Turns Out Abe Lincoln Was Right
No one on the face of the earth, in the history of earth, has escaped a battle with their own demons.
If a real transformation occurs from the inside to the outer world, then it only makes sense that our biggest battles are fought on the inside as well. Not on the outside against some grim rival or cantankerous enemy.
In 2008, I was out in So Cal for an extended period of time. I had planned out going out to internship with the University of California-Irvine Anteaters (yes that’s their real school mascot).
If I hadn’t made my vision clear to those around me, the opportunity to house sit in beautiful Laguna Niguel wouldn’t have found me. The universe works in mysterious ways like that, but I don’t want to get too far off track here.
I was just coming off a bodybuilding show, dating a girl that had broken up with me and then came crawling back and had just finished my second year of teaching. I was offered the head strength coaching job at Bridgewater Raritan Regional High School, which I turned down because it wasn’t in alignment with my vision at that point.
Anyhow, I was getting those vibes from this chick again that something was off. And to make it worse, I was getting those vibes that day before I was leaving for a month.
Sure enough, on day 1 out in So Cal, I got the phone call that she was ending it.
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.
She had fooled me twice. The signs were there. But they were there with all the other 8 or so relationships I had been in prior to that as well, yet I ignored them.
So, alone in a foreign land, I fell into a deep funk. I only had 1 or 2 books with me because I had decided that I didn’t have to be a voracious reader that summer, another big mistake.
And the only reason that sticks out in my mind is because the first thing I tried to turn to to help me were my books, only to realize that I only had 2 measly books in my bag.
I do recall one of those books was Brian Tracy’s ‘Goals’.
I tried to force myself to read it, but I was sinking into freeze mode fast. Reading a page or two was a bear.
But I stuck with it for that week. I would get up late, mope around, make a late breakfast (this was pre-intermittent fasting) and ride my bike 4 miles down to the beach.
The sun-light helped a little.
However, something I read in that book finally ‘clicked’ with me that made me realize I was in a pattern in my life of seeking out the wrong type of partner. It was at that moment that I realized that until I recognized the pattern fully, that I would continue to repeat it.
Different face, same pattern, over and over.
What was that pattern? I would date girls that I found physically attractive, yet they all seemed to have family issues and all seemed to be coming off of relationships. And the blow of death from all of them seemed to go something like this: ‘You are the nicest guy I’ve ever met. But you are too nice for someone like me’.
And each time, I would play the ‘what-if’ game with myself. What if this, what if that?…Each time I felt as if I had to change my inner-being to be more a ‘bad-boy’ finally find happiness.
Well, there are two mistakes there: 1) No one nor no thing can bring you happiness. Happiness is an internal game and 2) You cannot and should not change your BEING for someone else.
It was on that beach, sitting on the grassy knoll with a cliff on each side that I ‘got it’. I literally started talking to myself, saying, ‘I love who I am as a person. I really do. I am a great person and I am done trying to change for anyone. F-that.’ And I kept repeating it.
Then I took out the only blank notebook I had and wrote like a mad man. I wrote out my thoughts and I wrote out what I knew in my heart at that moment would be the perfect match for me in terms of a partner.
I made up my mind that I could be as happy as I wanted to be.
This was pre-Mind Map days for little old me, so I wasn’t armed with the knowledge to know what was happening inside my head, but I knew it felt right.
Lucky for you, I am going to break it down here for you so that you too can see that you can make up your mind to be as happy as you want it to be.
A little Mind Map science here…
The brain is hard-wired for the negative. It is hell bent on survival, first and foremost. It is also the superior pattern-recognition machine.
This means that it craves order in the form of prediction-response, prediction-response and so on. If it is not in this state, then it is in a state of reaction. And when in a state of reaction, we are usually not in a state of happiness.
Now the two animal brains, the reptile and the mammal, have certain needs. They are in line with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: physical needs (food and sex), connection, experience, relationships, etc.
Those two older parts of the brain literally have to be happy before we can move forward with our human brain, otherwise they will keep taking over until their needs are met or there is clarity within them.
Really, it’s the mammalian brain. This is the region of the brain where connection and bonding occurs via a structure known as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC for short). If something is off in the mammal brain, we can usually rest assured that there is a relational issue and many times it’s connected to judgment and/or your environments.
Why those two things?
Well, the animal brains perceive things differently than the newer, human brain does. The most stressful time of the day for the human body is in the morning upon waking.
Going from an unconscious environment to a conscious environment; sleeping to waking. This the reason that the main stress hormone, cortisol, spikes upon waking. The hormones duty is to alert us to our environments, form predictions quickly so that we can form responses.
Now, most of the times, we are waking up in safe beds, and we don’t have to perform a mental inventory of our physical environment. But, the brain is very, very sensitive to your environments and this means that most of the time it’s the people within your environments, be it at home, at work or in social settings.
Judgment is also critical to the older brains. If I took you back thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of years, when humans traveled in packs and tribes, the kiss of death for you would have been judgment, negative of course, from the tribe. Why?
Because if you were judged, you were moved to the outside of the pack, where the predators roam. And if you really were judged, you were kicked out of the group and your chance for survival plummeted (this judgment is piece is the real reason that most people are so petrified of public speaking).
Without going too deep into the brain, I want you to realize that just having this knowledge can be enough to course correct for happiness. Recognizing whom or what is causing the issue (don’t worry about fixing it yet) is usually enough to take a big step towards happiness.
Until we see the pattern, like I did back at the old So Cal beach, we will be in reaction mode, which remember a few paragraphs back, reaction usually means a lack of a state of happiness.
Ok, this is the BIG takeaway I want to get across. Your thoughts drive your emotional state, not the other way around.
Yet, we have been led to believe that we can’t control our thoughts, so we get emotional and we let those drive our thoughts. The problem with that is that the emotional centers of the brain the logical, human parts are like functional opposites.
When emotions are high, logic goes out the window. When we are overly analytical and in our ‘engineers’ brain, then emotions are diminished. When we are in a funk, we need to know that our thoughts are driving it but because of the emotional state we are in, the thoughts will be blown out of proportion, they wouldn’t make sense to our rational self if we were able to observe from the outside.
Ever wonder how things could be so bad for someone to commit suicide? Well, now you know. They’ve been digging a hole of deep, dark emotions for some time before they reach that point.
The brain will always answer any question you ask of it. So, when in a funk, ask, ‘What’s great about this problem?’ You will come up with an answer that can move you forward.
Think clearly, take a breath and then you will realize that old Abe was right when he said, ‘We are about as happy as we make our minds up to be.’