Find Fulfillment in Your Life Today, Not Tomorrow
Hardwire Yourself For Fulfillment
EDDIE GRASSI LIFE AND RELATIONSHIPS COACHING·FRIDAY, 22 JUNE 2018
Life is full of ups and downs. When you’re on the up and things are going your way, you wish it could feel like this forever. It might be the feeling of self-worth resulting from a promotion at work, the joy of experiencing an exotic vacation, the pride you feel at having accomplished a goal or reached a pinnacle, or a celebration honoring a special person or tradition. Great as these exalted feelings are when we have them, we know they are only temporary, and so we try to preserve and prolong them as much as possible. One reason for doing so may be because we know exactly what awaits us when it’s over: a return to normality and the everyday hassles and responsibilities of that which we sought so hard to get away from. Along with this may come an attitude of resignation as you come back down, a back to the grind way of thinking as we resume where we left off. Of course, this isn’t everyone’s attitude or journey. And I do not want to imply that having these great experiences isn’t a reward unto itself. Also, some of us look forward to a return to normal and resuming our work and life as we know it. But for many of us, the end of our escape, or whatever takes you away, signals a unwelcome return to the powers that be and we are back at “it.”
For a long time, I thought this cycle of lots of work and little play was just a natural, unavoidable part of life embodied in nature with more cloud filled than sun filled days. It’s not that I am a pessimist or anything like that. I just thought that experiences of calmness, ease of mind, peace, love and contentment, were not the stuff of everyday living, but the things we save for another day, when the other stuff is done and out of the way. A funny thing happens though when you start to ask why of your experiences. You may ask: Is this truly the way things are? Or, Why can’t the feelings of good endure? That seems a good question to start with. As you keep asking why, you make discoveries, have insights and draw conclusions. You may even change your perspective and thus the way you live your life.
In seeking out the answers to such questions, I found some practical and compelling material in the field of neuroscience and behavior. One of the most important things I discovered is this idea that we humans have this ability to change and shape our neural structure for the better. Put differently, we are not as stuck in the morass of negativity and frustration as one may think. You see, to evolve, our brain needed to adapt and so it developed a kind of plasticity which still works today. The fact that our brain is capable of change is very important. It was important for our ancestors back then and it is important for us now because of the present pervasiveness of the stressors in our world today. With so many new potential stressors demanding our attention, (just look at some of the FB posts in the news) it is vital for us to learn how to find a resting place to recoup and nourish our inner strengths and to prepare for the next round of challenges waiting for us tomorrow. There is a precise technique for doing this which I will soon share with you on FB.
Neuroscience teaches us that there is a way, a practice that we can do to ensure that we can use and benefit from accessing that part of our brain which Steve Hanson calls our “lost home," in his book "Hardwiring Happiness." By home, he means a place in our mind where there is no troubling concerns to worry about because our core needs have been met. Worry, fear, anxiety and irritability, have fallen away and cannot dwell here. There is “less basis for aversion and grasping” in this place. Instead, there is freedom to do restorative activity, recovery and systematic inner strength building. For example, instead of just feeling a sense of gratitude, and letting it pass away before we refocus our attention again on the next stressor, (a long red-light, a late night call, or just losing your keys) we can actually hardwire inner strengths like gratitude and many others like determination, kindness, and calm to deal with these disruptive events.
We can approach stressors not as negatives which disrupt us but as challenges or puzzles to solve with efficiency, determination, patience- the inner strengths we often forget we have. But it is crucial that the positive experience are taken in to grow our inner strengths. I am going to share more about this later. Basically, it’s about allowing positive experiences we have to embed themselves as traits. I am calling this hardwiring your brain for fulfillment. In other words, we go from a state of mind to a trait of mind. How awesome would that feel if we could manage to change our neural structure to be more calm or compassionate because that is who we are inside, as opposed to the temporal feeling of being this way for a few seconds?
The next thing I have to say shocked me when I read it. According to "Hardwiring Happiness," our ancestors actually had more time on their hands to allow the brain to rest from securing their safety than we do now. That came as a surprise. I always thought it was just the reverse, that in our age we can do this better than our ancestors ever could, especially with all of our advances in technology and science. In fact, the world we live in today has more stressors to encounter than in the past. Times have definitely changed. Maybe we don’t have a saber-toothed tiger ready to attack us from a bush to worry about, or the fear that a small cut can become life-threatening, but we have plenty of other stressors to occupy our attention. All the more reason why we need a new way to manage them.
