The Long Walk To Freedom

I recently returned from South Africa where I had one of the most amazing weeks of my life. I was invited to speak in South Africa by the Mandela Rhodes Foundation for Leadership, which is an organization that was created a decade ago by Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, in concert with the Rhodes Foundation (think Rhodes Scholars) to develop up and coming leaders for the African continent. This foundation finds the best and brightest minds from all over Africa, and has created a development program for them to train them in the most advanced and current skills of leadership available. Many of the young people being trained are Rhodes Scholars, all are working on their Phd’s, and collectively they represent the hope of Africa and the desire to create freedom through empowerment, equality and economic success.

I not only got to visit with the leaders of Mandela’s Foundation, but I was also invited to his personal residence and got to spend time with his staff and see the place where he has lived and worked for many years. And I was asked to lead a training workshop to the Mandela Rhodes scholars on the science and power of imagination. I spent a day with them sharing the work on imagination I have been doing over the past 15 years. It was a magical day, filled with insightful questions, curious explorations, and engaging dialogue. But what really caught me off guard was the level of happiness, enthusiasm, and acceptance of different ideas that each of these scholars brought to the table. Their love of learning, human experience, diversity, and community far exceeded anything that I have experienced working with executives, students and some of the best minds in North America over the last decade. And their acceptance, compassion and integration of a white culture that subjugated, marginalized and brutalized them for decades was an astounding display of the best of our human qualities.

It is clear where it came from. After spending over 25 years in a horrific prison, where he was often beaten, tortured, and humiliated, Nelson Mandela emerged from the depths of despicable treatment and taught a nation and the world, that freedom is not only removing the shackles placed upon us by governments, or others intent on our disengagement from power, but freedom is more importantly an internal journey, that requires us to abandon the constraints of vengeance, retaliation, a lack of forgiveness, and pain. It asks us to rise above the frailties of human experience and behavior to find reconciliation and promote unity and healing with all people. As Nelson Mandela himself stated, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

Mandela himself demonstrated that the long walk to freedom first requires courage. Courage to respond with love and compassion to those who would hurt us and try to deprive us of equal rights. Courage to choose unity and equality even when that equality and unity will be given to those that otherwise would seek our demise. Courage to liberate, as Mandela once stated, “not only the oppressed, but also the oppressor.” Many of us believe there is much that needs to be done, and much that we can do, to help the people of Africa and the problems they are facing. I believe that is true, and I too am acting in the best way I know how to make a contribution to the people of Africa in a meaningful way. But we also have our own long walk to freedom to take, both individually and collectively as a country and culture.

We talk a lot about freedom in this country, and yet so much discrimination in our laws and in our behaviors still exists towards racial minorities, religious minorities, and good, loving people who are still often beaten, ridiculed, bullied and discriminated against simply because they choose to love someone of the same sex. The question I think Nelson Mandela would ask us, if he could, is, what are we doing as a country to create fairness and equality for all people, not just the ones who side with our position in the world? How are we seeking to forgive and find reconciliation with those that have hurt our nation? How are we working to create equality, compassion and justice for gay people in this country even though we may disagree with their choice of who to love?

On a personal basis, each of us can usually identify someone in our lives that has caused us harm, or hurt us in some physical, emotional or spiritual way. How are you seeking reconciliation, forgiveness and compassion for that person? How can you liberate them from the oppression they have caused you? For as Mandela once taught the world, “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of all others.” That admonition includes these people – the ones that for each of us, are most difficult to love.

I feel honored that the Mandela Rhodes Foundation wants me back again next year to lead another training program for their future leaders on the science and power of imagination. Yet, I am acutely aware that the next time I return, there will be much more I can learn about the long walk to freedom, and the values of unity, compassion, forgiveness and love that are being exemplified for us by the people of South Africa and the African continent. And rather than look at them as people who need my help, I will recognize myself as someone who needs their help.

Do you know the difference between a bandit and a criminal?

Do you know the difference between a bandit and a common criminal? Why is it we love bandits, but fear and are repulsed by criminals? Why do bandits capture our imaginations, but criminals are shunned by society? I think the answer lies in the power of authenticity.  One of my favorite bandits is one of America’s most famous train robbers – Jesse James. Jesse James was no ordinary criminal. Jesse James holds the record of one of the longest periods of active criminal activity without ever being caught – and this despite the fact that he was literally being chased and sought by hundreds of law enforcement people and bounty hunters of his day. The reason he lasted so long, was because so many people helped him. And they did so because they loved him. Why did they love him? Because he was real and passionate, and made no apology for who and what he was. And he was committed to his ideals – he robbed only those that he believed had gotten rich and powerful at the expense of others less fortunate – the rich northern banks and railroads that he believed were taking advantage of the people of the south.

