The key to happiness and balance is right with you, just learn to use it – Part 3 of the thinkmaya framework

This is Part 3 of the Series titled “The key to happiness and balance is right with you, just learn to use it”. In Part 1 of the series, I told you exactly WHY we need a framework and introduced you to the “thinkmaya framework” foundation.In this Part 2 of the series, I talked about HOW we prepare ourselves to be able to apply the framework successfully. In Part 3(here), I will, with the help of 3 thinkmaya readers, introduce the framework and discuss a few of it’s applications

photo by koert michiels

Learning to use the framework

In this post I will discuss how to apply the thinkmaya framework. Three thinkmaya readers have graciously shared their situations with us. After giving an overview of each of the steps in the process I follow it with how each of the three readers would possibly apply it to their lives and their situations.

Before I start, here are the situations as shared by Mare, Lance and Stacey in their own words:

  • Mare: My issue is eating sweets. I exercise religiously Monday to Friday, cardio and weights. I’ve decided to increase the time and speed of my jogging, and I’m doing very well with that as well. However, I’m having trouble transferring the discipline that I have when it comes to exercise, to staying away from sweets.
  • Lance: I have a job I really like, and a company I really like to work for. However…as much as I like it, I don’t love what I do. What I have fallen in love with is writing. I’m not sure if this fits what you’re looking for… The situation then is that I’m torn between doing what I love (without pay right now) or doing what I really like (with the comfort on a regular paycheck). My present region is probably in thoughts. I have been thinking about this quite a bit. I want this problem to become an opportunity to expand into work that I love. It’s difficult because I happen to really like where I’m at currently in my life. All around, where I’m at is a good place. But I also know it could be better. The question for me becomes how do I move confidently toward whatever “better” is for me.
  • Stacey: My situation > With everything going on in my life, my house is a clutter magnet (there is no time to clean up after everyone). What I’m feeling/doing/thinking about it > I feel frustrated. I try to pick up a little every day. I tried a professional organizer (she helped but she’s not a long term solution). I think I’m in region 4.What I ideally want to feel/do/think > I want to feel a sense of serenity from my home (not a sense of clutter and chaos). My destination is a happy core based on your framework.

Using the framework

Using the framework essentially means following some steps that will help you inch closer to your goal. The crux of the framework lies in the step where you analyze/act. Each of the steps are equally important as noted in the descriptions below.

Step1: Detach

  • Move away from the problem for sometime – mentally, physically and emotionally
  • In order to help you do that, choose activities that are in a different space than the one you are in now.

The way I see it, “detach” is the very first step to finding a solution to any problem/situation. It follows from the fact that disengaging ourselves is the first and essential step towards an unbiased analysis of our situation. It is about creating a distance and remove ourselves from the situation physically, mentally and emotionally. This is certainly not an easy task when we are “stuck” in the middle of a problem but it is entirely possible by letting our thoughts, emotions and actions help each other out. For example, if we are dealing with an emotional situation with another person and want to detach ourselves emotionally, we have to first create a physical distance from the person you are dealing with. If we are consumed by our thoughts, we cannot stop thinking by thinking more. It has to be done by choosing an activity that probably involves our emotions and actions (see activity matrix below). For how long should we detach? Depends on the intensity of your problem. Depends on how long you take to feel ready to deal with the problem. Emotional issues are the ones that require the longest time to detach.

  • Mare: Mare should remove all sweets(and hence temptation) from her surroundings such as her home and her office. (Remember this is not a long term solution and is not expected to work long term. This is just step 1). Removing the temptation will lessen the possibility that Mare will be upset by her actions and hence give her some space and time “away” from her problem. For an indirect approach, Mare should also make sure that she nourishes her body at regular intervals with sufficient carbs and fruits. Starving yourself of what the nutrients her body needs will push you closer to the problem by creating an intense desire to eat sweets. (If there is an emotional component that causes Mare to want sweets she should try to distance herself from that as well. For the sake of simplicity, I am assuming there is no emotional component here.)
  • Lance: Lance has been thinking a lot about writing. Thinking a whole lot. But Lance needs to give this thinking a break knowing that a solution will come. He needs a break from his thinking so he can realign his approach. Perhaps the solution for Lance here is to get consumed with something at his work or create a new goal for himself that is not writing related. In his case it might be as simple as taking a shower or watching a movie. Whatever it takes to get ready to change gears on dealing with this situation.
  • Stacey: Of all the three people here, it looks like Stacey is the one most in need of creating detachment. Stacey’s mind is cluttered as the result of the clutter in her home.Stacey needs to create a sanctuary for herself in order to be able to deal with her issue. A room. A desk. A corner. Some physical space away from all the clutter. She needs to create that space, go away and have fun for a day with something physically intense activity and come back mentally and emotionally refreshed.

