Carla Paonessa, a LeaderShape Board member and co-Lead in years past, recommended Amit Sood's (2009) Train your brain, engage your heart, transform your life on several occassions. I finally got it and read it over the last several weeks. Carla has attended training programs by Dr. Sood at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and was instrumental in inviting him to speak to the LeaderShape Lead training in 2011.
Train your brain... proposes that the reason much in our lives doesn't go well is 1) our inability to pay attention and ) frequent misinterpretation of our experiences. On the first assumption, inability to pay attention, he uses the analogy of a computer that has too many active programs up and running, thus resulting in diffuse and partial attention (I've commented on CPA or "continuous partial attention" in a previous blog post). The freightening part of this inattention is that Sood cites research indicating that, when our minds flow to distractions that are negative and stressful, it forms a habit of going there, thus resulting in an overworked and over-stressed world that we create in the way we think. The second assumption, misinterpretation of our experiences, encourages the reconsideration of life's events within a principle-based or altruistic perspective rather than what is for many of us more of an ego-centered, competitive, "first-class on the Titanic" approach. The principle-based approach focuses on cultivating a habit of interpreting what we encounter throughout our days in a spirit of gratitude, compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness.
Attention and refined interpretation - sounds easy enough! Writing this post reminds me how far I drifted from these two simple points just in the couple of weeks I've been away from the book. One has to ask if the approach is faulty in some way or is it my practice and discipline? Unfortunately, the likelihood is that the problem is my practice. Turning to what could refine my practice of sharper attention and refined understanding of what is going on around me, Sood suggests that the focus should be on reducing the number of thoughts and improving the quality of my thinking about them. In a four-quadrant model (p. 168), he proposes that a) few thoughts with a negative focus results in depression and apathy, b) few thoughts with a positive focus results in attention, mindful and heartful awakening, c) many thoughts with a negative focus results in anxiety and anger, and d) many thoughts with a positive focus result in excitement, energy, and animation. You can choose for yourself where you would like to be but my preference is for "b" a good part of the time and "d" some of the time.
If a few thoughts with a positive focus is the goal, what does it take? Sood proposes that the best way to live this kind of life is to seek, and then commit to, finding meaning and purpose in all that we do. This is not a new revelation as this admonition can be found in most of the world's religious writings and it can also be found in the writings of contemporary sages such as Parker Palmer, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Otto Scharmer, and others. Fewer and more positive thoughts (and actions) are the result of more reflection, attentive care in all our encounters, and maintaining a higher purpose, even when there are obstacles and distractions. Pursuing higher purpose is not easy because deeply grounded and passionate commitments are often at odds with those around us. It appears to be the path in pursuing these passions that makes it all worthwhile because if it is only the end on which we are focused, we will surely faulter in the pursuit of what we value most...