Ever notice that no matter how MANY great, appreciative emails/texts/calls you receive, you only really care about the one lousy one you got? Hell, you talk about it for days, forward it to friends, and though you don't bring it to Michael's Art Supply to frame it, you might as well. Why is that?
We like to prove our theories.
The reason is more peculiar than you think. The reason we love to hate an email, a crappy call, a snide remark or interpreted eye roll is not just because it hurts, but because - drum roll - we agree with it. It evidences our own beliefs and theories.
Wendy Suzuki, professor of Neural Science and Psychology at NYU and author of the new book, Healthy Brain, Happy Life, is an expert on the ways our brains latch on to the information we receive. I met her several years ago when Wendy was looking for love, which just so happens to be MY expertise, and one of my favorite areas to coach.
In getting to know Wendy and unraveling her unique set of dreams, fears, desires, justifications and beliefs, Wendy and I discovered a pattern of behavior that she didn't see, even with a PhD in Neuroscience! So, what was in her way?
Our pesky traits get in the way.
Even the best and brightest come to us for coaching to sort out their issues, and they are often the ones who wind up having the biggest breakthroughs! Pretty quickly, it became clear that there was a common denominator tying together the very few but important areas that weren't working in Wendy's life - from a couple of disgruntled ex boyfriends, to her distant relationship with her brother, to her doorman that she feared disliked her, to a post doc colleague that wasn't excelling. That common denominator was, uh, SHE.
I believe that one of the most important steps to changing your life is to getting to know yourself - even the crappy parts. Recognizing and owning up to your pesky personality traits is a powerful and inspiring experience.
We discovered that Wendy's got a cold, judgmental side - a trait that judges someone's actions (or inactions), gets hurt by them ,and then sentences them forever, pocketing more evidence for her theories about the "way they are", about "people in general" and, of course, about herself.
It was this very trait that Wendy could see was in her way of finding true happiness. It was a clogged artery of sorts. But, here's the kicker (a scientific term). Were those people Wendy found guilty of hurting her aware that she was upset with them? Nope.
Telling your truth opens you to happiness.
Wendy's silence on the matters that were so important to her was also getting in the way of her happiness. So I gave her "homework assignments" that I knew would crack her wide open. I had her promise to have a conversation with her mom about saying "I love you". I asked her to have a deep, heartfelt conversation with her brother about the type of relationship she wanted to have with him. I had her promise to go have a potentially uncomfortable conversation with her doorman, as well as a work-related one with her post doc. I still remember the silence on the other end of the phone after I issued these assignments. Wendy was scared, and worse, she was fairly positive (in her mind!) about how terribly each of the conversations would go.
She soon discovered, however, that pride and true happiness are a result of having those very conversations.
Bravery keeps you from selling out.
Sneakily, your head will never EVER want you to believe the fact that bravery causes happiness. In fact, your head, will tell you quite the opposite. It's your head's job, after all, to make logical, rational decisions that keep you safe. It certainly will not suggest that you have a seemingly goofy and vulnerable conversation with your mom, or with your brother, or with your doorman, with your post doc, etc. Too risky! It would rather sell you on the easiest way out and convince you (with your own "rational" facts and theories) that they don't care, they don't like you, and that it doesn't matter anyway.
The easy way out is actually scarier.
Wendy's brain wasn't batting for her team - for her happiness, her love life, or for her closest relationships. It tried to be right about her brother and wrong about Wendy's dream of being closer with him. It had convinced her that he didn't want to talk to her weekly, that HE was busy, it was HIS lack of caring and not Wendy's own "cold coward" trait that had set the tone for so many years.
But, then, what had that gotten her thus far? No relationship with her brother, no "I love you's" from her parents, awkwardness in her own home when she had to avoid the doorman, and a post doc that she had to work with for another year and a half, who was in danger of failing on her watch.
Even though dealing with it and committing to changing it was a very scary concept to Wendy, the thought of continuing on that trajectory was much scarier. She accomplished all of the assignments to great affect. She had honest conversations with her closest family members that brought everyone closer. With the confidence that comes from owning up to your life and building personal integrity, Wendy was able to have more forthright professional relationships too, and her work life flourished. She was inspired to write a book about her findings on brain health and happiness - to help others understand the neuroscience behind every day actions that impact their life long-term.
And, the most important relationship that Wendy fixed was her relationship to herself.
Align your head with your heart.
The greatest lesson in all of this, and what Wendy so brilliantly wrote and attests to in her book (and proved out in the field of neuroscience!) is this:
- That aligning your head with your heart to fulfill on your dreams is the key to happiness.
The human brain is an incredible, powerful, adaptable machine - it's up to us to program it according to what's in our hearts.
PS - I coached Wendy through The Handel Method®, a set of tools that helps people articulate their dreams, dispel their fears, and create a framework to help them achieve their biggest goals. Come to our Design Your Life Weekend or sign up for our 12-Week Tele-Course and learn firsthand how to use The Handel Method® to get your head aligned with your heart's deepest desires and take ACTION.