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).”]

How to find the meaning in life

The meaning of life question (“Why are we all here?”) is philosophical, and hasn’t been answered with consensus scientifically.

But the meaning in life question (“How can I find meaning and significance within my life?”) is one that has.

Here’s how:

  1. Align your everyday behaviours and choices with the person that you want to become. Our everyday actions bring meaning when they move us towards our longer-term goals and values.
  2. Use your unique strengths to contribute to something greater than yourself. This may be through charity work, pursuing a greater sense of spirituality, undertaking a new and fulfilling career, or often just engaging with your current work in a new and more purposeful way.
  3. Know that you are worthy and capable. Believe and trust that you are enough, and that you can indeed make a difference.
  4. Accept and embrace the setbacks, pain and adversity in life. After all, it is these events that can provide a greater sense of meaning than a constant state of peace and happiness ever can.
  5. Finally, prioritise connection with others. Our life is most meaningful when it is shared.

Having greater meaning in our lives predicts not just our mental health, but also our physical health.

And whilst science hasn’t answered the meaning of life question, I like to think the answer is partly about living a life that is full of meaning.

What to do when change is hard

Why is changing a behaviour or emotional response so difficult?

Research shows that it’s often because we value the very part of us that causes it.

Some examples.

Those who struggle to change:

  • impulsive behaviour, value being spontaneous.
  • being perfectionist, value having drive and ambition.
  • feeling depressed, value self-reflection.
  • worrying or anxiety, value showing responsibility.
  • looking for faults, value being serious.
  • being dependant on others, value being caring.

2 thoughts on this research.

First, when change is hard, start by looking inside yourself. Changing a behaviour or emotional response requires both:

  1. An understanding of your current way of thinking. What thoughts are causing this resistance to change?
  2. The development of an alternative worldview. One that supports the change you seek.

Second, also well worth asking: should I change here?

If it is actually my strengths that are causing my unhappiness, what’s stopping me from choosing to wholeheartedly accept myself, exactly as I am?

Remember, change starts from within.

And sometimes, the change required isn’t about avoiding or fixing. It’s about accepting, and embracing, all of you.

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