There Are No Mistakes

Do not fear mistakes. There are none. 

-Jazz great Miles Davis

If you want to change or improve, belief is important.

If we see mind over matter as a power struggle we must win, we will often believe that matter is winning. We will believe toughness must be built. We will believe that we progress and regress constantly, at best moving slowly but steadily toward our goal destination in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

While this a reasonable view, it’s not necessarily accurate.

Matter is never winning. It just seems that way because our thoughts rise and fall like a roller coaster. This ebb and flow of thoughts creates different characteristics of thinking, and we project these characteristics onto the world we see in front of us.

Beliefs are certain type of thought. Beliefs are enduring thoughts that occur to us over and over across relatively long periods of time. Beliefs do not dictate our thoughts. We can be very inconsistent, but for the most part, beliefs endure.

If we believe mind over matter is a fact of our existence, which is an accurate belief as far as I can tell, it’s possible to see progression and regression as states of mind. Therefore, it’s possible to understand that there is no real progression or regression, rather, there are only changes in the way one is thinking in the moment.

While this might seem like a bland, neutral, vanilla position, it can actually be quite liberating and thrilling. Understanding the neutrality of the world can help free us from the belief that the world has shackled us with limits it imposes from the outside. Freeing yourself from the tyranny of matter can lead to breakthroughs.

Rather than believing there is a goal destination that will do something to us or for us (this is a matter over mind belief), you can see goals within each moment, what I like to call plays to be made. When we live with an accurate understanding of our mind over matter existence, we can see plays to be made every second of every day. This is not bland at all, and indeed can be quite awe inspiring.

As our experience progresses and we make play after play after play (sometimes missing them but always remembering another play to be exists right now), we improve (based on outside perspectives such as a scorecard or scoreboard), sometimes dramatically.

When we don’t improve based on outside perspectives, if we give in to matter over mind, we start to buy into the power struggle and see ourselves as losing . While we sometimes thrive on this challenge, we sometimes see it as a daunting struggle we can’t win.

If we understand our mind over matter existence, we will begin to see that lack of improvement is simply a projection of our own thoughts. If we can do this, we are more likely to value each experience for what it is. This is where the idea, “We learn from our mistakes,” comes from, and if we extend that outward, we might arrive at the conclusion, “There are no mistakes.”

In a matter over mind world, we are oppressed or rewarded by the outside world. In a matter over mind world, we are at its mercy or benevolence. In a mind over matter world, we are free to make of it what we can. Imagine what might be possible if you knew there were no mistakes and focused on doing what you can in each moment.

The Accuracy of Influence

A couple of days ago I read an article about a pitcher who was changing his mental focus to only what he could control: His mechanics (throwing the ball).

I thought this was interesting. If he is so certain that he can control his mechanics, why would he ever have a problem with them in the first place? Doesn’t he control them?

Was he not able to control them before and now he can? If he controls his pitches now, should we expect that he will never throw an errant pitch from this point forward?

Then today I read an article that suggested I shift my mindset to one of personal control in order to avoid blaming the outside world for the circumstances of my life. I thought this was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t go far enough.

Here is why personal control is a broken concept. If I take the concept of control strictly, I must do two things when I make a mistake: 1) Blame myself, and 2) engage in denial, repression, avoidance, and other types of magical thinking in an effort to ignore the obvious: I don’t have control.

I understand self-blame is often viewed as a position of strength and personal responsibility, but it really isn’t. Certainly it’s stronger than blaming others, but it isn’t nearly as strong as an accurate understanding of our limited influence. And this is where control is weak. It stems from a fear of accurately understanding our limits.

The truth is that control is a relatively weak, insecure position relative to influence. Think about it in terms of relationships. Does anyone like being in a relationship with a controlling person? Only people who are feeling weak and insecure in relationships feel the need to try to control. To counter the weak, insecure feeling, they react in an opposite direction by trying to exert control.

The alternative to forcing control is trusting influence. Do you like being in trusting relationships? When we trust, we feel no need to control. We sense that influence is adequate. We simply trust things will work out even if they do not unfold perfectly according to our wishes. With trust comes incredible confidence.

Back to pitching and other actions. Personal influence over one’s body is a type of relationship. Often, it works exactly as intended. For example, the other day I had a physical examination. My blood pressure was the best it’s been in 25 years, and my blood numbers were all better than least year. Thus, my body’s health is working the way I intended in many ways.

Despite my influence over my body, I am acutely and accurately aware of the limits of my control over it. If my body was under my control I’d be much stronger and faster than I am. I’d be a 43 year-old NFL football player, and I wouldn’t have chronic numbness or weakness in my left leg. For that matter, if my body was under my control, I would not have hit numerous slices and hooks the other day at the driving range.

