You Are The Architect of Your Reality

There is an accident on the way to that critical meeting. You will never make it in time. Well, that deal is lost. Your coworker called in sick. Ugh. That project is stalled yet again. Can we never make a deadline? Your son is not returning your text. He must have been in a car accident. Or abducted by aliens. Or in jail. The one constant in all these situations is your negative bias in the interpretation of events. It’s stressing you out. Believe it or not, you oversee how you view these events. But Cathy! How can I possibly view these things in a different light?


I just started reading Shawn Achor’s book Before Happiness. Shawn suggests that success is based on being a positive genius. A positive genius is someone who can change their brain patterns to view the world in a positive light; to take in  information and put a positive spin on it rather than wallowing in negativity. Seems hard, doesn’t it? So much easier to succumb to the negativity bias that our brains are seemly hardwired for. You can change it, though. You can overcome your predisposition to view information in a negative light. You can. Really. Imagine all the worry and stress you can let go of if you choose to be the architect of your reality.

Here are Shawn’s three main points in choosing the most valuable reality:

  • Recognize the existence of multiple realities by simply changing the details your brain chooses to focus on. This reminds me of Byron Katie’s The Work. The first question in The Work is “Is it the truth?” I want to look at my son not returning a text as, “He doesn’t love me.” I can ask myself, “Is it the truth?” Let’s see. He drove 13 hours at Christmas to be home with me. He’s been really supportive with recent issues with my house. He sent me flowers for Mother’s Day. Nope. It’s not true. Of course, he loves me. So I need to realize that there are many interpretations of the information I have. So what if it’s been twenty minutes since I texted him. Maybe his phone is dead. Maybe he is working out. Maybe he is sleeping in. Focus on the details in a more positive light. As Mike Dooley says, “Thoughts become things. Choose the good ones.” There are multiple realities at any given time. Decide on which reality to focus on.


  • See a greater range of realities by training your brain to see vantage points and see the world from a broader perspective. Shawn quotes a study where a group of people were asked to draw a coffee cup and saucer. EVERY person drew the cup from a side perspective. EVERY LAST ONE. I have to admit, if I am asked to draw a coffee cup or a house (for that matter), I will draw it from the side perspective. But can’t you draw it from a bird’s eye perspective? Are both true?Don’t you look down at your coffee cup in the morning? Isn’t that the perspective you usually see? There are hundreds of vantage points. It’s so easy to get caught up with our status quo perspective. We don’t typically re-frame it. There is a whole range of views. If my coworker is sick and the project might be delayed, maybe there are more resources I haven’t thought about. Maybe this is my chance to step up and own the spotlight. Maybe we need more data before proceeding. Open up your perspective to see more points of view.


  • Select the most valuable reality that is both positive and true, using a simple formula called the positive ratio. This is not creating a panacea. Choose data that is true and the most positive. If you constantly seek positive data, the outcomes are better. In companies, a Losada ratio of 3 positives to one negative indicates a more profitable business. So, when you get a seemingly negative data point, look for something positive. Rethink it – the car accident on the way to work, not a big deal? If you had been five minutes earlier that could have been you in that accident. At least you are still on your way to your destination. Be grateful for not being involved in an accident and still on your way. As Achor has advised, “Go out of your way to build employee strengths instead of routinely correcting weaknesses. When you dip below the Losada line, performance quickly suffers.” Look for the good and it will appear.


I’ve been trying to live by this over the last week or so. I look to interpret the current reality in a positive light. I’m not saying that my negativity bias doesn’t creep in from time to time, but I am slowly changing my default to looking at what’s right, rather than what’s wrong. Be a positive genius.

