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Connecting the Dots: Interpreting Our Experience

Just as everyone breathed a sigh of good riddance to the past year, 2021 made a dramatic entrance, at least in the U.S., when supporters of President Trump stormed the capitol on Wednesday, adding yet another entry to the List of Unprecedented Events.

Whether we’re talking about disturbing global events or the individual happenings of our daily lives, our minds work hard to interpret our experience and understand our world. They take in tons of bits of data, process that information, and, ultimately, make sense out of it. They do this by filling in gaps to create a cohesive narrative.

Our minds want the world to make sense, so they construct these narratives, or stories, to explain the whys, make meaning, figure out implications, and find some predictability. I call it connecting the dots.

Connecting the Dots

Look at these dots below. How would you connect them?

Great! Now can you find another way to connect them?

Perhaps you automatically saw a house, a star, or a zig zag. Which one is right? How difficult was it for you to come up with some alternatives? 

The Point

These dots represent facts – as close to objective things as we can get – which your mind then links together in a way that helps you understand what is or has happened. Without connecting the dots, we’d feel completely lost!

The issue, though, is that the way we connect dots depends a lot more on our histories, our belief systems, and our subconscious programming than on some objective truth. That’s why two people, even two well-meaning and reasonably bright people, can have very different takes on the same scenario.

While there may not be a right or wrong way to connect the dots, there are certainly different ways. And, depending on how you connect those dots, you see a very different picture…and then you operate in the world as though that picture is an absolutely accurate representation of reality.

What if – just what if – our minds are connecting dots in the wrong way? Or, if not wrong, per se, an unhelpful way? What if there’s a better way to interpret our experiences? What if we struggle to interpret our experience?

And, what if there are a lot more dots that we just can’t quite see? Wouldn’t that make a big difference in the picture? But, because we don’t know what we don’t know, our minds just fill in the narrative despite the missing info.

The stories we tell ourselves (or more aptly, the stories our minds tell us) become our reality. We accept them as truth and weight them like facts, often not realizing that they can be edited, revised, altered, or deleted all together.

A Solution 

Our minds are going to continue to connect dots to interpret our experience, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Knowing this, though, means that you can make your mind do some work for you, rather than accepting its first draft of the story, especially if that draft isn’t helpful for you. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What story is my mind telling me?
  • What dots is it trying to connect?
  • Is it possible that I’m missing some important information, not seeing all of the dots?
  • What’s another way to connect the dots? Another explanation? Another perspective?
  • Which version is more helpful to me?

This practice of becoming aware of the narratives and working on revising them can have a huge impact! If you’re interested in learning more about how your mind works and how those inner workings profoundly impact your life experience, you may like our ASCEND program. Module 2 is all about your mind…and tools for making it work for you.

But for now, work on being aware that the narratives exist. Notice how yours influence you, and strive to connect dots in more useful ways.

“The world you’re actually in may not be harsh. But the world your mind puts you in can be harsh as heck.”
– Dr. Steven Hayes
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Peak Mind Pro: Design Your Work Experience

Many people spend 40 – 50 hours per week at work. That’s 80 – 100 THOUSAND hours over a career. If you’re not engaged or functioning at your peak, or if you’re on the brink of exhaustion and burn out, you’re having a suboptimal life experience. 

The answer isn’t necessarily to make a drastic change like quitting your job. It may just be as simple as designing your work experience.

Contrary to New Year’s resolution conventions, broad, sweeping changes aren’t actually effective for most humans. That’s because big changes shock our system, which is stressful. And we tend to revert to the mean, or fall back on old habits, pretty quickly when we’re under stress. Fortunately, there’s a more effective, albeit often counterintuitive, way to make meaningful lasting changes: experimentation.

Through the lens of life design, which is a special blend of psychology and design thinking applied to your life, experimentation means identifying a friction point (a challenging situation, habit, or interpersonal pattern) and designing small changes to test out. As you implement each small experiment, you gain valuable data in the form of experience, and you use that information to iterate – to revise, revamp, and move forward with the next small step. 

You are the architect of your life experience. You are either living by design or by default. You have more control over your daily experience than you might think, regardless of who you report to or your job responsibilities. While you realistically may not be able to change or impact some of your friction points, there are almost certainly some things you can experiment with. Design your workspace with your needs in mind.

Tips to Try 

Your day-to-day experience is significantly impacted by your physical space and the rhythms and habits of your day. Are yours working for you or against you? Your work area should feel as good as home. So much time is spent in work environments that your office design should feel as familiar and comfortable as your living room. 

Choose some of these strategies to test out for a few weeks. Be sure to gather some data over time to see what kind of impact your experiments have.

Design your workspace

*This is especially important if you work from home.

  • Have a designated spot for work. Eat or take breaks in a different place. 
  • Get natural light if possible.
  • Remove distractions. Don’t rely on willpower. Put distractions away. Out of sight is out of mind. 

Create boundaries in your day

*This is especially important to avoid work bleeding into home/family/leisure time.

  • Set a firm beginning and end time for work.
  • Set an auto-responder outside of those times and don’t check email. You’ll have more success if you can’t see notifications on your phone; they’re hard to ignore.
  • Perform a ‘transition activity’ (something that takes the place of a commute & tells your mind you’re done for the day). If you have a commute, use it as a time to transition by singing along with your favorite music or listening to a podcast, not ruminating about work.
  • Keep a good planner like The Self Journal.

Combat Zoom fatigue 

  • Hide your own face from the meeting (here’s how). Doing so will cut down on distraction and self-criticism.
  • Set expectations with your team about when they can turn video off.
  • No matter at the office or at home, design your workspace to work in accordance to your schedule.
  • Change meetings to 45 minutes to leave time to get up and move in between.

Make time for self-care

*The quality of your work and your relationships will improve if you’re taking care of yourself. Think of it like this, high performance cars need regular servicing and maintenance to run optimally. So do you!

  • Schedule your basic needs (lunch, movement, rest) and breaks into your calendar and treat them like appointments.
  • Block time in your calendar for active work so that you can have uninterrupted time to focus on important tasks. This will keep others from scheduling your time away from you.
  • Have a big bottle of water near you. You’ll drink more if you don’t have to exert effort to get a glass of water, and your brain will work better if you’re well-hydrated.
  • Build brief movement breaks into your day. Even 5 minutes of yoga (example), dancing to 1 song, or pacing while you’re on phone calls can help.
“How you spend your days is how you spend your life. You’re never stuck.”
– Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

Design Your Work Life

Why design your workspace without designing your work life? The strategies above are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to designing your work experience. On January 18, 2022 during our live Quarterly Psych Strength Building workshop, we’ll be diving deeper into both psychology and life design to help you find more fulfillment at and outside of work without having to change your actual job responsibilities.