"It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
It’s easy to criticize. It’s easy to point out problems and flaws. It’s also easy to do nothing. And it’s generally easier to shut down, get overwhelmed, give up, and stay in a narrow range of behaviors.
What does ‘easy’ mean?
From a complex systems perspective, it has to do with conservation of energy. All systems need a certain amount of energy to keep themselves intact as living systems. Because of this, energy is valuable.
One strategy for long-term resilience and flourishing is through widening the repertoire of strategies and possibilities for moment-by-moment problem-solving and survival. However, this strategy requires a lot of energy. It requires slower and more brain-fuel-intensive processing in order to make calculations for multiple paths, current opportunities and foresee possible future scenarios and consequences.
A strategy that requires less energy and processing in the short-term is to use repetitive, automated behavior, and a narrowing of options - which reduces the ‘expensive’ process of decision-making. Having 2 choices, for example, is less time-consuming and brain-body energy conserving than multiple choices.
Repetitive, narrow, closed options are appealing to the aspect of our brain and nervous system that is energy-conserving in the short-term.
Because this system is ‘faster’ and more immediate, our default will generally be to divert our attention and movements in ways that lead to repetitive, automated, predictable behaviors and responses to events and people.
From that same energy-conserving principle, we can say that reacting to situations in similar ways is ‘easy’ - it requires less energy. Because our systems are also wired to detect problems and threats, noticing what’s wrong and negative is also ‘easy’. It requires much less energy to be negative than it does to open our awareness to multiple possibilities, perspectives, and paths forward that are novel, and unexpected.
Although those flexible, solution-oriented mechanisms require more effort, the nice thing about neuroplasticity is that once we activate certain behaviors and neural networks enough times, those strategies become easier and easier. Initially, being proactive, and seeing many different ways to approach challenges takes a lot of intention, awareness and energy. But the more we do it, the more our attentional circuits will flex in those ways with less effort.
Notice something challenging going on in your life. Notice how little effort it takes to see it in a negative way.
Challenge your brain to consider at least one other possibility, perspective, or path forward that is different than the negative view you are taking about the situation. Notice how much effort it takes and how quickly you may revert back to the negative.
If it’s too difficult to see any other perspective about the situation you’re challenged with, another strategy you can use is disengagement. This is using your attention to focus on something that pleasantly distracts you. You can do this for a short period to get a more positive internal state, and then return to the challenging situation/thought and see what new possible solutions or approaches might come up.
Remember that all of this is simply electrical firing patterns in the brain!
It’s all electrochemical activity that you can change by using your attentional mechanism (your beam of awareness) to shine on something else that exists in your mind, in your surroundings or in your awareness.
We, as humans, have the capacity to expand or narrow our field of awareness. Narrowing this field to focus on something negative cuts us off from many possible paths, choice points, possibilities. Opening our awareness and exploring more than one possibility will almost always create a sense of agency and a more regulated internal state due to the neural circuits involved in ‘pathway thinking’.
With Love from Me to You
On a side note...
One way we can challenge ourselves to light up new circuits for pathway thinking (which is tied to noticing many possible alternatives, routes, choice points, future projections) is to learn about topics that specifically hone these abilities. Some of these kinds of topics include anything that gets you to think about emergency situations, how you would handle them, what you would do. This is something I have been exposing myself to more and more over the past year and it has been an empowering experience. I believe a lot of mental health issues in our society today could be improved with this kind of training. Young people especially could benefit - but they need adults who are willing to take the lead first. I want to integrate this type of learning and mindset into ‘interactive regulation’ kind of training and content - where we look at how humans can socially-emotionally-mentally-physically prepare themselves and build more resilient mindsets for dealing with relational challenges (both online and in person) for all types of social dynamics.
In line with that, I’ve already pre-ordered a book by a leader who has inspired me on a continuous basis to believe in myself, in my strengths, and to honor my need for team, community and family. His book, Prepared - is available for pre-order on amazon. (here’s an intro to it here). I highly recommend you check it out!
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