What are you thinking?

November 20, 2019

A quote today from the Jack’s Winning Words Blog got me to thinking – “It’s not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.”  (Rene Descartes)

Rene Descartes

Maybe Descartes should have added “or to use it at all”. How many times have you seen news stories or heard about some incident  and immediately what popped into your mind was the question, “What were they thinking?”

Maybe they weren’t thinking at all. Perhaps their actions were being driven by unbridled anger, such as in the numerous “road rage” stories that we hear about so often. Perhaps preconceived prejudices or unfounded fears had taken over, as we witness in the many stories in the news about black people being discriminated against in restaurants and elsewhere. In many news stories, we are told that they probably weren’t thinking at all because their minds had been clouded by drugs or alcohol.  In all of those cases there is no good answer to the question, What where they thinking?

Jack wrote in his post that he admired Descartes because he was not afraid to use his mind and to disagree with others in his day. It is also important to use one’s mind to question your own thoughts, opinions and actions or reactions to things that are occurring around you. I have not yet mastered the ability to completely shut out old prejudices or preconceived ideas from my past; however, I have developed more awareness of when they take over my mind or cause a specific reaction. I am more able now to stop myself quicker from proceeding down a path that those prejudices may be dictating. When I stop and ask myself the question, “What were you thinking?” the answer most often is that I wasn’t really thinking, I was letting something else control my emotions and actions or reactions. That pause to think allows me to regain some measure of control.  I only wish that I took that pause to think more often.

Perhaps the best take away from today it that you can’t go through life on cruise control or auto-pilot. Just like current experiments with autonomous cars, there are too many things that may occur in life that require that you keep your mind focused upon the steering wheel of your life.  That means using your mind, as Descartes recommended and constantly being aware of what you are thinking and (more importantly) why you are thinking that way. It is important to examine and challenge the thoughts and actions of others; however, it is just as important to challenge the basis of your own thoughts and actions and to ask yourself the question – What were you thinking?

The real challenge for us all is to move from the past tense in that little phrase and become more aware in the present of what we are thinking and why. That is what Descartes was saying when he advised that we use our minds well. It means staying in control by constantly being aware of your own thoughts, preconceived or otherwise, and making better decisions about what you allow to control your emotions and reactions to events in life. Just keep asking yourself, “What am I thinking ?” and, like Descartes, keep questioning, why?

Use your mind well today.  What are you thinking?

Do you hear the alarms going off?

October 16, 2015

“A guilty conscious is a faults alarm.” – from the Graffiti cartoon

It’s amazing how many cartoonists also turn out to be pretty good philosophers. Most of them occasionally use the simplistic characters and story lines of their cartoons to explore some very weighty moral issues or to make moral points. There was great advice for life to be found in the fun that was drawn in Pogo, or Peanuts, or Calvin and Hobbs. The Graffiti cartoon uses only words (as they might be written or sprayed on a wall) and they are used sparingly; however, it often hits a moral issue or judgement dead-on. The brevity and cleverness of the little sayings of Graffiti often makes you stop and think. Sometimes you have to decipher and expand the little saying to understand its meaning, but there is always meaning.

whining childToday’s little saying makes the case that our faults often result in having second thoughts, remorse or regret later for something that we’ve said or did. The fault is obvious – not being enough in control of ourselves to stop the remark or action before it occurs. Does that happen to you? I know that I have a tendency to sometimes blurt out things, either in judgement of someone or something or in reaction to something or someone’s remarks to us. Yes, I hear the alarms and realize that they go off all too often.

Sometimes the “fault” might actually be found in not saying or doing something when the situation requires it. Lowering your eyes or turning your head to avoid eye contact in situations when the right thing to do is to push back or challenge or rebut are also faults that also leads to a guilty conscious. Not standingtimid up and helping the kid that is being bullied is just about as bad as being the bully himself. Not pushing back and sticking up for yourself when being bullied is also wrong. Letting the boss or the co-worker continue to get away with inappropriate behavior that makes you feel bad or insecure or even frightened, is not “going along to get along”; it is just another wrong and only adds to the problem. You may say, “It’s not my fault; however the fault of not doing something about those things that you know are wrong is yours and yours alone.  Is that a nagging little alarm going off in the back of your mind?

