Dr. Peggy Marshall

Constructing Your Reality

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. -Viktor Frankl

Dr. Peggy MarshallAs you read the title for May’s blog you are probably wondering where I could possible go with a title like that. Actually, it’s a chapter in Shawn Achor’s book “Before Happiness”  which is called Reality Architecture. I have been a fan of Shawn Achor since we began using his work from “The Happiness Advantage” as part of a culture build activity for our company. The way that I differentiate between the two books is that “The Happiness Advantage” speaks to the “why” we need to focus on happiness and “Before Happiness” provides a few more “whys” and a plethora of “hows”.

Now let’s go back to reality construction. It’s a difficult concept to wrap our minds around and yet through our thoughts and beliefs we construct our version of reality.   If any of you are parents or have siblings you know that when presented with the facts about a given situation, the facts typically represent two different parties interpretations of what happened. That’s exactly what reality construction is-how we interpret what is happening in our world. Understanding that we actually choose our own interpretation of events is extremely freeing.

In building success skills as a reality architect, Achor advises us to choose the most valuable reality. Our ability to recognize that there alternative versions of a situation and focusing on the one that will take us into greater happiness is the first skill to build. This means that we “get to” choose what we want to focus on, we are not restricted by a person or situation. An example of this comes from “Man’s Search for Meaning” .  Victor Frankl chronicled his experiences in a World War II concentration camp. As a therapist, he found that when inmates focused on the meaning of life they were able to tolerate their circumstances better which led to increased longevity. As human beings we assign meaning to what happens to us-the question is whether the meaning we are assigning takes us into a positive future or a negative past.

Chip Conley in “Emotional Equations” also discusses the impact of exploring the meaning of situations of our lives in his equation “Despair = Suffering-Meaning”. When we are able to focus on the meaning of what is happening and create our reality from that understanding we begin to minimize our angst and are able to move through the event more quickly. Additionally, when we can examine our situations from the perspective of what is being learned and what can be gained, we just might discover important tidbits of serenity that can be carried through to other encounters. Although as a coach, I would not recommend that clients start with reframing the most traumatic circumstances in their lives, however, there is an opportunity for most individuals to choose reframe the more mundane situations in their lives.

Other authors have provided additional guidance to helping us construct our reality. In “Change Your Thoughts-Change Your Life”, Wayne Dyer advises us to let go of labeling. Labeling often stems from judgment about our present circumstance. We label to define what is happening but to also make sense of what is happening. How we interpret a given situation will lead to whether the label is positive or negative. Many times the labeling that we apply to a given situation comes from habit. Changing our thoughts requires us to be proactive rather than reactive which will take us out of habitual responses to people and situations. In “Loving What Is” Byron Katie guides the use of a turnaround to accept what is happening in our lives that can also be used for labeling. She has a four step turnaround that uses the following process: “Is it true? Is it really true? How do you feel when you think that way? How would you feel if you didn’t think that way?” Continuing to ask ourselves whether the label takes us into greater success or actually holds us back is a great way to insert changing our thinking into the reality construction.

Another skill building action that Achor recommends is to train your brain to attach more positives to any given situation. Believe it or not, our brains are actually programmed to identify negatives as an early survival mode. However, since we are not being chased by dinosaurs, we might want to consider how searching for positives in a situation can be an advantage for us. Much like Byron Katie’s turnaround, attaching positives to what is currently happening improves the brain’s flexibility and significantly increases our ability both find and pursue the most valuable reality. An activity that aligns with attaching positives to situations is to keep a daily log of what happened and words you use to describe situations. Ask yourself if you have more positive words than negative at the end of the day. Remember inching along with this process is PROGRESS!

Achor closes his chapter on reality architecture with several tidbits of wisdom. The one I want to close this blog with is “remind yourself that you have the power to change”. As we engage with others and with specific situations on a daily basis, remember that you have the power to change your reality both in what you say about the people/situation and how you react to them.

To Your Success! Dr. Peggy