One night when Jesse James was traveling through Missouri on his way home from robbing a train in Nebraska, he and his men stopped for the night at a farm, seeking accommodation and some food. What they found at the farm this night was a distraught woman, who was in tears. Jesse James inquired as to what was wrong, and the woman told him that her husband had died in the civil war, and without him she was not able to maintain their farming business. The banks, she explained, were foreclosing on her farm the very next day and would be forcing her to move.  Despite her distraught condition, she offered food and housing for the night to Jesse James and his men. The next morning, before leaving her farm, Jesse James reached into his bag of stolen money, and withdrew almost all of it, giving it to the woman so she could pay the bankers and save her farm and her life. Sure enough, hours later, the bankers arrived, and much to their surprise, the woman pulled out the cash and paid them for the note on her farm. The bankers took the money, gave her the note and headed on their way. All turned out okay for this woman because of Jesse James. Two miles down the road from the farm, however, the bankers had a little surprise. Jesse James and his gang were waiting for them, and robbed them of all the money, their money, that they have given to the woman, and that she had paid them for the note on her farm!

How could you not love this guy? Even as a thief he had a heart, a sense of integrity, and passion, and he did not apologize for who and what he was. That is what made him so magnetic and allowed him to capture the attention of so many people. In other words, even though he was a thief, he was an authentic thief. He had authentic power. Authentic power, in my view, is one of the most important principles of life that can be taught, for becoming authentic changes people’s lives and expands human potential. Once obtained, authentic power becomes a tool capable of accomplishing amazing things, far beyond even that which we would consciously create for ourselves.

The first question that comes to mind when we speak of authentic power, is of course, what is it? And how is it different than other more common forms of power obtained through wealth, influence or connection.  Authentic power is an energy that causes other energy vibrations to heighten and change. It influences subtly, and in unforeseen ways. It motives and inspires simply by the observation of it. Authentic power is more difficult to define and explain, but more tangibly felt when we are in its presence. It is a resonance and energy that affects our own with no action required on our part. It changes us and heightens our own energy simply by being in its presence.

Illusory power, based primarily in the ego and obtained through competition, is fleeting, and when the external rewards to which they are attached go away, so does the power. Illusory power is defined and limited by the ego that creates it. If that ego is powerful enough, it can appear quite powerful. We can all think of individuals who have amassed extensive money and influence that carry a fair amount of worldly power. But this form of power emanates only as far as the money and influence reach. And once that money and influence is gone, their once proud owners are left with nothing.

Authentic power, on the other hand, seems to carry an influence and energy that far exceeds the personal boundaries of the originator. The universe itself seems to be a conspirator with the authentically powerful individual, and their effect on people’s lives continues well after their own life has ceased. One only needs to think of individuals like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, or Gandhi as examples of individuals with this kind of authentic power.  But of course, few of us will ever by like these examples of authentic power. But we don’t have to be either. There is an old saying which says: Even the slug is a star, when he decides to be his horny, slimy self. I love that, because being authentically powerfully does not mean that we have to be saints or be perfect. It simply means that we strive to be exactly who we are, and present that without compromise in all situations and to all people.

Believe it or not, the biggest limitation that blocks the creation of authentic power for most people is that they do not realize how great they really are, they do not understand their power to create and manifest anything that they want. And so they begin to compromise – they compromise their integrity, they compromise their passion and accept less than what they really want, and they lose the courage to take the risks necessary to achieve their dreams. They choose certain mediocrity over potential greatness, and then spend much of their lives wondering why they are unhappy. Stepping up to authentic power is the reversal of this choice. It means a rededication to integrity and character, it means pursuing your passions and your dreams and not accepting less than, and it means taking risks and finding the courage to pursue your dreams and trusting that life will deliver. It means a willingness to be who and what you really are, without pretension, without apology and without the need to compromise.

As you begin this new year, I encourage you to challenge yourself to simply be who you really are. To accept that who you are is good enough and all that your are required to present to others. If you can do this, I promise you that this year will begin to turn your dreamsn and imaginations into reality.

