“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” – This popular quote is attributed to Peter Drucker. But what does it really mean?
Do you muscle your way into the future, constructing your life as though it’s a project? If you try to do that, you’ll be disappointed.
The real meaning behind this statement is that we need to assume responsibility for our lives and the future we want to impact.
It starts with focusing on the reality you create right now, which is shaped by what you focus your attention on and the images you hold in your mind.
Advanced studies in neuroscience show that we are hard-wired to focus on negative images. When we see something beautiful, we notice it briefly and then our attention quickly moves on. But when we see something disturbing, we become riveted on it.
Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain, says our brains are teflon for positive images and velcro for negative.
The good news is, we can consciously rewire our brains by paying attention to positive images. There are many simple things you can do to change your neural pathways and the reality you experience. Here are three:
1) When you see something positive, extend your attention for an additional 60 seconds. Don’t just glance off and move on.
2) Keep a gratitude journal and write 5 positive things that impacted you each day.
3) Make a habit of smiling at the clerk each time you purchase something.
These simple acts can make a big difference in your experience. But you need to be intentional about it because it won’t happen naturally.
On a daily basis we are bombarded with destructive images – in movies, on television, in electronic games, in magazines, and more.
Ask anyone to describe what a post-World War III world would look like and they can easily give you a vivid description because they have seen destruction depicted in numerous ways. However, if you ask them to describe what world peace looks like, they have so little to draw on that their description will be vague, lacking imagery.
We must actively seek out positive images or our sense of reality will be unbalanced.
Many wonderful and powerful things are happening everyday. But we have to look for them because they won’t be presented to us in the media.
In this profound and funny TEDx Talk, my friend and colleague Noah Blumenthal discusses the “Danger of Hot Sexy News” and what we can do in a world where the news industry has been taken over by the equivalent of the WWF.
p.s. One more simple thing you can do to rewire your brain – stop watching the evening news on television.
Hi Jesse Lyn,
For five years I have paused and written 5 things that have gratitude that day. Stopped watching the news some time ago, although I still tend to listen to it too much on the radio in the car. Hadn’t heard the 60 second rule for staying focused on positive images. I am going to try and make that a habit.
Fabulous post. Thanks for the reminder.
Thanks for sharing, David. I’m not surprised after hearing about your amazing boat trip. I picked up the practice of extending your attention on positive images from James Baraz, author of Awakening Joy, which includes many more easy to do practices that make a big difference.
Jesse, I like the extending taking in something for an extra 60 seconds. I have enjoyed the benefits of a gratitude journal and more enjoy the clerk’s reaction when I give them more than a smile and actually engage in small talk. We take it for granted what abuse front line staff take from the customer, so that really changes their day and in turn your own shopping experience. I will listen to the TEDTalk, but do agree that the world we experience is a function of our thoughts. It is true that “the world meets you where you are”
The really amazing thing about doing these kinds of practices is that by benefiting ourselves, we also make the world a better place for others. I appreciate your comments about how we treat clerks and the front line representatives from companies. Taking the time to connect with them reminds us they are human beings, something we can too easily forget. Much thanks for adding to the conversation, Thabo. I think you’ll really enjoy Noah’ TEDTalk.
Wow Jesse. I just finished watching the TEDx Talk by Noah. It really meets me where I am as this has been a bug bear of mine, and particularly having just gone through the elections down here, I find his view as a big AHA moment.
Jesse, I appreciate the emphasis you place on intentionality. It’s so key in shaping our own thinking and how we choose to filter and interpret life.
Loved Noah’s talk, too! Increasingly, I’ve observed there is far too little listening for understanding and discerning what’s true, as people entrench themselves in reactive and presumptive thinking, often based on poor (if any) facts. As we increase our capacity for intentionality, whether in our thoughts or actions, we can begin to hold space for more rational, fact-based discussion. In the face of pure emotion, rhetoric and a desire to be right (over discerning what’s true), it’s unlikely that we will ever advance beyond the current levels of ‘argutainment’ Noah addresses in his talk.
Btw – Love your idea of keeping a gratitude journal! Gratitude is part of my daily spiritual practice, though it would be interesting to write down my thoughts and review over time. I once read an article about one family’s ‘gratitude jar’ in which they encouraged family members to add slips of paper to the jar each day that express what they are thankful for. At the end of the year (or at Thanksgiving), they then empty out the jar and share each other’s notes of gratitude from the year. What a great way to practice gratitude and share thanks with each other, too!
