Living a Better Life – Part 2: The Leap from Your Head to your Heart
It all begins with our mind. Our happiness, the love we seek or find, the career we crave and the lifestyle we pursue all start from a small seed thought that was once planted in our minds. But that is not enough. Knowledge or thinking alone do not move us to action. We all know dreamers who can create fantasy worlds that they will never inhabit. For some, it is enough to romp in the playground of these fantasy worlds and like Walter Mitty, some never seem to want to leave.
For the rest of us who want to live our dreams, how do we get them out of our head and into reality? It requires a leap from conscious thought to the powerful engine that is the heart. Before you bash me for being unscientific, let me posit a few thoughts. Plants do not have brains and are therefore not sentient beings. However, research1 shows that plants have the ability to do math. Arabidopsis thaliana, part of the mustard family, can ‘calculate’ how to ration its food assimilation so that only 5% of its reserves are left at dawn – and it can ‘do the math’ regardless of the length of the night, from 8 to 16 hours. So, if a plant can do math, it is possible to consider that desires planted in the heart can serve as the spark to move us to action?
For millennia, writers have used the heart as the symbol of emotion; some have called the heart ‘treacherous’2 and others have referred to the pain it can feel. I cannot cite research, but I can draw from life experience to say I believe the heart does ‘feel’. When I was widowed several decades ago, the pain was real, but it was not in my head. The pain was a deep, dull ache in the physical location of my heart.
What then, if we can plug into the power of emotions and the heart to live our dreams? How would we do that? What we want usually enters our minds through our eyes. If we dwell on it long enough, it sinks into the heart. When I was a techie at IBM during the flush years, the company would send us on retreats designed to expand our thoughts and empower us to live the company’s motto: “THINK”. Interestingly, one of the most effective techniques was to think using visualization4.
The visualization exercises were very specific. We were trained to imagine success in varying situations. The common denominator was always the same: we could not visualize in the third person. We had to program ourselves to visualize in the first person alone.
How? Picture a runner on a track. When most people try visualization, they see themselves as in a movie: they are up on the screen and are looking at themselves from the outside. In true visualization/imagery training, that does not work. The visualization has to be in the first person. You see other runners on the track, the trees, the dog trotting by; you feel the breeze on your face. If you see any part of yourself, it might be your torso, your arms, or legs and feet pumping furiously as you look up and see the finish line. These mind pictures, rehearsed over and over, are eventually registered in the mind as a memory – as something we have already accomplished and, therefore, within reach.
Once something becomes a ‘memory’, it seems to transcend mere impersonal knowledge. It seems to isolate itself from the common pool of millions of facts we learned and possibly shifts to a different part of the mind, a part that seems to enlist the heart and makes it an accomplice. Imagine you have a fear of public speaking3, one of the most common phobias. At one of my IBM retreats, I witnessed a colleague defer his presentation until all the others had spoken. By the time it was his turn, it was impossible for him to speak and he left the room.
Image your next promotion depends on your ability to address your department (or the entire company) at an upcoming event. You prepare your speech; you begin to visualize that you are at the event successfully delivering the speech. The best time to visualize is at night, before you sleep. While you sleep, your unconscious mind will work tirelessly to form this ‘memory’.
By the time the day of your speech arrives, you will feel the strange calm that comes from having repeated an action over and over until it has become as familiar as brushing your teeth. You stand and face your audience, smile as you have visualized, and flawlessly deliver your speech.
Where did the fear go? It was replaced over and over by a ‘memory’ of an event that never occurred! I did not appreciate years ago how often I would use visualization in my life. To name a few occasions, I’ve used it before auditions, before appearing in court, and before jumping into the ocean to overcome my fear of sharks. That was the only time visualization failed me: a real shark swam by.
1 Scialdone, A. et al. Arabidopsis plants perform arithmetic division to prevent starvation at night. Posted on elife.elifesciences.org June 25, 2013, accessed August 14, 2015
2 The Bible, Jeremiah 17:5. http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/b/r1/lp-e/nwt/E/2013/24/17#h=651:0-653:0
3 Seventy-Five percent of the population suffer from “Glossophobia”, the technical term for fear of public speaking, making it one of the most common social-fear phobias. http://www.glossophobia.com/