Imagining the best,

Austin

If you would like to hear more about Authentic Power from Austin, go to the product store and get his CD, Stepping Up to Authentic Power.

Dreams Coming True

I wanted to take a moment to thank you. If you are reading this it is because you took the time to see my movie People v. The State of Illusion, or read my book Stepping Up To A Life of Vision, Passion and Authentic Power, or attend one of my training programs or speaking events. And without you taking that action and supporting my work, I would not have the opportunity to have my dreams coming true like they are today.

When I first began this work over a decade ago, I used to dream and imagine that I would one day write a book, have a leadership program, be able to speak at conferences on the subjects I am so passionate about, and in my wildest dreams, that I might even one day make a movie. And if I am honest, I also dared to imagine that my work would capture the attention of the mainstream public and start to change lives on a wide scale. I then set to work to align my choices and my actions with those dreams, to take steps every day to try and bring them into fulfillment, despite the rejections, the setbacks, and the seemingly impossible hurdles that often sprung up in my path.

As I sit here today, and look back at this journey, I am almost in shock that all of these dreams have come true. And perhaps the biggest one of all will come true next week. On November 29, next thursday, at 9:00 p.m. in Arizona on PBS (Channel 8), People v. The State of Illusion, will be played in its entirety, and for one of the first times in PBS history, with no commercial breaks!  You and I have an opportunity to really have this work make an impact on people’s lives. If the movie is watched and supported by PBS viewers, then it will expand next year to television markets across the country, and we will have the chance to see main stream audiences across the country exposed to the principles that I know you and I hold dear. So please take one more step with me, and tell your friends and co-workers about the movie event on PBS, and then watch the movie and make a pledge to support PBS. Doing so will go a long way to have many, many lives impacted by the principles of hope and imagination, illustrated in the movie.

Along the path of fulfilling my dream to bring these principles to the public, very early on some funny things started to happen. Seemingly normal human beings, some who I knew, and others who I did not, appeared in moments that they could not have known were pivotal ones, where I was precariously perched at a tipping point that may have defeated my dreams. And these human beings made divine choices to support me in one way or another that dramatically altered the course of not only their life and mine, but the thousands of lives that have been touched by this work.  I am acutely aware today of how their choices conspired with my dreams and imaginations and birthed those dreams into reality. I am also conscious of the fact that in the beginning, when I was still dreaming these dreams, their intercessions could never have been predicted or planned for or counted on.

And this, I believe, is one of the greatest lessons of leadership I have ever learned. That great dreams and imaginations do not need a clear and known path for their realization. Rather, they simply need a sweet and enduring hope and belief that they are possible, a commitment to actions and choices that support that possibility, and an openness to see that every twist and turn along the way can reveal that special someone or something that will finally make your highest dreams and imaginations become a reality.

Thank you for walking with me, and being one of those human beings that continues to support my dreams and help me change the lives of countless others.

Imagining the best,

Austin

The Difference Between Good And Great

Have you ever wondered why the best players in golf, the top players in the world, have golf coaches that in most cases are not even good enough themselves to play on the PGA tour? I have. So I looked into it a bit further and found some startling statistics. Did you know that the difference between the number one player in professional golf and the last player in professional golf is often less than three strokes average over the course of a season? These guys can play 80, 90, even a 100 rounds of golf a year, with an average of around 70 strokes per game, and the difference between the top player in the world and the last player is often less than three strokes average. In other words, the best player in golf is really not that much better than the worst player. He is just a little better.

Now every player on the PGA tour uses the same basic equipment. And they all practice a lot. And they all work out with similar exercise routines and watch what they eat. So what is the difference between the top player and the worst player in golf? Its what and how they think. The process of thinking between the top player and the worst player is not the same. The imagination, or lack of it, is entirely different between the two. And it is that pattern of thinking, that imagination, that makes all the difference.  And so the top players in the world hire a coach to help them see what they are not capable of seeing in themselves and as a result they are able to make just a few small changes that create the difference between good and great.

When I was in college a friend of mine wanted to be a professional golfer so he used to work nights in a restaurant as a waiter so he could practice golfing every day. Even though he was better than any golfer I knew and regularly scored close to par, or close to the score he would need to become a professional golfer, he was not good enough. To make it as a pro he needed to get just a little better. So he decided to relearn the game of golf.

