Choose your own Adventure

Are we having fun or about to die?

Think of a roller coaster. Imagine sitting down and the clicking noise as the safety bars tighten across your chest. That point of no return as the ride slowly starts to take off and you can see the first drop in the distance. Get ready! You’re about to be whipped around the track at an incredible speed as your body takes on the force and the rush of loops, turns, and drops! Here it comes! The first drop! Your head whips back against the seat and before you know it you're dangling upside down. Your breath catches in your throat. You...

A) Holler with a level of excitement and joy your body cannot contain!

B) Scream with the fear of a thousand possible ways you could die.

C) Laugh uncontrollably. You cannot think of a time you've had more fun.

Now take a moment to check in with your response. Has your heart rate increased? Could you feel a mini (or maybe not so mini) adrenaline rush? Were you holding your breath? Were you thinking “whoohoo” or “oh hell no”? During the imagery how did you imagine yourself? Were you hanging onto those bars for dear life, white knuckled and screaming? Were your arms in the air in pure exhilaration, hollering and grinning from ear to ear? What’s the takeaway here?

Perception is reality.

On a basic, practical level nothing has inherent meaning and everything that exists in this world is neutral. If you had no knowledge or concept of a roller coaster and I described it to you as “an exciting adventure that makes you feel superhuman” or if I refer to it as a “panic inducing death trap,” I’m providing you with the foundation that will influence your conception of roller coasters. When you see a roller coaster for the first time, you might use my description to help you decide whether to run up and strap in for the ride of a lifetime or run in the opposite direction and pray for the poor souls already strapped in. Everything exists in the context of the meaning we give it. One hundred different people could imagine being on a roller coaster and have vastly different experiences. At the end of the day the roller coaster itself is completely benign. It is a mere representation of our collective experiences, beliefs, and ideations. Our brain has to put information into some kind of context to help us survive and interact with the world.

Think of the possibilities!

The good news is we can change our perspective. At it’s core, life is endless with possibilities. If we limit ourselves to only one color the picture gets pretty dull and we get stuck re-living the same story. There is a whole box of crayons! Pick a different color next time.

Try this: Go into a familiar experience with a novel approach. Think of something you’ve done before and are likely to do again in the future, something you struggle with or maybe just something you want to experience differently. A little advice: When you are first experimenting with this visualization exercise, start small! Like picking a different seat in the classroom, not trying to “experience” your way through your next root canal.

A few ways to approach something from a new angle:

Imagine you have no prior knowledge of that experience. Pretend you are an alien from a different planet, learning about this thing for the first time.

Start questioning.

Does this experience have to be bad, scary, uncomfortable, etc.? Does everyone feel that way? What are the other options? What are some good things about this experience? After all, there is something motivating you to do it again.

Gather information from different sources.

What are some other perspectives? What information might you be missing? Try to find out something you didn't know.

Play a different role in the story.

In the past were you the terrified passenger gripping the bars? Try being the adventurous free spirit. Put your hands in the air, if even for a second. Maybe even let out a little “whoo.”

Try the opposite.

Try laughing in a situation that might normally be scary. Try approaching instead of avoiding. Opening up instead of closing in.

Focus on a different aspect of the experience.

Are you usually caught up in your own head? Try focusing your attention on the other people around you. What kind of experience do they seem to be having?

Are you the kind of person who has your "spot?" Try a new spot in a different part of the room. What's the view like from there? How is that experience different? Or take a moment to appreciate the different sights, sounds, and other nuances of the experience you might have missed before.

Have other ideas or personal experience about approaching something in a new way?

Share it in the comments!

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