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Stepping Out of the Shadows/[Re]Connecting With
Your Life's Journey

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Transforming the Mindset

By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

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Making the Mind Quicker Than the Eye

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
-Marcus Aurelius

Robespierre was one of the world’s greatest mountain climbers in the early 1900s. The story is often told of the time he was climbing a mountain in his native country. While trying to maneuver around a particularly narrow turn, he kicked loose some stones which caused him to lose his footing. Having lost his footing, he fell over the edge of the mountain plummeting to his sure death.

While tumbling through the air, miraculously he managed to grab hold of the roots of a tree that was attached to the side of the mountain. As he was dangling from the roots, he tried desperately to kick himself back over the side of the mountain to safety.

The more Robespierre tried kicking himself to safety, the more he pulled the roots out from the side of the mountain. As he stared down at the razor sharp rocks at the bottom of the valley below him, he realized that his death was inevitable.

Believing he had no other recourse, Robespierre finally looked to the heavens to enlist the help of his God. He shouted at the top of his lungs, “Lord, please, please help me out of my troubles. I will do anything you ask of me if only you will rescue me!”

Robespierre waited for a signal. Finally he heard the voice of the Lord shouting back down to him. “Of course I will help you my son, just let go.”

By now Robespierre was drenched in sweat, his grip loosening because of his sweaty hands. He took in the Lord’s words, looked to the bottom, imagining his fate landing on those jagged rocks.

Not trusting the Lord’s intentions, he again cried out for help, protesting the wisdom of the Lord’s plan. But the Lord again shouted out, “Just let go.”

Robespierre again looked down at the jagged rocks at the bottom of the valley, looked over to the side of the mountain and saw the roots all but coming loose, looked upward to the heavens with the Lord’s solution ringing in his ears, finally he shouted out to the heavens, “Can I get a second opinion from someone else up there?”

Well, much of our experiences with transforming our lives is the never ending battle between holding on and letting go. One of the things that we cling to hardest and longest is the way in which we think about and see the world.

Just like Robespierre, although we may reach out to others for help, although we may choose to surrender our battle with whatever aspect of our life we are at war with, it never ceases to amaze me how we inevitably reject the solution that is right under our nose if that solution doesn’t coincide with what we want the solution to be.

But don’t despair. There’s a remedy for that. That remedy brings us to the next step. This step is the step of empowerment. This step is the means by which we can exert the most influence in any area of our lives. 

This next step I call Transforming the Mindset. For me, transforming our mindset is the key to reclaiming our personal power in any given situation. Our ability to transform our mindset can make friends out of our enemies,  replace our fears with seeds of courage, and transform seemingly immovable obstacles in our path into opportunities for growth.

Transforming the Mindset, a step towards empowerment? Well, think about this for a moment. What is the one thing that robs us of our personal power? Is it our insensitive boss? Is it our uncaring family? Is it a chronic disease? Is it a bad economy that keeps us from doing what we want to do with our lives?

Well, all of those things may be true about our family, friends, and life-circumstances. But the bottom line is not what our circumstances are but how we view those circumstances, how we evaluate those circumstances, how we evaluate ourselves in the context of those circumstances. That is really what determines whether or not we feel empowered.

Can you see how that is so? Let me share with you a story that a teacher of mine once told.

It seems that there was an all-star executive in a fortune 500 company. This man was greatly admired for his ability to turn around failing companies bought by his parent company. Once a month he would report to his CEO the results that he had achieved from the previous month. The only rub to this man’s performance was a rather embarrassing problem. You see, whenever he would give his monthly report to the CEO, he would wet his pants.

The man’s boss, wanting to help his star employee, suggested that he go see a doctor to have the problem treated.

At the next month’s meeting, the CEO was surprised to see that the man still had wet his pants.

The CEO inquired of his employee whether he had gone to see the doctor or not.

The man replied, “No I couldn’t make an appointment with the one you suggested, so I went to see a psychologist instead. And guess what, he cured me.”

“He cured you,” the CEO responded somewhat exasperated. “What do you mean, you are still wetting your pants.”

“Oh, I know that sir, but I no longer feel the least bit embarrassed about it.”

Although the story has a funny twist to it, it really makes the point that I am trying to convey. We don’t have to insist that the circumstances of our life change, we only need to change the meaning we give to the circumstances of our life.

What does it take to change our relationship to the events in our life? We merely need to approach our life with a degree of flexibility for how we view the events that are happening in our lives. Simple to say, hard to do. But think about this.

More years ago than I care to remember, I went to a summer camp. The food was awful. The mosquitoes made a smorgasbord out of every part of my body. We were forced to swim in the coldest water you can imagine. There were so many crickets out at night that I could barely get three hours of sleep on any given evening. The stars shined so bright through my window, that if the crickets didn’t keep me up at night, the light from the stars surely did. Clearly, I was not a happy camper. And I was never shy about letting anybody know that.

But that all changed one day when a very wise camp counselor asked me a question I had no answer for.

He simply said, “Everything here bothers you. The food,   the water in the lake, the mosquitoes, the stars, the crickets. All these things are imposing upon your life. Let me ask you one thing. When the crickets chirp away at night, how do you know that the crickets are bothering you? Could it be that your energy is going out and bothering them? Just whose life is imposing upon whose life?”

Well, that was like a splash of cold water in my face. I learned much that day. One, that I am not the only one living on planet earth. Two, what I view as the source of my discomfort is inevitably just someone else’s way of expressing who they are. Three, by changing how I view those things I experience as antagonistic to my well-being, I no longer have to feel done in by those very circumstances.

Transforming our mindset is a process of letting go of certain assumptions that we carry about ourselves and our place in the world; letting go of our self-centered egocentricity; letting go of the notion that everything done is done to us, against us. How would our lives be different if we stopped personalizing what is done and said to us?

Let go of the belief that the world must conform to our way of living and being. Accept the notion that other people have as much right to take up space on planet earth as we do. Furthermore, other people are entitled to make their place in this world in a way that makes sense to them, not as would be most comfortable for us.

By living in a space of acceptance rather than condemnation, we can let go of our feelings of victimization. That is what brings us back to how we can empower ourselves. Transforming our mindset from that of a victim. That requires that we think of ourselves as empowered, we see ourselves as empowered, and we act as if we are empowered. Quite simply victimization means that we are welded to one viewpoint of the world, whereas empowerment implies that we have choices about how we act, think, and feel.

Give this step some serious thought. Is it possible by shifting how you think about yourself and the people in your world, that your life can be enhanced? Is it possible that the problems in your life are oftentimes created by your   continued insistence to hold onto your viewpoint of the world? Is there any value in learning how to transform the relationship between the events in your life and the way you think about those events?

Use the rest of this section as an opportunity to create your own meaning for Transforming the Mindset.

What are the things that your mind clings to with absolute certainty? Does that unshakable belief in those things support your well-being, undermine your well-being, or a little of each? If so, how does it do any of those things?

What are the shifts that you might create about how you view the people in your life and the circumstances in your life that would enhance your emotional and spiritual well-being?

Don’t be frightened off by the enormity of what I am purposing here. What I am talking about doesn’t start and end within this book. However, we need to get started at some point. Make no mistake about it, it is difficult for any of us to get to where we want to get holding onto our current mindset.

Stepping out of the shadows requires much give and offers very little take. We can be just like Robespierre, we can hold out for the solution that sounds most pleasing to us, that offers the least amount of pain, but in the end, holding out for what we want will likely do us in.



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


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