This was no easy task. He went to a new teacher who made him abandon his habits and many other things he had learned about golf over the previous ten years. His teacher made him start over. He was taught a new way to play a golf shot. For the first year following this new training his golf game actually got worse: his handicap increased to almost twenty strokes. But surely and steadily over time he improved until he finally reached a stage where he had improved his game enough to have a chance to make it on the pro tour. His success, however, came only because he was willing to set aside many of his previously held beliefs about golf and learn new ideas. He was willing to challenge and “unlearn” what he thought he previously knew about golf.

The same is true in life. To become great we must be willing to challenge old assumptions and beliefs and relearn that which we may think we already know. I am fortunate that I get to help people do this for a living. All of my leadership programs are designed to help people question their assumptions and beliefs, and put them in situations that challenge their old thinking and challenge them to try new behaviors – small changes that create great new outcomes in their life.  This is something many people find very difficult to do. As people get older, unless they make a point of learning and exposing themselves to new ideas, it becomes easier to tread in routine and habit. Seldom faced with new ideas or beliefs, they forget the process of learning and become more cynical of new ideas that do not match their belief systems. Unless they learn how to learn again, and unless they are willing to challenge their own beliefs when presented with new facts, their learning ceases.

One of the first steps towards realization of our dreams is a willingness to relearn what we think we already know. A willingness to make even small changes. If you do so, I promise that in time it will ultimately make the difference in your life between good and great.

Lacking Passion? Here’s How To Find It

One of the most common questions I get when speaking at a conference or film event is, how can I feel passionate about life, when I don’t even know what my passions are? Many people experience these feelings and feel lost in life as a result. I know I once felt that way and this is how I made my way out of that mindset and discovered my purpose and my passion in life. It starts with a great question and an exercise. The question is this: if you could do or be anything, and you had the means to accomplish it, and their was no possibility of failure, would you do or be anything different than what you are doing or being today? If you answered no to this question, that there is nothing you would do different if there was no risk of failure, then there is a pretty good chance that your life is extremely passionate and meaningful and you are living out your dreams.

But if you answered yes, that there is something different that you would do or be, then perhaps it is time to consider that perhaps you are compromising your dreams. A great coach of mine many years ago asked me this powerful question, and my internal response was sobering. I knew the minute he asked the question what my response was, and it made me sad, because I knew that I was compromising myself. Like many people do, I immediately came up with all kinds of reasons and justifications for my compromise, to which my coach simply smiled. He did not respond to any of them, and he did not need to. He left me alone with those responses, to be by myself with my lies. Taking a baby step towards reality, I asked him, if it were really true that I could make changes to my life and live a life of passion, what it is I could do? And he led me into an exercise that changed my life. And it has the potential to change yours as well, if indeed it needs changing and you open your mind to it.

He asked me to get out a piece of paper and write down the top 5 values about life that were most important to me, and that would best describe the ideal life as I would define it. As I mentioned earlier, at the time my coach asked me this question, I was practicing as a corporate attorney, and although I was making a lot of money, I was not very happy and I was having difficulty fully understanding why. Especially given the fact that everyone else was telling me how great my life was, and how much I should have been appreciating things. But my truth was that I didn’t. So in response to the question, I got out a piece of paper and I wrote down 5 things that would describe my ideal life. And this is what my list looked like. Not necessarily in order of priority, I wanted: 1) a life that was altruistic and one that helped people; 2) I wanted freedom of schedule; 3) I wanted to work with people; 4) I wanted good financial reward; and 5) I wanted what I would consider to be an extraordinary life. Then my coach asked me to compare that list against my life and see how I was showing up.

Although depressing, the comparison enlightened me. First of all, helping Fortune 500 companies make millions of dollars a year in profit did not feel altruistic to me, so I was 0 for 1 at that point. Second, I had no freedom of schedule. I went to work at 8:00 am in the morning and most days worked until 7:00 at night, and I worked most weekends. Hardly the freedom of schedule that I desired. 0 for 2. As far as working with people, one of my principle duties as a corporate lawyer was investigating misconduct charges with employees and getting involved with the process of informing high-level employees of their rights when they were being fired. As you might expect, this task did not endear me to my peers and other employees in the company. Walking into someone’s office often felt like what the devil might feel like walking into a convention of Catholic cardinals. Not exactly a warm and embracing audience. O for 3.

