Last time we explored Connection and now we will take this a step further and consider the Meaning that can come from Connection. This will be a deeper dive into some of the ideas brought up in the Mental realm of the Life Simplified series.
What is it?
Big Idea: Meaning is derived from a complex interplay involving interpretation.
Basically: Meaning is determined by how you choose to interpret your experiences.
This statement seems simple, a word and some punctuation. However, depending on your past experiences the interpreted meaning will vary from person to person.
Perhaps you instantly had an image of your niece going out on a walk with you in nature and pointed out a little critter that it saw under some trees. Due to the instantaneous nature of this scene, it suggests a few things about your subconscious. You could of had a recent experience out in nature with your niece, you could even of just imagined such an experience. The recency and intensity of such an experience will also factor into why this scenario was your immediate interpretation.
For some reason, your mind felt that instantly deriving the concept of walking and your niece was the most appropriate prediction to explain how “Squirrel!” is relevant to your current physical and mental state. Your current state is basically a summary of all of your inner functions such as organs, blood transportation, heart rate, breathing, the immediate experiences you’ve just had a few moments ago, and so on. If you ate something that caused an upset stomach then the implications that has on the rest of your body will come in to play for how you interpret meaning around you. Much like how when you have the flu, the entire world seems gloomy and the motivation you previously had to socialize all went out the door, as if priorities instantly switched, this is because your state of being changed. How Emotions are Made by Lisa Barret is a wonderful book that dives MUCH deeper into this.
The point being, how you interpreted the meaning of “Squirrel!” depends on your experience and current physical and mental state. This is to say that meaning is derived based on how you currently view the world, and how you view the world has many factors and varies from moment to moment. There is a movie called “Up” where, in an iconic moment, a talking dog named “Dug”, deep in conversation, suddenly stops and says “Squirrel!”. This has sense become a meme for being distracted. If you have just watched this movie and paid close enough attention to the scene I am referring to, then when you hear “Squirrel!”, your interpretations may be very different. Perhaps the relevant experiences for the moment involve a cat hunting, or originate from you paying close attention to a squirrel’s behavior as it foraged for nuts. Perhaps “Squirrel” is a name you’ve given something and that thing is being called for.
Your brain makes predictions based on input stimulus in order to appropriately prepare you for what might be in your environment. The brain essentially aims to minimize pain and maximize pleasure, with an emphasis on minimizing pain due to its threat on your survival, and your brain is always on the look out. How you interpret what is around you is entirely in the control of your mind, your relevant past experiences each have a relative weight of importance and factor in to how your body responds. If you have a concept of snakes mean danger, then seeing a snake near by would be enough to trigger fight or flight responses throughout your body.
As an example, consider that you are late for a flight. You are running through the airport in a panic, you then turn the corner to see a line outside of the plane. You didn’t miss your flight! Just the split moment in turning the corner and seeing the line instantly relieved you. This is the power of interpretation, before turning the corner your mind predicted that you are going to miss your flight, after seeing the line this prediction was instantly corrected.
This can be seen in optical illusions, where once you have your attention directed in a meaningful way a previously insignificant scene becomes instantly significant. For example the famous ambiguous images of either an old or a young lady. This is exactly your brain interpreting a scene based on context and deriving meaning as a result.
Why is it Important?
Big Idea: Suffering ceases to be suffering once you apply meaning to the struggle.
Basically: Your thoughts create your reality.
Notice an important point that is bubbling up here. Separate from the objective fact of the current environment, each individual will interpret what the situation means in vastly different ways, all dependent on the individual’s current state and past experiences. This is why being able to objectively observe your own behaviors is vital for self-improvement. This is also why in order to truly understand someone, you have to be able to take their perspective, even if they are putting forward an argument that completely disagrees with your past experiences or current emotional state.
How you interpret a given situation is entirely context based. If you had a relatively recent or intense experience of Dug saying “Squirrel!” from the “Up” movie, then having the context of a dog being a point of focus when you hear “Squirrel!” will influence how you interpret the statement. Perhaps you’re at a park and other people are nearby and you hear a kid yell “Squirrel!” while you are playing with your dog, you may have a sudden urge to make comments to your dog about how it would just love to go chase it. Or perhaps an unrealistic expectation bubbles up of your dog suddenly stopping and turning its head in the iconic behavioral response that Dug did in the movie “Up”.
The fact that there is an exclamation mark, that the ‘s’ is capitalized, or that there is only 1 word in “Squirrel!” provides context that factors in to how your mind immediately derives meaning from the experience.
