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Are You Sure That What You're Experiencing is Real?

That familiar phrase, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” is being seriously questioned.

The latest in brain science confirms that “brain blindness,” a condition we write about in our book Thriving in Business and Life and explore in our upcoming on-line learning game, is real. If we don’t believe something exists, we’re statistically less likely to be able to see it.

Where this really hurts is in our relationships, both personal and professional. Over time we develop attitudes about those we spend the most time with that can carry false images about them, including what we may see as their limitations and bad habits. Someone else may see them quite differently. That's why many organizations now use hiring and promotion panels (that often include someone playing the role of bias monitor) so that one person's biases aren't impacting another person's career.

The phenomenon of brain blindness is often what contributes to extramarital affairs. Someone grows tired of their partner, loses sight of their better qualities, and engages with another. Meanwhile, there’s someone else attracted to the abandoned one. What do they see that the spouse can no longer see? It seems that a more accurate rendering of the saying we started with might be, "I'll see it when I believe it."

Many of us have also heard the sayings like "familiarity breeds contempt" or "absence makes the heart grow fonder." Are those sayings actually true or is it simply that with distance and time brain blindness, and our habits of perception that left us unable to perceive the reasons we fell for them in the first place, lose some of their power.

Then, when we get back together, what happens? Often, it doesn’t take long for those old stories to reactivate, unless we’ve taken the time to re-examine our version of the facts and realize that much of what we perceive is merely the meaning we’ve imposed on those facts.

This even occurs on a vacation as we create a new context for our relationship. We travel beyond our home zone and may begin to relate to each other in new ways in new locations. Couples often use holidays to renew and recharge their relationship. Often it works, but sometimes the magic fades when we return home.

Here’s a novel idea: why not make a choice to stop seeing the familiar altogether?

Sure, it’s the same person, the same family, house, car, office, job, etc. But we can learn to see differently by choosing to create a new perspective . . . and a new story about our circumstances. The saying, “It’s a new day” or the mantra, “it’s time for a new story now” can always apply, if we so choose. Or we can continue play out some version of the nightmare Bill Murray’s character lived out in the film Groundhog Day. It's up to us.

In our book Thriving, we tell a story about two construction workers having lunch together. One complains, “Cheese sandwiches… again!” He complains the next day, and the next. “Cheese sandwiches, always cheese sandwiches.”

Finally, his buddy can’t stand it and, falling back on a familiar stereotype asks him, “If you’re tired of cheese sandwiches, why don’t you ask your wife to make you something different?”

“Wife?" his friend responds. "I’m not married. I make my own sandwiches.”

We all make our own sandwiches. We all create the day, new or used. How? With our attitude and our expectations. In our work, we call this the “thriving mindset,” and it’s proactive, as opposed to the survival mindset which is reactive.

Typically, we credit other people and circumstances for the way we feel. “I got the raise, I’m happy.” Or, “I got fired, I’m unhappy.” These two scenarios are opposite and it’s hard to question those reactions . . . but that’s what they are, reactions. And what’s elating or depressing us is not the event itself but our reaction to it.

We can try to react differently but that can be hard work. A simpler, more effective, and certainly more enjoyable approach is to seize the day. That’s been an inspiring declaration of personal independence since the words were first uttered in Latin, carpe diem, by the Roman poet Horace back in 23 BC.

“Seize” is a mighty word. It carries strength and conviction; there’s nothing wussy about “seizing the day.” And, apparently, it makes no difference what the day contains . . . we make the choice to seize it or not. Personally, we like to get started early, by making a conscious choice to set clear intentions at night for the following day.

This makes a big difference and it’s at the heart of what we refer to as the Power of Story . . . the innate, but often forgotten ability we each have to generate stories in our mind and to then act them out accordingly . . . seeing ourselves as the writer, director, and principal actor in our own life story.

Most of us believe that the day begins in the morning. Actually, according to God, at least, it’s the other way around. So says the Bible, in Genesis: “And the evening and the morning were the first, second, third, etc. day.” The evening comes first.

Seeds grow in the dark. While we sleep, we dream. For most people this is a random affair. We wake remembering nightmares, odd encounters with familiar people, going to strange places. Our dreams may be entertaining or scary or even informative, but rarely do we deliberately use them for productive purposes.

Imagine believing that the day begins at night, that the seeds for tomorrow are planted grow while we sleep, rising with us and the sun. If we choose to believe this, we might prepare for sleep differently. We might contemplate tomorrow and imagine things going well; we might draft intentions and get clear about what we want or need (this brings to mind a fascinating process called sleep-state programming, which we can get into in a subsequent blog).

But for now, let's return to the title of this particular blog. Is what you're experiencing reality?

Yes, but here's the catch. We each determine what reality we create from the facts and circumstances that surround us. It’s up to us to be passive or passionate, to limp through life dodging “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” or to seize the day and make a fabuloulsy different sandwich every day!

Here’s your thriving challenge for the week:

Prepare for sleep by day dreaming about tomorrow. Imagine the day going well and get specific. Meetings, family events, errands to run… “Believe” they will be enjoyable and productive. Seize the day by starting the night before.

Christopher Harding and Will Wilkinson

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