Thoughts DO NOT Create Feelings

In the world of personal development, many schools teach that your thoughts create your feelings. Change your thoughts and you change your feelings. You can feel whatever you want. Happiness, joy, courage. All it takes is making sure that you are properly managing your thoughts. As leaders, if we think this, we may approach our teams with the mindset that if we can only change our team’s thoughts, we too can manage their feelings. Except this doesn’t really work. In fact, despite our best efforts, we struggle to manage our teams this way.

But if you can change your relationship to thoughts, feelings, and meaning you can learn to be the kind of leader who knows how to create art with your team.

How thoughts and feelings really work

If you know anything about neuroscience or the lizard brain, you know that thoughts actually almost never precede feelings. Our amygdala, a sort of gatekeeper in the brain, gets some data from our senses and then sends it to our body and the rest of our brain.

If it detects a pattern of data it’s seen before and it’s related to a threat, it will send signals to the body to prepare to run, fight, or play dead. Moments later (a long time in brain-land) the prefrontal cortex also gets the data. The prefrontal cortex begins to interpret the data and do something really interesting. It makes meaning of the data. Really, it’s testing different meanings to see what plays.

If we’re walking through the woods and see a coiled object in the path, our amygdala screams “PATTERN OF SNAKE!!!” and sends this data to the body. We freeze. Our heart rate increases. We look closer. And our brain is processing: “Okay, alrighty now. Is it moving? Okay, not moving. What kind of snakes are common for this area? What else could it be?”

The brain is testing these complex mental models against its data stores to see how it could use our meaning-making abilities to help us get out of the situation.

When people who teach “thoughts create feelings” explain this tale, they would say: “See, the thought ‘SNAKE’ created the feeling ‘FEAR.’”

But that’s not true. It kind of seems true, but it isn’t.

The truth is our amygdala saw a pattern it’s been trained to think is a threat, our body generated fear to heighten our sense and THEN our brain thought SNAKE. Except we aren’t aware of any of this until we hear SNAKE in our heads and so we think, “the thought caused the feeling.”

But it’s actually the other way around. The sensation caused the feeling, and those together created the thought. From there the system DOES loop back on itself. As our minds play out all the scenarios—rattler, king cobra, copperhead, coral snake, radioactive, etc., etc.—we continue to have fear responses to these ideas. Even after we realize that what’s in the path is a rope, our bodies take time to calm down. To let go of the fear. Because the fear is not psychological, it’s biological.

Why does this matter for teams?

The simple answer: If members of your team are reacting with a certain set of thoughts or actions you don’t get, DON’T START TRYING TO CHANGE THE THOUGHTS!

It’s a little like trying to convince a kid that there are no monsters under their bed. Logically, you know there are no monsters, but to them the monsters are totally real, and forcing them to get into bed is basically torture.

Yet this is what executives and leaders I’ve met with usually do. They try to explain why their thoughts are better than their team’s thoughts. But it doesn’t work. Because you haven’t unearthed the pattern. You’re just teaching people to do a different thing when they see a snake.

So what should you or could you do differently?

Slow down and understand their world

In their world, their choices, behaviors, and beliefs all make PERFECT SENSE. They see a snake. To you: ropes all day, but to them: snakes. And until you can understand that they are seeing a snake or at least that they are seeing something they perceive as dangerous, you’ll never be able to lead them effectively. Because you’ll be leading them from a view of the world they can’t see.

This is why one of the most fundamental things I work on with my clients is how to stop and ask, “Why?” Why are they doing this? Why does the client want it this way? Why is this team member resisting? What’s really going on here?

Because when we understand why, even if it’s just the faint outline of why, we can influence people from a level deeper than simple moment-to-moment thought.

And while it takes practice to learn to exchange yourself for others—to see from their eyes, and then offer guidance, support, empathy, and enrollment from that place—doing so will not only make you a more effective leader, it will enable you to deeply understand yourself and everyone on your team—with a definition and clarity most leaders only dream of.


Make The Right Choice Later You Fool!

Let’s face it, making good choices is hard, especially when those choices ask you to do something that is challenging or uncomfortable. Unfortunately, these are exactly the choices you have to make if you want to change your life.

