A few days ago, I was preparing a presentation I had to deliver in front of a group. The presentation was supposed to be my “last lecture,” or the message I would like to deliver to the world if it were my last chance.
When I was initially given the assignment, I didn’t feel especially worried (nor excited) about it. But, as the time to present approached, I started to think more about what I was going to say, and I began to feel more and more tense about the assignment.
Two days before the presentation, I was feeling a certain heaviness produced by my thoughts because I was worried that my message might not be interesting enough, that it might not really be the most important thing I’ve ever learned.
Then something struck me: All my life I’ve let my thoughts create a heaviness in me before an event I labeled as “special” in a certain way, events such as a basketball game, meeting with someone I consider special too, a job interview, and so on.
In all the situations I’ve considered special, my thoughts created such a heaviness inside of me that when the event finally did take place, I could barely move. I could barely speak. I could not listen to what others said. And, of course, I didn’t feel any joy.
If I had to deliver a message to the world before I died, it would be this: have as much joy in your life as you can.
This is probably the message that most of us would deliver, in one way or another. So, the question is: How do you maximize the amount of time you spend feeling joy in your life?
The answer is to realize that you are the one kicking yourself out of joy. Joy is your natural state, and it is through your own thinking that you lose contact with that natural state.
In my case, making this event so special and important was generating thoughts in my head that made me feel uncomfortable and worried.
I realized that by giving importance to the event I was generating those feelings.
It was not the event itself but my thoughts about the event.
All events by themselves are neutral; we are the ones who give them meaning. The meaning that we attach to the event (via our thoughts) is what creates our experience.
The good news is that we can always attach a different meaning to any event. We can even decide not to attach any meaning to them.
In my case, I decided to treat that event as any other event in my life: brushing my teeth, talking with a friend, taking a walk. Same meaning as those events. My “last lecture” was just one more event and nothing else. All of a sudden, my upcoming talk no longer felt so special. My thinking about it cleared up, and I started to feel excited about it! New thinking started to show up in the form of how much I could learn about the experience, and I started to feel curious about what I had to say, what my message could be. I felt excited about discovering what the most important ideas in my life have been.
I moved from inhabiting a mindset of fear to excitement, and the only thing I did was resting importance to the outside world (i.e., the talk) and put the focus on my thoughts about it. Once I was aware that my thoughts were creating my experience, I found a way to feel differently.
Going forward, I just have to remember that my experience goes from the inside out instead of the outside in. In other words, outside events are not responsible for how I feel but my thoughts about those events are. This fact doesn’t change; the only difference is whether we are aware of it or not.