Thankfully, what seems to be the way of things, that we cannot look past these troublesome experiences always calling our attention lest our world fall apart, is only true for those of us who choose to accept that our brain can only react and not respond. Maybe I shouldn’t say choose because that implies a conscious action of discerning an alternative. If you’re in the Matrix, you don’t know you are. You have to do something to wake up. The negative isn’t just things that are happening outside ourselves either, like a bike getting stolen or your friend not returning our calls. The negative also exists in our head as a mindset, where we fix upon anxious thoughts and give them too much authority over us and thereby distorting reality.
The good news again is that although our world has many challenges, we really do have the power to choose how we wish to face them. What’s more, with a new mindset nurtured by taking in the positive, we may not even have to view them as negatives in the first place. Another way of looking at this is to acknowledge that we have a degree of control over the stressors around us. Much of it has to do with the setting we are operating on which I discuss below. So, the negative is here and here to stay. Now for the good news, we don’t have to invite it in. Or at least we don’t have to let these stressors affect us as intensely as they do. We have to show our old reptilian brain which can’t help but be caught up with securing our survival, that it is not the only setting we operate on. At least we can start there. The practice of actually changing it is more involved but not so difficult as one may expect.
I think it’s safe to say, our collective idea of what constitutes mind, must now include this other part of our brain, the responsive side as it has been called. Some neuroscientists call this “green brain.” Without getting too technical, our brain has one of two settings for the way we interact with our environment. It can either be in reactive mode or responsive mode. The setting that I am interested in helping myself and others to activate is the responsive mode setting. This is the setting we default to when all of our core needs are met. On first glance, this setting seems to be the one which rarely gets usage because we are so busy trying to figure out how to get our core needs met plus keeping an eye out for harms to avoid, that we hardly can imagine a setting where we can rest our mind let alone find lasting peace, calm and lovingness. Nevertheless, it’s there and it is called the responsive setting or mode and it’s necessary to having a healthy life.
What? You say you don’t have one? On the contrary, we do have this mode and it’s not what you may think. For instance, it’s not about us just kicking back and observing life’s happenings passively in an uninvolved way because you have reached optimal levels of fulfillment. In fact, it’s the opposite. We are actually more fully engaged in life, handling difficult things but on a basis of underlying security and feeling cared about.
The beauty of this is what happens when our core needs are met: our mind’s default setting goes responsive. In this natural state of rest, we feel safe and our need for feeling satisfied and connected is fulfilled for the time being. Consequently, our motivations to fill deficits falls away, as does, irritability, and other sources of stress like disappointment, drivenness, shame, fear, and hurt. Because we are no longer trying to get and secure, (avoiding harm, the desire for connection to others, and satisfying our physical and emotional needs) we can expect to feel differently in this setting.
We may not feel great but there is a sense of being okay at least. There is also a greater chance of experiencing positive emotions such as inner calm, lovingness, insight, a sense of perspective and more. Through consistent practice of making sure your core needs are met, you will be more apt and receptive to seeing and experiencing the positive around you, which is the key. The positive experiences can be installed as inner strengths available to us as tools not only for self-restoration and peace of mind, but for others to benefit from as well. We are able to experience our true loving nature, compassion and generosity when our core needs are met.
So I am at least starting to consider that the status quo need not be a place so difficult and stressful that we always feel like we have to run away from it lest we get contaminated by it’s dis-ease. Don’t get me wrong, getaways, escapes and distractions are certainly a welcome source of relief from our stressful lives. The thing is, we do not need to go on a retreat from reality (a beach on Hawaii) to find solace. We need to remember we have this other strength building setting which is actually the doorway to our essence. It’s not an easy one to switch on. Certain conditions have to be met. As I said before, generally speaking, we have to feel safe, satisfied, and connected before we can switch to this mode.
Once we have enough safety we can allow our avoiding harm operating system rest. Once we have received our rewards, we can let our approaching and chasing after system rest. Finally, once we feel connected, we can allow our attaching system rest. When all three of our needs are met, we can experience what it feels like to be responsive rather than reactive to the events life throws our way. By taking care of our own needs first, we can attend to and take care of others more effectively. We can discover that the essence of who we are is not about craving and wanting more, but being content with who were are in the lasting present. I am not talking about a place where we sit back and watch passively as spectators. It’s a resting place only from worry that keeps our mind feeling unsettled. Actually, when we are in this place we are more fully alive and active because we can meet life on its own terms. So I am about having the experiences we need in order to satisfy our needs and make us whole. If you think there is something missing in your life or relationship, now is the time to act.
Many of ideas and information written in this post are from Steve Hanson's book, "Hardwiring Happiness." - Eddie Grassi😀