Exactly just how nutty would you have to be to try and define reality in a few paragraphs of a newsletter? Would the most full-blown smart-aleck know-it-all alive dare to even attempt it? Ordinarily I’d label it a futile endeavor — doomed by necessity to oversimplification. At best, you’d get only a small piece of truth; at worst a cheesy, embarrassing and/or possibly dangerous cliche.
However, I’ve realized that one of the things my coaching clients want from me most when they are freaking out (aside from Emergency Calming Techniques) is a reality check.
A reality check is a moment in which you stop analyzing, criticizing and nitpicking the problem situation to death. Instead, you let someone (okay, that would be me) point out the distinction between WEAR and TEAR.
WEAR = What Everyone Agrees is Reality
TEAR = The Ego’s Arbitrary Reality
But wait: we need an example!
Boy meets girl (you don’t get much more of a classic example than that)
Okay. Here is what happens:
Boy meets girl.
Boy and girl share long, involved, personal conversation.
Boy asks for girl’s phone number.
Boy says, “I’ll call you.”
Girl sits by phone and waits. And waits. And waits.
What is the reality of this situation? That the girl did not receive a phone call. That’s the WEAR. What Everyone Agrees is Reality.
(Of course, when I say “everyone agrees”, I’m assuming that we can skip over the urge to get completely lost in deep existential, metaphysical hemming and hawing. “Everyone” means “everyone who doesn’t happen to be a first-year philosophy student”.)
What you’re trying to do here is to zero in on the least subjective part of the equation. You want to avoid any temptation to explain why things are a certain way, and instead focus on what you can observe. As long as we are agreeing that the boy and girl do in fact exist, we can say that the girl waited and has not yet received a call.
However, when it comes to the TEAR — The Ego’s Arbitrary Reality — things are a little different. This is the individual, highly personal, clouded vision of reality, based on a lifetime of experiences and assumptions. The girl’s personal reality might be something like:
— “It’s because I’m so fat. Of course he didn’t call.”
— “I screwed it up by letting myself get my hopes up. That was clearly a mistake.”
— “All boys are nasty, mean, lying jerks.”
The wallet-eating wild boars of Borneo: it could happen
Reality-reality could be any number of things. Maybe the boy was attacked by wild wallet-eating boars who devoured her phone number. Maybe he had fears of rejection and talked himself out of it. Maybe she’s right and he is a jerk. Maybe maybe maybe.
There are so many possibilities in any given situation. So many factors. Reality is a funny thing. You can only see or hear tiny parts of it from which you vainly attempt to get a sense of an enormous whole. And on top of that, in any given moment you are interacting not only with the information you’re receiving, but with all of your STUFF. Your issues, your history and your patterns are coming to the surface and informing your grasp of this current reality.
And here’s the danger: It’s so easy to jump to a conclusion without even noticing the jump. The evidence that things are the way you think they are is damning. The thing that’s happening in your life “again” is matching up with your patterns and your cumulative experience of the world. The thing is, even though you think there just aren’t any more options, there might be at least a couple you haven’t thought of yet.
It’s just kinda hard to remember that.
Some useful questions
You are under no obligation to Figure Out Reality. That’s not the point. The idea is that you always want to keep your stuff in mind. Remind yourself that your reality in any given moment is being colored by what was already present in your history — your stuff.
That is exactly where the learning takes place: meeting yourself where you are — with your stuff — so you can tweak the pattern. Playing with the pattern alters the results. Crazy, but true. And the best way to shake up a pattern is to start asking useful questions.
- What can I learn about myself from this moment/situation/feeling?
- What can I learn in this moment about how I interact with myself and the world around me?
- Is it possible that I’ve made an assumption about reality without considering that this is only one of many possible things that could have happened?
- Is it possible for me to separate from “my” reality long enough to recognize that it is reflecting a pattern that I can learn from?
- What can I do right now to acknowledge my STUFF so that I can get better at letting it go?
Take a situation that’s challenging you right now in your work, your business or a relationship, and write it out as if you’re telling a story. Then see if you can let an omniscient, compassionate narrator step in and do some editing. Have your compassionate narrator help you practice separating your reality from the bigger picture, turning the TEAR into WEAR.
For example, you might want to play with the sentence, “My boss is ignoring my ideas as usual”.
Can you know this to be absolutely true? Would everyone in the world agree that this is the only possible version of reality? Or is there some pain from past experiences hiding out there that would like some love and attention? Once you rewrite the sentence to reflect a more general depiction of reality in this very moment, it will get easier to recognize who needs a hug (probably you).
In this example, one way to reword the pain-sentence could be, “Even though I have no way of knowing if my boss has even read my last email yet, I am feeling hurt and frustrated because I need to have my input acknowledged.”
Aha! There’s the need. There’s the hurt. There’s the “stuff”. Now meet yourself where you are. Recognize your need. Let yourself be a real live human being with needs and hurt and “stuff”. You might notice that some of that pain will dissolve almost as soon as it gets some attention. You might notice that the story begins to change when it’s written by someone capable of recognizing alternate endings. You might find that it becomes easier to communicate your need for acknowledgment in words and actions so that other people actually pick up on it.
Hey, look! We’re back to my favorite theme of infinite possibility, which is of course what any decent reality should offer. And there you have it: a small piece of truth. And some food for thought.
P.S. Thanks so much for reading. I consider myself very lucky to have so many bright and capable people interacting with my thoughts and ideas. Plus you let me make up acronyms. Yay!