Monday, October 29, 2007

Are You Too Smart to Be Happy?

This morning I got an email from Arthur, a new Associate member of the Owners' Circle.  Arthur is a musician working on an album, and last month I did a short telephone consultation with him to eliminate one of the blocks he had about actually working on his album.  This is what I wrote to him last night, after he signed up:

Hi Arthur, great to have you on board.  I've sent you your login info for the Pathfinders' forum, and I should be sending out the MP3 link for the workshop to everyone shortly.  Your first newsletters and CDs will be shipped to you a little later in the week.  Please let me know if you have any questions.  Thanks!

--PJE

P.S. How's the album coming along?

And this is what he wrote back to me this morning:

Thanks!  The album is coming along, although not as quickly as I'd like.  It turns out (unsurprisingly) that the stuff we worked on on the phone was just the first of many obstacles.  And while my increased sense of ownership has been somewhat helpful, it's been balanced out by increased complacency, due to feeling better about life as it is now, rather than how it will be.  But I spent yesterday evening listening to the How To Make Yourself Do Anything workshop, filling out The Six Master Keys, and making myself a Statement of Purpose and list of Sacrifices which I now have up on my walls. So I think I'm back on track.  More details in my coaching assignment...

A

Well, Arthur, you're certainly doing a lot of things right.  A lot of other people join the same free "Guest of the Circle" program that you did, and never actually listen to the free recording or use the Master Keys download.  Certainly most people never get as far as writing down even one of their goals, let alone what they're willing to do to get the goal, or put any of it up on their walls.  Congratulations!

However, there's a reason why what we worked on last month was "just the first of many obstacles" for you.  And while most people can't see it, that reason leaps right off the screen at me, from the middle of what you wrote.

It's a common misconception -- a myth, if you will.  A crucial error in your thinking that will keep you stuck, and far less happy (and productive) than you could be.  A red herring that distracts your attention from what's really going on, and the true source of the obstacles.

Can you see what it is?

The Secret of Happiness

Did you notice how, in his email, Arthur complains that he's not getting anything done because he's too happy?!

For a lot of people, that would be a good problem to have.   ;-)

But I do not want to belittle Arthur's very real dilemma here.  I have been in the same place, so I know what he's going through.

The issue is this: a lot of us have a part of our mind in which "getting things done" is more important than our own happiness.  And this part of our mind has a tendency to get upset when we have more happiness than productivity.

Now it varies from person to person, and situation to situation, but in general, this part of your mind is afraid of something.  (Usually, something about what other people will think of you.)  And it's trying to motivate you to do something to avoid the bad consequences it thinks will come...

If you don't act at once!

Now, I've struggled with this very issue myself for a good part of this year.  Just when I would start to really be at peace with myself, parts of my mind would start screaming about all the volunteer programming projects I'm supposed to finish, or about how I should be working more on promoting my business, etc.

Of course, this screaming never got me to actually do anything.  It just disrupted whatever peace or happiness I did have.

And during this time, I had been re-reading and re-watching various materials by Richard Bandler, the co-developer of NLP.  And he kept harping on and on about one thing: people don't focus enough on moving towards pleasure, he would say.  And most people's problems could be solved, he claimed, just by getting them to do that.

And I thought to myself, "What a crock.  After thirty years of travelling the world and creating an entire movement/industry, the sum total of his wisdom is now "Don't worry, be happy?"  Haven't I already heard that somewhere before?" 

But after hearing it over and over again, I began to think about the connection with Robert Fritz's work.  Fritz usually says something more like, "move from the reactive-responsive orientation to the creative orientation".  Which, when you strip away the jargon, means pretty much the same thing:

Stop Reacting to Pain, and Begin Creating Pleasure!

So I began thinking about the things I was pressuring myself to do.  Like exercising, or writing ads for my business so I could make more money.  And I asked myself, "Why?  Why do I believe I should do these things?"

Why, to avoid pain, of course!

I didn't really want a fit body.  I didn't really care about the money.

