What if you could base your future on your imagination, not your past? (LTW5031)

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She is Molly Tuttle and her newest record is When You’re Ready. On it there’s a song, “Make My Mind Up.” Prior to this album, she was very bluegrass-ey. She’s a talented guitarist and singer. And songwriter. This song formed a bit of an earworm when I first heard it. Click play on the YouTube video of it and you’re liable to not get it out of your head for a while.

As usual a lyric got my mind going. Rolling it over and over. “If I could ever make my mind up…”

You know I’ve been fascinated over the last few years about our brains. Particularly, how we change our minds. How we change our thinking. All that neuro-science voodoo that I’m struggling to understand.

It’s hard to beat a guy when he’s got his mind made up that he’s going to win.          – Muhammad Ali

We consider it a quality of high character when a person has made up their mind. It denotes determination. Being settled. And that’s good.

Well, it can be. But it can also be dangerous when a mind is made up about something that’s wrong, untrue, destructive or damaging.

I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.                     – Rosa Parks

A made up mind can be powerfully positive, helping us advance toward honest, desirable goals that benefit us and others.

A mind made up can also be powerfully destructive, preventing us from listening, understanding and growing beyond some prejudiced assumption. Or preventing us from realizing the harm we’re bringing to ourselves and others.

On one hand, it can appear equal to tenacity, stick-to-it-iveness. Or it can appear to be self-serving stubbornness. And it’s possible for it to be either of those. Or many other shades of gray on the scale of good for us versus bad for us. We’ll call it the foolish versus wisdom scale given the title of this podcast.

It’s not just possible, but probable that sometimes our minds are made up toward foolishness. It’s not likely we see it that way, but maybe we’re not seeing it for what it is.

A scripture leaps to mind.

Ephesians 1:17-19 “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power…” New King James Version (NKJV)

All human beings have experienced having our understanding enlightened. The little kid who learns something for the first time. The teenager who learns to drive. The aspiring musician who learns to play an instrument. The first year attorney who learns to navigate the court systems. The first year chemist who learns how to operate in a commercial lab. Our lives are filled with firsts that serve to enlighten our understanding.

At my work-related podcast – Grow Great – I regularly use the acronym LUG. It stands for Learning, Understanding, Growing. It’s what I hope to inspire in every business person who listens to that podcast. I’m aspiring to do it. Not really difficult for a person who needs to learn as much I know I need to. 😉

Business people fixate sometimes on their blind spots, fretful about what they don’t know, or what they can’t see. Sadly, too few do much about it other than worry. I wish it was restricted to just business people, but it’s not. I suspect most of us roam the planet with self-imposed blinders on making sure we see things the way we prefer to see them. Nevermind that we may have it wrong. Or that other facts may enlighten our understanding. Some of us don’t want to be enlightened. We enjoy (even embrace) our biases.

A closed mind can serve as protection I suppose. Or a roadblock. Depending on how you look at it. When it’s our mind, it’s protection. Or wisdom. When it’s somebody else’s, it’s a roadblock. Foolishness.

Self-deception is such a killer!

A husband exhorts his wife, “Will you make up your mind?”

A wife chastizes her husband, “Just make up your mind already!”

We want decisive. Until it’s a decision that conflicts with our judgment. Or our opinion. Or our assumptions. Then, we’d prefer you to change your mind. Right away.

Self-awareness is such a gift. A blessing. A reward for the deep inner searching demanded in order to obtain it.


 

Late stage epiphany. That’s what it is.

The lateness is life. My life. Not that it’s too late. It’s just later than it’s ever been. Later perhaps than it should’ve been. But it is what it is.

The stage is also my life. This moment in time. This phase of my life.

Epiphany – it’s what I’m always in search of. I don’t often find one, but even a blind pig…every now and again. Thankfully I’ve had a few along the way. One of the very biggest happened on July 2, 1975. I was 18. She was, too. It was our first date and we’ve been together ever since. Who says teenagers can’t make wise choices? Or have an epiphany? But I was always wise for my age. Now my age has caught up to my wisdom. So there’s that.

I’ve not had many epiphanies since, but when you have one big life-changing one, then waiting a while for the next — well, it’s okay. And I’m patient.

For the past 3 years or so I’ve been immersing myself in books and articles about neuroscience. Mostly, I’m interested in how we can improve our thinking. But along the way I’ve become increasingly interested in how our wiring can be impacted – positively and negatively. Substances can play a major role – drugs (legal or otherwise) and alcohol. BIG PLAYERS! Because opioids have affected people I love I’ve become deeply curious about their impact. It’s beyond startling to me and I only have a very shallow understanding of it. But what I do know scares me a lot. Brain chemistry is a real thing and can be quite fragile, especially when subjected to external influences that should likely be more severely restricted (somehow).

