How To Consciously Lead The Life Of Your Choice
As a student in Austria I had an interesting experience with Michael. Michael and me were students at the same engineering university, and that is where our similarities pretty much ended. He was brilliantly suited for an engineering career: excellent at mathematics, physics and all other topics that make up the universe of an engineer; while I felt miserable and lost in this world of numbers I had joined out of sense of duty to my father, who wanted an engineer son.
As the first semester trickled by, I realized that I would fail miserably on my own, I had to find help. Of course I thought of Michael! As soon as I approached him and asked him for help he most graciously took me in as his prot'g'. With his nurturing help, endless patience and uncanny knack to explain the most obscure mathematical/technical problems I was finally able to pass tests.
That's when I began to realize something interesting about Michael: he was incapable of accepting any kind of praise or heartfelt thank you!
Every time when he aced a test with top scores we slapped him on the back and commented on his brilliant results he would only demur and say 'Oh, it was nothing, I was just lucky, I just happened to have looked at exactly these questions during my cramming sessions'.'
If any of the students he had been mentoring so assiduously passed the test came by to thank him for all his help, he would also regularly refuse to take some credit 'Noooo, I did nothing really! It was all you and your hard work! I am really quite ordinary, in fact I am not that smart at all!'
How was it possible that this downright brilliant man could have such a distorted picture of himself? How could he see himself as being deeply mediocre while a score of us made it through engineering university largely based on his help?
How We Create Our Own Reality
The question of why Michael was incapable to grasp and own his brilliance stupefied me for years, until I stumbled across the Reticular Activating System (RAS) and an interesting fact: what you and me perceive to be reality may not be reality at all! We are all actually living inside a movie we call reality, a movie which we have created in ourselves, for ourselves' and here is how this happens
We Would Be Drowning In Information Unless'.
We have 5 main channels of communicating with the world and receiving information from the world outside:
These 5 'information channels' pour over 2 million bits of data into our nervous system at any given moment, however our mind can only process 40,000 bits of data per second. This means we would be drowning in data overload unless we start filtering out the majority of the data as junk and retain the 40,000 bits which allow us to stay operational.
Enter The RAS => The Big Information Filter
To achieve the task of quick-filtering the useful from the less useful information we have the Reticular Activating System in our brains (The RAS is composed of several neuronal circuits connecting the brainstem to the cortex). The RAS is the point of convergence where the signals from the external world and our internal nervous system converge, simply put: it's the point where the impulses from the 'outside' world meet your 'inner' world of thoughts & feelings.
It's within the RAS that the quick and furious filtering takes place, where you subconsciously decide which data to keep and which data to junk. It is literally the point at which we all start creating our own reality!
Different Filters = Different 'Truths'
If we all had exactly the same filters we might be able to recognize the exact same things as important and, possibly, come to the same conclusions. There would be no reason for disagreements or fights! (Of course there would also be no creative discourse and progress).
Our RAS uses 6 filters to decide what information to keep:
- Our Sense Of Self (who we feel ourselves to be)
- Our Values (guiding principles like: honesty, integrity, etc)
- Our Beliefs (what is right, what is wrong, beliefs help us navigate our decision making process)
- Our Memories (our experiences are the store house of knowledge from which we extrapolate future behaviors)
- Our Programs (from childhood we have been programmed to behave in certain ways, these programs later become unquestioned beliefs. Over 90% of our daily actions are actually automatic re-actions based on these programs)
- Our Survival Needs (survival is the number one priority of all our brain processes. If the system feels that survival is in any way threatened it's re-action to this threat becomes the nr 1 priority)
It stands to reason that each individual human being will have his/her own very personal set of 6 filters made up of innumerable distinctions in programming, belief systems, etc.. making it almost impossible to experience & process impulses coming from the outside in exactly the same way.
What is more: our belief & value systems actually get engaged and actively start filtering out data that re-enforces the pre-existing belief & value system while instantly dropping information that might contradict/endanger currently held beliefs. This is one of the reasons why elderly people tend to be more and more rigid in their views: their RAS has become a master at deleting all data that does not confirm with their world-view.