The point of all this isn’t to send you into a weekend with a guilty conscious; but maybe to suggest that you listen to those little alarms that go off in your head, often in “real-time”, as the incident is occurring. Rather than reflect alarmlater on the faults that may have allowed you to act or react badly. Listen to the alarms as they start going off in your mind and pause to think before you act or react, before you blurt out a response or hit the send key on that flamming email. If the alarms going off are telling you that you’ll regret this action later, don’t do it.

That’s a tall order for anyone and requires a self-control that few have naturally. It starts by realizing and admitting to yourself that you have that tendency, to go off half-cocked or with only half of the story or that you sometimes act too hastily and get yourself into trouble or make the situation worse that it was. Think back on situations or incidents where you didn’t exercise that control and ask yourself why you did or said what you said and why you regretted it. Perhaps that will serve as motivation to develop a new personal habit to stop and think before you react – whether it’s stop and count to ten or to bite your tongue. Both of those pieces of “folk advice” are essentially artificial and mechanical ways to just get you to stop and think before you act.

If you can get yourself into the habit of stopping and asking yourself a few quick questions, such as – Do I understand what just happened and why? Why do I feel a need act or react? Do I have enough information to make a wise decision about what to do or say?   Is what I’m about to do or say likely to resolve the issue at hand, calm the issue at hand or make the issue at hand worse?  While that seems like a lot to think about whenthinking woman you read it here it really takes only a few seconds of thought time and could save many hours of remorse later. Snap judgements and the actions that we take based upon them are wrong all too often. Stop and think. You’ll make fewer mistakes and have less to regret later. It will also be much less noisy in your mind, with fewer alarms going off.

Have a great weekend. Practice your new habit of stopping and thinking before you act and that will help you when you  get back to the more hectic work world.

Give it some time…

September 18, 2015

From a recent post on the  Jack’s Winning Words blog comes this interesting little quote – “Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may be actually falling into place.”  (Spirit Science) Jack went on to advise that we all let things play out and give them time, because most of the time things work out if you give them time to.

panicHow many of us know a drama queen or king for who every problem is a crisis, every rejection the end of the world and every setback seems to be the end of life as they know it? It’s easy when in the midst of bad things happening to see everything as disastrous or threatening. The world that you were comfortable inhabiting can seem to be falling apart. It is hard to see any good coming out of something that you believe is bad.

Things can fall apart in the business world, too. Sometimes it’s best if they do. There is a concept called creative destruction in which the old order is systematically destroyed to make way for a new way of doing things. That may involve blowing up an old organizational structure in order to put in place a new organization that is better suited to deal with the markets of today. It could even mean getting rid of the very products that got the company to where it is now, because it is obvious that they cannot carry it into the future.

I suppose in our personal lives the act of divorce is a form of creative destruction, since it clears the way for new unions that might serve both parties better. It’s certainly a case of things falling apart that quite often lead to things falling into place for both ex-‘s. If there are children involved it is hard on them, but most times works out for the surrounded by sharksbetter in the long run for them, too.

I suspect that the main thing that we dread when things seem to be falling apart is that we aren’t in control; or, we don’t seem to be anyway. That’s because we focus on things that never were within our control instead of the one thing that we always have control over – our reactions to events. We tend to look for someone to blame for the things that we can’t control and failing that we blame ourselves for not seeing the disaster coming and doing something to avoid it – again something that we likely had no control over.

Instead of spending a lot of time and emotional energy fretting about why things have happened or wondering why you couldn’t or didn’t avoid it, maybe you should focus on helping things fall into place by figuring out how to make the best of the situation that you find yourself in. The destructive phase has already occurred, so maybe it’s painted into cornertime to focus on the creative part of the process. The old is gone, no matter what or who it was; focus now on the future – making the best of what or who is next in your life. It’s only when you can let go of the old that you can embrace the new and get on with life.

