115, 119)
Ali from The Perception Trainers explains why we have a hard time being present in the now, and the second video is about why we keep getting triggered.
If you liked her exercise for a Positive Experience in the Present Moment, I created a PDF to print out and put in your home so you can be reminded to practice this exercise and the suggestions on how to do so. Click here to print.
These resources have been enlightening on my journey of conscious awareness:
- Conscious Discipline methods by Dr. Shefali and Becky Bailey
- The Perception Trainers videos
- Sam Harris’ book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (listened to this about 5 times already)
- Sam also keeps a blog on similar topics: http://www.samharris.org/podcast
- Non Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
- A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
- Yoga Practice (I enjoy physically demanding yoga from mindful yogis who challenge both body and mind)
- Guided meditation