The point up to now has been that meaning is subjective and it plays a large role in how you experience the world around you. Every individual you have ever met experiences the world through a different “filter” that is constructed from their own past experiences. This filter is entirely unique, each new experience is interpreted through this filter and that new experience is added, with the derived meaning, onto your past pile of experiences. This new experience will now be involved in how future experiences are analyzed.
This is a big deal. Your whole sense of reality is a result of compounding experiences. This may seem overwhelming to try and get influence over at first, but it is entirely possible and you likely already have had glimpses of doing so. Starting a new diet and eating different foods for their health benefits but finding that you haven’t developed a taste for them yet, you may choose to focus on the reasons behind eating it, thinking about the health benefits you would get from it. Pumping yourself up before jumping into cold water or exercising are also examples of intentional reframing. Even a romantic break up or losing a loved one and choosing to see the situation as an opportunity for something else or saying things such as “they’re in a better place now” are also examples of intentional interpretations.
The objective is to gain better influence over these seemingly random occurrences so that they don’t happen by chance but instead are intentional and in your awareness. Perhaps you have a particular irritation that someone else does that annoys you, like someone’s laugh. Hearing this laugh when you are focusing on work drives you crazy, but hearing the same laugh after finding out about a raise and while in a conversation with this person all of a sudden doesn’t bother you.
Instead of being largely at the mercy of your environment, you can begin gaining influence over your interpretations, and therefore, influence over how you experience reality. This has deep implications in all things that involve change, including working through anxiety, stress, depression, and general distractions. Each of these are simply a result of malfunctioning or inefficient components that play a role in forming the interpretations and predictions that your brain makes about the world.
How do I Develop it?
Big Idea: Increase the quality and novelty of your experiences and apply reflection.
Basically: Every moment is an opportunity for a meaningful experience. You’re in control.
Your pile of experiences that contribute to the filter through which you view the world, has been built up one experience at a time. Patience is required in order to appropriately restructure your world-view. Patience is best actualized when the behavior is integrated into your identity, when the action becomes a lifestyle. This means that improving your interpretations of reality is a life-long process, a way of living, it must not be approached as a means to an end or else impatience will skew expectations. Being in a state of haste will further corrupt your interpretations, all reinforcing the ineffective identity of impatience.
The key to influencing your interpretation of reality lies in the principles that make up the interpretation in the first place. Influence any particular component of a larger system, and you can influence the system as a whole. The larger system in this context is the derivation of meaning itself, or the interpretation of an experience. The components are the fundamentals that make up the interpretations, they provide the gateway of influence that we can leverage to make a difference. Just as building a well structured house requires that you first consider what components contribute to a strong foundation, in order to influence our interpretations of reality we must begin by considering the components that make it up. This is a principles-first approach and it is a key aspect in effective learning and problem solving.
These components are:
- Relative Intensity of an Experience
- As was seen in the discussion on Intensity of Stimulus, the relative intensity that a situation is experienced contributes to how strongly it is encoded in your mind.
- Intensity is relative and is based on an interpretation itself, thinking over and over about a presentation you gave that went bad adds more significance to that experience and thus amplifies the perceived intensity. Adding dialog or engaging in some way with an irritation, such as rehearsing what you’d say or do to someone annoyingly chewing ice, brings more attention to the experience and thus adds more intensity to it. This suggests control in managing emotions and irritations by simply “not engaging with it” or, in other words, “don’t think about it”.
- The more you engage with the experience, the more intensity is added to it and therefore the more significance it will play in future interpretations and predictions. For example, strongly engaging in what you’d do to someone chewing ice in an annoying manner with the full experience of the anger you’d direct towards them will make the urge to react that way more powerful during future exposure to similar experiences. To ensure irritations don’t grow into overwhelming hatred, it’s important to build an awareness and to quickly drop dialog or other means of engaging with the irritation.
- Relative Recency and Quantity of an Experience
- The quantity and order in which experiences have happened plays a role in how you interpret a new situation. The
- A mildly negative experience with a dog many years ago might be overwhelmed by
- Note the use of “mildly” in the example. This is because recency is strongly connected with intensity. A single traumatic experience during vulnerable and highly impressionable moments of your life, such as childhood, can make it so that many fairly intense and consistent positive experiences will be necessary to appropriately reshape your interpretations for the long-term.
- This something that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy aims to address.
- Note the use of “mildly” in the example. This is because recency is strongly connected with intensity. A single traumatic experience during vulnerable and highly impressionable moments of your life, such as childhood, can make it so that many fairly intense and consistent positive experiences will be necessary to appropriately reshape your interpretations for the long-term.