But I don’t control my body. I influence it. When I forget my influence, which is normal, I blame the world for my thoughts, feelings, and imperfect actions. When I overstep my influence and find myself yearning a desire to control, I get confused and frustrated when things don’t work as I intended. When I see my influence accurately, I trust that things have worked out very nicely for me so far and will continue to do so, until they don’t, at which point I will do my best to deal with it.

Unless we live with pathological denial, each person experiences a moment in life when he or she confronts the illusion of control. This moment can be met with horror and panic, or it can be met with trust, confidence, and the knowledge that errant thoughts, feelings, and actions don’t really exist. There are no mistakes. Every effect is perfectly aligned with its causes, and every cause is an effect of something that preceded it. We are constantly moving thoughts, feelings, and actions in a world – and a body – we don’t control but do influence.

When we clutch control too tightly, we may experience a momentary increase in confidence and focus, but we are setting ourselves up for eventual failure. When we understand the limits of control and the accuracy of influence, we set ourselves up for trust, confidence, understanding, and personal power.

Experiments vs Failures

When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You haven’t.

-Thomas Edison

Over and over I hear about the problems people have with failure. It seems we are risk-averse and do not want to fail.

I often talk to teens about this issue. Some of our highest flying teens seem particularly risk averse. This is often something blamed on their generation, but I am not sure this is a generational thing. If anything, I think their parents’ generation (my generation, Gen X) is the one who has pointed out how terrible it is for them to fail. But nonetheless, here is what we talk about.

I point out that the best and brightest in any field tend to take on the toughest problems. These are either new problems that nobody has solved yet or age old problems that resist obvious (and not so obvious) solutions. There is great unknown inherent in these issues, and attempts to solve them are frequently met with what can be viewed as failure.

However, the best and brightest do not necessarily see attempts to solve these problems as failures. They see it as experimenting. In order to solve problems, we may need to systematically form opinions and test them. At the beginning, many options appear to be equally good, so choosing one and trying it is a good place to start. If that one attempt out of many good looking options works, you were fortunate. Otherwise, the experiment will not get the results you hoped for, and could be considered a failure.

Here is the thing to remember. An experiment is never a failure (although some are conducted poorly). Results are always a perfect reflection of how the experiment was conducted, and all results have the potential to be informative. When tempted to use the word failure, 99 times out of 100 there is a better term.

Most times, when someone looks like a huge success to us, we simply have not been privy to all the experimenting they’ve performed in the dark before bringing their triumph to the light of eyes. If something is important to you, exhaust your possibilities, and when you believe you have met failure, remember this: You haven’t.

The Can’t Pile

For years I’ve watched myself and others sort what is possible into piles: The Can Pile and the Can’t Pile. Sometimes this is done for seemingly good reasons, such as sorting into piles based on what I can control and what I can’t control. The thinking is, “Why bother with what I can’t control? Just let it be. Save my energy.” On the surface, it makes sense, but there is a problem with sorting like that.

When you sort like that, the Can’t Pile gets too damn big. Please do not limit your influence and possibility in this way.

Let me give an example. I was talking to a young softball player one time, and she was discussing how she controls the controllables and leaves everything else be. She can’t control it, so why bother?

I wanted an example, so she mentioned that she can’t control umpire calls, so she leaves them be and doesn’t worry about them (doubtful this always happens, but I love the effort). In other words, umpire calls are in her Can’t Pile.

This was curious to me, so I asked, “Do you think you can influence umpire calls?”

 She thought about it for a moment. “Yes, maybe. I can talk to them. Thank them for coming. Not complain about calls but rather ask nicely about calls and their strike zone in between innings. I think all that influences calls. If someone likes us, maybe they give us the benefit of the doubt. And people like it when others are nice to them.”

“So if we put umpire calls into our Can’t Pile, aren’t we limiting the true possibilities of our influence?”

She got it, and I hope this example suffices to make a point. When we sort too much into the Can’t Pile, we are limiting our influence too much. We can’t control anything (read the * below if you want more on my definition of control), but to me, we should operate under the belief that we can possibly influence everything to some degree.

Despite our lack of control, our influence is powerful. When we act on what we can influence, so many times we find that forces align to give us what we need and want.

While it is true that our influence is very small sometimes, a small influence can make a huge difference under the right conditions. And small influences over time can have rather large cumulative effects.

Thinking in terms of influence, potential, and possibilities will help open up new worlds to you, so please do not sort into Can and Can’t Piles. The Can’t Pile is too damn big and limits the possibilities you recognize.

*I know control gets confusing for people because I am now the, “We don’t control anything guy,” which makes me a freak in some circles but also seems to hit home in a profound way with so many people. So let me explain.