People being people – we want to get away from pain and sadly, too many of us find that relief through drugs, alcohol and bad behavior (temporary fixes for problems we too often refuse to successfully address). I see the cycle afflict people. Behave foolishly and selfishly. Feel good in the moment. Then guilt and shame sets in sparking even more foolish and selfish behavior…all to chase some moment of not feeling awful about oneself. At some point the emptiness becomes real and the miserable human being knows nothing but an ongoing commitment to their own misery. Besides, it’s not their fault. Their family did it to them. Their friends. The world. Everybody and everything is to blame, but not them. So it goes when one loses their mind to wasting their life. I’m interested in how to prevent that and how to help it. Mostly, I’m interested in how we can lose our mind – whatever thinking is hindering our growth, improvement, and progress – and embrace new thinking so we can achieve more and improve our life. It’s about figuring out how we can more closely achieve our ideal self.

The past haunts us. All of us.

And it doesn’t have to be dreadful. Or excruciatingly painful. It can be quite ordinary. Ordinary lives are filled with pain, suffering, and heartache. Enough pain to haunt us all of our lives. If we let it.

Two choices present themselves. To all of us. Every single day. Every hour. Every minute.

We can embrace the past, accepting it as the very definition of who and what we are. All the scars can become our identity. A past we refuse to outrun.

Yes, it requires our permission, but that’s a tad too simple. Have you ever subscribed to something that has auto-renewal built into it? If you don’t remember to cancel it, they ding your credit card again. That’s how this permission works. It’s subtle. Deceptive even.

This choice centers on seeing ourselves as victims of our past. Whatever has happened to us is beyond our control. We were put upon by somebody or something. And it created an outcome we neither choose or desired. Now we’re stuck with the experience.

And it will most certainly impact our future because whatever visions we have of ourselves are based on our past. Our future story is going to be the same or similar to our past story. Once a victim, always a victim.

The other choice we could make – the more difficult one for many – is to see our past as temporary. Something or many somethings that happened to us, perhaps beyond our control, but it was temporary. That was then, this is now.

These 2 choices boil down to pessimism versus optimism. A fatalistic view of our past where we think the universe has conspired against us will work with extraordinary precision to have us create a future that’s congruent with that past. Losing becomes a habit.

A more temporary view of problems and setbacks – “it happens to everybody” – fosters resilience to see past the adversity to who we truly believe ourselves to be, a person fully capable of overcoming it. Perhaps we contributed to it, perhaps not. No matter. Live and learn. Figure out a way to leverage it to success. Or greater success.

These are learned. I don’t dispute that we’re all likely wired more toward one view or the other, but I rather think our early years have a major impact. Children learning to walk don’t fall down and assume that’s their permanent outcome. “Why can’t I walk? All the other little kids are able to.” Said no prospective toddler ever!

Falling is part of the process of learning how to get it right. They’re too young to know differently. We’re too old and too smart to know they’re idiots. 😉

We’ve learned too much. Outsmarted ourselves into victimization. Learned that those past experiences are destined to become our future, too. Why not? Look at the present. There’s no way our future is going to be any different.

What if we’re wrong?

What if our past has only the power we give it?


 

Last Sunday on CBS’ 60 Minutes there were three stories. The first featured a Mississippi attorney, Mike Moore, who beat big tobacco in a class action lawsuit decades ago. Today, he’s taking aim at the opioid epidemic including the manufacturers and the distributors responsible for what he calls the big “pill spill” in America. The second story was about Ben Ferencz, the 97-year-old who helped prosecute the Nazi war crimes in the famous trials of Nuremberg. The 3rd story was about wildlife photographer extraordinaire Thomas D. Mangelsen.

Three very different people. A class-action attorney. An international war crimes attorney. A wildlife photographer.

Three different passions. A man seeking to hold companies and people accountable for putting profits before people. A man seeking peace over war. A man seeking to chronicle, document and protect wildlife.

The youngest of them was 67. The oldest was pushing 100.

These men had devoted their lives to their cause pursuing these passions since they were young. None were taking aim at building personal wealth. All were still hotly chasing the thing they had been chasing most of their careers. As Mr. Ferencz said about his old personal passion and empathy about the people killed during the Holocaust, “I’m still churning.” It seems to me all three of these men are still churning.

The interesting thing is all of these very mature men are daily pursuing still. They’re proud of the accomplishments of the past, but each of them is moving forward attempting to daily conquer new challenges. The past is an important chapter – or chapters! But that was then, this is now. And they’re looking at the future.

Each man is accomplished. It’d be easy to sit back and say, “Look at what I’ve done.” I know we often focus on past failures and let that define our future failures. But it could work with success, too. Complacency would be easy for each of these guys. But they’re not dwelling on the past.