- The “frame” in which a given situation is placed in, contributes strongly to the interpretations and predictions that are likely to take place.
- For example, getting cut off in traffic may be irritating from your frame of trying to get to your destination quickly and safely. But consider if the perspective switches to the other driver who perhaps has a son who was just shot and is being rushed to the hospital. Being cut off in traffic under this new context changes the interpretations you make about the other driver.
- Optical illusions are a great example of context-based interpretations.
- Current State of Being
- Your body has a lot of things going on outside of your conscious awareness. From pumping blood and digesting food to filtering all of the incoming stimulus to sensory organs. These form your state of being and are summarized by general feelings such as connection, hunger, pain, love, and happiness.
- Due to the importance of these internal functions, they play a large role in how you interpret your environment and make predictions. Consider how you feel about waking up in the morning when you have to do something mundane as opposed to getting to play a new video game, like when you were a kid.
- Examples of states include: Happy, hungry, tired, sick, lonely, and nervous.
- Your brain makes interpretations based on predictions to improve your survival. An expectation is basically a prediction and therefore it plays an important role in interpretation.
- Do your relevant past experiences suggest an outcome that is important to pay attention to? Does the rustle of leaves near my feet suggest that the snake I saw a few moments ago came closer?
- Ever heard “manage your expectations” as a means to reduce stress? Stress is self-perceived and how stressed you are is directly related to how stressed you expect to be. Something stressful is far less stressful to those who don’t expect it to be than to those who expect it to be.
- Stress is closely related to psychological resistance and usually stems from a place of ambiguity or uncertainty, and therefore can be addressed with clarity.
These all play a role in your mind determining how you should feel or behave in a given situation, based on past experience. This is done to provide predictions of how the situation might unravel and therefore how you ought to respond to minimize pain and maximize pleasure, all in the name of survival and procreation.
As was mentioned in our discussions of the physical realm and on challenge, your brain is locked up in a dark skull. The means by which the brain can get information about its environment is through input organs such as eyes, skin, tongue, ears, and nose. The brain also gets input from internal organs such as the stomach, liver, heart, etc. that provide further information for understanding your state of being.
The stimulus that is being perceived by the brain is only a snapshot of the current moment, there is no objective information suggesting whether or not the stimulus is positive or negative in terms of minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure. This is where the brain derives meaning through interpretations based on context, intensity of stimulus, physical or mental state, and other sources of information. This is all done through the filter that is comprised of your past experiences.
So, improving our influence over our perception of reality starts with one experience at a time. It is a lifelong process that can always be improved upon.
Due to the very nature of our past experiences influencing the interpretations of current situations, it is important to gain more experiences. This relates closely to ideas that were brought up during our exploration of Connection. Live life for the experience. I would conjecture that a successful life can be measured by the amount of diverse experience an individual acquires, with diversity of positive and negative being emphasized.
Quality over quantity is also vital, an experience that is treated as just a checkbox to check off of a “bucket-list” adds no value. The experience must be one accompanied with reflection so that it can be integrated into your very being and identity such that it can provide compounding benefits for future experiences.
This engagement with an experience through reflection provides opportunities to slow down and control your interpretations by seeing what positive might come from it, it also addresses the important component of intensity, as mentioned above. The pair of meditation and journaling are wonderful tools in integrating an experience in an effective manner into your sense of identity. See the Life Simplified series for an in-depth exploration on this concept of expansion through experiences and integration through reflection.
Trial and error is also necessary, there will be negative experiences, and that is okay, they can be interpreted as opportunities in their own ways and provide contrasting experiences that contribute to a more meaningful life. The objective is to gain more quality experiences, just jump in. Whether the experience is “good” or “bad” is irrelevant to the practice, the point is for you to find some interpretation that adds to meaning. This requires engagement with the experience, even if it was an embarrassing failure, don’t run from the experience. Instead, get out a piece of paper and a pencil and do an “After Action Report” as mentioned in The Ultimate Guide to Clarity.
Engage; life is an active sport, not a passive one.
It may be tough at first, but after a while you may find opportunities that you would have otherwise missed and effective meaning can begin to come from the experience. A potentially negative experience that could have been stored in your pile of experiences has now received a new interpretation before being added to the pile. This has, therefore, improved your ability to make effective interpretations of future experiences and even has improved your world-view. Along the way you may even find yourself becoming more optimistic, this is no coincidence as this habit of positive interpretations is exactly what makes someone optimistic.
Let’s go through some practical applications of this interpretation ability.
