When I was 16, my Dad bought me a car. Not just any car, a red 1966 Chevy Impala SS ragtop with a 425HP V8 engine. A fierce American muscle car with a manual transmission and heavy duty clutch.
Sounds awesome, right?
Not so much.
As a new driver, I was grappling with understanding hand signals and the rules of the road. I wanted a little Ford Falcon with an automatic transmission to putter around on the country roads in my small town. The Impala seemed like a behemoth, a beast.
My Dad repeatedly explained how to ease up on the clutch and simultaneously apply the gas, but despite his best efforts, I could not make that darn Impala move. I could barely remember how to work the gear shift in the little H pattern. I was lost.
Driving a manual transmission made total sense to my Dad. It made zero sense to me. We never got out of the school parking lot, and I was in tears on the way home. The Impala was a masterpiece of automotive design, yet I couldn’t get it to move more than a few feet!
This is what happens when you don’t really understand how something works.
The human mind is also a masterpiece of design. We all have the power to formulate thought and experience that thought through our senses. We also have limitless potential for new thought. The design is truly amazing. But until we realize what’s happening and how it works, we can get as frustrated as I was in the parking lot.
To make it more challenging, the belief that life comes at us from the outside (from circumstances, people, or past events) is a huge misunderstanding about how the mind actually works. When we’re stuck in the misunderstanding, it looks like things external to us (our workload, children/pets, or past failures and disappointments) are causing us to feel stress or worry. It looks like we must cope with what’s coming at us. Our emotions ratchet up. It’s easy to slip into a victimized state of mind.
Furthermore, just as I couldn’t intellectually see how to drive a manual transmission, we can’t intellectually think our way out of our thoughts. Instead, we must realize how the system works in the moment, while we’re experiencing what looks like life coming at us. When we know how it doesn’t work – outside-in – we set ourselves up for the moment of insight when we see how it does work – inside-out.
For example, in my own life, sometimes it can look like a lack of consulting work in the pipeline is stressful. I can build a strong case for why this is true – I have a mortgage, dogs to care for and bills to pay. Then I catch myself and get on with things. A few days later, while walking the dogs in the woods, I get a thought about partnering with a friend to market a program to her client base. A few phone calls later and we’re looking at venues for an exciting new project.
In my 30s, I finally learned to drive a manual transmission in a little red Honda Civic. Once I understood the moment of balance between letting out the clutch and pressing on the accelerator, I was all good. A few years later, I got my own version of a muscle car, a Volkswagen Scirocco. Some days, while I was effortlessly shifting gears barreling down the highway, I’d think of those tortuous hours spent in the school parking lot with that Impala SS and smile.
Understanding makes all the difference.