Step 2 : Detox

  • Accept your situation. Promise cooperation.
  • Give yourself a reality talk.

This is where you further detach through a specific way – by “letting go”. This is where we tell ourselves, “It is okay, perfectly okay to be in this situation”. It is complete acceptance of ourselves and the other person without a second question. This is the point where we forgive everyone involved in the situation and really get ready to act on the problem.This step is crtitical – you cannot work with yourself if you do not accept yourself. What if we are not able to let go? What if we cannot forgive? This essentially means that we have not “detached” sufficiently from our problem. We need to go back to step 1. (None of the examples provided below involve multiple people but it should be noted that “detox” is hardest when multiple people are involved in a situation)

  • Mare: Millions of people have a sweet tooth and millions more have dealt with it. The reality is that it is not easy to transfer the discipline of exercise to eating directly. The truth is that the motivators are what need to be transferred and the discipline will follow (easier said than done).
  • Lance: Lance probably already knows this but it is a great situation he is in. He has 2 things in life – a thing he loves to do and a thing that brings him money. But he is also going through something a lot of people do at some point – a conflict between what they love and what brings money.
  • Stacey: Stacey has kids and she works from home. And she works a lot. Stacey should tell herself that it is totally normal to have a cluttered home in such situations. Kids have more stuff and kids rarely help with cleanup.

Step 3 : Define

  • Set your goals.
  • Keep them realistic. Keep them achievable

Once you have detached yourself from the problem temporarily and accepted your situation, take a few minutes to define what you want. List both the tangible and intangibles goals here. If you are dealing with an issue regarding another person define what is most important at the end – your relationship, how you feel, how the other person feels etc. It is important to keep the goals realistic and achievable. The goals can always be modified later but for now, take small steps.

  • Mare: What does Mare want to achieve? Does she want to eat sweets mindfully? Does she want to eat just a couple of sweets a week? Do she want to stop eating sweets all together?
  • Lance: Lance needs to decide what is important to him at this point. Does he want to start writing right away? Does he want to create the best possible future for himself even if it takes a couple of years?
  • Stacey: Stacey needs to define what she means by wanting a sense of serenity. What spaces matter most to Stacey. What kind of clutter is unacceptable?

Step 4/5 : Analyze/Act

  • Use the framework picture. See where you are and where you want to be.
  • Set a strategy for moving towards your goal.
  • Use activities that involve the dormant member/members of your governing body in order to secretly(mostly) tease yourself into the happy core.

The next two steps are ones that take time since this is where the real problem is attacked. These two steps will also be repeated over and over again until you are done dealing with whatever you are working on. Change always comes in small steps and so it is here as well. Analyse /act can be considered one step since they are so intricately connected to one another. When we are so caught up in a problem it is really hard to think up a solution. Moreover, just thinking up a solution rarely solves a problem. Acting on it is just as important. Here is real truth: “thinking” really involves thinking with your heart, head and gut(body) which implies that thinking and acting are often overlapping activities. Analyze/Act is therefore a continuous effort to slowly but steadily inch towards the solution. It is iterative – Think -> Act -> Accept/Reject -> Think -> Act -> Accept/Reject …

1. Analyze to see which region you lie in. After step 1 and 2, the answer to this might differ – so be aware of that.

2. If you are in a combined region (4, 5 or 6) , you are stuck rather firmly between two of your three components. (Remember I called the heart, brain and body the members of your internal governing body). More often than not, two of the three members here are strongly bound and are helping each other and you slide the downward spiral. The distant third member is rarely heard in this case. In such cases, you have to tease yourself out of your spiral slowly, using the third member to pull the dominant members in the direction you want – slowly and one at a time. In order to do this and get a sense of what activities to choose, use the attached activity matrix table. For example, if you are in region 4 and feel stuck between your emotions and thoughts, then your solutions will be achieved by choosing actions (the third member) that involve emotions and actions that involve thoughts. Use activities that are in the thoughts/emotions box (to tease your thoughts in the right direction) and the actions/emotions box (to tease your actions in the right direction).

