Being Confused at a Higher Level

Being Confused at a Higher Level

The sign posted over the entrance to the electrical engineering lab at SRI International, a consulting firm for large government and corporate projects:

We have not solved your problem.

In fact, we have more questions than when we started.

But we believe we are confused at a higher level

and about more important things.

My friend Ted passed this wisdom on to me when he worked at SRI International. I find the “confusion at a higher level” so true about many aspects of life, including the many questions people bring to the disciplines I practice – psychotherapy and life coaching. Should I stay in this marriage? Should I stay in this job?  Should I stay in this city?  Just when the pieces start to fall into place, yes for sure or no for sure, some new wrinkle appears and it’s a whole new ball game.

It’s that kind of confusion when facing something new, something difficult, even something potentially disastrous, that I’ll be exploring in an upcoming webinar with NScience, broadcast from London, UK on September 19, 2019: Catalyzing Brain Change: How To Transform Any Adversity into Learning and Growth. [Details]  How to sit with confusion and create a larger perspective that might lead to some answers and solutions.

One of the most basic tools to move from confusion to the larger perspective is Change Every Should to A Could. 

Exercise: Change Every “Should” to “Could”

We all have unconscious patterns in our language that filter how we perceive our experiences and thus shape how we respond to them.  Should” is one of them.  “I have to” is another.  “Should” and “have to” imply obligation, duty, even right or wrong, and the mind contracts. “Should” creates an unconscious expectation or command for performance and sets us up for criticism if we “fail” to perform.  “Could” creates an unconscious perception of possibility and sets us up for pride in our learning and growth.  You can react to those unconscious messages quite unconsciously, automatically.   

Changing every ‘should” to “could” opens up possibilities and choice, and thus strengthens response flexibility.  Shifting “I have to” to “I get to” similarly shifts your thinking from burden to privilege and strengthens your resilience.

1.  Without making “change every should to a could” another “should,” remind yourself fairly regularly that “could” is a possibility.  Whenever you hear yourself “shoulding” on yourself, repeat the phrase “change every should to a could” and notice any shifts in your own thinking.

2.  Likewise, whenever you hear yourself say “I have to” (which could be a lot!) practice saying “I get to” instead. Gratitude for the privilege of being alive and having the opportunity. Notice any shifts in your responses to what’s happening and your reactions to it.

3.  Even if there are still shades of obligation lingering, ask yourself if there is any positive in the moment. Let the recognition of that positive re-open your brain functioning to optimism and learning. I could finish the taxes by this weekend.  I get to take the kids to school every morning this week.

This one practice of shifting your self-talk can have some of the biggest effects on reducing confusion, on expanding perspectives, on recovering your resilience.

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