An ideal life for me also included having a good financial reward for my efforts, and working as an international corporate lawyer for one of the biggest and most successful companies in the world certainly provided that . . . they paid me a huge salary, gave me lots of options, bonuses and monetary incentives, paid for my house in one of the most exclusive areas of England, paid for my very nice car and the gas I put in it, put my kids in the best private schools, and even paid for my vacations back to the United States. About the only thing they did not pay for was the food I bought from the grocery store. So this was one aspect of the ideal life that I was living. So 1 for 4. Finally, I wanted to live an extraordinary life. There were many people at the time who thought, and still think, that my life was extraordinary. I was young, and one of a handful of American lawyers living and working in Europe, in the developing legal system of the European Union. Intellectually it was very challenging, and the travel and experience I was receiving was extensive. I was responsible for a legal and regulatory area that included 27 countries in western and eastern Europe, and a few parts of the Middle East. We had offices, in London, Nice, Rome, Madrid, Copenhagen, Hamburg, and Switzerland that fell under my domain, and I spent a lot of time traveling to all of these countries and many more, involved in pretty high level negotiations for a myriad of different contracts and business issues. Its hard to convince a lot of people that your life is not that extraordinary, when you are calling them from Madrid one day, Rome the next, and Finland a day later. But the reality was that, although my life was certainly extraordinary as many other people would define it, it was not so by my own definition. And in the world of passion and authentic power, our own definition is the only one that counts.

I have many vivid memories of sitting in business meetings with people who were not healthy, who were certainly not that happy, and who were not that interesting, choosing to compromise their own dreams in order to receive their big pay checks every week. So these were not people who I respected. I was always much more impressed with individuals I would occasionally meet who were entrepreneurs, or artists, or writers, or explorers, or anyone who would enthusiastically describe some unique aspect of life they were struggling to create. These were the people I wanted to associate with, and I wanted to be inspired by. These were the people that I believed were living an extraordinary life, and I was not one of them. So, that made my values analysis a whopping 1 out of 5, and I wondered why I was so unhappy and depressed. The only value I was living was my desire for good financial reward, and that was hardly enough to make me happy.

Going through this exercise significantly opened my eyes. I now knew, not only why I was so unhappy and feeling so dispassionate about life, but also the characteristics and values I would need to have as a part of any career or life choice if I truly wanted to be happy. I instantly recognized this as powerful information that could help guide my life. In the pursuit of a life of passion, I encourage each of you to go through the same kind of self-analysis. Sit down with a piece of paper and a pen and write down a list with the top 5 values or characteristics that would create the most ideal life that you can imagine. Then evaluate your life honestly and realistically against this list, and see how you measure up. I can predict with almost absolute certainty that the greater the number of these values or characteristics that you are living and experiencing in your daily life, the greater will be the passion and enthusiasm that you have for life. If you are like me, and after doing this exercise, you realize that you are not living your values or your passions, do not despair. You now have a roadmap with which to evaluate every career and life decision you will ever make again in your life, and slowly but surely you can begin to take actions that move your life from one of obligation and compromise, to a life of vision, passion, and authentic power.

You can begin to make choices that are in alignment with your values, and steer away from those that are not. Doing so will significantly enhance and develop your passion in life. Compromise is perhaps the biggest hurdle we will face in the development of our passion. So many people fail to live extraordinary lives, because they live comfortable lives, and they are unwilling to risk that comfort to follow their passions. I encourage you to risk that comfort to follow your dreams.

Imagining the best,

Austin

A View Of Life From 100,000 Feet

I learned the importance of seeing the bigger picture many years ago as a young trial lawyer working in Southern California.

When I began my legal career I was taught the art and science of cross examination by the senior partners at the huge law firm where I worked, and I quickly learned how to unravel people at trial by asking the right questions. I learned that by triggering people’s emotional buttons I could get people to inadvertently disclose any lies that they might be telling, or at least get people mixed up enough that they would say something ambiguous that, even if they were not lying, I could then use against them in trial to help my client win the case.

I became quite good at cross examination and had a reputation in the law firm of being a tough examiner, who would usually be able to get something from a cross examination that would really help the case. On one particular day, I was cross examining a woman at trial who was making a claim of discrimination against a large Fortune 500 company. As she was telling her story, I felt in my heart of hearts, that she was probably telling the truth. But I also sensed in her some emotional weakness, based on some discrimination she had suffered as a young girl.

