canstockphoto5586193I was doing a speech today and was thinking back on why I decided to write about reading 50 books in 50 weeks. Why not just read them? Have you ever read something and you thought it was awesome, but then you either didn’t apply it, or forgot that you even read it? We all have. I figured that by writing it down I was more likely to remember and apply the lessons.

Unfortunately we’ve become a nation of distraction. We are pulled to the next shiny object by emails, phone calls, text messages, Tweets and Facebook status updates. We don’t want to miss anything, but what if  you were reading something and you discovered the secret to success in life – then you get a text message, which you naturally check out, but during that temporary distraction you turn the page and forget about it completely!? Part of our challenge today is that we’ve forgotten how to focus on the here and the now.

When a text or email comes across, we starting thinking about possibilities, and STOP thinking about the reality before us. But its not just technology that interrupts us – sometimes its our own thoughts. Unfortunately, we don’t choose most of the thoughts in our head (Harris 49). Most just show up of their own accord, but just because they pop up doesn’t mean we have to take them seriously (Harris 49). There are several defusion techniques Harris’ suggests including:

  • Not taking it seriously. If you get a thought like, “I’m a loser.” Follow that up with, “I’m a banana.” (Harris 50). This silly thought acts to defuse the first thought and can make you smile.
  • Thanking your mind. When an errant or negative thought pops up, just say to yourself “Thanks, Mind!” and then go about your business (Harris 51). I’m going to admit this doesn’t work for me at all because you’re not supposed to use sarcasm when you say this and I can’t have those thoughts without a sarcastic comment following right behind. BUT, Harris also qualifies these strategies by saying that some work for some people while some don’t. Use what works, which is great advice.
  • The Silly Voices. I first heard about this through Tony Robbins. When you’re having these negative thoughts, put a silly voice, like Homer Simpson’s voice, to them. They lose their impact that way.
  • “I’m having the thought that…” We talked about this one yesterday and personally this is my favorite because it removes me from the situation. It turns me into an observer rather than an involved party. I actually did this the other day and it worked!

But, what if the thought is not just something that popped into your mind? What if it’s both true and serious, like you have a deadly disease and only months to live (Harris 53). The same rules apply – you can dwell on the lack of time you have left or you can focus on what you can do with the time you have left – the bottom line is the same: are the thoughts you’re having helping you or hurting you? If they are hurting you, defuse them through one of the techniques above (or invent your own), then replace them with thoughts that help you. Also, remember that defusion takes practice. You will have to consciously do this for awhile but eventually you’ll do it unconsciously.

Don’t expect your mind to quit telling you scary stories. That’s what its supposed to do. Your brain is wired to survive so it tells you scary stories to prepare you for eventualities and possibilities – this you cannot control (nor should you to a certain extent). But you can practice controlling your response to these scary thoughts and stories.

Harris calls them demons. In fact, I recall in a blog posting from several months ago that was titled “My Demon Haunted World,” (which I sort of stole the title from one of my favorite scientists, Carl Sagan), that talked about the scary thoughts that would visit me in the wee hours of the morning when I couldn’t sleep. I’m not talking about paranormal activity or Little Green Men type scary, I’m talking about the thoughts you have of failure, of problems that cannot be solved, of tragedies like bankruptcy, death, humiliation, etc. These demons are the ones that come out to keep you in your comfort zone (Harris 77).

Remember, the mind acts like an early-warning system to keep us from getting killed, but when you stay in your comfort zone, you miss out on life! (Harris 77). If I stayed in my comfort zone all the time I’d never flown a plane, jumped out of a plane, drove a stock car at 130mph+, walked the streets of Tel Aviv at night to experience the real Israel, asked a girl out (or a few), or even had kids. When I think of the comfort zone, I remember the old 1976 John Travolta movie, “The boy in the plastic bubble.” He played a person with a disease that required him to stay in an encased plastic room his entire life, but he eventually risks his life to leave the bubble so he can experience what’s outside. Sadly, many people keep themselves in a plastic bubble, watching others have amazing experiences, but dying in their bubble without ever having experienced life themselves.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How would you act differently if painful thoughts and feelings were no longer an obstacle?
  2. What projects or activities would I start (or continue) if my time and energy weren’t consumed by troublesome emotions?
  3. What would I do if fear were no longer an issue?
  4. What would I attempt if thoughts of failure didn’t deter me?

The answers to your questions represent the life outside the bubble – the one you’re missing out on by keeping yourself locked in. Make sure you write down your answers, post them somewhere you can see them on a daily basis. Maybe even put them as a background on your computer. Writing it down helps to make it real, ensures you remember it and moves you to action.

The secret to overcoming your demons is to be aware of them in the moment, defuse them, then focus IN THE MOMENT on the next action you can take that moves you closer to your objective.

Harris, RussThe Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living. Boston: Trumpeter, 2008. Print.

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