Learn and grow through experiences


February 2016

Start with a smile!

Life consists of perceived ups and downs. The meaning we give to events determines our mood and thus the quality of our lives. No one can always be happy. In fact, it may not be our ultimate goal. Only after we walked through valleys, we can fully appreciate the peaks of our existence – in the present moment and in hindsight. Highs require lows and vice versa. Hence, satisfaction is a relative phenomenon. There’s one key behavior to soften the dips though: Smiling.

(Don’t) let it go to your heart

I allowed many events to pull me down: Accidents, diseases, challenges at school, university and work, relatives passing away as well as break-ups with loved ones. Surely, you experienced similar challenges. What actually happened in these moments? We generated negative feelings. Sadness, disappointment, depression. Now, you might argue that the expression of those is important for your emotional hygiene and personal growth. And I agree. To a certain extent. There’s a thin line between

  1. Superficial Ignorance: You just disregard or repress your own feelings and thus prevent yourself from growing emotionally, getting to know and coming into terms with yourself
  2. Toxic Long Suffering: You fall into and spend too much time in a deep hole, which hurts you mentally, emotionally and physically in the long run.

This sweet-spot, on which you learn from suffering (since it offers the greatest opportunities) but avoid falling into the vicious circle of sadness needs to be determined individually. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for how to cope with events and deal with your feelings in different situations. At least I cannot provide any, since I’m neither a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Everything I’m writing and talking about is based on my own experiences, which taught me one thing though:

Smiling helps to cope with negativity

This is not new. Researchers found out that smiling lowers stress and anxiety, releases endorphins and thus strengthens your immune system. It also makes you more confident, approachable, attractive and is above all contagious. Instead of bothering you with these discoveries, which you can read on every self-help page since a decade, let’s make it actionable. Many of us absorb similar small shots of awe every day but never execute upon them. Knowledge without application is useless.

How you make smiling a daily habit?

I’m on my journey to become a “master of smiling”. Still searching for the appropriate occasions, dose and behavioral mix. Here’re my take-aways:

  1. Observe and accept your inner processes: Learn to listen to yourself. Due to the requirements of my daily life, I became a heady person. Thankfully, I learned to observe my thoughts but still have challenges to deal with my feelings. However, if your chatterbox talks destructively or you feel dissatisfied with yourself or other people (latter is only an indirect expression of former), hold still. Negativity indicates that something is wrong with your self-image and thus attitudes. It’s ok to be in a bad mood. We all have negative thoughts and feelings every day. One of our tasks in life is to deal with them constructively. Hence, first accept them. They’re part of your inner processes repertoire. You’re a healthy and complete human being. However, take an inner step back and observe them. Check why you’re thinking or feeling the way you do. What triggered it? Awareness and recognition are always the first step to change behavioral patterns.
  2. Smile whenever appropriate: Once negative thoughts and feelings creep up in you, force yourself to smile. Not because they vanish straightaway but it lifts you up to a relaxed state of mind and helps you to step back as mentioned above. Smiling effectually requires awareness and practice. Fake it until you feel better. Yet beware: Some people might get irritated if you smile whilst you’re arguing with them as you might come across as someone who doesn’t take them or the topic serious. I learned this the hard way. In those situations you want to engage in alternate behaviors like deep breathing. It too lowers your stress level and thus enables you to cope with difficult human interactions.
  3. Become an inner Aikido master: Aikido is a Japanese martial art, in which one channels the opponent’s energy to end a fight. Mind someone running towards you in rage and you just redirect the physical force by putting him on the ground. You can apply this principle to your inner processes by leveraging embodiment. Embodiment describes our capabilities to combat unwanted inner processes with physical actions, like smiling. There’re a couple of supporting behaviors I found functional to deal with negative inner processes. Next to smiling and deep breathing, I recommend you to take a walk when you’re feeling down – especially outside with exposure to sunlight and fresh air. Physical motion triggers mental flexibility and thus helps you to think about solutions creatively. Sunlight raises your mood and fresh air provides oxygen, which supports the ideation process. In addition, you can put your hands up, which improves your self-esteem and thus mood. Actually every physical action, which makes you larger in terms of height or width increases your self-confidence. That’s a heritage from your ancestors and can be observed in the animal kingdom. Mind your social environment to avoid being perceived as a freak though.

Our search for meaning

Last night I finished up the bestselling book “Man’s search for meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl. It inspired me to write this article. I felt that I stumbled over something very profound. Meaning seems to be a buzzword and highlighting its importance for our lives like stating the obvious. However, diving into the “why” and “how” can open minds.

Meaning as our main driver

Frankl was born into a Jewish family and locked for years in Nazi death camps. During this time he discovered that the daily struggle for survival can be won by finding and focusing on meaning in life. No matter the circumstances, we are always in control of our attitudes. We can give meaning to the hardships in our lives if we want to. No one can take this freedom to think and act away from us.