Mare and Stacey seem to be in combined regions. Mare is a victim of her thoughts and actions. I have made some assumptions here but it seems like she is telling herself it is wrong to eat sweets but is acting contrary to it. She does get upset but only AFTER she has consumed the sweets. Mare is stuck firmly between her thoughts and wrong actions with no emotional component(my assumption) to either of them.

Stacey here is caught between her thoughts and emotions. She is mostly upset with the clutter in her home. She is not able to really think beyond that since the physical clutter is translating into mental clutter as well. She has not really acted on it much until now. Yes, she got an organizer, but that is more of a mental decision than a physical action on her part.

3. If you are in a pure region, you have been strongly consumed by one member of the governing board – the acting Hitler. In this case, you need to choose activities that involve only the other two members (and give acting Hitler a break).

Lance is in the region of thoughts. He has thought a lot about his issue, which is great. But my guess is that he will not feel a sense of fulfillment unless he acts on his thoughts or makes an emotional commitment to all the thinking he has been doing. He has probably been thinking his situation so much that he probably needs a break from the thinking to get a truer perspective of his situation. It is time to do that. With time he will get a better sense of he “feels” about his writing and what writing involves in the long run. The little action steps here might redefine the situation for Lance and/or just inch him towards a long term solution.

Use this table below to see what kind of activities you might want to immerse yourself in. This is just a sampling of activities.

Thoughts

Watch discovery channel

Read the newspaper

Learn a foreign language

Emotions

Watch a famly video or pictures with family

Talk about old times with friends, siblings etc

Watch a chickflick

Watch a bollywood movie

Volunteer at a humane society for animals

Join a laughing club

Actions

Participate in a discussion

Comment on a blog

Do dishes

Iron clothes

Cook

Drive

Mindmap your thoughts

Play with kids

Sex

Write letters to old friends

Dance with friends

Write thank you letters

Help others

Run, painting

Exercise Yoga

Do dishes

Iron clothes

Bath

Long drive

nap

Thoughts

Emotions

Actions

  • Mare: As mentioned before I believe Mare is in a combined region of thoughts and actions. She knows that eating sweets is wrong for her but she is having a hard time controlling her actions. What is missing here is the underlying emotional connection/current between her actions and her thoughts. Some emotion/thoughts activities that could help Mare are
    • Reading as much as she can about how bad sugar is for the human mind and body. Read extensively and read material that is thought provoking and shocking (in order to evoke emotional responses). I do not know what Mare’s motivation for exercise is but she needs to work on transferring the same motivation here. Is she afraid of being fat and unhealthy? Is she rewarding herself in a positive way?
    • Watch documentaries that relate to health and diet. Visuals have more of a lasting emotional impact. Identify the biggest fear with respect to the ill effects of sugar and hang on to it to prevent from eating too many sweets

    Some action/emotion activities would be:

    • Cooking healthy. Enjoying other foods. Make a ritual of eating healthy. Try to really enjoy the act of eating other foods such as fruit. Think of times when she has sugar cravings and pre-plan an emotionally satisfying activity such as eating a favorite fruit while reading the best blogs etc.
    • Complement eating less sweets with drinking lots of water. This is great and it works for me. I carry water bottle with me at all times and it works like a security blanket. I enjoy the ritual of taking a break and filling my bottle. Water feels great for the body and skin and I have started to believe it has a big hand in helping me maintain my weight as well.
    • Say no. Voice the emotions and talk about how bad sweets are for her with everyone – just as she would talk about how good it feel to exercise. Talk about her your little achievements

    The main idea for Mare is to find her underlying emotions and use them appropriately. Mare is extremely well read and it should not be hard for her to find a lot of repulsive material explaining the ill effects of sugar. Since she is already exercising she should work on finding the emotional motivators behind her discipline for exercise. Finally, at moments when she cannot seem to control her desire for sweets, she should have some “feel good actions” that she can turn to.