A great question to prime your thinking towards an effective interpretation is: “What positive situation in the past did I feel like this?“. During reduced breathing exercises to improve overall oxygenation efficiency in the body, it is suggested to think of the experience while sitting as if you were going for a walk. Having an experience of being on-top of a very high mountain you may also liken the feeling of an air hunger to the experience of being awe-struck by the view and the experience of being on vacation or around loved ones while on-top of a mountain. Perhaps a more meaningful experience to you would be skydiving, scuba-diving, or a gentle walk in a forest. Letting your mind wonder and daydream back to this past experience can help to influence the interpretation of the air hunger from being one that promotes panic to one that is more calming and effective.
This could work due to it providing a distraction from less effective interpretations, but then again, all interpretations are a form of a distraction from other interpretations. To take on one interpretation is to drop the other interpretations, much like the old vs young lady optical illusion, you can’t see both at the same time, but you can switch between them readily. The act of influencing your interpretations for the sake of effective action, productivity, and general well-being is akin to trying to calm down from a state of sexual arousal and choosing to see the old lady since that is more likely to be effective in the objective of calming down (assuming you’re not into that sort of thing). If you were actively attempting to get aroused, then the interpretation that is effective would probably be the young lady. This is a fairly crude example to illustrate the idea that interpretations are your tools in taking effective action.
The idea of micro-exposure as a tool to overcome fear also applies. Consider someone with a fear of spiders, therapy to help remove this fear could consist of incremental steps of gradual exposure. These steps may include thinking about spiders, seeing photos of spiders, seeing videos of spiders, then finally being near a spider, all the way to letting the spider crawl on you. This micro-dosing application gradually allows the individual to overcome their fear through becoming accustomed to its exposure. In a similar manner, the previous positive experience technique can be applied by doing something similar to that previous positive experience such that the same feelings, fear, or anxiety arises. With repeated exposure, you grow accustomed to the sensations and essentially learn “this can’t hurt me”, that is the primary turning point where you begin taking control over the stimulus instead of the stimulus controlling you. It is a moment of utter acceptance and stillness. Through the exposure of the sensation in a relatively positive environment, you can learn to better operate under such sensations so that when those feelings arise in relatively negative experiences, it will be easier to interpret them as positive, or at least less negatively intense.
Applying interpretations in an effective manner, such as with the reduced breathing example, is what it means to reframe something. It is basically the process of applying meaning to the current situation in an effective or productive manner. This requires an understanding that your feelings/emotions are entirely in your control and are constructed, in real time, based on your past experiences, expectations, and predictions. This is known as the theory of constructed emotions and is a concept that is thoroughly covered in How Emotions are Made by Lisa Barret.
Taking this question of past positive experiences with similar feelings even further, we can liken every situation to some scenario that elicits an effective interpretation. This can even be done for the sake of fun or excitement, like kids would do when they play pretend or fantasize that they are some movie character as they go on an otherwise casual walk. This is the concept of gamifying your life as an interpretation for effective action, this was considered in our exploration of Connection.
Are you cooking? Think of being a chef, or cooking for your tribe before they go to war. Are you in the trenches at work preparing for a product release and a highly intelligent or influential member of your team walks in to help with a challenging problem? This can be likened to being in the middle of a battle and a hero, deputy, or leader enters the battle, moral shoots up, you feel pumped and as if you’ve been given new hope. This could relate to a past experience of watching Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings, Return of the King movie.
This is basically an act of applying an alter-ego for the sake of effective action. This strongly relates to the importance of environment. Consider having a single location where you study that is independent from eating, scrolling social media, talking, etc. and is only a place of focus. Just being in this location provides the context for your brain to interpret the environment as the time to study. The predictions made by the brain will lead to adjustments in your body’s state that will promote your ability to focus. The same can be said about having your bed being only a place for sleep and removing TV watching and other activities from it, doing this will improve your sleep.
Your environment is more than just a location, it can be apparel as well. You could use a particular bracelet as an indicator to your mind to interpret the situation as a time for relaxation. You’d train your mind to engage in this interpretation by wearing that bracelet during times of relaxation only. This develops an association of the bracelet to the context of the situation which influences the interpretation your mind will make when you wear that bracelet. This is basically what the idea of “my lucky socks” or any other meaning applied to apparel is all about, an association has been built up such that the brain can interpret the context in an effective manner. Consider Superman and his iconic taking off the glasses and “revealing the suit”.
Be careful though, because this is just a short step from superstition. Keep in mind that these interpretations are your own creations and therefore you can drop them at any point in favor of different interpretations. This understanding allows for you to have the control over your interpretations as opposed to the other way around, which is basically what superstitions are, interpretations having control over you.