Sometimes taking a moment to reflect on past disasters from the perspective of time will help you realize that you lived through them and you will live through the current one, too. Sure it may have hurt for a while – all of life’s boo-boo’s do – but eventually the pain subsidies and is replaced by new joys. For those who turn to their faith in times of crisis, there is helpful guidance in the Bible –

2 Corinthians 4: 17-18 “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  Yet they produce for us a prayingglory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever.  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

For all of us, there is ample proof all around us that the crises that we hit in day-to-day life do not mean that things are falling apart. They are changing. You are changing. Give it some time and things will fall into place, albeit a new place. Things will be different but you will still be here. Be creative with the new you that will result. Have a great new day.

Make today your DIY project…

June 3, 2015

“I hope that everyone that is reading this is having a really good day.  And if you are not, just know that in every new minute that passes you have an opportunity to change that.”  (Gillian Anderson) – As seen recently on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

Gillian’s advice focus attention on the fact that only you can change the way the day is going and your attitude and reaction to the events that are unfolding in front of you. You may choose to shrink down into a fetal ball and cry or wail overwhelmed“Woe is me” or you can decide to take action to change things – starting with your response to events. Sometimes we confuse a flurry of activity with actually accomplishing something, when all that it does is take our mind off things for a short while. There’s a little saying about that – “When in trouble or in doubt; run in circles, scream and shout.” That may sound funny to read, but that is what many of us do (at least emotionally) in a crisis. Accept the fact that in order to make things better, you must Do It Yourself (DIY).

So, today’s advice is about dealing with what life throws what you and changing how you let it affect you. There’s a little personal safety ditty about what to do if you should somehow catch fire (your clothing, I presume) – it goes “Stop, Drop and Roll”. Apparently, the initial reaction for many who catch fire might be to run, which only fans the flames more. So stopping rather than running is a good first step. The drop and roll advice is the way to smother the fire by taking away its air source. DIY.

thinking womanIn the normal day to day world we seldom catch fire; however, there are things that can burn us, whether they are work related or personal. Sometimes out initial reaction may be to run away from those things or maybe to run our mouths in reaction to them. Perhaps we should adopt a variation of the fire advice and “Pause, Think and Act”. DIY.

The first thing to do is to stop; to pause and let the event sink in a bit while you take step two which is thinking. The tendency to react to things too quickly usually gets us into more trouble. Lashing back at something or someone, whether physically or verbally, seldom does anything but add to the problem. Stopping to give yourself time to think allows you to formulate a proper response to things and not just a knee-jerk reaction. Sometimes, if the event involves another person, pausing also gives them a moment to reflect on what they just said or did and it gives them time to quickly apologize before you react. DIY.

The next step is thinking about how to react to the event. Perhaps making an effort to better understand what just happened or what caused it can help. Maybe saying, “Wow, I didn’t know that you felt that way” or “What brought that loving coupleon; was it something that I did?” will give the other party a chance to explain their own outburst or action. It is important to understand that for the other person, there is a perception of reality that you currently don’t get. They see things differently than you do at that moment. Neither one of you are necessarily right or wrong, just on different wavelengths at that moment. Finding a way to a common understanding of the issues is the first step to resolving the difference. So now you’re thinking. DIY.

The next step – the “Act” part – is the first important step to resolving the issues. It is important that you act instead of react. Reacting to situations, unless you are very well trained and experienced in just such events, is almost always a self-protective move. You are punched, so you punch back. You are insulted, so you insult back. You are hurt, so you try to hurt back. Rather than react in those self-protective ways; having paused and thought about it, it is better to act in a way that will result in a more positive outcome. Maybe that will be to turn the other cheek. Maybe it will be not to take the bait of an insult or a hurtful remark. Perhaps it is as simple as asking yourself, “How can I make this better?” DIY.

painted into cornerIt is not easy to always follow this advice, but I think that if you practice it on some of the simple things that you run into on a daily basis it will start to ingrain itself in you such that the little “Stop, Think, Act” ditty will pop into your mind when you hit a problem. When that happens you are in control. It may not make getting through some issues any easier, but it won’t make them any harder, which is what your old way of thinking may have done.  You’ll also feel a little better if you start out with the thought “I’ve got control of  this” in mind, rather than just panicking. DIY.

