How your brain blocks you from seeing many new opportunities and how to overcome it
Our perspective is limited by our knowledge. Our knowledge is limited by our perspective. The more we expand our perspectives, the more we notice opportunities popping up all around us. As we act on these opportunities, we begin to feel life’s richness even amidst those ordinary days.
When we immerse ourselves in new experiences and delight in life’s unexpected surprises, we grow. This is where the juice of life is ultimately found — in experiencing the beauty of our own unfolding.
If we do not continually expand the horizons of our minds, feelings of stagnancy arise. It may feel as if life “isn’t going anywhere.” It is not life that is stagnating — we are. We must meet life’s opportunities halfway.
When we feel as if our lives have become stuck in a rut, it is only because our minds have become stuck in a rut.
STUCK IN THE SAME THOUGHT PATTERNS
We are rarely aware of the habitual nature of our own thoughts — 70-90% of our thoughts are the same as the day before! If our minds are constantly regurgitating the same thoughts, then our actions and behaviors can’t change much either. As a result, it feels as if our lives are a version of Groundhog Day — the same old story playing out on different days. In reality, it’s because we haven’t consciously chosen to think new thoughts and act in new ways.
The great news is that expanding our minds is the simplest way to bring in some bright splashes of color, excitement, and opportunity.
HOW YOUR BRAIN KEEPS YOU BLIND TO SEEING NEW OPPORTUNITIES
There is a biological reason behind the power of expanded perspectives. Your brain gets bombarded with too many gigabytes of data to be able to consciously process all of it. It needs a filter to hone in on the most important pieces.
Even in this moment, you are swimming in a sea of physical and sensory data that you could be focusing on — but aren’t. The birds might be chirping outside your window or the TV might be on in the background…but your focus is likely on the words in front of you. Your brain can only attend to a small portion of all available data at a time.
How does the brain know which data to give priority to?
You may have noticed how YouTube shows you lists of suggested videos to watch based on your prior viewing history. Your brain isn’t any different. It looks to your current database of knowledge — a depository of your past experiences, beliefs, and perspectives.
Opportunities that lie outside your mental paradigm become nearly invisible to you. It’s not that they are not there— your brain just doesn’t see them as important enough to pass onto the frontal cortex for further processing.
Your perception literally filters out the reality you experience through your physical senses. It’s as if there is a gatekeeper in your brain who only lets in data that it is familiar with. How many potentially life-changing calls are screened because the brain doesn’t deem them to be important?
How many opportunities have passed by you because you didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to act on them…or because you simply never perceived them as opportunities to begin with?
OVERCOMING THE BRAIN’S LIMITS
Here are three ways to keep expanding your perspectives to make it easier for your brain to recognize opportunities as they arise:
1. KNOW THYSELF
Cultivating self-awareness is an important way to understand the person that is living your life — YOU. To prevent your life from becoming a constant reflection of your past, you must become aware of the habitual thought patterns that keep you stuck.
Many of our irrational judgments, limiting beliefs, and cognitive biases arise from our sense of attachment to the past. The more knowledgeable we become about these, the better equipped we are to overcome them.
There are many biological reasons why we still behave in ways that are out of line with our intentions. Do you know why your brain makes it so hard to think positively more often for example?
The more we understand ourselves, the more we can understand others — and all of life around us. In his article, How Well Do You Know Yourself, Bill Abbate describes the circle of self-awareness and three questions to help us expand it.
Sometimes, an important aspect of self-awareness is knowing what thoughts to NOT pay attention to. It is about realizing that we are that which is aware of our thoughts — we are not them. We sometimes drive ourselves crazy by unconsciously identifying with thoughts, many of which aren’t ours to begin with. Then we wonder why stress and worry seem to be running our lives. Sometimes we think too much about everything that is happening instead of trusting ourselves and the process of life, as Joe Luca so beautifully put in his recent article.
2. CONCEPTUAL NOVELTY: LEARN NEW THINGS OR THINK ABOUT FAMILIAR CONCEPTS DIFFERENTLY
Contemplating new ideas expands our awareness of what is possible. It creates new neural networks and helps us make new connections. It helps our creativity by aiding us in spotting patterns between existing ideas. The brain loves this — it rewards us with dopamine. We feel motivated to keep exploring further.
When you have a natural curiosity about a subject, don’t ignore it. Use that feeling of excitement to soak in new knowledge. Find new means of relating it to what you may already know. It may just be your brain’s way of pointing you to your purpose.
New perspectives shake up the cobwebs of our old ways of thinking. They allow us to paint the canvas of our lives with colors that we didn’t even know existed.
Embrace becoming a life-long learner. Soak in the wisdom of others through books, podcasts, interviews, or movies.
3. EXPERIENTIAL NOVELTY: DO NEW THINGS OR DO FAMILIAR ACTIONS DIFFERENTLY
When we do something out of the ordinary, the brain pays attention. If it doesn’t find existing data relating to a situation we’re facing, it has no choice but to be more aware of what is going on. This brings us into the present moment and forces us to think in new ways.
Our daily lives present countless opportunities to do things differently. We may not be aware of how much our habits and routines shape our lives until we consciously try to shake things up.
Make a commitment to do something new and out of your comfort zone at least once a week. See how many possibilities that opens for you.
· Skip a day or a week of using social media — or use it for a new purpose
· Cook up new recipes that you normally wouldn’t try
· Take a different route to a place where you go often
· Spend five minutes a day learning a new skill or language
· Listen to a different genre of music than you normally would
· Volunteer (perhaps even virtually) for a new non-profit related to your hobbies or interests
EMBRACING NOVELTY EXPANDS YOUR LIFE
Exposing ourselves to new experiences, new people, and new perspectives broadens our menu of life. The more we experience, the more we travel, the more we read, the more people we interact with, the more our minds expand.
As you see things differently, your responses to life follow. After all, you are the engine that turns possibilities into realities.