What are Lessons?
Often times, we attract certain people into our worlds, who can teach us particular things about ourselves. These people may not know that they are teaching us. The lesson is more encoded in the overall experience and interaction itself. Unbeknownst to us, we usually have something to teach them as well.
These lessons help us to identify, confront and release those fixed judgments or beliefs, which are unhealthy and haven’t served us well. They are like ultimatums we acquired in childhood, which we still carry around today. Such beliefs are reinforced by underlying charged emotions. These fixed beliefs and underlying emotions make up part of what is referred to as the shadow self, which almost everyone possesses.
When we break free of our fixed beliefs and replace them with more flexible, user-friendly beliefs, we can make more enlightened choices.
Identify the lessons:
How do we recognize such lessons in our lives? One good way is to find someone you interact with in some way, who pushes your buttons. It could be a neighbor, friend, acquaintance, co-worker, boss, mate, or family member. Although there may be many people who push your buttons, begin with one person.
An example might be a spouse who is lavish with money and breaks the bank every month. We’re very careful to keep a budget, but how can we budget our money when our spouse goes behind our back and spends, spends, spends?
We will typically respond critically to our spouse’s behavior, and attempt to explain that they need to be more frugal with money. And when their behavior doesn’t change, we don’t understand, and continue to be critical.
Instead of being critical, let’s ask ourselves whether there anything we can learn from this experience? What is this experience showing me about myself?
One possible answer is that, while we are so good about saving money, denying every possible unnecessary expense, we are withholding from ourselves the good things in life. While our spouse is going overboard in purchasing things, we can give ourselves permission now and then to buy those things we want, such as a movie, nice clothes, or a vacation. On the other hand, our spouse can learn to keep more to a budget.
How to Learn the Lesson:
Once we’ve identified the lesson, we can take action to learn from it.
1) Truly acknowledge the lesson and accept what it is revealing about ourselves.
In the example, we can learn that it’s okay to spend money on good things now and then, without breaking the bank. This step is probably the hardest part of the learning process. It requires that we stop blaming the other person and begin to look within for answers. Once we’ve owned up, we have begun the process of freeing ourselves of the fixed beliefs about money, along with the underlying charged emotions.
2) Identify those fixed beliefs behind the behavior the lesson addresses.
Naming the beliefs will begin the process of diffusing their grip on us. Many of our beliefs come from early childhood. Often times, as adults, we have not reviewed these beliefs to see whether they are appropriate, but have allowed ourselves to be ruled by them.
In the example, what are some of our beliefs about money? Perhaps as children, our family was poor, and so we experienced the hardships of growing up without many things. We were constantly told to watch every penny and not spend it on selfish pursuits.
List of Fixed Beliefs:
Watch every penny.
It is selfish to spend money on oneself
Being poor is terrible. I never want to be poor again.
I don’t want my family to experience what I went through.
I don’t deserve to have things.
A penny save is a penny earned.
3) Review the list. What do we think? Some items carry wisdom, while others seem a bit irrational.
Those items that have wisdom, however, cannot be healthy when they become rigid absolutes and unrelenting taskmasters in our lives. They reveal themselves as the barely detectable voices in our heads, expressed as ultimatums.
Let’s take our beliefs one by one. Explain the rational for each belief. How does each belief impact our behavior, positively and negatively? How do we really feel about each belief?
Let’s look at a couple of the beliefs about money:
“Watch every penny”: This belief allows us to keep track of our money, which is vital to maintaining a budget.
“It is selfish to spend money on oneself”: The rational behind this belief is that, when money it very tight and needed for the bare necessities of life, spending on luxuries is selfish and self-indulgent. This belief helps drive our behavior about spending money only on necessities. The downside is that it prevents us from spending on those things that make us happy.
4) Let’s modify our beliefs.
“Watch every penny”: This belief doesn’t really need to be modified. It carries a lot of wisdom.
“It is selfish to spend money on oneself”: A modified version might be: “ It is okay now and then to spend money on those things that make us happy, as long as we can afford them.” The belief shifts from an ultimatum to a rational guideline.
When we shift our thinking from inflexible rules, many of which we acquired in childhood, to flexible guidelines, which we consciously chose as adults, we can begin to make more enlightened choices.
The next article, “Lessons Between Liberals and Conservatives” discusses what liberals and conservatives learn from one another?