Category: Blog

The Default Want

We say we want things, but there’s a way to determine what we really want.

Look at what we have.

Whatever it is we are creating in our lives is what we want.

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That said, in the absence of clear and authentic desires and goals, we have a default want.

One that guides our behavior, sub-consciously, all the time: to be safe.

With very exceptions, our default is to avoid pain (and not, actually, to seek pleasure).

Of course, we do seek pleasure, but if you were to create a hierarchy, the two might be close on each person’s “scale,” but avoiding pain is given more sway in our automatic – or default – behaviors.

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Stimuli is entering our consciousness all the time.

How we process this information is critical to the nature and direction of our lives.

There are two levels, in simple terms, to this stiumulus processing: non-conscious (or sub-conscious) and conscious.

In terms of non-conscious processing there are two keys: filtering and pattern recognition.

Because of the massive amount of information our brains ignore vast amounts of what it intially senses. Certain stimuli though get accorded a priority: threats.

This is where pattern recognition comes in: our limbic system (our emotional brain, which operates at lightning speed, and process things before our neo-cortex does) is always examining stimuli against memories of past threats. If something matches a negative stored pattern (i.e. a memory) then our survival response (i.e. fight/flight/freeze) is activated.

The problem is, the limbic system values speed over accuracy. Why? Because way back when, when things were much harder for humans, speed mattered. The slow were dead and the fast survived. Whether it was a tiger or somesuch jumping out at you or some food appearing, acting fast mattered.

The problem is, now in the modern world, we have this highly developed response mechanism, but precious few tigers crossing our paths (and very little worry about food, at least for anyone reading this . . . ).

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So, given that we are hard-wired to react quickly to threats – perceived or otherwise – and to play-it-safe rather than take risks we have an opportunity.

An opportunity to accept the truth of our biology and work in concert with it, or remain at its mercy.

Remaining at its mercy means bumbling along reacting to scary things and preferring the safety of the known.

Or, we can take steps to be more and more at choice.

We can find a way to quiet our mind and thus have greater awareness (some form of meditation . . . ).

With this greater awareness we make accurately evaluate what happening around us. We can make accurate and resourceful choices about stimuli.

We can stop acting by default and start acting by design.

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So, to change what we’re getting, we must change our default stimuli processing.

We must bring greater awareness to our basic mental functioning.

We must move beyond the automaticity of simple limbic pattern-recognition to conscious resourcefulness.

Whether it’s the foods we choose to eat (and how much) or how we handle our all-important Annual Review, if don’t develop the muscle of awareness we will continue to play small and live by default.

How To Live

There’s no shortage of pithy sayings about, or formulas for, living in the world today.

At the risk of adding to the “noise,” here is my basic formula: just A.S.K..

First, be Authentic.

Easier said than done, especially in the Western/Modern world.

In a consumer-oriented culture we are barraged with entreaties to consume this, that or the other – all promising lives of good cheer, wealth, stability and pleasure. Add that to the fact that we are driven to congregate in various groups and tribes (and are loathe to be rejected), we often compromise (or even relinquish) our identities in the service of belonging.

Instead we must learn to know ourselves and be true to what is, deep-down, our true nature. This can mean an adjustment in vocation, the releasing of certain relationships or even a change in address (just remember, in the case of moving: wherever you go, there you are).

Second, be of Service.

There’s no greater gift than to be useful, and no greater tragedy than to be selfish. In a connected – and, ideally, interdependent – world service is the key that unlocks wealth. The wealth of self-esteem, friendship, community and, yes, money.

We are all designed to be creators. Not creators in the traditional sense* of “art” (i.e. painting, sculpture, etc.), but of bringing things into being from potential. Creators in the sense of choices make a life, and relationships, and businesses, and families.

We are designed to work, and labor, and lose ourselves** in making of things, in the doing of the worthy.

So, serve.

Serve yourself and your best life, and everyone you come in contact with. Life energy cannot cannot be hoarded, it can only be expressed. Service is the expression of life energy through action.

Thirdly, be Kind.

Kindness is like a universal spice: it makes everything better.