Upon his release, Frankl founded logotherapy. A science, which is based on the concept of meaning (logos) as the main driver for human survival and design of life. Unlike the will to pleasure (on which the Freudian psychoanalysis is centered) and the will to power (which the Adlerian psychology is based on), the “will to meaning” seems to be a sustainable concept that doesn’t kick in once the Maslow’s basic needs are satisfied but already in the beginning. In fact we pursue our search for meaning in parallel to all other ones and it seems to be superior to power and pleasure. In fact, latter are shadows or side-effects of meaning but can never substitute it.

How do you find meaning?

At ExperienceZone, we translate meaning with mission. Our mission is our individual and unique reason for existence. We believe that there’s no subordinate or superior missions. Founding a family is equally important as colonizing Mars (as Elon Musk strives to do). Only one rule applies: Your mission needs to contribute to humanity and/or planet earth. Why’s that? Our actual desire is to be connected. Neurologically we’re wired to contribute, feel part of a larger means and want to be appreciated for what we do. So, there’re three steps:

  1. Initiation: You need to feel the need to define your mission first. Frankl says this either happens through a) suffering, like in his case. Once you’re existence is stripped to its bare bones, we recognize what is really important. Nowadays, we’re swamped by external stimulus (mind media), which distracted and ultimately detached from our natural desires as human beings. Another way to find meaning is through b) other people. In particular: Love. Love is way more that physical attraction or emotional attachment. It’s seeing a potential in someone, which didn’t actualize yet. It results in admiration and unconditional giving. Last year, I met someone, who opened my heart and thus helped me to shape my mission “use my energy and enthusiasm to inspire others and support them in unfolding their own talents in meaningful and harmonic ways”. The third trigger to discover you mission is via c) doing a meaningful work or deed. This is especially important for those who focus on the area career & financials in their lives.
  2. Definition: You need to write down your mission and best case paint it in bright colors. Vision is our most important sense. Vaguely knowing what you want to do with the few decades you’ve been granted on this planet is not enough. Make is explicit. Commit to it. Place your mission statement at prominent places in your living area. This way, you’ll always be reminded and thus win over your subconscious to support its manifestation.
  3. Execution: Strategy is nothing without action. Come up with a plan. What do you need to do to make your mission come true. I founded ExperienceZone. The first stepping stone towards materializing my dream. Just to be clear: There will be stumbling blocks along the way. People might not support you but laugh at or turn their backs on you. That’s totally fine. You’re not on this planet to please others but to fulfill your mission. Stay true to yourself and your individual reason for existence. Let others inspire your change but never kill your dreams. The means you’re putting in place might be suboptimal. Feel free to listen to others’ advises to become better in executing against your strategy but stay authentic and listen to your heart.

Become a better person!

Nowadays many aim high and are willing to go over dead bodies to achieve their goals. I was guilty as charged. One fact became clear to me very recently though: The road to heaven is called altruism, whilst egoism leads you south. Why’s that? Well, here’s another ExperienceZone shot of wisdom.

What makes our world turn?

Humans are social beings. You can neither be successful nor contented without others. Trust me. I learned it the hard way. In addition to supporting each other on the way to success, being in company seems to be closely related to our collective mission. Let’s take a step back: We all want to be happy. That requires control over inner processes. These comprise thoughts, emotions and feelings. Thoughts are controllable to a certain extent by engaging in exercises, such as meditation. More powerful emotions and therewith resulting feelings are almost impossible to steer. They’re closely related to relationships we’ve with other people. If we feel physically or emotionally attracted to others, love emerges and subordinate positive feelings. If others scare us, fear creeps up and negative feelings. Bottom line: Love and fear are emotions others cause in us.

What do you need to do?

We all want to be love and be loved. This requires you to focus on two activity areas:

  1. Learn to love yourself. Folks only trust and love you as much as you trust and love your self. Essentially, others see you exactly as you see yourself – at least on a subconscious level. Your self-image represents the sum of your experiences until this moment. Latter are actually subjective perceptions filtered by your beliefs and tend to reproduce themselves. We strive for consistency. If you and your social network – especially your parents during childhood (mind other people) – tell you that you suck in math, you’ll most likely never become reasonably good in it (and maybe in no other natural science). If you learn to break this belief system though, sky is the limit if at all (mind Elon Musk). The first step is to know who you were, are and want to be. Run a personality analysis, check your attitudes and define your mission. Most importantly: Embrace the concept of self-determination.
  2. Care about other people. Today, someone who means a lot to me complained about not listening carefully. In fact, listening is a key skill in human interactions. We invented language to express our feelings, build up rapport and strengthen relationships. Give before you take. Listen before you talk. In conversations with others, I used to let my mind drift, since it was so busy with other unimportant stuff (mind the sand in the famous vase). Also, I would talk a lot instead of asking questions and really listening (rather than thinking about my response). This behavior is a recipe for social isolation. What do I need to change? Spend time with people – best case face-to-face quality time. Be sincerely interested in them. Reduce my air-time and let them share their views. Respect their opinions and focus on their strengths instead of calling out their weaknesses. Besides, if you talk, you only repeat what you already know. If you listen though, you can actually learn something. I’m on my way to become a better person. Are you?

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