Beliefs Are The Key
Looking back at Michael a few things became apparent to me. No matter how hard we tried to thank him he would always demur. No matter how much we congratulated him on his excellent academic success he wasn't able to truly celebrate his well-earned success.
Initially I thought Michael was just being humble. Yet, as time went by, I realized that Michael has some sense of inner paralysis that did not allow him to take ownership of his success, of his life, of anything really' he was like this genius trapped in a bubble which is cut off from the external world. He had this absolute belief about him being a loser, that anything good that happened to him was just pure good luck (like his top grades). He was absolutely vested in his belief of being quite worthless.
Beliefs Have Claws & Will Fight Back!
Over the years I watched Michael with pain and consternation as he drifted along, not really doing anything with all the gifts nature had bestowed upon him. Time after time I would rally to his side in an attempt to help him out of his slump, only to find that he would quite vigorously defend the indefensible.
He had married a highly intelligent woman whom he had followed to live in her home country overseas. She had also seen the bright spark of his intelligence, the promise of a great man, only to discover Michael's steely determination to stick with it: he was a worthless loser.
To achieve this amazing trick of self-delusion (a man with top university scores and a high IQ who is convinced of the 'reality' that he is just a loser) the belief system uses 3 strategies to fight back:
Every time I pointed out to Michael that he actually was quite brilliant and had achieved high academic success (a measurable mark of this fact) he would come back and tell me with a straight face: 'No, you don't get it! I was always just lucky, the tests were not that hard' really!'. Having generalized on the statements he had concluded that he had just been lucky' he was not intelligent'
Taking a different tack I now shared with him how he must be an excellent engineer because he had taught a score or more of us mediocre students to understand complicated technical questions. I even named the names of some of our fellow students to prove the point! His answer was a classical case of deletion. He said 'Oh no Roger, you guys were all very smart, much smarter than me in fact!'. I was gob-smacked! If I know one thing for sure it's that I am not good at mathematics and that his belief system was now completely fighting back by deleting information that did not suit it's self-image.
When I pointed out to him that it was really time to re-asses his situation, that he had become an aimless drifter and that his wife was getting sorely tired of him throwing away his talents, he took a long look at me and said 'I have always told her I am a loser' that it completely mystifies me what she finds in me' I have never done any good and I wonder why she is still with me''. This was the final tool in the box: distortion. Edward's belief system had blatantly filtered out all the information and data that could prove it's position was wrong and had asserted with finality: 'I, Edward, am a loser' no matter what you tell me!'
I wish I could tell you this was not a real story, sadly it is. To this day Michael's belief system is hard-wired to it's 'truth' that he is a loser and he continues to drift through life.
If It's Our Movie, Lets Direct It!
Here is the upside of this otherwise rather sad case study: how our lives turn out has much less to do with 'luck' than we have been led to believe. Our minds are extraordinary tools of creation able of delivering almost anything we want to achieve to our doorstep.
The hardest part in getting an active handle on our destiny is our ego and the belief systems we have spent so much time building and the emotions we have invested in them.
Tearing down belief systems is the hardest part of opening our RAS to allow totally new, powerful data in which will allow us to make new decisions.
Breaking Old Beliefs => The Key To Freedom
There is an interesting experiment to see how strongly your life is run by belief filters. Every time you are about to do something out of habit ask yourself a simple question: Why am I doing this? Why is it not polite to ask a woman's age? Is it true that men always get better with age, proudly pronouncing their age, while traditionally educated ladies shriek in horror at the question 'How old are you?'
Why is it not polite to ask someone outright 'Hey, how much do your earn? I make X dollars, how about you?'
Why do you have to address certain traditional bosses by their title while industrial behemoths like Steve Jobs were perfectly OK to be called by their first name?
The questions go on and on' pretty soon you may realize how much of our lives is run by unspoken, unquestioned, rigid rules that make no real sense.
Have Fun ' Break The Rules ' Free Your Mind