Learn and grow through experiences



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.

Why we usually only charge successes on our own account

You won, you tell everyone. You loose, you blame it on the circumstances. It’s great to be proud of ourselves and celebrate successes. Yet, often they’re the result of a failure series. If we don’t embrace latter as well, we miss out on valuable learning opportunities. Be smart and follow me here in an ExperienceZone manner.

Why both are important – failures and successes

Many people experience life as an emotional roller-coaster: If everything works out as planned, they feel like life lifts them up. In case challenges creep in though, they feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick.

In fact, you’re the only one handing out sticks. There is no objective reality. There’s just your expectations of how things should work, your perception of how they actually work and your memories of how they worked. All three are highly subjective.

Consequently, it’s you who decides every minute of your life, which end of the stick you’re handing yourself. Just drop the “winning or loosing” concept. It’s about the setting the right expectations (best case positive ones or none at all). When the stuff hits the fan, its about installing the right perception filters (best case a learning attitude). Looking in the rear mirror, you better memorize past events in bright colors.

Bottom line, you’re in control: You can have a positive attitude. You can see failures as learning opportunities. You can get up and smile again. Actually, the term “failure” or “mistake” implies already negative judgement. To me, there’re no mistakes but only feedback I receive. Latter enables me to adjust my course of action to get the results I want to have next time. This is what life is all about. We’re living in a world of constant change. Why not driving it?

Put a positive spin on everything

Happiness is a choice, not a reaction. In order to become happy, you need to embrace your “failures” though. Why? Well, those offer you the greatest learning and thus growth opportunities. Don’t miss them. Did you ever look back at a situation, which you judged negatively instantly, yet in hindsight it was one of the most important events in your life? If yes,  get your recommendations:

  1. Own your life. Take a deliberate decision to be the captain of your ship going forward. The Latin rooted term “decision” means “to cut off”. You let go of any possibility to not be in control of your life. The impact of God, other people or chance doesn’t fit into your belief system anymore. Full self-determination makes you the strongest version of yourself.
  2. Fail ahead. Whatever you’re up for, you got to do it. Especially those things you fear, since they bear the largest learning opportunities. Action is magic. Don’t hesitate. Jump fear straight in its face. What do you’ve to loose? Take risks instead of tippy-toeing through life just to make it safe to your deathbed. Life is a game and the world is its playground. Don’t stand on the sideline and complain about the rules of someone not complying to them. Instead, jump onto the field and lean into the experience.
  3. Learn and grow. Change your attitudes. You’re a manifestation of everything that happened in your life. Consequently your future life will be a result of your current thoughts, feelings, words and actions. Put a positive spin on those and you’ll accomplish your mission and aims in life effortlessly.

Are you aware of your self-image and resulting belief system?

If there’s one first-stage success-killer, then it’s your beliefs. You can achieve what ever you believe in. This might sound corny yet is so true and real as the person you see in the mirror. You want to get rid of any self-limitations? Then apply my ExperienceZone recipe.

Tell me about your past and I tell you who you’re

Let’s start with the basics: Your self-image. It’s the result of everything, which “happened” to you in life thus far. Why the air quotes? Well, you’ve co-created everything. I know, it’s disappointing and relieving alike. Here’s my favorite example: Imagine your father told you that you’re a loser in sports. The more he’s been an authority person for you and the more often he echoed the message, the deeper it got written on your mental hard drive. At least subconsciously you believed him eventually. Not being good in sports became a part of your self-image. Based on this experience, you might now carry the belief that you’ll never be an athlete. Others better not ask you to play in their team. They might loose. This limiting believe restricts you to peak perform. There’ll be always moments, in which you need to put your physical skills to the test tough.

My little golf anecdote

I just returned from a golf-course. Key learning: My game is as good as my daily mindset. Period. Interesting, huh? Of course, you need to practice to become good in something. Yet if you believe that you’re good in it, you take the first step towards mastery. It already half of the story. Beliefs trigger energy. The raw materials for your game plan. As soon as you’re convinced of the “what” (I wanted to play at least one hole on par), you just need to figure out the “how”. I played with two balls, since I was alone and had the time. This enabled me to practice twice as much as with only one ball. Duh… What else did I do? I visualized (a classic in golf). Mental images are great levers to make beliefs reality.

There’re two basic phases to step up your game

First, you need to believe the right things. Positive ones, which help you to pursue your mission and aims in life. Don’t lay down in bed and think about Elysium or another dark science fiction scenario come true. You’re neither doing yourself nor humanity good with these manifestation efforts. Instead, envision us living in harmony with each other and planet earth.

Second, you better take action. The sooner, the better. Actions are magic. They transform the energy you’ve created by expanding your belief system and coming up with a game plan into tangible results. It doesn’t matter if you fail or win. Most important is that you try.

How do you break this down into actionable steps?

“Easy”, like my refresher dive-instructor used to say. Here’re my recommendations:

  1. Discover limiting beliefs: Run a personality analysis to find out where you’re from and who you’re. You might think this is a given because you’ve spent your life with yourself. Yet a clear picture of your strengths, weaknesses and thus any limiting beliefs is paramount to personal transformation. Otherwise you would not know where to start as characters are rather complex and abstract if not analyzed systemically. Hence, get over the awkward feeling of playing Freud or Jung. Self-reflection makes fun and is super-valuable. Based on it, you want to uncover any limiting believes. Write them down (e.g. I’m not a good athlete).
  2. Create positive opposites: Once you’ve documented 5-10 limiting beliefs in bullet points, come up with opposites for each restricting belief (e.g. I’m the best athlete in the world). Formulate them in such a way, which resonates with you, i.e. the positive believe needs to be simple, short and understandable. Put them next to your bed. Read them aloud after waking up and before going to sleep. Not robot-style but try to create images around them (e.g. how you score in sports). The more inventive you become around this, the faster your old dysfunctional beliefs get replaced by the new functional ones.
  3. Jump fear in its face: Actively seek for situations, which enable you to put your new beliefs into practice (e.g. sign up for sports tournaments). Why? Thought, feelings and words are nothing without actions. If you want to get better in something, you got to do it. Continue to think big despite initial failures (mind Michael Jordan got kicked out of his college basketball team). Stand up, smile and try again. Let nobody belittle your ambitions. Instead show willpower and persistence. Motivation always beats talent. You can be, do and have anything with the right attitudes.

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