I was chatting with a colleague this week and she mentioned that when she sits down with a client, one of the questions she sometimes asks them is whether or not they think they would feel better if their circumstances were different.
Try this on for yourself. Think of something in your life that you’re a bit worried, stressed, or insecure about. Then ask yourself if you would feel better if the thing you were worried, stressed, or insecure about resolved itself.
- Would you still be stressed if you didn’t have an exam or big meeting coming up this week?
- Would you still be scared if there was more money in your bank account?
- Would you still feel insecure if your partner were behaving in a more supportive and loving manner?
If not, why not? Because those circumstances are the actual cause of your stress, fear, and insecurity, or because you suspect that in different circumstances, you would be likely be thinking different thoughts and feeling different feelings?
The subtitle of my book The Inside-Out Revolution is “The only thing you need to know to change your life forever”. That “only thing” is that our experience in life is 100% created by the mind via thought and consciousness – the three building blocks of experience often referred to as “the three principles”.
And the beauty of a principle is that it’s true 100% of the time – fully explanatory, highly predictive, no exceptions.
Take gravity for instance. It works the same way for every person at every age, everywhere you go on the planet. You don’t have to believe in it or remember it’s there for it to be in full effect. You will never float off the surface of the planet because you forgot to do your gravity affirmations. The always already present nature of gravity on the surface of the planet means you don’t have to give it a moment’s thought.
Since the book and subsequent TEDx talk Why Aren’t We Awesomer? came out nearly three years ago, I’ve had the chance to speak with thousands of people about the fact that we’re living in a thought created experience of life, not the feeling of our life circumstances.
On the whole, people seem to “sort of get it”. They can certainly see that their thinking has something to do with why they experience things in particular ways, but when push comes to shove, pretty much everyone has certain exceptions to the rule – things in their life that look as though they are inherently painful, stressful, scary, or sad.
After all, wouldn’t anyone get upset when they fail a test, lose the big game, or get dumped or cheated on by someone they love?
And aren’t some things just naturally stressful, like being diagnosed with an illness, running low on money, or having to speak in front of a group?
Well, no. Not everyone reacts to things in the same way. Some people genuinely thrive in situations that look difficult and overwhelming to others. And while it may be normal to feel insecure on the first day of a new job or sad when your football team loses, “normal” is often a long, long way from natural.
So when someone says to me “I know it’s just my thinking, but…”, what they’re really saying is “I understand and agree with the theory that thought creates feeling, but it really looks to me like my circumstances are an even bigger factor in what I’m feeling than my thinking.”
Since the thought/feeling connection looks as though it’s only a partial explanation for my experience, I still have to try to manipulate and protect myself from the world in order to keep away bad feelings or make myself feel better. I don’t see that my hand only hurts because I keep slamming it in the car door, and so I feel good about “worrying less than I used to” without actually seeing where that pain and discomfort comes from and why it’s not there when I don’t think about it.
Here’s the thing. As Syd Banks often said “life is a contact sport – you’re going to get your knocks.” Regardless of which gods we pray to and what we do or don’t do, stuff is still going to happen that we wouldn’t willfully choose. People we love are going to get sick, our bills will come due, and things often won’t turn out as planned or hoped for. But our unrecognized thoughts can create mountains out of molehills and monsters out of thin air, obscuring whatever common sense actions we might otherwise take to make our circumstances more manageable and easier to bear.
In other words, we think we have a reality problem when in reality we have a thinking problem. And this is why we continue to slam our hand in the metaphorical car door of our thinking, sure that the pain we’re feeling is coming at us uncontrollably from somewhere outside of our own mind.
But recognizing that we can only ever suffer from our own thinking turns out to be wonderful news. Because thinking problems can change for the better in a heartbeat.
Better still, we don’t even have to do the changing. As soon as we wake up to the fact that we’re feeling our thinking, not our circumstances, our thoughts begin to change by themselves. It’s almost as if we have a psychological immune system that clears out old unhelpful thought and replaces it with fresh new thought as soon as it’s alerted to the fact that the unhelpful thinking has taken root.
But as long as we hang on to the idea that here might be exceptions to the inside-out nature of experience, the psychological immune system isn’t automatically alerted. It waits to see if this is a “thinking problem” or a “reality problem” before stepping in to begin the process of change. And as long as it seems to us as though we have very sound external reasons for the way that we feel, our difficulties and suffering will carry on relatively unabated.
One of the most hopeful things I have realized in nearly a decade of studying and teaching the principles behind the inside-out understanding is that not only do my circumstances not have the power to make me feel a certain way, they also don’t have the power to make me think about them. And while I don’t control my thoughts, they don’t control me either.
We live in a reality where gravity keeps us safely on the ground and the principles of Mind, Thought, and Consciousness allow me to live in a world of beautiful feelings, deep insights, and a sense of connection and communion with all of life.
Do I still slam my hand in the car door of my thinking from time to time? Absolutely. But the moment I recognize that as the only possible cause of my suffering, it’s surprisingly easy to stop, let new thoughts come to mind, and wake back up to the world of infinite possibility that surrounds me.
With all my love,
PS – The Infinite Potential/Infinite Possibilities small group coaching intensive we announced last week is sold out! We’ve added two new sets of dates for London and LA – please visit www.michaelneill.org/infinite to book your place.
Some more Caffeine for the Soul
Today’s blog is excerpted from my book Creating the Impossible: A 90 day program to get your dreams out of your head and into the world…The week I began working on this book, I read a distressing (to me) article about how Mahatma Gandhi was estranged from his eldest son, Harilal, throughout his adult life. I immediately called my own first born, Oliver…read more
Today, I want to share a third thing that I have come to see over a nearly 30 year career as a teacher and coach. It impacts how I do everything I do with students and clients, and is perhaps best summed up in this story I first heard in a dialogue between Anthony de Mello, an enlightened Jesuit priest, and one of his students….read more
In part one, I shared a simple truth about human beings that flies in the face of a lot of self-help ideologies and neo-cognitive therapies:
We aren’t in control of our thoughts and feelings. Today, I want to point to what may seem an even odder piece of good news…