My definition of control is that to have control, one must control not only their action (or thought or feeling), but everything that goes into allowing that action to happen. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can demonstrate to me they even control something as simple as their consciousness. We are awake now, and we want to be. We don’t control it. It’s a happy coincidence, a beautiful alignment of what we want and what we’ve got, a coming together of forces to give me the illusion of control in this moment.

 If you think you control your consciousness, fall asleep right now and wake up five minutes later to keep reading this. If you can’t do that, the best we can say is that you have some influence over your consciousness, but it certainly doesn’t reach my bar for the definition of control.

It’s Not Fair

Yesterday my daughter sent me a picture of an answer she wrote on one of her school assignments. The assignment posed the question, “Is it fair?”

My daughter wrote in her answer to that question based on something she has heard me say dozens, if not hundreds, of times: “Fair has nothing to do with it.”

Truthfully, I use variations of this term. “What does fair have to do with it?”

“What’s fair about life?”

“Fair is for levels of Kool Aid you pour for your friends, nothing else.”

And so on.

When I posted a picture of her answer, I had friends and family chime in on their own favorite versions of this idea. My cousin noted a line from Dirty Harry, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”

A friend who is a coach noted he often says something like, “The fair is in July with fattening food, scary rides, and lots of games….that’s the fair. This is life.”

We all seem to have our own version of how we explain that life isn’t fair, and we all seem to get it. Fair has nothing to do with life. At some point, instead of seeking fairness, most of us who get along pretty well evolve past fair to reasonable, sensible, just, correct, and other more applicable terms for life.

At the heart of the matter, most of us probably want some version of fairness, but our own version should really be titled My Way. Sometimes, like when pouring Kool Aid, when our level reaches our friends’ levels, we are cool with stopping. Other times, we believe we deserve more, or we simply want more. We see ourselves as deserving; therefore, we believe it would be reasonable, sensible, just, correct….fair…..for us to have what we want.

Unfortunately, reasonable, just, deserved, and correct often don’t have anything to do with life either. Perhaps the best we can realize is that life is perfectly aligned for the results it gets.

If you want change, you will have to change. Change yourself. Get better. Get more active. Get out of your own way. Show more love to others. Show more kindness. Give more. Help more. Seek reasonable, sensible, just, deserved, and correct for others. If you do, you are changing the system that is currently aligned against what you want.

I have to remind myself of this every day. Sometimes, changing the system means I need to get better. Other times, my actions are certainly good enough, and change simply means I need to get different. At all times, fair, reasonable, sensible, just, deserved, and correct have nothing to do with it. That’s life.

The Physics of Inside-Out

A couple of friends and colleagues had some excellent thoughts and comments on a few of my recent posts. I want to address those over the next few days. I’m warning you, today’s post is a bit geeky, but I think many of you will find it helpful. Tomorrow’s will be more practical.

I want to clarify what inside-out means (to me) and the physics of the issue. Inside-out a term that has a certain meaning. It isn’t necessarily the best or only term, but it seems to be a term many people connect to and understand.

Inside-out means our experience of the world is created in our thoughts, and this is what we feel (emotionally). Our beliefs, moods, feelings, and other internal states determine how we interpret and experience the outside world. The inside reactions determine how the outside situations and stimuli are experienced. The flow of the experience is from inside to outside.

Inside reactions ———–Determine how we experience———–> outside events

For example, from a low mood in which we are feeling doubtful, we may believe we can’t achieve certain personal goals. In a good mood, the same goals might look highly achievable, perhaps even simple. Same goal, but our different momentary thought characteristics make us experience the goal differently.

Now, inside out is just a term to describe how the internal states create our interpretation of the outside states/situations; However, I want to be clear about the physics of this. Lights, sounds, and other signals clearly reach us from the outside-in. Light, sound, radiation, cell phone signals, radio waves, microwaves, etc., are traveling in various directions all the time. We can register some of these physical signals reliably and accurately in our awareness (using our senses, such our eyes, ears, and underlying nervous systems, including our brains), but others we are not aware of in the least (unless we have a phone or radio handy).

Sometimes, we as humans have very reliable reactions to certain stimuli, like loud, sudden noises. For most humans, under many conditions, our typical nervous system will respond with a startle reflex when loud, unexpected noises are detected. While the physics seems outside-in (noise travels from the source to our senses from outside-in), the typical startle response requires certain functioning on the part of humans who are hit by the sound waves. Just to name a few, it requires intact sensory functioning, a certain attention level (must not be prepared for the sound to occur), and even a certain lack of conditioning to loud, sudden noises. Then after a startle response occurs, there is thoughtful interpretation that depends on human thinking. This interpretation then determines the entire felt experience of the moment.

