The Meaning We Assign Becomes The Lens Through Which We See the World

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As you label an object or situation, so it appears- Dave Logan, The Three Laws of Performance

The ability to separate the things that happen to us from the meaning we assign to them is essential if we want to become capable of shaping our own reality. The meaning we assign to everything turns into a filter through which we view the world. This filter impacts our beliefs, actions, behaviors, and habits.

What we must realize is that we as a species have both a cognitive bias and a negativity bias. As a result, it’s tempting to trust the first and instant meaning that we assign something. The process by which we assign meaning to an event or circumstance happens so quickly, with no space between stimulus and response that it’s easy to mistake it for objective truth or reality. Fact turns into fiction in the blink of an eye.

Our negativity bias causes us to assign the most disempowering meaning to things. For example, let’s you set a goal of making the New York times Best Seller list and you don’t. It’s really easy to make that mean things like “I didn’t write a good enough book.” Of course, that’s all completely subjective and one person or even the opinions of a thousand people are not the universal truth.

Another place we do this is in our relationships. When we don’t meet some standard that one person has, we can easily believe that to be the case for anyone else in our lives.

Suppose you get a bad grade on a test. It’s quite easy to conclude that you’re not good at the subject. One of my default narratives has been “I’m an Indian person who sucks at math.” This was the meaning I assigned to some bad grades in college. The result is that I avoided any classes, jobs, or anything that required a significant amount of math.

That leaves us with the question how we deliberately design our lives and intentionally assign meaning to the events in our lives, so temporary circumstances don’t have to become our permanent identity.

The answer it turns out is surprisingly simple: meditation. 
As my mentor, Greg told me “human beings are the only species with the capacity to pause between stimulus and response and the key to developing that ability is meditation.

  • When I interviewed Todd Henry last year, he said that Ray Dalio abides by a meditation practice so that his emotions don’t fluctuate with the volatility of the market. Considering a billionaire has adopted the habit, it was kind of a no-brainer to get back into the routine of a daily meditation habit.
  • In a recent on conversation The Unmistakable Creative, Gay Hendricks told me that nearly all of his ideas for a business that he sold to public companies have come during a daily meditation practice.
  • In discussing their new book, Stealing Fire, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal said: “Every successful person has figured out how to change the channel on consciousness.”

It seems that there is a financial ROI to a daily meditation habit. If that doesn’t convince you of its virtues, I don’t know what will.

When we learn to take control of the meaning that we assign to the events and circumstances of our lives, we become the authors of our own stories. Destiny starts to become a matter of choice not chance. As the wisdom of the Stoics has stated in many different ways, it’s not what happens to us but ultimately how we react to what happens that determines the quality of our lives. How we react is a choice.

Every chapter of our lives has dark and light, highs and lows. There’s no denying that. But our moments of crisis can become the catalyst for significant personal and evolution when we learn to separate the meaning we assign them from all the things that happen in our lives. There’s perhaps no greater superpower when it comes to managing your mind than your ability to separate fact from fiction, from separating the events and circumstances of your life from the meaning you’ve assigned them. It enables you to see that your temporary circumstances don’t have to become your permanent reality


Before You Go…

If doing the best work of your life is important to you, check out my free guide: “Optimizing Productivity & Creativity.

The tactics I’ve packed into this guide allowed me to write over 1 million words in the last 2 years. What could it do for your life’s work? Don’t miss it.


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