4 Upsides of Turning off the News.

My husband has a habit of watching the morning news for the first 30 minutes of his morning.  Pretty soon, I had a habit of watching the news as well.  I decided that I was waiting for the weather report (although I could have easily looked up the weather app on my phone) and, perhaps, sports.  Well, something serendipitous happened about a month ago.  Our favorite Raleigh-based TV news station was taken off the lineup of our cable provider.  We were both disappointed and tried for a few weeks to find a substitute.  Nothing seemed to click.  Didn’t like the weather person or that all the news stories were solely about the North Carolina coast–where we haven’t ventured to in several years (I know, I know. Please don’t judge).   So why is this serendipitous?  Well, my husband figured out that he could get our old channel on the computer.  In his office.  Out of my visual field and listening range.  My diet of thirty minutes of news was cut off.  And it’s been surprising bliss.turn off the news

At the same time that we were trying to figure out how to get our news fix, I suddenly started running into articles on the effects of news stories on our brains, attitude and demeanor.  The universe was sending me a sign. I started to intentionally avoid the news.  If I was at the airport, I’d go into a restaurant that didn’t have the news on. I turned off the radio in the car and flipped on some classical music.  I started to figure out that I was less anxious.  My 30 minutes I freed up turned into more meditation and learning time.  So what initially seemed like a big disappointment is now a big win.


Here are the 4 upsides of turning off the news:


  1. My overall day is better. I am more optimistic.  I’m not dwelling on which Triangle city has the most homicides or crazy new law the legislature is trying to pass or whether or not the schools need to be rezoned again.  There is scientific proof that even as little as 3 minutes of negative news can affect your entire day. 3 MINUTES!  As Shawn Achor wrote for Harvard Business Review, “Just a few minutes spent consuming negative news in the morning can affect the entire emotional trajectory of your day…Individuals who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning had a whopping 27% greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later compared to the positive condition.”   I’d rather save the time spent consuming news and focus on having a better day.


  1. I feel more empowered. There is a sense of helplessness that happens when I watch negative news.  95% of what is on that screen, I can’t do anything about.  I get overwhelmed.  I want it to change but outside of writing a check to the victims of a tragedy and complaining about the state of our society, I can’t move the needle on it.  It’s frustrating.  As Achor wrote, “We see the market dropping 500 points or ISIS poised to attack, and we feel powerless to change those outcomes. In psychology, believing our behavior is irrelevant in the face of challenges is called ‘learned helplessness,’ which has been connected with low performance and higher likelihood of depression.”  When I turned off the news, I felt more powered up.


  1. I have more focused attention. Whether I was scrolling through trending news items on an app or watching the local news with a crawl across the bottom of the screen, I was constantly being distracted.  Attention here, now attention there, attention over there…SQUIRREL! I would actually sit and watch the weather report and have to back it up because I didn’t take note of when the thunderstorms are expected today.  As Noah Shachtman wrote in his article, “The Crawl” Makes You Stupid, “Learning by constantly nibbling at bits and bites from multiple sources at once — what people in the business and computer worlds call “multitasking” — just doesn’t work well. It makes you only more distracted, less effective.” Limiting the distractions from the television screen to my iPhone has helped me focus.


  1. I am less stressed. I feel calmer throughout the day.  I admit that when a big news story filters through like terrorist attacks and the like, I start to feel my stomach clench and my shoulders and neck cramp. But when it filters through, I can now catch myself and shut it down.  Because it’s not a daily habit to consume news, I feel calmer and less anxious.  As Martijn Schirp wrote in his article, Why Avoiding The News Makes You Smarter, “When you are reading a new news article, or this article now, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine doesn’t produce the feel good people normally associate with it, but it causes the craving for the feel good.” I don’t crave it any more.


I know that being informed helps you make better decisions like deciding how you want to vote in this year’s election.  I just think that a daily digestion of what is mostly sensationalized and capsulated information is bad for you.  Choose your news sources wisely and sparingly.

