Posted by: Millard J. Melnyk | February 15, 2015

The Secret of Life in Four Easy Pieces

Piece #1

Perfect potential

Here is the ideal life. Flawless. A blank page, completely open and full of potential, ready for us to do whatever we want. This happens in our dreams. It’s a good thing.

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Piece #2

Out damned spot!

Here is real life: mostly great, but there’s always a little shit somewhere messing up the picture.

So the question is: What are we gonna do with it?

Much of our problem with life boils down to complaining that real life isn’t like the life of our dreams. To show you the difference graphically, click here

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Piece #1

Perfect potential

…and then again here.

Not much difference, is there? When we pay attention to how little difference there is, we wonder why we obsessed about the “problem” so much. In other words, we quantify the “problem” and put it into context. This is what “count your blessings” is about, for example. When faced with problems, we rarely quantify them relative to their context, i.e., all the other things that are not problems. THAT failure is a real problem.

(when you’re done flipping back and forth and want to continue, click here).
















Piece #1

Out damned spot!

…and then again here.

Not much difference, is there? When we pay attention to how little difference there is, we wonder why we obsessed about the “problem” so much. In other words, we quantify the “problem” and put it into context. This is what “count your blessings” is about, for example. When faced with problems, we rarely quantify them relative to their context, i.e., all the other things that are not problems. THAT failure is a real problem.

(when you’re done flipping back and forth and want to continue, click here).
















Piece #3 (#2 augmented)

Oh. I wonder what it is...

Remember our “problem” spot? Now look at what a simple line can do. Suddenly what looked like a flaw on our nice, clean, white sheet of life becomes interesting. What is that? A person, a car, a plane, a building, a rock, a boat on dry land — or is there an ocean, too, out there just over the ridge?

Welcome to paradigm shifting. This is one of the simplest kinds. By moving our attention away from the “problem” and taking advantage of the potential that’s wide open all around it, a simple move like drawing a line (or smiling, or biting our tongues, or saying how we feel — the possibilities are endless…) can redefine the “flaw” and change the whole view. It might not turn out to be a problem after all.

One time, I was with some good friends who were getting ready to have dinner. They wanted me there, but the cook didn’t. Everyone except the cook got a plate full, but no one offered me any for fear of the cook’s wrath. So, I helped myself. The cook immediately started in on me — “Oh, so you just help yourself, just do whatever you feel like, do you?” I was dumbfounded, so I kept quiet; but I kept the plate of food and ate it anyway. 🙂

Later, someone had a great idea.

(Why does it always happen later? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

“You should have finished dishing it up and then offered it to the cook, saying, ‘But I got this for you!’ with a big smile!”

Ahh… hindsight…

Click here to see another simple kind of paradigm shift, an evaluation reversal.

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Piece #2 inverted

Who turned out the lights?

Click here to turn the lights back on. 🙂

Reversals can not only change the significance of the apparent problem we focused on, it can change our perception of the whole scene. This was what it was all about when Mom told us that the starving children in Africa would be happy to eat that fried bologna dinner. (Yeah, Mom really did make us fried bologna dinners. Hated that stuff! 😉 )

A seldom used but far more effective kind of reversal is premise reversal: starting from opposite or even absurd premises. So, if the problem is pain, what would it be like if pain were a good thing? Some people say BDSM! Those afflicted with congenital analgesia can tell you that pain is awesome and they wish they could feel it. Or if the problem is poverty, what would it be like if everyone tried their hardest to become poor? Or how about redefining “wealth” to be a matter of having lots of something that the poor already have — like time or hardiness or realistic outlook on what it takes to survive under conditions that would shrivel the huevos of the rich?

I love premise reversals. You can tell when you find a good one because people’s faces go blank, they do double-takes, (because somewhere down in there they know that you’ve got a point,) and then their brows knit up with objections because, “Everyone knows that that won’t work!” I just laugh.

