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).”]

2 ways to overcome a problem

One is to learn. The other is to grow.

We learn when we look at our problem with our existing perspective, but develop our knowledge and skills to overcome it.

“I want to lose weight for my wedding day, so I’m reading the newest detox diet book to find out how.”

We grow, on the other hand, when we reach an entirely new perspective in order for a better solution to be found.

“How much I weigh at my wedding will not actually influence my experience, as I see that, 1) I am so much more than my body, and 2) the possible judgements of others do not define who I am.”

Sometimes, of course, learning is exactly what is required.

But much of the time, the universe is full of wondrous things that are patiently waiting for our minds to grow, in order for us to see them.

The comfort zone paradox

Is that the people who make it a habit to step outside their comfort zone – who say yes to experiencing fear and discomfort – are the people who live more comfortably.

They are more happy, less stressed, have better health and a higher quality of life.

Why?

First, staying within your comfort zone means you hide, of course, from the very situations, people, experiences and places that make life joyful, rich and meaningful.

Some examples:

The person who isn’t their true self because it feels scary, risky and uncertain, also misses out on excitement, purpose and growth.

The person who doesn’t show vulnerability because it exposes them to fear, rejection and hurt, also misses out on belonging, creativity and courage.

The person who doesn’t allow their self to fall in love because it’s scary and exposes them to conflict, pain and heartbreak, also misses out on joy, meaning and connection.

Second, and this is most important: your comfort zone isn’t actually comfortable.

That’s right. It’s a myth.

Sadness, stress, setbacks and conflicts are a package deal that come with the gift of living. The truth is all of us experience discomfort, irrespective of how much we live in our comfort zone.

And if the comfort zone isn’t comfy, where are you going to live?

How to use your personal conflict as an opportunity for growth

If you’ve recently experienced anger, torment or hurt, here’s an exercise I recommend:

Think of the recent conflict that brought you these emotions.

Now, think hard about one way either:

  1. You previously behaved in a way somewhat similar to how the other person did, or
  2. Your own behaviour in the situation was not perfect (maybe you also did something slightly insensitive or hurtful, even if you meant well, or can justify exactly why you did it).

When you look for and find a fault in your own behaviour, it often hurts. But if you are brave enough to acknowledge it, you are rewarded with a sense of pleasure, pride, acceptance and growth.

Shifting our perspective of conflict from being externally caused, to (at least partially) internally caused, is a useful practice. It can help us become:

  • less biased,
  • less judgmental,
  • less argumentative,
  • less inclined to complain,
  • less likely to react with further conflict, and
  • more forgiving.

Happiness doesn’t come from insisting we are always right.

But it does require us to open minded enough to see that, very often, our initial perspective has room to improve.

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.

The 12 steps to setting (and achieving) your New Year’s resolutions

Step 1. Brainstorm your dream list. Write a list of everything you may possibly want to achieve this year. Think big, without limits.

Step 2: Link each goal to your core life values. For each goal, ask yourself: Why is this important to me? What is it (exactly) that will make the sacrifice, discomfort and effort that’s required to achieve this goal truly worthwhile? If you don’t have a good answer, cross it off your list.

Step 3. Re-frame your remaining goals to capture your motivation. For example, the goals “Go to the gym” or “Lose weight” might become “A strategy to improve my fitness in an enjoyable and sustainable manner, which will be evidenced by having more energy and being able to enjoy playing with the kids when I get home from work.

Step 4: Decide on what’s most important to you. You can’t be an Olympic marathon runner and our Prime Minister at the same time. Of the goals you have left, decide which are most important. I suggest choosing your top 4, that you truly believe can be achieved together over the course of 1 year.

Step 5: Ensure there is a balance. If all 4 goals are about climbing the corporate ladder, is that really how you want to spend your year? Research shows our well-being is highest when we find a balance between relationships, religion/spirituality, work and generosity/focusing beyond ourselves.

Step 6: Re-check before you commit. Ask yourself: are these goals really, truly how I want to invest much of my time this year? (Hint: If you’re not screaming out yes, the answer is probably no.)

Step 7: For each goal, write a (very) specific action plan to get you there. Decide on the small and simple behaviours you will commit to regularly that will get you to your goal. They should be things to do (go to the cycle class on Saturday mornings) as opposed to things not to do (stop eating chocolate). Consider also any extra skills, knowledge and support you’ll need, as well as the potential barriers that may come up.

Step 8: Create a clear timeline for your action plan. Divide your behaviours into steps you can do on a daily (or at least weekly) basis.

[Important: if you’re not extremely confident that you can do the action plan, read this post, or change it so that you are.]

Step 9: Plan exactly when and where you will do the actions. Choose both a time and a place that you will come across every day (or week).

Step 10: Each day (or week) you encounter that time and place, do the action. I highly recommend creating a chart that you can mark off every night before bed so that you can see your progress.

Step 11: Put a monthly reminder in your calendar to review your progress. Don’t wait until the end of the year to realise that what you have been doing hasn’t worked. If you find that at the end of the month you are not making consistent progress towards your yearly goal, revise your action plan (and double check that it’s truly an achievable goal).

If the problem is that you are not doing your action plan, either i) make the action plan easier, ii) understand and question your thoughts that are holding you back, or iii) make changes to your environment to better support your desired behaviour. (Note: Don’t beat yourself up here. It’s normal to fail – the trick is to learn from it and change accordingly.)

Step 12. Celebrate! Decades of research shows that when you do this process, it works.

That is, if you have the courage to face the possibility of failure, you also have the ability to make your dreams come true.

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