The reason that this concept of likening a current situation to a past positive experience works so much is due to the nature of memories. Memories are not movie reels that perfectly recapture an event, they are themselves interpretations. Your current state of being influences how a memory will be stored and when you recall that memory later the state of being at the later time influences how you interpret that memory and thus morphs it in a particular way before storing it back in memory.
Since we are talking about individual experiences, you can bet that this is highly individualized. You have to find what works for you. You can’t fake this either, the experiences that you pull on must be genuine enough that the appropriate feelings come along with them.
It is the fact that feelings are stored with memories that these alter-ego and previous positive experience approaches work. Let’s say that you are in a particular state of being, such as feeling tingling sensations in your stomach and a sense of high energy. You can construct an instance of anxiety from this state or you could pull on a past positive experience of anticipating a romantic night with a lover or an interpretation that you’re excited to do your best. These both associate meaning with the sensations that you are feeling in a productive manner. Perhaps the more relevant interpretation for you are the butterflies felt when near a romantic partner, or the awe from a view of mountains while being high up in the sky. This is much more effective than the interpretation that you are anxious, nervous, sick, or afraid. Same tingling sensation, but different interpretation.
Your current situation will likely have other experiences associated with it just as the experience of a romantic night has other sensations with it. But the overlap between the sensations allow for a bridge to be formed to recall that previous positive experience and thus bring along the other sensations (although probably to a lesser degree). This is what allows you to effectively be transported from a potentially negative experience into a more positive experience, all through your interpretations. This closely relates to the concept of reducing psychological resistance as was discussed several times such as in posts on Clarity, Challenge, and Connection.
The more sensation overlap between the experiences the better, the more intense and recent the better. Again, this is highly individualized, the point is to choose whatever interpretation that you have positive experiences with and can imagine most vividly. Choose an experience that is emotion provoking. If you’re face down in the trenches, it just takes one memory or experience to pull on to reinterpret your experience and apply useful meaning to effectively turn things around. By the same token though, if you allow negative interpretations of past experiences then you are only adding to the psychological pain that you experience. Awareness is key in being able to apply interpretations effectively.
An optimistic individual is essentially one who relates current experiences to past positive experiences. A pessimistic person is essentially someone who relates current experiences to past negative experiences. These all contribute to how they interpret their current experience and predict potential outcomes. The same current situation, but a different interpretation, this is the difference between effective and ineffective action. Interpretations and predictions closely relate to disorders such as anxiety and depression.
To reiterate: You are choosing to liken the feelings of your body in the current moment to something positive. You do this by implicitly asking “What positive situation was I in when I felt this way?”, “How did these feelings get seen as positive in that situation?”. The objective is to choose a positive instance of your current feelings, where similar bodily sensations were encountered, as a way to explain (i.e. give meaning to) the current situation.
This question does not need to be explicit, it is often implicitly asked by simply shifting your focus and begin searching your past experiences for a compatible one to the current situation. It is accomplished from a state of acceptance and relaxation as opposed to a state of resistance and tension.
This is a very active process and it works for a few reasons. One is due to the fact that you can’t experience a situation from two competing interpretations simultaneously, much like the old vs young lady optical illusion. That is, choosing a positive interpretation provides a distraction and inhibits other negative interpretations from coming up. These negative interpretations will come up easily and feel tough to get a hold of at times, this is natural and is because your brain is biased towards minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure. You’ve been conditioned in such a way to promote survival. But, a public speech won’t kill you, so interpreting it like it is the end of the world isn’t effective.
Additionally, the act of actively searching for meaning requires that you are in a state of open-mindedness and willing to consider various interpretations. This puts you in a receiving state and reduces resistance that contributes to psychological pain. Furthermore, it promotes a sense of actively exploring the sensation with a sense of curiosity. Both of these contribute to getting your attention off of labeling and on exploration and curiosity. This puts you in a state of acceptance and therefore diminishes resistance.
At this point you may be realizing the importance of experiences. Even seemingly negative experiences can be interpreted as positive and therefore stored in memory as such. The process of journaling and meditation through an “After Action Report” go great together in achieving positive interpretation.
More quality and novel experiences are acquired through exploration, hence why exploration is considered a principle of effective living. More experiences means more things to pull on in this reframing process. More quality and novel experiences means more instances of your body in some unusual state where a particular combination of feelings exist. Perhaps feelings that even are often associated with negative things such as the mild feeling of suffocation or being in a confined space but now you add the twist of scuba-diving and the awe of the experience comes with those feelings to provide meaning to them.