Thanks for highlighting the importance of intentionality, Sharon. Our frontal cortex gives us the capacity to make the choice to override our primitive instincts, but it won’t happen naturally.
The great thing about a gratitude journal is that it forces you to focus your attention on what you appreciate. Not only does it bring back a pleasant experience at the time you write it, but as you point out, you also have the opportunity to experience gratitude again when you read it. I’ve also heard some people say they use their mobile device to record pleasant experiences throughout the day. I love the idea of a gratitude jar. Thanks for sharing that Sharon, and also for deepening the conversation.
What a great post and also insightful talk.
Your 60 second rule is a good one! The others I have used and practiced, but I had not heard the 60 second extension. Thank you for the suggestion. I will try it.
I also like Sharon’s idea of the jar.
(By the way, I believe the proper quote attribution is Alan Kay.)
Much thanks, Skip. Delighted to see you here! 🙂
p.s. My understanding is that doing this 6 times a day for 21 days will rewire some of your neural pathways.
p.p.s. I’ve also see the quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln.
(Which reminds me of another great quote: “The problem with quotes on the Internet is you can’t depend on their accuracy.” ~ Abraham Lincoln)
I think you will like this:
It was one of many things that changed my life for the better starting years ago.
I also started a group there about “Equalness & Uniqueness” see http://www.gratitudelog.com/groups/equalness_and_uniqueness
There’s 1 more thing that I would like to add to your list and that is Forgiveness.
I started learning about forgiving years ago. It already changed my life. But a few months ago I had a mayor breakthrough as I could forgive the last piece of anger towards my father. More than 10 years after his death it was more like releasing the last bit of a kind of bitterness of something I was not aware of that I was walking around with.
It was a special moment and story as it happened. I should write it down one day. One day? Twoday?
And if you read my message of Equalness & Uniqueness on and could adopt that way of thinking, you’ll find in an almost direct way that the world is changing in a more positive way. All you have to do in practice is say “Hi” or “Hello” or just nod to other people.
Thoughts become things. Better have the good ones.
Good stuff, Mark! There are a lot of interesting ways people are using technology to support the practice of gratitude. And much thanks for sharing your own experience. Gratitude is a quality that naturally arises when we release anger, resentment, jealousy and other negative emotions we are hanging on to. In order to forgive another, we must also forgive ourselves. It’s not easy to do. Forgiveness is not an act of the mind and doesn’t happen automatically just because you decide it’s a good idea. It arises from the heart and requires us to become completely open and vulnerable. When you do write your story, please let me know. I would love to see it.
Thanks for sharing your insights. Love this: “Thoughts become things. Better have good ones.”
Wonderful post, so many people unconsciously go through life not realizing how negativity so often trumps a positive outlook. There is a time for critical thinking but if we can have the majority start from a positive perspective, odds of not only being happy but being able to positively think through challenges go way up.
Thanks for the post
Absolutely, Lynn. The goal is not to ignore the negative, (because there are serious issues that need attention), but to create more balance by seeking the positive that are also there. The media does not make it easy to do that, but if we don’t consciously look for them, as you say, we will “unconsciously go through life not realizing how negativity trumps a positive outlook.”
Thanks for observation that we are addicted to negative images, especially those presented by the media. I guess we can excuse the media for their blindness because in competing for attention in our information saturated world they are forced to amplify only the messy stuff. It would be wonderful if they found a way to amplify more of what’s working, (not just heart-warming stories) and help people realize that the world isn’t falling apart.
I’ll second that! There are some very exciting things happening, not just heart-warming stories. It would be wonderful indeed if the media understood their role in perpetuating negative imagery and took responsibility to present a balanced view of the “news.”
I have nothing to add – your post and following comments just about cover the 24/7 intentional living. I, too, have a thankful journal and a joy jar. I protect the first hour of my day and armor up for what’s ahead. God gave me a positive attitude, the gift if encouragement, and muted the worry gene. I am blessed in ways I haven’t even discovered yet. There is no doubt your readers can relate. I am in awe of how you present topics I’ve thought about and experience without realizing their deep impact. Negative thoughts are not an issue for me, but intentional living – that’s an issue.
Thanks so much, Jane. The comments are so important because they deepen and enrich the thoughts in my posts, just as yours has done.