Like Gillian, I hope that you’ll have a great day, too; however, if things aren’t going the way you’d like them to remember to Pause, Think and Act. DIY.

Stay in control of your life…

August 27, 2014

“Regardless of what’s going on around you, make the best of what’s in your power, and take the rest as it occurs.”  (Epictetus) – from Jackswinningwords.blogspot.com.

According to Jack’s comment, Epictetus believed that all of what happens around us is fate and thus out of our control. What is in our control is how we react to what is happening around us or to us. I have posted several missives on that topic here is the past. Today let’s look at the strategy of understanding what control you have over things and exercising good judgment in how you react.

TV interviewTV news people love to rush into situations of stress or tragedy with the important question (at least to them), “How do you feel about that?” They hope to evoke an emotional reaction of some sort that will make good viewing – tears or anger or hate. They are after ratings more than news coverage, since TV news is now presented more as an entertainment segment than true news coverage.

While there may be no newsman rushing up to you with a microphone in hand, when life happens around you there is often an expectation (perhaps your own) that you will somehow react to what’s going on. Will you get fearangry about something that someone did, even if they really didn’t do it to you? Maybe they ran a stop sign or made an illegal turn. How does that affect you? If they didn’t almost hit you by doing that, why do you have any reaction to that at all? I tend to get a little peeved at people doing those things, mainly I suspect, because it shows a general lack of respect for the laws that we are all supposed to live under and that we generally all accept. Those are acts of contempt; of thumbing their noses at our laws and saying that they don’t have to follow them. It is somewhat offensive (at least to me).

But, those examples aside, the next best thing to do when things are occurring around you is to quickly assess which of them you have any control over or the power to change. Perhaps the only control you have is to control yourself; to control how you react to the situation. In recent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri not everyone joined in on the looting or destructive behavior. In fact most of the protesters decided to exercise control over themselves and not take part in those activities. They made the best of what was in their power to control.

arguingThe hard part sometimes is recognizing the difference between those things that we can control and those that are beyond our control. Allowing yourself to react to things beyond your control can quickly lead to frustration or worse. Since you cannot see a way to control things, you might be tempted, as the Ferguson rioters were, into taking retaliatory or destructive actions. Once you step onto the slippery slope it is all downhill into looting or burning or shooting or doing other stupid things. It usually ends badly and the consequences are made worse by the fact that one often is destroying the very things that are needed around them – relationships or the stores and merchants that make a neighborhood viable.

Some people have the ability to ignore much of what is happening around them; things to which other might react. They may be totally oblivious, but more likely they are actually making quickly, sub-conscious decisions on the question, “What does that have to do with me?” If they decide that what just happened really has no real direct impact on them they just ignore it, even if it was aimed at them. That would have been a better strategy for the Tigers relief pitcher who let booing from the home town crowd get to him. He reacted poorly to the events going on around him, rather than just ignoring the booing. After all, people booing posed no real threat to him.

I often run into people who say things like “he/she knows all of the buttons to push to get me mad”. What’s angry coupleinteresting about that is that the person recognizes that someone else is able to control them and their reactions through some simple acts or words, yet they seem unable to take back control. Somehow they are really admitting that they are an accessory to this situation; that they are allowing that to happen, instead of exercising restraint and self-control. They could stop that cycle of actions and reaction any time that they really wanted to. Maybe they enjoy getting mad at that other person.

How do you react to the things going on around you? Do you allow the events to control you or do you stay in command of the only part that you have complete control over – your reaction? If you are the sort of person that others may say of, “He flies off the handle a lot”, then you need to be particularly aware of and careful of your thinking hardreactions to things. The old saw of counting to ten before you react may be especially useful for you (you may need to count even higher).

So, be aware of the things going on around you; but, be even more aware of how you are choosing to react to them. I am reminded of that line from the poem Invictus that was used in the Nelson Mandela book and movie as representing good advice – I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul. You are only the captain of your soul if you stay at the helm. Don’t let event or others take the helm of your fate.