Again, this is an active process, you recall the experience with intention. This recall can be done during any moment of otherwise unpleasant feelings such as mild suffocation. Actively imagining yourself back in a past experience is a great way to reframe the current situation. With the past experience as a guide you can create a prediction for the future that is more apt for effective action. This is a habit that optimistic people embody.
These ideas relate to anxiety and panic disorders, such as claustrophobia and the notion of not panicking by not letting negative past experiences influence your predictions of fear and suffocation. They also relate to the common advice of “don’t look down” when high up, looking down can cause interpretations that lead to negative predictions that result in panic.
You can improve your ability to handle these situation in much the same way that individuals such as professional tightrope walkers learn to control themselves. From practice and a discipline of influencing their interpretations through building up an adequate amount of quality experiences where such a situation was seen as positive. They can then basically play in their head “this can’t hurt me, I’m in control, I know I can do this”.
This notion of a belief in one-self and self-efficacy is a big idea and relates to a key milestone in the development of any fundamental habit formation or destruction. Consider breath holding or reduced breathing, in order to arrive at a state of being able to maintain a hunger for air for long periods of time requires that you first go through the typical experiences of panic but to then push past them. At some point during this skill development you’ll pass a fundamental checkpoint where you essentially have the sudden realization that “this can’t hurt me”.
The full belief and utter embodiment of this idea is a breakthrough that allows for a lot more further development. Similar examples include any sort of exercise such as running long distances and pushing through the initial pain and discomfort. Or quitting smoking and realizing that going without a cigarette “won’t hurt me” and that “I can do this”. These are all instances of a rapid perspective shifts that can only be achieved through full and utter release of resistance through surrendering. These sudden perspective shifts are very similar to the optical illusions discussed earlier.
This is a pattern that comes up in just about every skill development or high performance endeavor, even in life itself. There will be times of “this sucks” and “I hate this” but if you stick with it you’ll realize that you’ve “suffered enough” and when you have nothing else to lose you allow yourself to surrender, in this moment is when profound change happens and you evolve to the next stage in the skill.
Just like our discussion on Challenge, feelings come and go in a wave-like manner. Being able to stick through the initial climax is vital to being able to realize these fundamental checkpoints and perspective switches that pave the way for more growth and effective action.
During these interpretations you will likely feel a gradual lift or a sudden shift of feeling. As you explore these ideas you may realize that this can only be obtained when you are in a state of surrender and full acceptance. This often comes after a period of struggle. Consider concept of flow from our exploration on the Intensity of Stimulus, it is a wonderful representation of this process. To arrive a point of peak performance there is a natural and inevitable cycle of struggle, release, high performance, recovery. Going from the struggle phase to the release phase is a point of surrender, where you stop trying after pushing through several points of exhaustion. Returning to the activity with the same level of intensity shortly after a release leads to the action seeming effortless.
There are many important implications. Just understanding the power of interpretations and deriving meaning suggests how careful you ought to be around those who are incredibly impressionable, such as children. Negative experiences in a particular field can be easily imposed onto a child which can manifest as destroying a child’s curiosity or interest in that field. For example, mathematical exploration is often destroyed early on in life through peers and parents who approach the subject as a “get it over with”, “just remember enough to get good grades”, sort of means to an end.
If this is what you implicitly communicate to your child, than congrats, you’ve just limited your child from being likely to gain a fascination and interest in math and all of the potential incredibly meaningful experiences as a result from studying something so fundamental to life itself. The abstraction and other learning skills such as focus, deep contemplation, raising questions, etc. that a curiosity in math promotes which would increase the child’s chances of more intellectual experiences from programming to aerospace engineering and all of the career opportunities that would result and potential people they would meet… all vanish. You’ve effectively used your role-model influence over the child to promote ineffective living.
Gaining more quality and novel experiences in life will increase your chances of obtaining the proper levels of experience-based wisdom to effectively interact with those around you in such a way that promotes effective living in everyone.
These quality experiences can only be obtained through an increase in presence, by engaging more with the experience, both during and shortly afterwards from reflection. This means to not approach experience as a bucket-list check-box. The more present you are with the experience, the stronger it will be stored in memory and the easier it will be able to be recalled at a later time to aid in reframing.
Pay special attention to how you feel throughout the day to promote this level of presence. This can be practiced by “feeling the inner body“, feel the energy in your hands, bring various parts of your body in and out of focus by feeling their aliveness. A helpful cue is to consider how you would know that your hand is still there if you were not looking at it. See the discussion on Connection for more details.
