Reach your goals by creating memories of the future.

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You have probably heard of athletes who make mental images of how they perform on their top level during an important competition, win that particular gold medal or see their dream score beside their own name on the board. They do this to make their body and mind add an extra power to their normal training to reach the goals. But is it magic or how can it work?

It’s all about chemistry in the brain. All your memories or past experiences are thoughts connected to emotions. Let’s say that you gave a short speech in school and some of your class mates were laughing or even saying something mean. This made you feel very humiliated, angry, sad or frightened. So the memory of giving a speech is then chemically connected to a negative emotion in your brain. You might never again want to stand up in front of an audience. Fifteen years later your boss asks you to give a presentation of the project you are working on next month. You are suddenly attacked by a strong negative emotion and you almost panic. You might have forgotten that day in school fifteen years ago, but your mind and body has not. These bad connections happen every day and in fact they are the foundation of how we perceive and react to our daily life.

But you can use this to your advantage. You can actually choose to create new connections, which suite you better. Since we think about 50.000 thoughts every day, and most of them are negative, it might not be an easy task to change them all into positive thoughts, but you can start with the ones that are stopping your form reaching your goals or feel happy about certain situations. The trick is to fool your brain to believe that your created memory of a future situation is actually something that already happened. That way the brain – and your body and mind – knows that you can perform that good, because you have already done it!

The key here is that when you are in a very relaxed mood, in trance or dreaming, your brain can not tell the reality and the imagination apart. When you dream you have no control of the thoughts, but in deep relaxation you can be very focused and creative!

So you want to be able to hold that speech next month? You don’t want to panic and you don’t want to make a fool of yourself. Since “not” is lost by the brain (how can you imagine something that is not?), you have to turn your goal into something positive. Let’s say you want to feel calm and focused before and during the speech and confident and happy after it’s done. Now you are going to imagine this moment like a piece of a film about our life. You are going to look at this part of the film showing your future memory as if it was happening now. What do you see and hear in this film that proves to you that you are calm and focused and doing good? Maybe you first see a part of the film showing you looking at the audience, seeing friendly, happy faces. A college might ask you how you are and you hear yourself answering that you are actually feeling very calm and excited. Now comes the most important thing! You have to connect this scene to a good feeling. So you let yourself feel how calm and happy you are. Is that feeling in your stomach or in your chest? Take time to notice. Enjoy the moment! Now you might forward the movie and take a look at the part after the speech is done. You see how the audience is applauding. You hear your boss say that this was a very good presentation and you feel an enormous joy in your body. You are so proud that you managed to stay that calm, focused and that the presentation turned out so good.

Unfortunately you don’t change that old feeling from the memory in school that quick! Research says that your brain needs about 21 days to change a connection or a habit. But you have one month to go! So every evening and every morning, when you are lying in bed, you do your best to relax and put yourself in a positive mode and then you close your eyes and look at your film! Don’t forget the positive feeling in your body.

Does it work? Well, that’s how I met my husband, dared to make a speech and finally found a training that I liked – all in one month! That was 20 years ago and my old notebook by my bed is filled with notes on what I see, hear and feel for three new goals every month. Most of them fulfilled.

Lessons learned by living an expat life

DSC_0760When an employee is starting a new job in a new country, the accompanying spouse is often facing a job free life. In theory this is paradise! But in reality, the ones who loved their job with all the responsibilities, hardships and engagement, find themselves frustrated by not having something purposeful to do. Yes, it’s quite nice going to lunches with new friends, enjoying a manicure or shopping new decorations for the home. But after a while many accompanying expatriates whom I’ve met say that they have a desperate need to “use their brain”. Along with this comes the fear that their career is finished and that these years abroad will be nothing but a drawback to their future chances.

But don’t we learn a lot of things that we could not have learned if we had stayed at home? Have we required any skills that we maybe even could put in our CV? Some weeks ago I asked my expat friends on Facebook about this and I got answers, e-mails and messages from men and women all over the world! Thank you all for your contributions!

Yes. We have learnt a lot!

If I summarize the experiences I would say that living in a new country, a new culture, puts us out of our comfort zone. Suddenly we can’t communicate with the locals in our own language and we have to use body language and smiles to help us do the most ordinary things during the day. We have to be humble and ask for help all the time, because things in this new country are done in other ways and found at other places. Soon we find friends in our new country, mostly expatriates coming from all over the world, and in our discussions we realize that what is bad or good, right or wrong for us most probably look very different for them. They have completely different values and perspectives on things like children’s education, religion, equality, treatment of animals, family life or law and order. “How can she be such a nice person, but have these strange values?”, can be a normal question to ask oneself.