My Wake Up Early Challenge

Recently I decided to try and wake up earlier. But every morning I faced a dilemma. The alarm would ring, I would open my eyes, and in my head, I had to answer the question: To snooze or not to snooze? And pretty soon I’d be drifting back to la la land.

Despite all my resolve, I couldn’t get up on time and I was amazed with all the reasons I came up with to prolong my slumber.

I’d tell myself that five more minutes wouldn’t matter. I’d tell myself that I needed more sleep to be ready for my day. Or I’d tell myself that I just wanted to snuggle a few minutes longer.

At first, I thought the problem was my excuses, but then I realized the real problem was my decision. Each time I had to make the choice, I would pick the path of least resistance. It was easy to say I was going to wake up the night before, but much harder to do it in the moment.

Once You Start

With so many things in life, the hardest thing is to start. Whether it’s a run, a blog post, or a business before you start everything seems challenging. You think of how hot it is outside, how you don’t have anything to write about, or about how uncertain running a business can be.

But once you start, your resistance drops away. Instead of getting caught up on all the things that could go wrong, you get caught up in doing the thing you wanted to do. And before you know it you’re in the groove and so happy you make the choice you did.

But even though I knew this, I still had the problem of how to make the right choice when my energy and inspiration was low. So I decided to shift my decision point.

And I vowed to only make this decision after I’d already started.

How does this work?

Well for me it was simple. As soon as my alarm went off, I would get out of bed as quickly as possible. If the first thought in my head was, “maybe I should get some more sleep.” I would simply tell myself, “maybe you should, but you can always decide that after you get up.”

And it worked. Most of the time as soon as I got up I realized how silly my excuses were. This simple shift helped me change my default snooze into a default boost first thing in the morning.

Now there were a few mornings after I had stayed up to late that I got up but within 10 mins knew I needed to go back to sleep. But in those cases, I really did need more sleep so I was still able to make the right choice even after I got out of bed.

How you can put this into practice?

But Toku! I don’t have a hard time getting out of bed! No problem the best thing about deciding after you start is that you can use it for almost any choice you have a hard time making. All you do is delay the choice, until you’ve built some momentum.

If you have a hard time going to the gym, only decide whether or not to go after you’ve put on your shorts and walked out the door.

If you have a hard time eating healthy food, only decide after you’ve ordered one healthy thing off the menu.

If you have a hard time leaving late, only decide to do more work once you’ve gotten ready to go.

It’s just that simple.

And the best part is that when you use this technique you don’t need as much motivation. You no longer have to decide whether or not to run five miles or start a novel.

All you have to do is decide to run for five minutes, or write one page. Then and only then do you have to choose to keep going or to stop. But by then, you’ve already done the hardest part.

So to review:

Pick a time where you struggle to make a good choice. Then instead of choosing before you start, take one small step. And then decide. If you decide to keep going, GREAT! If you decide to stop, GREAT! It’s not about being perfect, it’s just about giving yourself the best shot at making a good choice and building trust in your ability to live the life you were meant to live.


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How to Simplify Your Life On One Sheet of Paper

Why Simplify?

One of the biggest fears I deal with during my initial consultations with clients is the fear of having more to do. Many new clients worry that they won’t have the time or energy to meet the demands a coach or trainer might put on them. Often I know they have this fear before they express it, because I see it in their eyes when they walk in the door.

And I get it, if you look out at most self help, personal training, and life coaching approaches out there that is what they offer. They want to help you free up energy so you can do more: more exercise, more work, and more activities. They paint this picture of the do everything, be everything, man or woman who is a titan of industry and a master of their lives.

Of course, this ideal has a certain appeal. I mean who wouldn’t want to have wealth, fame, and power. And how else are you going to get there without being able to do everything all while looking like a model and eating a perfect diet?

But what I’ve found again and again is that although this image is appealing it’s not one that actually speaks to the hearts of most of the people I meet or work with. Sure it appeals to our egos’ and to the media’s image of success, but it rarely equates to the deep satisfaction that people think this idealized lifestyle will give them.

Finding Deep Satisfaction

Instead, I’ve found that deeply satisfying lives are often the opposite of this ideal. Deep satisfaction comes not from doing more but from doing less. Not from being perfect or looking perfect, but by embracing our imperfections and humanity. Not from conquering the world, but living in a peaceful relationship with it.