Doing this regularly throughout the day will make it easier and more natural to bring this level of awareness into novel experiences that you encounter. Emphasize attention towards the unusual combination of feelings that you may experience in various situations and bring a sense of curiosity to your overall feeling and state of being.
Consider the feeling you have when you are in a relatively positive situation but yet, for an instance, you feel fear and a desire to shrivel away and hide, where you feel slightly overwhelmed and a tug to run bubbles up. Such as the slight panic of being so deep underwater in a confined, dark, and cold space during scuba-diving, or the breathlessness of skydiving or being on top of a high mountain. It feels as if you are balancing on an edge and a slight knock would cause the panic to take off as you throw a massive panic fit. But the realization that you are safe, you are in a situation you’ve practice many times before, you are around loved ones, etc. provides grounding that you can remain sturdy on and the brief instance of overwhelm vanishes.
The vanishing of this overwhelm often comes from a sudden realization that you’re safe, that there is nothing to fear, that “this can’t hurt me”, others have been in this situation before and were just fine (e.g. scuba diving, skydiving, on top of pikes peak, etc.). You basically use those around you who are in the same situation but are fine as social proof that you can too.
This feeling of surrender, even know you have a few sensations that could be interpreted as negative in a different context, is exactly the feeling you want to capture and recollect. It is the feeling of a sense of safety and belonging despite the other sensations that you’re experiencing. It is this nuance of feeling that will prove most useful. It’s the novel experiences that are ripe with these nuances in feeling that should be cherished and considered as high quality. The fact that you have those potentially negative feelings in some strange combination with positive feelings is what will prove most useful in future interpretations.
This is entirely possible and even easy since you have had the same feelings before just with additional sensation of safety and surrender. The addition of surrender is what you’re after and the overlap of sensations between these independent experiences is what bridges the gap so that the sensations of safety and surrender can be applied to your current situation.
This is exactly how meaning is derived, based on past experiences, current state of being, context, expectations, and predictions. And since suffering ceases to be suffering when meaning is applied (e.g. holocaust survivors), gaining influence over your interpretations through continual and deliberate practice is one of the single most important steps you can take to ensure effective living. It literally impacts how you view reality and can be the difference between depression and high performance.
This whole construction of experiences through the interpretation process is incredibly nuanced. Subtleties come up so frequently in life, hence the importance of exploration to open your mind up and sensitize yourself to notice these nuances of life. There is a reason why creative individuals can easily notice, point out, and emphasize frequently overlooked aspects of experiences and objects. They are extra sensitive to their environment, this is also the reason why they are more likely to be depressed and commit suicide (e.g Robin Williams).
Both the alter ego approach and the previous positive experience approach are highly individualized. Whatever experiences are meaningful to you can be applied. It is all relative. Perhaps the annoyance of someone chewing ice can be likened to an experience of someone you love or admire also chewing ice or to the simple experience of hearing someone (or yourself) walk on snow or ice.
The basic idea is just reframing experiences in a positive way. View whatever situation or feeling you experience in the way you choose, preferably with the aim of effective action. In the meantime, gain more experiences and use these approaches while building those experiences as well. This is more than a habit, it is a lifestyle, a mindset, a way of interpreting the world. Be consistent.
Additional tactics in deriving effective meaning and applying interpretations will be shared below and considered in more depth another time, if not already.
- Meditation and Mindfulness
- This is an all-around great tool to help develop the concept of “stay” despite discomfort, uncertainty pain, etc. Recall from the entry on Challenge that when an itch arises, it is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness of the sensations and the concept of “stay”.
- Relax Tensed Areas and Calm your Breathing
- As was mentioned in The Ultimate Guide to Challenge, tension and rapid breathing makes it hard to relax and apply appropriate concentration. Addressing these first will make recalling past experiences easier.
- It is hard to surrender when you lack trust. And it is hard to trust when you are in a state of resistance, and resistance is the opposite of surrendering. Surrendering promotes a sense of peace and relaxation that allows for effective action to flow seamlessly.
- The practice of showing appreciation for things in life and finding the beauty in everything, including the seemingly horrible experiences, is itself a practice in interpretations.
- Manage Expectations
- If you had a wonderful meditation, runner’s high, flow, etc. one day and then approach the next opportunity with the expectation of it being just as great as the last will open you up to resistance and disappointment.
- Don’t force. The experience of recalling a positive past experience shouldn’t be a means to an end, but an exploration of curiosity that happens to bring with it a useful interpretation of the current situation. Sometimes recalling past experiences will be more difficult than others, this is normal. An experience of frustration from trying to recall a past experience will, in itself, result in a negative experience being added to your pile of experiences.