I was just afraid of being unhealthy and broke!

And the trouble is, when you live your life from avoiding the things you're afraid of, your life becomes a life of fear.

You're afraid when you don't do the things you "should".  And even when you do them, you'll still be afraid you haven't done enough, or that you might not do enough in the future.  And meanwhile, you resent every moment of having to do those things, because they are never going to bring you any real joy.

So Why Didn't I Seek Pleasure, Instead?

Unfortunately, society (especially puritanical American society) takes a very dim view of pleasure seeking.  I remember when I was about 11 or 12, I mentioned to my parents that I thought schools should let kids study what they were most interested in, and my mother absolutely freaked, saying that nobody would ever learn anything useful that way.

In the course of her tirade, I got a very clear picture that she thought nobody would do anything useful or important in this life unless they were forced to do so.  Meanwhile, my father thought that everyone should just do their "duty", and live with the fact that life on earth consisted of ceaseless toil, unrelenting drudgery, and suffering without end, save the merciful blessing of death.

Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating their attitudes...  but only a little!

In truth, I didn't get my pleasure-negative attitude from my parents, at least not directly.  Instead, I learned that the source of my suffering in life was my own intellect and awareness, that people who weren't as smart or didn't think as much were in nearly all ways happier than me.

And in the logical illogic of the mind, this eventually translated into the assumption that if I ever got happy...

I'd also get stupid!

And I have to say, the science-fiction TV shows I saw when I was a kid didn't help!  Because whenever they had an episode with a planet where everyone is totally happy because they share a group mind, have everything done for them by a giant computer, or belong to some sort of cult, the episode nearly always ends with the "hero" messing up everybody's happiness in order to prove it wasn't "real", or that "humanity needs negative emotions and conflict", or some other bit of pseudo-intellectual schadenfreude claptrap.

And I know better now, but at the time this tied into my sense that happiness and stupidity were linked.  Throw in the stereotype that great artists suffer, and that greater suffering equals greater art, and you've got the perfect recipe for intellectual snobbery: if you're supposed to be smart, you darn well better not be happy!

And so that is how I lived my life, until very, very recently.

But the fascinating thing about all of this to me, as a "computer programmer of the mind", is that this kind of belief is a fantastic example of just how flexible our brains really are.

They are, in fact, so flexible, they are actually able to learn that...

Pleasure Equals Pain!

And this is a critical insight that neither Fritz nor Bandler have directly pointed out, as far as I know.

You see, I learned that "being happy" equals "being stupid", equals pain.  My father learned that "being happy" equals "losing everything" (in the Great Depression) equals pain.  My mother learned that "being happy" equalled being abandoned by her mother equalled pain.

And when my mother harangued me at Christmas one year when I was eight or nine, about how the family had spent money it didn't have to buy me the toys I wanted, I learned that wanting things equalled hurting people I cared about, equalled guilt, equalled pain.

And when kids at school pretended to be my friend, so they could play mean tricks on me, I learned that people being nice to me equals feeling gullible and unwanted, equals pain.

And when I could never beat my older brother racing in the back yard, when I tried my hardest to be good at the sports and games they played at school, and my best just wasn't good enough to be mediocre, I learned that giving my all equalled disappointment, equalled pain.

And you see, when pleasure equals pain, then...

Pain Becomes Normal!

So when you live your life this way, you quickly lose sight of what pleasure or happiness even are, and it seems like just stopping the pain would be sheer bliss.  So you lower your expectations accordingly.  (And lots of people drink, drug, or even TV and Internet themselves into a stupor, just to stop the pain!)

But Arthur -- and everyone else reading this -- you need to know something.  If you think that the "better" you're feeling about your life right now from the little bit of work we did last month is actually enjoyment, you have absolutely no freaking clue.

No offense, guys, but "complacency" is not pleasure.  It's not happiness.  It's not even close.  If you're worried you're not going to do anything because you feel too good, you are totally barking up the wrong tree.  Because complacent isn't even in the same universe as actually feeling good.