Of course, this is easier than it sounds. There is a lot of cultural energy pulling us to always do more, instead of doing less and being ourselves. So I want to offer a few of the many reasons why I think it’s so important to simplify your life in order to find the peace, happiness, and meaning so many of us long for.

Simplicity Helps You Focus

Imagine you walk into a bedroom filled with many things. There are a few items in this room that matter more than anything to the person who lives there. But as you look at the room, it’s hard to pick these items out. All you see are lots of items and while some might seem more important than others. The sheer number keeps your mind from knowing for sure.

Now imagine you walk into a bedroom filled with just a few things. In this room, the few things you see are obviously important. They stand out against the background of the space that surrounds them. In just a few moments, you can easily determine the things the person who lives here cares about.

Our lives are very much like these rooms. When we have many things in our lives it becomes harder for us and for others to tell what matters. But when we empty our lives of things we don’t need it’s so much easier to focus on what’s really important.

Simplicity Helps You Connect

Imagine you walk into an office. The receptionist seems to be sending a fax and also answering a phone. She puts her finger up and asks you to hold on a second without making eye contact. Next, she writes down a note, curses at the fax machine, and then looks up to ask you what she can help you with.

Now imagine you walk into that same office but this time the receptionists looks up immediately and smiles at you. He waits for you to come up to his desk and says hello. He asks you what he can help you with.

They way we greet people when we are overly busy and when we are present is just like these two receptionists. When I get stressed, I find that if I try to connect my ability to be present with others is limited. But when I slow down I see people, I really meet them, and that helps me form stronger bonds with them.

Simplicity Helps You Be Happy

Imagine you have 20 things to do today. Each of them is tightly scheduled, then on your way to your first meeting of the day you get a flat tire. As you wait for a tow truck, your anxiety level rises, knowing that this blip is going to throw everything off.

Now imagine you have just 4 – 6 things to do today. Each of them is important, but you’ve left some space in your schedule so you can have time to focus on each one. Then you get a flat tire. Sure you’re bummed but you realize that while your day may be a bit more hectic you’ll still have time to get much of what you wanted to get done completed. You are able to enjoy a few minutes in the car just relaxing as you wait.

I’ve found that when I over plan or over schedule I create a very limited set of circumstances that will let me be happy. But if instead I create space and focus on what’s important, I am more open to dealing with life’s little hiccups.

Simplicity Heals

Of course, there are many more reasons I could offer for why simplicity can make such a huge difference. It can save you money, help you live longer, and help you be more honest. But the reason that simplifying is so powerful is that as we let go of what’s extra our lives become lighter.

Instead of carrying around all these obligations, fears, stories, and ‘shoulds’ simplicity helps you walk with only those things you need the most. And even though the work you do to simplify your life can be difficult the results are amazing. Which is why despite the pull that each of us feels to be more busy, to do more and to be more I encourage people again and again to pick up what matters and let go of what doesn’t.

How To Simplify

Ok so by now you know why you should simplify, but the next question is how. Well I could give you a long complex set of steps, but just so I’m practicing what I preach I’ll give you a very short simple one.

  1. Take out a piece of paper
  2. At the top write: Things I don’t need.
  3. And then start writing, list possessions you don’t need, obligations you don’t need, people who suck your energy you don’t need and anything else that comes to mind.
  4. Then look at your list and choose one of those things.
  5. Your tasks for today is to take one concrete step to let go of that thing.
  6. If it’s a physical object then take it to goodwill, throw it in the trash or put it in your car so you can get rid of it.
  7. If it’s an obligation write an email explaining why you can’t do it.
  8. No matter what the step is keep it simple.

Continuing Practice

So obviously, this one small act won’t change everything, but it’s a start. A very small simple start. The key to bigger and bigger change is not to make this more complex, but to repeat this task again and again. Sure there will be obstacles, sure things will get hard, but those things are what you need to experience to get to the simple life you want.

Need to Know More?

If you want to know more or have questions shoot me an email. Next week I’m going to do an all questions answered posts where I answer any questions my readers have about anything I have ever written or done. Just remember to keep your email simple 😉