Question: If high achievers like these guys don’t use the past to define their present or future, then why should you? Especially if you’re thinking of past failures. If past success isn’t worth dwelling on too much, then should we dwell on past failures?

None of these men believed their past was permanent. While the stories focused on their successful accomplishments, I surmise none of them thought their past failures were permanent either.

Proof that the journey is the thing. The process matters.

We’re all writing books. The chapters matter, but they’re not the whole story. Past chapters brought us to where we are, but honestly – that’s what they are. Contributors to bring us to the present. Foundations to build whatever present and future we want.

When you live in a pro sports town like Dallas you’re exposed to constant media about the athletes in your town playing for the hometown teams and those players who oppose them. When big-name players retire you see and hear the emotion of reasonably young people (most are under 40) who now have to leave a sport they’ve played since they were little kids. Quite a few struggle to write new chapters to follow that. It’s understandable. Because their whole identity is wrapped up in being that athlete. If we had conversation bubbles above our heads like comic book characters theirs would say, “Now what?” They struggle to find and create a new identity. Those who go on to continue high achievement don’t let the past define their future. Many who struggle find themselves unable to outlive their past. It’s the peak of their life that they’ll never replicate. Or fear they’ll never replicate. And most are still in their 30s.

In the early 80s I read a story about Buzz Aldrin, one of the first astronauts to walk on the moon. He struggled with clinical depression and alcoholism afterward. Some speculated that Aldrin had always wanted to be an astronaut and making it to the moon was such a pinnacle…perhaps he struggled with, “Now what?” I don’t know, but I do know such a fantastic accomplish could derail any of us if we based our future on our past instead of our imagination. Aldrin’s imagination fueled his arrival to the moon. Just like it has fueled every child’s imagination to one day play their favorite sport professionally.

Futures are too often determined – or limited – by the past.


 

One decision.

Not to put pressure on ourselves, but to understand how powerful we can be. How we can impact our destiny. How our choices determine our outcomes.

Today it’s about just one decision. One very difficult, but helpful decision.

To not let the past – no matter how atrocious or terrific it’s been – define your future.

To instead embrace your imagination to define it.

Well, would that it were that easy. It’s not. It could be. But it’s not. If it were we’d all do it.

There’s a reason we don’t. Because we don’t believe it.

Our past has crippled our understanding. It has painted us in a corner. More accurately, we’ve put ourselves in the corner and surrounded ourselves by our past. Now we’re using it as a pattern – a template – for the present and future chapters of our life.

I own a piece of software for writers called Scrivener. Like other word processing software, including Word, it has a gallery. One for fiction, others for non-fiction, screenplays and so forth. These templates provide a pattern to follow for whatever the user may be writing. It’s designed to make it easier to craft that particular style of writing.

Our brains work like that. Well, they can. It can serve us. Things like pattern recognition help us see things more clearly. And understand them more deeply.

Simultaneously they can stick us causing us to reject other viewpoints. Or blinding us to notice things outside the known template. When I’m using the fiction template for Scrivener I’m not even able to see the non-fiction template. That’s the benefit (or downside). It can keep you focused. By limiting options.

It’s super effective. That limiting power is what can hinder our efforts to create a more positive future.

Instead, what we should do is limit the power of our past instead of allowing our past to limit us.

This is why it’s difficult for people to make quantum leaps. It’s just too easy for us to get stuck where we are. Or where we’ve been. It’s familiar. Perhaps habitual. Maybe even comfortable. Known.

Sometimes for grins and conversation, I’ll ask people if they have a number. A number that represents their ideal income. It sparks insightful conversation.

It’s quite curious the specific numbers people mention. And why they narrow down to a precise number.

No matter what number people mention I’ll ask, “Why that number? What will that number do that another number won’t?”

Those conversations reveal what people think is possible even if they aspire to a number that may be well beyond any amount they’ve ever earned. Truth is, most people don’t name some fantasical number. Mostly, people name a number that is quite reasonable even if they’ve never achieved it. I suppose most of us are more comfortable being reasonable and just stretching ever so slightly.

That’s why the person who earns $50K a year lists $60K a year is their number. Or the person earning $70K might say $90K is their number.

There’s nothing empirical about it. It’s just some random conversation, but it still intrigues me. Grandiose people can list some gigantic number, but dig a bit deeper and they’ll almost always admit it’s just a dream number. A fascination with the notion of winning the lottery or something.

July 1st is known by some as Bobby Bonilla Day because of the retired baseball player’s contract that pays him over $1 million a year through 2035 even though he hasn’t played for almost 20 years. We can all imagine what that could be like, but only those who earn that amount or close to it annually can really imagine it. So we could flippantly say our number is $1 million a year. But could we conceive of it? Really? Well, of course not. It’s unknown to us.