Premise reversal is a method that Edward de Bono advocated (using his trigger word “po”) in Serious Creativity, reporting that it was responsible for the idea to articulate the nose of the Concorde Super Sonic Transport. They couldn’t figure out how to land the thing. So, in a brainstorming session, they tried a premise reversal: “Po — the airplane lands upside-down.” Although this was disadvantageous in many ways, at least then the pilots would see the runway — which was precisely the problem due to the angle at which the aircraft approached as it landed. Ensuing discussions resulted in the articulated nose that became one of the hallmark features of the aircraft.

SST-3 concorde articulated nose 01

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Piece #4

Hmm... Now I'm curious...

And… with just a little more creativity, we’re suddenly curious. What is that thing? Maybe we’ll be curious enough even to walk that path and find out what’s going on! 🙂

This scene is the result of an object/field shift — changing our focus from the problematic object to the potential of the field around it. This is how you avoid hitting an object in the road while driving a car at speed, as any good performance driving school will teach you. Keep your eyes on the object and you’ll surely hit it, no matter what you try.

The “problem” we originally saw is still there — exactly the same mark you saw on the otherwise snowy white Piece #2. Context makes all the difference.

We can find solutions to problems without paradigm shifting, of course. That’s what we usually do, and it’s best to start there. But when problems prove stubborn, our insistence that solutions must come from the same paradigm that regards it as a problem quickly becomes the insanity of doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.

Looking outside our familiar paradigms is difficult, just like getting out of the water they swim in is difficult for fish. But it’s quite easy, actually, to shift and refocus our attention away from parts of the paradigm that we can’t change to parts that we can. I’m always amazed at how tenaciously people can cling to parts that they cannot change, ignoring the ones they could change, and then argue that solutions are impossible or that things will “always be” this way. Poppycock.

A paradigm won’t change until you find a part that you can change. To do that we need to let go of the familiar look for the unusual. A changed paradigm is exactly what one of our favorite geniuses meant when he wrote:

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.
  — Albert Einstein

Or another one from one of my favorite geniuses:

You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
  — Buckminster Fuller

“Model” is a paradigm we use for a particular purpose. Our paradigm is the grand model that’s the context in which we use other models.

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Piece #5


Or I could do this...

Here’s another kind of paradigm shift: intention reversal. Instead of wanting to get rid of it, use the “problem” as the focal point for something worthwhile and desirable. This is what turning a weakness into a strength is all about.

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Piece #6

Or even have a chuckle...

And here we have another: a seriousness shift. I suspect that this might be the most powerful of all, because our humor is the first thing what assholes, bullies, tyrants, and other kinds of abusive, exploitative people try to kill, using a “problem” to put us into dread and get emotional control over us. We need to stop letting them. The culture of terror that Americans have been whipping up for the better part of two decades is a prime example in dire need of a seriousness shift, and it’s becoming ludicrously bizarre enough to make that relatively easy. 😉

In her wonderful article “Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did“, HamdenRice gives a striking, real-life example of the power of shutting dread down with a serious seriousness shift:

They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad. They taught black people how to take a beating — from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses. They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating. They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.

And you know what? The worst of the worst, wasn’t that bad.

Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicced on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened?

These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail.

That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south. Confronting your worst fears, living through it, and breaking out in a deep throated freedom song. The jailers knew they had lost when they beat the crap out of these young Negroes and the jailed, beaten young people began to sing joyously, first in one town then in another. This is what the writer, James Baldwin, captured like no other writer of the era.

(italics hers)

What would our jailers feel if when they imprisoned us we just laughed at them?


So there you have it: the secret of life is to do whatever it takes to shift whatever it takes to transform problems from things we don’t want into things we do want. There are no rules for this — because the rules are part of the paradigm, so they’re fair game too! If someone wants to argue that it’s not appropriate or not allowed or not fair, they have their argument, but we’ll have results. Let’s see them argue that. Our only real limitations are fear and lack of imagination, and both of those are in our heads, so you’d think that we ought to be able to do something about managing them.

I can attest that this is not only very doable, but the reports of its inadvisability are greatly exaggerated by people who haven’t even tried it. You don’t have to trust me. Start experimenting! You’ll see for yourself.

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