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How to make the life you lead, the life you want

Updated on April 29, 2016

Is everyone's life like this?

Ever have one of those days when you wake up late after tossing and turning all night, can't find the clothes you really need to wear, discover that your last clean outfit has mysteriously shrunk in the wash, your socks don't match and the cat has thrown up on your presentation?

We all have those days, mostly on Mondays, but what makes some people arrive at the office mismatched and dishevelled with a smile and pop tart crumbs on their face while others of us dissolve into tears and crawl back into bed?

Research has consistently shown that our perceptions have as much, if not more to do with our responses as the reality of the situation. Much of what makes some people able to deal with tremendous adversity appears to be linked to how we see the world and our perception of how much control we have over our circumstances.

Another study showed that when 2 groups of people were subjected to ongoing, annoying sounds, such as drilling and construction noises, those who felt they had some control the situation and responded with "Well, this can't last forever, I'll just move to another room, put on earphones or I'll do a task that doesn't require much concentration", regardless of whether or not they actually could control the noise, rated the noise as much less disruptive than those who responded with "I just can't tolerate this noise, this noise is driving me nuts and how can you think with all this noise?" Both groups of people had no real control over the noise, but those that felt they had some personal control, showed much less distress at the noise.

But what does that tell us about real life? It may be truer than you think that beauty is in the eye of the holder. Remember, in medieval times, heavier set women were extremely desirable and would have been shocked at what the media would now have us emulate.

Reframing is a common technique used in psychotherapy which can be of great value in real life. Like anything new it takes some practice, and may feel silly and difficult at first. Reframing is just looking at something from a different angle and with somewhat rose tinted glasses. Look at each behavior/incident in your life which frustrates you and try to put it in a positive light. To begin, the sillier the better as this will help you remember and start the pattern.

Okay, so back to the day you woke up late - bad, right? but no, maybe you really needed the extra rest (& in the grand scheme of things - what's 15 minutes?). Can't find your trusty-stand by-please don't make me think this early in the morning outfit? - a chance to try something new, maybe way in the back of your closet...? Okay, the cat throwing up is a tough one, but then again, maybe the cat's on the right track....out with everything that doesn't agree with their system. But that's for next time...

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Making change

Ok, so now you have a handy little technique to readjust your worldview. Sound too simple to be real? Well, here's some of the science behind it. Perception, the way you see the world is an extremely interesting and powerful phenomenon. Researchers have conducted studies where they told teachers at the beginning of the term that certain kids were gifted (kids A,B & C), while the others were average (kids x, y, z). By the end of the semester, kids A,B & C had significantly outperformed kids x,y & z. Why is this so interesting? because unbeknownst to the teachers, kids A,B & C were actually underperformers and kids x,y & z were the gifted ones! Variations of this study have been repeated in different situations with different subjects and essentially the same results.

A common exercise in art classes is still life drawing. Despite the fact that each person sees essentially the same scene and may even agree that there is a round orange and a blue vase, each drawing will look somewhat different, because we all have a slightly different view.

The point of this digression is to point out that what we see and how we see it is determined by a multiplicity of factors and no one of us will see exactly the same thing. Now think about your perceptions and your beliefs. If you could shift those, you could actually start to shift the way you perceive things, which is actually pretty radical.

When we see something, do something, think something, our neurons fire in certain patterns, when we repeat these actions, they follow the same route. Just like when you are wading through tall grasses, at first it's tough, but if you follow the same path (ie practice) every time, pretty soon, you'll not only know the way, but have a well worn path to follow.

PET (positron emission tomography), which is a type of scan which can detect brain volume and activity has been used to view the process of learning on a neuronal level, and lo and behold, studies of patient undergoing therapy which focused on changing their negative cognitions actually showed physical changes in their brains. Area which had been dull and showed limited activity brightened up with practice - and perceptual shifts.

We tend to see the world based upon our past experiences and we selectively attend to those things in the environment which confirm our perceptions. So if you feel bad, you'll notice evrything that's wrong. Conversely, you can train yourself to shift your focus and start noticing the good things which you missed. The more you look at the glass as half full, the fuller it seems.

These discoveries in neuroscience, showing that we can actually effect physical changes in brain structure are some of the most exciting this century as they demonstrate on a physiological and biochemical level how people are able to change and grow.

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    • dr c profile image
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      dr c 9 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 9 years ago from South Africa

      Very interesting and well-written Hub. Thanks.

      Love and peace

      Tony

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