Do you know that your brain can be hacked to better serve your purpose?
Allow me to share my story.
A few months shy of my eighth birthday, I became homeless. I prefer to call it "couch surfing." Only I didn't sleep on couches, but on three strangers' living room floors. I was fortunate. It would've been easy to end up in the streets.
It could be argued that I was homeless and without country long before this. A war broke out in my native country of Laos, and my family and I were forced to take refuge in Thailand along with thousands of others who fled. I wrote of my time in a Thai refugee camp in this HuffPost blog.
My family and I landed in Chicago O'Hare in the middle of a harsh winter. A tall man, thin with hawkish features but kind eyes, was there to greet us. He was from a non-profit agency responsible for the resettlement of my family.
In fluent Lao, he informed my parents that there was no available place to shelter all of us. My mom and my siblings were to stay in one home, and my father and myself in another. Though the news was delivered with considerable kindness; nevertheless, we felt the sting of its meaning. We were to be apart, and we did not know for how long.
The first home my dad and I stayed in had a small living room. Each time the owners used the front door, they had to be careful to not step over us. Dad found the situation humorous. He said it worked out well for the owners. Our presence deterred their teenage daughter from sneaking out.
Our second home was with a young couple. The man, sporting long hair and a Fu Manchu mustache, laughed often, smoked a lot and drank as passionately as he played his guitar. In that tiny apartment, we were grateful he played well. His wife was as good humored. They made the time fly.
A month passed, and my dad and I still hadn't seen my mom and siblings. My parents spoke to each other on the phone once a week. Listening in, I heard dad's voice, low and reassuring, telling Mom that we would soon be together.
And so we were. The third house had a bigger living room to hold us all. We spent another month there, and then finally, a room and a home of our own.
Looking back, I can better appreciate the incredible amount of grace my parents have shown. While it may not have mattered to me as a child, the complete lack of privacy and the inability to dictate their own comings and goings must have posed real challenges for my parents.
What's more, the safety of their children, the lack of money, transportation and the barrier to language, must have weighed heavily on their minds. In essence, their survival and those of their children's were completely in the hands of strangers.
If they have felt fear or any trace of bitterness, anger or shame, they hid their emotions well. To me, the experience only seemed to have brought my parents closer. What could have been an emasculating situation for some men in this situation, my dad used it as a learning opportunity and the chance to forge new friendships.
From this experience, I learned the importance of managing one's attitude.
We take time management seriously but I wonder if we give enough weight to attitude management. We should. Our attitude affects our view of the world and the way we make big and small decisions that determine the course of our lives.
A person with a "glass is half full" mindset is probably happier, more productive, and quite honestly, more fun to be around than his or her pessimist counterpart.
Our reality is what it is; it does not change. But it's how we choose to see the world that leads us to act differently.
In psychology, it's called framing.
One of our basic assumptions about people is that they make rational choices. When given the same data, we expect people to always make the same decision. The study by Tversky and Kahneman blew that rational theory right out of the water.
Here is an abstract from their 1981 study:
The psychological principles that govern the perception of decision problems and the evaluation of probabilities and outcomes produce predictable shifts of preference when the same problem is framed in different ways.
Allow me to paraphrase. Framing theory suggests that how something is presented influences the choices we make. It's not the thing itself but how it was packaged.
Let's say you are in the meat aisle of a grocery store. You are looking at two different packages of hamburger patties. The one you hold in your left hand claims to be 85 percent lean meat. The one you are holding in your right hand claims to have only 15 percent fat. Same data. Different packaging. But which would you choose?
In the political circle, it's called spin.
Scott Adams calls it choosing your delusion. In his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of my Life (Portfolio/Penguin, 2013), Adams made this astute observation:
When you can release on your ego long enough to view your perceptions as incomplete or misleading, it gives you the freedom to imagine new and potentially more useful ways of looking at the world.
So, however you choose to call it -- framing, spin, delusion or attitude management -- here are five ways to hack your brain to better manage your attitude.
5 Mind Hacks to Better Manage Your Attitude
1. Cultivating gratitude. Count your blessings. Since I learned the importance of appreciating little things, I no longer pursue happiness. I now know that happiness is a byproduct of gratitude.
2. Remembering what's important. Tough circumstances have a way of distracting us from the things that matter most. During such moments, it is crucial to remember your deeper purpose. What meaning did you want to give to your life? Figure out what's important then build your life around it.
3. Using adversity to build resilience. It is tough for the world to break the person who easily adapts to his or her shifting environment. Adaptability increases resilience. Resilience is your inoculation against the hard times.
4. Staying hopeful in hopeless situations. Hope is a thing worth protecting. Without it, it's easy to fall into despair. When you can visualize the future you want, hope feeds your dream.
5. Honing a positive outlook under negative circumstances. Know that circumstances will always be temporary but your spirit is a permanent force to be reckoned with.
To easily remember the mindhacks, use the acronym, C.R.U.S.H. Now go and crush it!