The Butterfly Effect. One Small Change Can Have an Impact. The Ripple of a Wing

In case you are not familiar, the Butterfly Effect was coined by Edward Lorenz when he found that while trying to predict a hurricane’s path; he inadvertently rounded the decimal on a weather model and the outcome was vastly different than it would have been otherwise. This became termed chaos theory and equates with outcomes being influenced by minor fluctuations such as the flapping of wings of a distant butterfly at an earlier time, affecting current occurrences. This eventually turned into “if a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Brazil it could set off a tornado in Texas.” I prefer to think that the flip side of this is that if a small change is made by one person, the impact could potentially change a community and be like a wave gathering strength. Butterfly Effect

I have a client who is training for an ultra-marathon (any distance over 26.2 miles). For the last year he has been running and biking in his neighborhood, sometimes by himself and at other times with his young daughter. In the last month or so he’s begun to notice that there are a lot more folks who are either running, walking or riding bikes. In addition, people he doesn’t even know have been coming up to him and saying, “Oh you are that guy that runs”. Small change. Big impact. There’s no way to know if he’s the cause of the increase in exercise in his neighborhood but it seems like it might be and it sure didn’t hurt.

So how can you have an resounding impact? What butterfly are you? Here are some ideas:

  1. More. Always, always, always phrase whatever change you want to make as doing “more” of something.   It’s just easier to measure doing more of something rather than less of something. So if you want to lose weight, say to yourself that you want to be more physically fit. If you want to be less shy, say to yourself that you want to be more self-assured. It’s the same thing when you are reprimanding an employee or writing a performance evaluation, phrase it in a way where it’s more. Like, “Suzy could be more accurate (instead of less sloppy)”. Suzy can then measure her effectiveness by being 99% accurate (instead of less than 5 errors). Always phrase it in terms of being/doing more.
  1. The 20 Second Rule. Have whatever change you want to make be just 20 seconds away (or less). Shawn Achor wrote about this in “The Happiness Advantage”. All my running garb is in the same location and is twenty seconds away from my sink where I brush my teeth. I know I’m going to brush my teeth when I wake up, so it’s easy for me to put on my running stuff first thing in the morning and start running; no excuses. Make a path of least resistance. If you need to get that expense report done, put it on your chair so it’s the first thing you see when you come into work. Leave the document you are working on open on your desk top so that it is visually the first thing before you start any other project. Follow the 20 second rule.
  1. Small. Start small. I recently started doing Yoga again. I knew if I did more than ten minutes the first time out, I would be way to sore and dejected to want to go back and do it a second time. This is true with anything. When I first started writing this blog, I would write for maybe 10 or 15 minutes at a time. I would never finish it in that time but if I spread it over several days, it was wasn’t a drag and, more importantly, it didn’t seem to be as overwhelming as “I want to write a blog post once a week for ten years”. When I start a new training, I just put an outline together for 15 minutes and then move on to something else. Easy peasy.   Take a very, very small step; incremental steps will get you to the same place.
  1. Confederate. Find yourself a confederate. In the book “Change Anything”, they talk about having a source of social motivation. If you want to run a 5k find someone else who wants to run one as well. If you want to save more money, find an accountability partner who wants to save as well.   If you want to start your business, join a group of like-minded folks who will support you (especially when things get tough). This is the point of having an accomplice, they lift you up when there are bumps in the road and there will be bumps (if not potholes) in the road. A confederate will keep you on track.
  1. Plan. Make a plan. When I ran my half marathon last year, I had my runs planned out for the entire 4 months leading up to the race. I know I need to have my blog post written before Saturday so that I can get it to my “Brain Trust” for feedback and edits. It’s a habit. It didn’t start off as one. This can be phrased anyway you like. “The day starts at 4:30 AM”. “Exercise 3 times a week (at least once in the morning)”. “Study for 30 minutes a night”. “Spend 15 minutes cleaning the top shelf”. These are all actual action items from different clients.   They all phrased it in a way that meant something to them. But they all had a plan.

I spend maybe an hour a week on this blog and most of the time it’s completely out of my mind. But then I run into someone at a party and they say, “I love your blog”.   I may not see the end result but it’s having an impact somewhere for someone. In fact, I know someone who signed up for a half marathon and ran it, after my post on crossing the finish line. There is an impact.   You may not see it. So just like that butterfly in Brazil, you just need to start flapping your wings.