- Social Interactions
- The interpretation of having someone else to fight for as the reason for the effort you are putting forth is a great way to promote an interpretation of necessity leading to effective action.
- Before entering into a situation you could ask yourself questions such as “what is the feeling I want to bring…”. If you are about to encounter a tough situation with someone you could ask “how would my better self response”. These both promote an objective view-point and slows you down to give the situation a second thought. These are useful during social events or moments of frustration.
- Notice the Gaps Between all Things
- Fall in love with the gap between thoughts, actions, noise, etc.
- Find peace here, a moment of stillness and inner tranquility.
- Comfort in not Knowing
- With the vast pile of past experiences that you have already accumulated it will be tough to really get to the depths of your being. There comes a time where in order to make further progress you have to become comfortable with not knowing who you are. It is necessary to pass through such a stage in order to truly find yourself.
- Deliberate Action
- Life is an active game, not a passive one. You get out of it what you put in. The process of exploration is a deliberate one.
- Environment and Tokens
- The context of the environment or particular tokens of meaning are powerful ways to prime your mind for effective action. Much like the idea of “putting on the cape” means superhero time. Build up these associations to influence interpretations that promote effective action.
- Pretend for Internal Motivation
- Interpretations for effective action is not “faking it ’till you make it”, which suggests manipulation that often comes from external motivations and intentions. The objective is to, instead, act intentionally from internal motivations, this can manifest as having no desire or need to share your accomplishments with others. If it is intrinsically motivating and fulfilling, then it comes from an internal place and the need to boast about it is non-existent and may even be seen as a distraction from practicing the art itself.
Big Idea: Your interpretations of reality determine your experience of reality.
Basically: As Henry Ford said, whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.
The very way you view the world is based on interpretations. These interpretations lead to predictions and ultimately, some degree of meaning is derived from the experience. Each experience is given some sort of meaning and then added onto a pile of other experiences that all contribute to form a filter through which you view the world.
Much of what we’ve covered during our discussions can relate back to importance of exploration and why exploration is a principle to effective living. The experiences you gain can even be from watching movies, this is a great way to simulate experiences without actually being there. Anything that provokes emotions is a worthy experience. Even if it is perceived as negative in the moment, that experience could prove useful to pull on in a later time as a means of an effective interpretation. For example, being able to provide advice to a loved-one and instantly recognize potential consequences of their actions or even your own as you engage in a similar experience.
To effectively derive meaning, requires that you to take a step back and consider various perspectives. It requires being able to hold conflicting ideas in mind at once and to realize that your point-of-view isn’t the only one. Modern society promotes haste and impatience and thus the ability to effectively derive meaning suffers. Patience.
Take control of your view of reality in a way that promotes effective action. You do this by increasing the amount of quality experiences that you have through deeper engagement and dedicated time for reflection. To do this most effectively requires patience and an exploratory mind-set. The more quality experiences that you obtain, the more influence you will have over how you interpret future experiences.
Note that quality here isn’t about positive or negative, it is about depth and engagement, completely independent of psychological valence (positive/negative).
The importance of gaining novel experiences and all of the important implications that comes from them, including improved creativity, is the reason why Exploration is one of the most foundational principles of effective living.
The concept of interpretations is so foundational that it even has implications in managing ambiguity as well as learning and problem solving. Effective problem solving often includes viewing the problem from “another angle” that may make the solution seem obvious. We will explore the connections that Clarity, Awareness, Deliberate Action, Intensity of Stimulus, Challenge, Connection and Meaning all have with learning in the future. Learning is such a fascinating topic to explore due to its close relationship with your mind and your perception of reality, but there are a lot of prerequisite concepts to discover first.
Your Call to Action
Thank you for reading!
I’m curious to hear what you have to say regarding the ideas we’ve explored today. How do you think you can start applying control over your interpretations? What struggles are you currently facing that you think such an idea could help with? What flaws or contradictions are you finding in my explanation? Please share your thoughts, I want to promote collaboration over these ideas to arrive at what is most effective. Share in the comments section below!
Don’t put off contemplating what the insights from this article mean, find a quiet location and think deeply about what it might mean for you. Just 10 deliberate minutes can make a large difference, set a timer, do it regularly and you will notice the changes within a few weeks. You improve your ability to think and therefore make effective decisions by spending more time deliberately thinking about the relevant subject. Consider applying journaling and meditation to see more profound changes, these are just more deliberate and concentrated forms of quiet and focused thinking. Slow down, find stillness.
I am always looking to improve my reach and the impact that I have with my writing, please provide your feedback in the comments below.
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