  • Lance: Lance is stuck in think-land. He needs to immerse himself in activities that involve actions and emotions. Ideally, the actions will involve something he will make a part of his future (writing) and something that will explore him giving up the seemingly unimportant(his present job). By noting his emotional response to these activities. Best thing to do is to get intensely involved in action/emotion activities such as
    • Create a dreamboard. Talk about the things that really matter (not the writing, but how you like to feel etc) with your spouse.
    • Write your emotional/financial goals in life. Talk to family about what kind of a future they are looking forward to.
    • Talk to writers about their life and lifestyle (not about writing). Ask them about their best and worst times. Is this the life you look forward to?
    • Do not think about writing but choose a writing project(to make money) and just write. Take a week of vacation from your present job and write as you would write if you decided to pursue writing as a career.
    • Is there a project that involves writing at the present job? Can that be picked up?

    The main idea for Lance here is to stop thinking about his choices and create situations to start “acting and feeling” as if he has already made certain decisions. Like giving himself a trial run. If these activities give positive feedback then Lance takes bigger and bigger steps towards his goal of becoming a writer such as slowly increasing his writing work and reducing the hours at his present job. Or if he gets a very good feeling from his trial projects he could decide to just quit his full time job if he believes he has the financial cushion to do that.

  • Stacey: Stacey’s home and mind are cluttered. She is upset. She is consumed by her thoughts and emotions. She desperately needs to balance her life out with some actions.
    • First and foremost, Stacey needs to act on acting by getting rid of 80% of the items in her home. Boxing it away would be the easiest. Put away most of the clothes, toys, dishes and knick knacks. We probably use just 20% of the stuff 80% of the time, so Stacey should be just fine. And she should do this knowing that it is temporary and she can get anything out of a box if she really wants to.
    • With much much lesser stuff around the house, Stacey is ready to now take baby steps to solve the real problem and make it a lifestyle. Stacey is ready to get consumed by action/thought and action/emotion activities. Stacey needs to take about 10 – 15 minutes every couple of hours and do something that makes her “feel good”. Turn on the music and iron a couple of clothes. Put half the laundry away. Wipe a counter clean and shiny. Take joy and notice the little actions of cleaning she is doing. Take her mind away from focusing on a clutter free home to focusing on a clutter free counter, a clutter free table and a clutter free room. Celebrate the clean space by putting just one object there – such as the reflection of her authentic self.
    • Try to do mundane activity like iron clothes while thinking about creative ways to get kids to participate in cleaning the house. Hire a sitter for a hour everyday and tackle cleaning the high priority areas while the kids are kept busy. Take 15 minutes before going to bed and tidy up. Box away any unnecessary lurkers.

The idea for Stacey here is to choose activities that do not just involve cleanup but end up feeling like a break in her day. Her focus should be away from the clutter and on the little clean spaces and sanctuaries that she is creating. She will never have a completely clutter free home but she can reduce the clutter and create clutter free spaces. Stacey’s progress might be slow but she will certainly succeed if she 1. boxes away 80% of he stuff and 2. focuses on the good feeling behind what she has already cleaned and takes focus away from the existing clutter.

It is important to note that this step could take weeks, months or years. Monitor your progress with every new activity you try. Stick with the ones that work and discard what does not. Redefine your problem and/or your goals as and when you think appropriate. Be very mindful of what effect your choices are having on your initial goal.

Step 6 : Shield

  • Take pride in your achievements but store memories of the uphill battle.
  • Recognize familiar landscapes and act quickly.
  • Treat the core of the issue, not the symptoms.

In business strategy terms this would be called “raising barriers of entry”. Once you have worked on a problem and are close to a solution you have to safe guard yourself from the problem attacking you again. Awareness is the single most effective way for us to do this. Do not get paranoid, but learn to notice small signs that the problem may be creeping back. This is easier than we think. Since we have done all the work and made the progress up until then in small steps of analyze/act, falling backwards just puts us in a landscape we recognize well. Awareness of the landscape should kick us back into action mode. Secondly, take great pride in your progress and achievements. Talk about it and accept it when people give you complements. When we take pride in something we have accomplished we tend to naturally safeguard it. The sense of satisfaction we achieve while working through a problem is the greatest motivator for us to keep the problem/situation away.

Have you had situations that Mare, Lance and Stacey have talked about? What has worked for you? Do you think this framework applies in your life? Share your thoughts and ideas here.

This post is also my submission to Stacey’s Life Balance Group Project. There is still time to join the project. More posts on life balance are available here.
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