Sure, you're afraid that you're not going to do anything.  But that's because you've only run your life on one kind of fuel before: fear.

And fear is a very powerful fuel in the short term, but it's absolutely useless for anything long term.  Very few people can fear themselves into saving for retirement... unless it's next year.  Very few people can fear themselves into consistent diet and exercise...  unless they just had a heart attack.

No, in the long run...

Pleasure is the only reliable motivator!

And that means you've got to give up your "shoulds", and replace them with "wants".

Now, I'm not going to tell you it's easy.  If you were able to truly want the things you "should" be doing, you probably already would.  Even worse: it's not enough to just think you should want things!

For several months this year, I would think, "I should want a fit body", or "I should want money", but that was still just the fear talking.  I didn't actually feel a damn thing about either goal!

See, I had gotten as far as realizing that if I didn't get a toward-pleasure motivation about these things, I wasn't going to get any closer to my goals.  But all this was doing was moving the problem somewhere else.  Instead of trying to force myself to do stuff, I was trying to force myself to like it.  It was like having somebody put a gun to your head and yell...

"Be happy NOW or I'll shoot!"

And you know what?  That doesn't work too well!

So the key, for me, turned out to be getting past the places in my mind where pleasure was linked to pain.  Where wanting things meant guilt.  And where giving my all meant disappointment and despair.

That's why I taught how to get past things like this in my Instant Self-Esteem workshop a few days ago, and why, Arthur, you should listen to that recording as soon as you can.  Because what we get and do in our lives is a direct function of what we believe we deserve.

And what you believe you deserve, is whatever form of happiness you don't feel pain about!

And strangely enough, even I didn't make the full connection of that idea until I wrote that sentence, just now.  Since the beginning of the Circle and my workshops, the Code of Owners has always contained the principle that "You get what you think you deserve", and "deserving is for animals", but until this very moment I hadn't fully grasped the true nature of what "deserving" means.  That is, what mental structure truly determines...

What we think we deserve!

And on Saturday night, this was pretty well illustrated when, after the workshop participants wrote down all the negative things they believed about themselves, I asked whether they felt the person described by their belief lists deserved to get the goals they had set for themselves.

And of course, the answer on everyone's lips was "no!"

And when I asked if they would work very hard to get things they didn't feel they deserved, the answer was, "probably not!"

So to bring this all back around to your email, Arthur, the point I want to make is this:

You are afraid of complacency, because you think it means you won't work hard.

But the reason you think you won't work hard, is because you don't think you actually deserve what you want, or that you won't be able to get it.

And if you think about your life, and all of the things that you did want in the past, and worked hard for, and actually got...  You'll almost certainly find you did it without needing any "shoulds" at all.

So think about that, when you listen to the workshop recording.  Thanks again for joining us, Arthur.

--PJE

How To Get What Arthur Got

P.S.  If you'd like to get the "Six Master Keys" worksheet that Arthur's using, absolutely free, sign up as a Guest of the Circle today!  Not only will you get the Keys, but every few days I also send out emails with more stories and tips, absolutely free.

For example, in the past two weeks, Circle guests have received a ton of information about how low self-esteem is created, and how to fix it.  And in the next few weeks leading up to my "Think Big, Walk Tall, Live Large" workshop, they'll be getting tips about living a life that's aimed towards pleasure, instead of away from pain.

Also, for a very limited time (less than 24 hours from me posting this, actually), you can still get a recording of "Instant Self-Esteem", AND two Circle newsletters and CDs, AND access to the "Live Large" workshop on November 17th, all for only $99, with no shipping or handling charges.

You get a month of Pathfinders' Forum access, too, and you can keep all the recordings, CDs, and newsletters, even if you cancel your membership later.  So there's no long-term obligation.  Come on, you know you want to do it.  Even if you don't believe you deserve the good things in life yet, surely you deserve at least a chance to change what you deserve?  Get out your credit card, and do the right thing for yourself, now.