The bigger issue is – can we imagine it deeply enough to consider that our lives have been filled with firsts. Things we’ve never done before. We learned to walk, talk, read, write, do math and a host of other things that we had never ever done before. But we figured it out. Largely because we assumed we could. Never mind that it was unchartered territory for us. We likely took those things for granted – that in time we’d get it right.

Can you get your imagination wrapped around taking it for granted that you can achieve something you’ve never achieved before?

Naivate may be critical. Positive naivate.  

Life taught us to stop being naive. As kids, we didn’t know better. Our minds weren’t limited by anything. Our imaginations fueled all kinds of adventures and excitement. We built forts in the woods. We built rafts to float in the nearby lake. We build carts to roll down that big hill at the end of the street. We built treehouses so we could be up high. All because our lives weren’t filled with what we couldn’t do, but rather with what might be possible.

Summer days were filled with grand possibilities. We’d sit around laying flat on our backs looking up at the clouds pass by asking each other, “What if we _________?” And we’d dream of doing something. If enough of us agreed, we’d give it a go. More often than not we’d do it. It may not have always turned out to the prettiest thing ever built, but no matter…we did it. Something we’d never done before. We tried. So what if that raft didn’t float? We didn’t care. Dreaming of it and building it was the fun. Getting it to the water, too. Pushing it into the water only to see it sink quicker than anything else we’d ever pushed into the water…well, that was just a bonus! 😀

Sometimes we’d go back to the drawing board. Mostly, we moved on and went in a completely different direction. The past didn’t matter. It was another story we could tell. “Remember when we built that raft?” Nobody was keeping score of our wins or losses. We were all keeping score of our adventures. It was our life. As kids. An adventure.

Then we grew up. Life beat the adventure out of us. And made sure we focused on our failures by keeping score. And rubbing our noses in it. Instead of remembering the adventure – life taught us to, “Remember when you tried that last and it failed? You don’t want to experience that again, do you?” So we cautiously answer, “Oh, no. You’re right. I’d best not try that again. Better to just stay right here where it’s safe.”

We grew increasingly afraid. Fearful to even try.

Fearful to imagine.

Fearful to even consider what earning an extra $10K a year might be like.

Fearful to even think of aiming for that job that our head is telling us we’ll never get.

Fearful to consider that the song we wrote might be made fun of if we dare post it online anywhere.

Fearful to think that the limits of our life are self-imposed.

Because it’s easier to think it’s not our fault. Which means it’s not our responsibility. Which means we’re not accountable for why things turn out as they do.

Life did this to us. We’re merely passengers riding along to the driving of something else. Something else. All of us aimlessly directed by forces beyond our control. Destined to be lucky or unlucky. Blessed or not blessed.

Really?

Is that really what we think?

We must. Because that’s how many of us live. Like puppets unable to decide what must be decided. Or do what must be done. Yet powerful enough to decide to do nothing, venture nothing, gain nothing and make sure we ride out our days as victims of a fate we didn’t choose.

All the while, blind that we did choose it. It was completely our choice. We picked it, committed to it and made it so. Then were unhappy with the outcome. All because we refused to more clearly see how the real world works. All because we decided it was easier, safer or whatever else…to think something wasn’t possible. The improbable grew into impossible. Over time our imaginations shrunk. Then they shriveled. Then they died.

Along with it. Our future. And our present.

Imprisoned by our past. And our foolish notion that the last chapter, or that chapter a few chapters ago most accurately defined our entire life. Never giving due consideration to the truth that it wasn’t a chapter at all, but rather a sentence. A paragraph. Maybe a page. Not a chapter. Certainly not the whole story.

Years roll by and we repeat it then happily recite with confidence, pointing to our failures or limitations, “See, I told you so.”

Confidence. Few things impress me more these days when it comes to the elements we need to move forward. Confidence.

Not bravado. Not ego. Not selfishness. Not self-righteousness. Not a feeling of superiority. Not harsh judgment.

Confidence.

The kind of confidence a pack of kids once had to think we could build a fort in the woods that would be a cool place to hang out. And we did it.

The kind of confidence a bunch of kids once had to think we go play football in the vacant lot and have fun. So we did.

The kind of confidence we once had to know that if we were going to have fun, then it was up to us to create us because our parents weren’t going to do it for us.

The kind of confidence born of boredom and imagination.

So we became whatever we dreamt we could become. And built whatever we dreamed could be built. Nobody was going to stop us. Nobody tried. If they did, I don’t remember. I couldn’t hear them.

Until I got older…

Randy

About the author: Randy Cantrell is the founder and CEO of Bula Network, LLC, a boutique training and coaching company. Go to GrowGreat.com