We pretty soon come to understand what people from our own country have in common, cultural things and values that we wouldn’t have noticed until we meet other cultures. Suddenly we can see that not everything in our home country is that logical and perfect. In the beginning we are most probably irritated or even disgusted by how people do things in this new country, but after a while we start to see things their way, we get more patient. We know that things can be done in different ways, that these people also have their truths, ethics and moral – it’s just that they aren’t the same as ours. So how can I be so sure that mine are the correct ones?

After a while we might have learnt some more words in this new language and we have understood more of the “codes”, the unwritten social rules. (I can tell you the Istanbul traffic is full of them!) Interacting with locals and friends from other countries is now a wonderful adventure! Thanks to our new friends it’s much easier to solve all these new problems that arrive every day in a new country. Once again you have to accept that you have to ask for help. Also thanks to our new friends, we start to see ourselves, our home country and even life in a new perspectives. Maybe there are other things in life that are more important than I thought before? Maybe the truths I’ve never questioned are not that good?

The hardest lesson though might be the one concerning loss and grief. Living an expatriate life usually means that we have to leave the rest of our family, friends and colleges for months, sometimes even years. When we meet we know that we will soon part again. And the new friends we get suddenly move or we leave them behind. For our children this might be the biggest problem, so we have to deal with their loss and sadness as well. The good part of this lesson is that we slowly learn to live in the moment and enjoy the friends we have right now.

Honestly I think we can put some of these lessons, specially the more traditional ones, in our CVs:
A new language; basics or advanced, taught by the people in the country.
Intercultural communication; how to interact and communicate with people from other cultures, how to detect the “codes” in a new culture
Critical thinking; how to interpret information based on new observations and experiences
Problem solving; how to constantly find creative solutions, how to ask for help in every moment, often in languages you don’t know
Body language; how ask for help, food, solutions, directions, appointments etc. without any words (and understand the answers!)

Other skills are softer, but not entirely uninteresting to the HR department:
Patience; how not to be upset because things aren’t done the way I am used to, but in a much more complicated and time consuming way
Humbleness; how to realize that my way might not be the only way – and maybe not even the best way!
Thankfulness; how to be grateful for life, laws, environment etc. in our own country
– Self-awareness; how to discover yourself when you are out of your comfort zone, and your country based values when confronted with other peoples’ values
Mindfulness; how to better enjoy the moment and not fear the unpredictable future

Do you recognize yourself in this? Please let me know if you have learnt some other lessons!

Of course also people not living in another culture can learn some of these lessons, but I think the combination is somewhat special to expatriates.

Are you a Seeker or a Source?

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The other day I listened to an interview with author Neale Donald Walsch. He said that you have to realize whether you are a Seeker or a Source. He meant that if you’re a seeker you wait for someone or something to teach you or show just what you need to know to grow or reach your goals. It might be a course that is just the right course for you, or a book that will finally make you take the step needed. If you’re a source, you know that you have all the potential within yourself. You are the creator of your life and you don’t wait for someone else to tell you how to make it.

So all we Seekers just have to transform into Source! Piece of cake …

Well, Neale Donald Walsch actually went on by saying how to do. Let’s say that you want to develop a certain trait in your personality, for example you want to be able to talk in front of people with more ease. Then you should start by finding someone else, who is just as scared as you are, and teach or help that person to get up on stage with confidence. You become a Source to someone else! And by doing that you have activated your own sense of the strength and possibilities you have deep inside of yourself. Eventually, by acting more and more from the source within, you will find the answers to your own questions. Without any teacher.

Starting this blog was actually an attempt from my side to go from Seeker to Source. When I lived in Istanbul I used to enjoy my weekly meetings with a wonderful Buddhist monk further down my street, so when I moved to Shanghai eight months ago I was soon looking for a new teacher. But I didn’t find one. So I decided to write about the things that I would have liked to talk with a teacher about and share it with others. Hoping that someone might gain some insight or growth by reading about my thoughts. I sort of became a source.

And last week I started a course in Leadership by Coaching, to teach some expats something they felt useful to learn during their stay here. And seeing how happy and excited they were, made me feel I was doing something very useful with my time here!

What do you want to change or develop? Do you know someone who wants the same thing? In what way can you help that person?