Thinking about the 4 levels of thinking

Level 1. What do I need? That is, how can I get the things I want? What’s in it for me? How does it affect me? Will I get caught or punished if I do not follow the rules?

Level 2. What do others think? That is, will they still like and approve of me? Will they still think that I am a good person? How do I fit in and avoid criticism? How will they feel if I tell them what I really think?

Level 3. What do I think? That is, am I maintaining and staying true to my own personal integrity, standards, and internal values? Am I achieving my goals and being guided by my ideals and values? How can I get them to subscribe to my belief system? Am I living, working and loving to the best of my ability and potential?

Level 4. What do we both need? That is, how can other people’s thinking and actions help me to develop and grow? How can I seek out information and opinions from others to help me modify my own ways of understanding? How can conflict and adversity be an opportunity to inform and shape my thinking? Where is the interconnectedness between us, and how can we best support each other as growing, learning human beings?

It turns out that our greatest adversities and most complex problems in life are best overcome when we look at them with the next level of thinking.

[Note: In my previous post, Why there is nothing wrong with being fat, I claimed, “There is zero scientific evidence that diet and exercise results in significant weight loss in the long-term.” In hindsight, this was an exaggeration of the evidence and it has been changed to, “There is minimal scientific evidence that diet results in substantial weight loss in the long-term (greater than 2 years).”]

Why your problem may not actually be the problem

Consider the Chinese proverb that tells the story of the Taoist farmer.

This farmer had only one horse, and one day that horse ran away. The neighbours came to condole over his terrible loss. The farmer said, “What makes you think it is so terrible?”

A month later, the horse came home, this time bringing with it two beautiful wild horses. The neighbours became excited at the farmer’s good fortune. The farmer said, “What makes you think this is good fortune?”

The farmer’s son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbours were very distressed. The farmer said, “What makes you think it is bad?”

A war came, and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer’s son remained. The neighbours congratulated the farmer. “What makes you think this is good?” said the farmer.

When you next find yourself feeling down about something external to you, worth remembering it may not actually be bad at all.

Indeed, what if it is exactly what’s required for you to create something exciting, wondrous and new?

One of the easiest ways to help you overcome your troubles

When really bad things happen in our life, such that there is no direct action that can or will fix the problem, there are really only 2 methods that we use to try and cope:

  1. Avoid what has happened, and look for drugs, alcohol, denial or some other form of escape to try and hide the pain, or
  2. Understand what has happened, and see it as an opportunity to grow and gain strength, wisdom and perspective from it.

There are a number of effective strategies to help us to overcome our troubles and move from avoidance to understanding, but the simple act of writing about them is highly effective around two-thirds of the time.

Here’s how:

Write continuously for 15-20 minutes, on 4 separate occasions, about:

  • what happened,
  • how you truly feel about it,
  • why you feel that way, and finally,
  • what good you might derive from it.

Don’t worry about getting it right or wrong, and don’t feel pressured to come up with a solution straight away. Just focus on writing, in private, about your deepest thoughts and emotions that arise when thinking about these things.

This very process doesn’t just tend to heal us emotionally by helping us to gain the insight, clarity and perspective needed to grow from the adversity. It also, quite remarkably, heals us physically, and results in significantly:

  • less doctor visits,
  • improved immune functioning,
  • reduced blood pressure, and
  • improved liver and lung functioning.

Our biggest adversities in this life can, ironically, end up being some of our life’s most wonderful gifts, as they offer the potential to contribute to our growth and expansion in ways that ‘good’ things rarely can.

And sometimes, all we need to see this is an hour of time, a piece of paper, and a pen.

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