Terrific post, Jesse! Apropos your suggestions, I cut the cord to cable some years back… I kept a journal for a month and found that I had learned almost nothing from the programming, so it was time for it to go… in particular, the editorial-related programming of Fox News and MSNBC had become so predictable and often misleading so as to add no value (the non-editorial programming information I found I could gather elsewhere)…I also follow the suggestion of Professor Seligman, closing my day by noting three things I’m thankful for… this is a wise practice that I would commend to anyone…
Much thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts, Jim. Great to see you here!
I have nothing to add, Jesse, except that I am grateful for your ability to put such important and inspiring information into tight tidbits that can be immediately put to use. Thank you for the good work.
Thanks so much, Terry. That means a lot.
As you know, I know this all to be true. The amazing thing for me is that if you go to almost any religion, psychology research (see positive psychology), brain research like Rick Hanson’s, spiritual practice and even “channeled beings” I have found the same four things to be truths:
1) Happiness is a choice. If I want a happy, well-being future, choose it. Not a guarantee that you will smile through the rest of your life, but a predictor of more joy than less.
2) The more you make this choice, the easier it will be to make it again in the future. Strengthen this muscle, neuroreceptors, whatever, and they perform more predictably well in the future.
3) The more you make this choice, as you say in your post, the more others who make this choice will find their way to you and you to them.
4) Find that 60 seconds in nature and you have a direct path to well-being. As I look out at a very green lawn in Ohio (a new occurrence recently!), I can vouch for this last one right now! : )
Thanks for another wise, insightful and helpful post.
Wonderful principles, Jake. And beautifully stated. Thanks so much for sharing them here so the readers of my blog can benefit from them as well.
Great post Jesse! I agree that happiness requires consciousness and disciplined practice. Although many people live in negativity, most of the rest live in a state of numbness. I am teaching a class on emotional intelligence in Russia today and tomorrow. We talked a lot about what it takes to just wake up! Our brain is so busy protecting us that in stressful environments, it often just shuts down. I will share your post with them tomorrow.
Excellent points, Marcia! We numb ourselves to avoid feeling pain. Focusing on positivity does not mean avoiding pain. The paradox is that when we allow, instead of avoid, pain, it actually resolves. You are doing such important work. I’m delighted you will share this with your class.
Timing could not be better. Epictetus wrote in ancient times; “We see things not as they are but as we are.” I am working on developing my intelligent optimism –a core piece for resilience. It means to take what seems negative and re-frame it in a constructive way. For example, a lull in work becomes “the fertile void”. I have a gratitude journal that I am now writing in both early morning AND night. The morning is for what positive expectancy and the evening is summing up people and events of the day. So–I am grateful for your post AND that our colleague Marcia is safely in Russia!
Great idea about the way you use your gratitude journal. Love hearing how this weaves with your resiliency work. Grateful to you, Eileen, for sharing your wisdom here!
So glad you included the Ted talk by Noah Blumenthal. He may start out a bit slowly, but he certainly picks up gives us much to think about/do. Thanks for your reminders about positive thinking.
Thanks, Fay. The great thing about the positivity I am talking about is all you need to do is take the time to notice what is already present. Glad you enjoyed Noah’s TedTalk. I thought he does a great job of demonstrating the insidiousness of the negativity we are bombarded with on a regular basis.
Thank you for this important post. Its powerful, empowering and can be life changing. Your points about the media are true too. Fear programming must be avoided. In my coaching work, I help clients develop a daily ritual that involves reflecting on seven areas.
1. practice Gratitude
2. Read something inspiring, useful
3. Appreciate someone, something
4. Affirm what you want
5. Pray for Peace
6. practice Empathy
7. capture everyday Success
I call it the GRAPES model for ease of recall. Doing these seven simple actions everyday helps one increase self awareness as well as stay joyful, centered and calm.
Thanks again for the post
Hello Sridhar. It’s a wonderful model. Thanks so much for sharing it!
This is a great post and I value all of the comments. I am blogging about this topic and linking to this blog. Drucker was my hero –or still is–and my son went to Claremont McKenna College so I took a photo of Peter Drucker Street! The founder of our consulting group has a similar quote that I love:
“One of the best kept secrets is that we can influence our future by envisioning a possible future, treating our vision as fact, then translating it into a concrete plan of action.”
Drucker was truly a man ahead of his time as his lessons become even more relevant as technology advances. That’s a great quote. Thanks for sharing it, Jann. My apologies for my delayed response. Somehow your comment got buried and I just found it.