March 2014 Newsletter: Exploring The World of Subjective Experience

When thinking about a journey with a destination, whether that is stepping on stage for a competition, getting a degree, planning a wedding, or losing weight for a summer vacation, there are two parts to that journey. The first part is the actual plan of the journey. For competition dieting that would be the training program and the nutrition plan, as well as the day to day implementation of that plan. For example our trips to the gym and our daily management of meals. However, there is also a second, more subtle part to the journey, and that is our internal representation of how we are experiencing that journey. In other words, our personal, subjective experience of the journey.

How we experience the journey is even more important than our ability to follow through with the plan. Let’s take competition, for example, when you actually get to the show, virtually everyone is in shape, are they not? Then what makes the difference between the winning physique and the not-so winning physique? Think about the difference between a confident competitor, one that is walking in confidence, gliding across the stage, exuding physical perfection as well as emotional confidence. Then, consider the competitor with her shoulders slouched over, just ever so slightly, and a little less bounce in her step. There are differences that can be attributed to more practice, however, we really can tell what is going on in someone’s mind when they are on stage. When someone feels good, simply put, they look good! 

Exploring the World of Subjective Experience
This month I have a very important topic to discuss. It is no longer acceptable to be a victim of our own thoughts and emotions without the ability to change them. For those of us who are interested in making our dreams a reality, it is important not only to line up the plan but to line up our minds to the plan. It is important not only to understand what needs to get done to achieve our goals, but what thoughts are conducive to that achievement. I am not talking about motivational messages, or vision boards or taking five minutes a day to visualize your world the way you want. I am talking about how your world is represented in your mind.

So what exactly do I mean by subjective experience? Let me first start by expressing to you what subjective experience is not. It is not how you feel or what you are thinking about, rather it is how specifically you are thinking. For example if you tell me that you feel sad, you represent that in your mind’s eye in a very specific way. You may be talking to yourself; you may be seeing a picture or you may be feeling something specific such as a burning sensation in a very specific location that lets you know to code that experience as sad. The feeling of sad is just a way to express all that is going on in your subjective experience.

The value of understanding our subjective experience is that when we are thinking in ways that are not conducive to achieving our goals, we can change those experiences. For example, let’s say you are getting ready for competition and you feel a general bad feeling every time you go online and look at other competitor’s pictures via social media. The reasoning you had for going to the internet was for inspiration to help you get motivated. But instead of feeling motivated you feel bad. If you ignore this feeling you just get to keep on feeling bad every time, you go online to get your “motivation”. But, if you check inside, you may find that you are actually talking to yourself. Maybe you are saying something negative to the effect that you don’t look like that person, you never will, and then you feel bad. The part you are aware of naturally is the bad feeling, but not the subjective experience that lead to that feeling.

This month. I want to encourage you to think about how you are thinking. We will start with a very simple exercise that I think will help you understand a bit more how you are coding your internal world. Whenever you feel a feeling that you do not prefer to feel, ask yourself these questions:

1. How do I know to feel bad right now?

2. What am I seeing, hearing and feeling in order to generate this negative feeling?

3. Where specifically is this feeling in my body?

4. Am I talking to myself?

5. Is someone else talking to me? (Maybe you hear your mother’s voice scolding you, for example).

6. Am I making pictures in my mind’s eye? If so, what are they?

 Jot down some notes and begin to get an understanding of what you are doing that is driving any negative feelings you have. Next month, we will explore in more detail how we can go about gently guiding our internal representations in ways that help empower us, make us feel good, and help us reach our goals.

Whether we are talking about how we think, or the training program itself, there is no magic pill. Thinking in positive, uplifting and empowering ways requires self-exploration. Getting in great physical shape requires commitment and dedication. Getting in great mental shape requires the same level of commitment and dedication.

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