It’s also a great starting place. If you’re ever confused about what to do, be kind.

Be kind to yo yourself, to your significant other, to your family, to your friends, to your co-workers, to your team, to your boss, to your . . . .

Always remember to discern kindness from impostors.

Kindness is not being a push-over or not speaking up when it matters. It’s not being subservient to the desires of others (especially when that negatively impacts you).

It’s also not expecting less of people. People need (and want) to be challenged. As long as you offer support with challenge you are being of service to someone. Beware the tragedy of low expectations (for yourself and others).

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So there you have it: a simple way to live well.

Be yourself.

Be useful.

Be loving.

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* If you’re form of authentic service is “art” then by all means, create away!

** I am referring to losing the Ego-dominated sense-of-self.


Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable . . . . Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

So it is in life.

Every step towards the goal of being one who lives with clarity, energy and love* requires:

Sacrifice (choosing action and growth over comfort and safety);

Suffering (in that we will all experience resistance to the truth of life, and suffer to varying degrees);

Struggle (not only only being comfortable with dis-comfort, but seeking it out and conquering your smaller (Ego) self through it)

and attuning to the eternal flame of love that burns bright within all of us – the flame to that creates the heat to melt the ice of fear and not-trying and unleashes our best selves.

On this day of all days, ask yourself: what’s my dream? The dream that makes the world better because I’m better.

Take a step towards that, no matter how small, or halting, . . . just move.

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* And the goal is become someone who lives this way, most of the time, with that percentage increasing as time passes.

The Truth Will Set You Free – Part 12 of 20

I recently read a post on Johnny B. Truant’s blog that really hit home. So much so that I wanted to do two things: share it with my readers and 2) think on and write about each piece of his post. The post is “20 Truths About Life No One Wants To Believe” and the next one I am going to tackle is:

12. Nobody cares if you succeed. This is the corollary to #11 above. Think Aunt Margaret will push your new book to all of her friends? Think that famous person who could really help you will hop on board with your fantastic idea? Nope. They don’t give a shit. Not really. They have their own issues. Your successes are up to you.

To the extent that people think about how you might be changing, it’s mostly them worrying about how you’ll change as you change.

They will fear that you will leave them and/or make them feel bad about the things they’re not doing.

You can continue to love them and want the best for them, but you can’t allow them to hold you back – even if that holding-you-back-ness comes in the form of you not moving forward because they are not outwardly supporting you.*

It is the rare peer that will encourage you to do something “risky;” something that will likely result in you “leaving.”

I grant you that my explanation for why folks don’t care if you succeed may not follow exactly from Johnny’s words above, but they are definitely part of the “dynamic.”

I think Johnny was referring to the fact that people have enough to worry about without consciously carving out time and energy to support you – and that’s true.

But there is, to my mind, something happening below the surface that – if unacknowledged and not constructively addressed – will quietly sabotage a change effort.

We greatly value our memberships in our various tribes and to the extent that our emotional brain thinks a particular membership is vital to our survival (as they were in prehistoric times) it will choose allegiance to that tribe – and won’t allow for a risk to be taken or a goal to be pursued.

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* Meaning, don’t wait for anyone to explicitly/outwardly/particularly support any change effort you undertake – you may be waiting for a long time.

How Things Get Done

Everything in the world we want to do or get done, we must do with and through people. – Earl Nightingale

We often get confused about things “work.”

So often we think we have to have all the answers and all the know-how and all the resources (often before we even start . . . ) to accomplish something.

What we need more is the right people.

Meaning: 1) who we’re being and 2) who we’re surrounding ourselves with.

In a nutshell, who we’re being is our habits. Some old Greek guy* said we are what we repeatedly do (and it’s true).

Who we surround ourselves with matters in a couple key ways: 1) it determines who we can help and thus who can help us and 2) it determines who we think we need to be like (to be included in the tribe, which is a critical driver for humans).

So, rather than drive ourselves crazy with all the things we think we need to have and know before starting, focus on the who of things: who we need to be and who we need to be around.

Humans need humans. And you need yourself to be the best human possible.

Get that right and all the other stuff will fall into place.

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We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle