Back when I was 21 years old, my aunt gave me $100. She told me to buy myself something nice with it (rather than put it in the bank).
In those days, I was very scared of spending money.
Maybe I had an unconscious fear of poverty, or maybe I didn't believe I deserved the money ($100 was a LOT of money for me then).
My mindset wasn't great.
Anyway, I took my aunt's advice (and I'm glad I did spend the money).
I did two things with the money:
- I bought a book called Your Erroneous Zones by Wayne Dyer.
- I used the remaining money to join a gym.
The book challenged my fear-based thinking and two key themes stood out:
- The first was about living each present moment to the fullest. This meant being biased towards taking action rather than ruminating which I used to do a LOT.
- The second was about choosing your thoughts in each moment, and by extension choosing your feelings which Dyer claimed were a result of your thoughts. (I have come to learn through my own experience that this isn’t quite true.)
I embraced those two principles, and they worked incredibly well for a while.
I stopped ruminating and threw myself into each present moment.
I worked out intensely at the gym and found a community there.
While I stayed away from the meatheads, I did catch up in the whole 'fitness scene'. I got obsessed with lowering my body fat percentage and managed to bring it down to about 8% (and kept it there for about 6 months).
Rather than go to university lectures, I'd hang around with my friends at the gym. I'd spend up to four hours each day running on the treadmill, doing aerobics classes, and weight training. I felt like I belonged there.
I was hooked on dopamine, and life was great.
I had a strong sense of who I was, and I was determined to be the best person I could be.
Every day and in every way.
In some ways, those were the best 6 months of my life.
But life has a way of testing your resolve ... and sure enough, I ran into some emotional challenges.
The belief system that I'd built from reading Wayne Dyer's book, got knocked around like a paper boat in a nasty storm!
I hit a wall.
I felt like I was in free fall, and was hurtling down the infinite depths of a deep dark abyss.
This was my first bout with depression.
And it hit ... HARD!
I had all the symptoms: lack of interest in things that previously excited me, complete indifference to life, deep feelings of worthlessness, poor concentration, and an inability to change my emotional state.
Choosing my thoughts or feelings was not an option.
Believe me ... I really tried.
The book wasn't working anymore.
I tried to find solace in those pages, but reading the words was about as effective as reading a menu at a fancy restaurant hoping to fill your empty stomach.
So eventually I abandoned that book and myself.
I don't know how I finished my undergraduate degree in business with a major in accounting (yuck!).
My ability to concentrate was even worse than it had been in my prior years — which wasn't anything to write home about. Turns out I had (and still have) ADHD too. Yup, I really won the genetic lottery! 🤣
For several years after that, I assumed that the book was a load of rubbish. That it’s not possible to choose your thoughts 100% of the time.
But over the years, I (gradually) arrived at a new understanding of the principles espoused in Wayne Dyer's book.
An understanding that might be useful to you.
While I don’t believe we can choose every single thought, or that feelings are a product of our thoughts (I think it's a lot more complex and nuanced than that) ...
Here's what I do believe:
We can choose our responses to our thoughts and our feelings most of the time.
And as long as we’re choosing our responses most of the time, we’re in a pretty good place to live a self-directed life.
This means creating healthy emotional habits (which compound over time).
It means creating a mental environment that is conducive to good choices.
It means watering the proverbial plant every day.
It means doing the reps.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I rediscovered Your Erroneous Zones and started flicking through the pages.
This prompted me to create a playlist of songs that I used to listen to back when I was 21.
Each day I spend about 10 mins playing those and use them to access that positive emotional state. I dance like nobody's watching (cause literally nobody's watching — I do it in my home office with the blinds drawn) and I spare the neighbors from seeing that which can't be unseen. (That's my good deed for the day.)
And you know what?
The music and dancing usually lead to an intense weight training session that gets the blood pumping and the dopamine flowing (again).
I’m (re)building that state I enjoyed for those 6 wonderful months ... one moment at a time.
And ultimately ... that’s all any of us can ever do ... right?
Live each moment to its fullest and build our lives ... moment by moment.
Each moment lived to its fullest, creates a trajectory that can lead to a much more positive “next” moment.
And if you and I can string enough of these moments together, we'll have lived a great life.
And the best part?
We get to choose that trajectory *most* of the time.
And provided we're choosing your (positive) trajectory at least 51% of the time, we're headed towards a bright future.
Wouldn’t you agree?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.