Why outside-in seems so compelling (and why it’s actually only superstition)

I had a fascinating experience this morning.

I felt really good. I was totally tapped into a nice, healthy dose of inner peace. I felt a profound sense of connection—people and nature looked radiant in a way they rarely do. My always delicious coffee was off-the-charts delicious today.

The Illusion

Almost immediately, and even though I know better, I found myself trying to attribute my feeling to something in the room.

It was because the whole house was asleep, I figured. Or maybe it was that there were fewer than 5 emails in my inbox, or because I was reading a book I love, or because I caught the sunrise at that perfect orange moment that lasts less than a minute…

I intellectually know it can’t be the conditions. Yet, like most humans, that’s the first place I naturally look. Looking to conditions gives us an illusion of control. If we can figure out which outside conditions create peace we can replicate them and voila!…life of bliss.

It sounds easy enough but as you’ve no doubt experienced, those feelings aren’t actually replicable on demand. And they certainly aren’t replicable via the manipulation of situations. It’s a little like rearranging your furniture and then expecting your home to be better able to withstand a hurricane.

The Truth

Our thinking changes, all on its own. Changes in thinking create changes in mood.

You look around to attribute a cause to your mood and you end up drawing incorrect, superstitious conclusions like “quiet mornings make me happy”.

Then you go into your life and start trying to rearrange things to produce more of the same mood. You wake up 20 minutes early to recreate that one glorious silent morning, but you notice that other silent mornings aren’t quite the same.

You start telling yourself that you “need quiet time” in order to feel good, which causes all kinds of problems, especially when quiet time isn’t possible. Strangely, you find noisy mornings less pleasant than before.

Now you’re a little stuck. You’re more convinced than ever that you know the key to inner peace. But when those talkative kids just won’t sleep in, you’re screwed. It’s not much different from how my husband and his Green Bay Packers are screwed when his lucky Packer shirt gets doused in guacamole during a game.

Live the Truth, not the Illusion

The same feeling –> external-condition-that-caused-the-feeling scavenger hunt happens all the time, and it’s no wonder, really.

Let’s look at another example. Say you want something you don’t have—maybe a life partner.

When you don’t have a partner, your thinking is inevitably focused on not having what you want. That thinking creates feeling of lack or dissatisfaction.

Then you meet him. He’s wonderful and suddenly you feel amazing. Must be him, right?  He is the tallest, most obvious new condition around and your mood changed just as he entered the picture. That’s a perfectly logical conclusion to draw.

But something else entered the equation just before your mood changed. Your thinking shifted. Suddenly you weren’t focused on not having what you wanted, you were focused on how lucky you are to have met Mr. Perfect.

And your feelings changed. But in our superstitious thinking, we look outside before we look inside. The hot guy is easier to see than that shift in thinking, although the shift in thinking is the real game changer.

Shifts in thinking (and thus shifts in feeling) happen all the time. They are effortless and free. They don’t require that you wake up 20 minutes early or spend your weekend on E-Harmony.

They are available in any moment.

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