If you want to look back on your day (and eventually, your life) you must acknowledge this fundamental truth about how our brain works:

Our thoughts fuel emotions and actions that lead to results.

While our thoughts can feel like “truths,” they are simply stories our brain tells us. We get to pick and choose the narrative. But before we can exert any power of choice, we must first notice what truths we hold. And this noticing is much harder than it seems.

Given that it’s graduation season, I’d like to offer a few excerpts from David Foster Wallace’s unorthodox and imminently useful 2005 commencement address to Kenyon College.

“…learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

“You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.”

“…it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head

Choosing Empathy

He goes on to describe in all-too-real detail the often tedious adult world that awaits them, and to offer an approach full of grace, presence, and compassion.

“I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.”

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

Brilliant Resources…Enjoy!

  • Noticing your thoughts is hard at first. So is upgrading them. Use my simple STEAR process to guide your thoughts to better emotions, actions, and results.
  • One of my favorite resources on the topic is neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s book My Stroke of Insight: her great effort to help others benefit from her journey after losing her left-brain functions in a stroke. Short on time? Get the audio book and make your commute, waiting room, or check-out line more fruitful. Or, see her TEDTalk – perhaps the best 18 minutes you’ll ever spend online.
  • The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle – Popular for a reason, this book can help you find space (and peace) between your thoughts. This book got me through a very dark time.
  • David Rock’s practical, irreverent post on Psychology Today The Neuroscience of Mindfulness
  • This week, I began re-reading Byron Katie’s Loving What Is, her appeal to find freedom and empowerment by embracing reality (or go insane, broke, sick, etc. trying to resist it). For someone so grounded, she’s a bit magical.

“Mindfulness isn’t difficult: the hard part is remembering to do it.”

– David Rock