Here’s a thought; is the reason we sometimes feel sad and lost because our personal map of the world is out of synch with our reality? This week the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to 3 scientists who discovered that our brain has an internal GPS system which helps us find out way physically around our environment. Today I want to look at our emotional GPS system, in particular how to improve our navigation, or indeed change our internal map of the world.
Scientists and psychologists are agreed that one thing in life you can count on is change. As children, growing in to teens, then on to young adulthood and beyond, we have some idea of how our life might unfold. This can be likened to an internal map of the world of our own creation. It is shaped by our upbringing, our surroundings, our experiences, our values and our personality. For instance my personal map of the world circa my twenties had as destinations marriage, children, a career in advertising, a dog, growing older with my family around in the UK. Needless to say….that isn’t the way my life evolved! Only two things from that list remain true today. If I were to judge my level of happiness according to each of those landmarks….I would be miserable all the time! We all create variations of these life maps. They can range from pragmatic to dreamlike. And there is nothing wrong with that. However, the reality never matches up exactly to the map, does it? And if you hold your happiness hostage to your journey unfolding strictly as per the map, it would be impossible to be happy. So what can we do to make our life journey the happiest possible?
You might try these things:
- Update your map. As you look at your life right now how satisfied are you? Do you have any regrets that you keep bumping in to, or any past decisions that you kick yourself about? These are signs that your map is outdated and needs an update. To do this first draw up the map that you have been holding on to with islands of life events along the way. Now re-map the territory that has already passed until you reach the island of now. The next step is to accept it as it is. It is really important at this point to be kind to yourself and give yourself a big dollop of self-love. Know in the past you have and always will make the best choices you can in the moment with the tools you possess. Once you have done that you are free todream up your next journey unencumbered by disappointment and perceived failure in the past. The only important thing is what you do with your life journey going forward. Allow yourself the freedom to change direction, but still meet your needs.
- Insert lots of landmarks of joy in to your mental map. It really isn’t about the destination, it is about the journey. When you created that map consciously (or more likely unconsciously) a decade or two ago the destination points (eg education, career, marriage, home, kids,) came from a desire to meet your needs (connection, love, security for instance) in order to be happier. Recognize there are many ways of meeting those same needs without the cookie-cutter solution you had pictured. Connect with friends, love those close to you, adopt a pet, be grateful for the food in your fridge. a cosy sweater, the roof over your head at night. Start to notice how it is often the ‘little things’ that really enrich our lives.
- Don’t fear change, accept and work with it. Imagine yourself as a sailing boat embarking on an adventure. Once you are at sea you will get the most from the experience by constantly trimming your sails according to conditions, by subtly altering your course for a while to take advantage of the winds, by riding with the waves rather than fighting them. You will reach your destination, and probably a lot faster! If you fear change you are less able to respond to conditions. So, and this is a blatant excuse to insert a link to an old Bob Newhart sketch I think you will find funny, “Just stop it!“