If a tree falls in the woods, it will definitely produce waves that can be interpreted as sound, but a human has to be present to actually hear it and understand it as a tree falling. The human sensory and thought system (inside) determines the personal experience (inside) of the tree falling (outside).

Humans tend to have reliable sensory systems. It is what allows us to see patterns, learn, and interact with the world in consistent ways. As a whole we respond in highly reliable and similar ways to certain stimuli; however, few, if any, stimuli produce invariant responses in 100% of humans.

Individuals also have certain relations to particular stimuli and situations, and often when we react to sensory stimuli in the same way over and over, we start to believe the stimulus makes us respond this way. However, it is rarely if ever the case that our responses can’t change. They can, and it’s often deceptively simply to get different responses out of ourselves.

One example that comes to mind is the trains that barreled through the Albion College campus when I was a student. For the first week of football camp for four years, I woke up once an hour to a train rattling down the track, blowing its whistle. After about a week, my subconscious got used to it (habituated to it), and I no longer woke up to the train. I was no longer startled awake in response to the train noise.

Don’t get hung up on the physics of it. The sound and vibrations definitely traveled toward me, from the outside-in. However, the change in my experience of the train happened internally. The internal change (getting used to the train and understanding it wasn’t threatening) determined how I experienced the outside stimulus (train noise and vibration), which didn’t change. This is why it is called inside-out.

Inside-Out Nature

We’ve been taught that the outside world has people, things, and situations (called stimuli) that make us think and feel certain ways. We’ve even been taught that certain stimuli can make us act a certain way. Certain stimuli are supposed to create certain responses from us.

While this seems accurate, the truth is, we aren’t controlled in such a way. Yes, we tend to develop consistent reactions to certain stimuli, but these are internally conditioned responses, not automatic outside-controlled reactions. Our beliefs and expectations play large roles in these responses.

What really happens is that our beliefs and momentary thoughts create our experience of the people, things, and situations of the outside world. Our feelings and actions flow from our momentary thoughts. Therefore, our feelings and actions are not a direct result of the conditions of the world. Rather, our reactions are results of our thoughts about the outside world.

The flow is from inside us to the outside world (this is where the term inside-out comes from). The outside world does not make us think, feel, or act any certain way. Our thoughts and feelings never work from the outside-in. It only seems that way sometimes. Outside-in is an illusion we believe in from time to time.

Our thought, feeling, and action responses vary from automatic to very slow, but they are always subject to change. Thus, we do not necessarily control our response, but we probably have some influence in our response, especially by influencing our beliefs, which help form our momentary thoughts (beliefs along with moods help form our response…more on mood later).

When we believe in the outside-in illusion, we close ourselves to other possibilities. We then think, feel, and act as if we are controlled by the outside world. This is part of the conditioning I mentioned earlier.

When we see the inside-out nature of our experience accurately, we gain clarity of thought and freedom from the outside world. When we gain clarity and freedom, we begin to understand that so many of our conditioned reactions are based on our false belief that we need to battle the outside world’s control over us.

As we begin to understand that we are free from the outside world’s control, we begin to open up to the possibility that we can influence and change our responses to suit our desires. In this clarity, freedom, and possibility, we begin to battle ourselves and the world less, and we begin to flow from our heart, soul, and spirit more.

It’s Only Cold on One Sideline

“It’s only cold on one sideline,” is a favorite phrase of my high school football coach, Ralph Munger, a legend in Michigan high school football. He had a great saying for every weather condition.

“It’s only hot on one sideline.”

“It’s only raining on one sideline.”

“It’s only snowing on one sideline.”

Whatever the weather forecast, Coach had a saying for it.

When coach said, “It’s only cold on one sideline,” he wanted us to understand the power of mind over matter. Many coaches have talked about the power of mind over matter. “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter,” is a phrase often heard around football.

Mind over matter is often thought to be about the power struggle between mind and matter, but there is a more powerful reality. Mind over matter isn’t about a power struggle, it’s about a fact of life. Our minds create the matters (i.e., situations) of life from the inside-out.

Even though it seems like the outside world has a tremendous impact on our thoughts and feelings, we actually create our experience of the world from the inside (our minds, mindsets, thoughts) to the outside (people, things, and situations of the world outside each of us). Our experience of life is always created from the inside-out, never the outside-in. Believing thoughts and feelings happen from the outside-in is a common thing, but it’s an illusion.

Consider some common outside-in ideas a player might have in mind.

– A big game makes me nervous.

– Coach criticizing me is stressing me out.

– Winning a championship ring would make me happy.

A big game, criticism, a championship ring, or anything else outside oneself has no power to make anyone think or feel anything in particular.

Consider that for a moment because it is all you really need to know to gain incredible freedom in your life. Situations, people, and things have no power to influence our feelings. We create our experience of situations, people, and things from the inside-out.