Being blind to the 100,000 foot perspective at the time, I used this information as a tactic to rattle her at trial and twist her words in such a way that she badly hurt her case, said some things that I could misconstrue in our favor, and I got her to the point at trial where she could do nothing other than break down and cry. I am not particularly proud today of who I was then, especially given the fact that I remember the feeling I had as she broke down in tears. Rather than feeling compassion, or feeling sympathy or care for her, I felt victorious. I felt invigorated and my ego was full because of the victory I was able to get for the firm. I felt great because I knew the victory would help me get more prestige in the firm, and maybe more money. And it did.

I was not prepared, however, for the fact that life had something else in store for me that day. After the trial, the woman who I had devastated in cross examination came up to me and asked me a powerful question that would take my limited view, and propel me to the 100,000 foot perspetive – quickly. She came up to me and asked me one simple question. She said: “how did it feel for you today to strip me of my dignity, and use my emotions against me, when you know in your heart I was telling the truth?”

I was not ready for this question, and it shocked and rattled me. I was the one who was supposed to ask questions, not her, and I was unprepared for the effect it had on me. I ignored the question, and walked away from her without responding. But I could not get the question out of my mind. That night and for a long time afterward, I thought about what she had asked me. How did I feel? I started to feel ashamed that I had felt jubilation about my victory instead of sadness. In my quest and my zeal to become a great trial lawyer, who had I become? What was I ignoring or failing to see in my desire to satisfy my ego? In my pursuit of career, money, prestige, what was I really compromising? The question rocked me, and made me consider for the first time compromises that I was making to justify my choices rooted in ego.

It is easy at times to lose sight of the bigger picture, to make choices without thinking clearly or seeing the bigger picture reality of a situation. Our culture has lots of celebrated examples of this. People like Kenneth Lay, the former CEO of Enron, who helped bring that company down. Or the senior executives from Arthur Anderson, World Com or many other companies that lost sight of the bigger picture in life. That lost sight of principles like vision, passion and authentic power. I am sure in their honest moments, if they have any, that they would tell you this: that Stepping Up in life requires that we maintain a big picture perspective. It insists that, even in the day to day tasks of our lives and careers, we do not lose sight of the characteristics and values that inspire, motivate and elevate our lives, values like integrity, compassion and courage.

Live your life in the moment, but never lose sight of the bigger picture, the 100,000 foot view, of who and what you really are.

Imagining the best,

Austin

Scientific American Weighs In On People v. The State of Illusion:

Want to Change Your Life?

This Movie Might

Inspire You

By Ingrid Wickelgren | March 23, 2012 |
ShareShare  ShareEmail  PrintPrint


People V. The State of Illusion, a new docudrama from Samuel Goldwyn Films, is a mixture of fiction and brain science that, despite these awkward bedfellows, was compelling enough to keep me up late on a Friday night. Although most of the well-worn findings parroted by the movie’s parade of experts were not new to me, the filmmakers helped me see them in a new light. The result was at the very least thought provoking and might, in fact, inspire some people to change their outlook on the world for the better.

The movie tells the story of a single father, Aaron Roberts, who destroys his life in an instant, in an accident portrayed as a culmination of stress and sadness. Roberts was driving while intoxicated and ran a red light, leading to a crash that claimed the life of the other driver. He ends up in prison and his daughter becomes a ward of the state. The prison walls become a metaphor for the confining boundaries we build in our minds and from which, the movie suggests, we must all try to escape if we want to be happier and reach our full potential. As Roberts gradually transforms his outlook inside the prison cell on the movie set, the experts tell the rest of us how to do this in a more metaphorical sense.

J.B. Tuttle as the imprisoned father in People V. The State of Illusion. Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

The film, which was written and produced by a former attorney Austin Vickers, invokes a good deal of science to back up the simple, uplifting argument that we all have the power to change our lives by changing our own minds. The message is not unlike that of many life coaches, but the arguments are more subtle and interesting than the platitudes I usually hear. Here are some lessons the film extracts from the science along with a few untethered snippets of advice for becoming a happier person:

  • We perceive a tiny fraction of the information impinging on our senses. The brain employs a filter: neural processes focus our attention on the data that seem necessary and important to us at that moment. The sheer amount of data that exists, however, underscores the theoretical possibility of choice. If we are paying attention to something that makes us unhappy, then, we could, in theory, choose to focus on something that would make us feel good instead. The film doesn’t initially tell us exactly how to train our attention differently or even what we are supposed to be looking for, but the idea of being able to live in a different perceptual universe from the one we currently inhabit is kind of cool.
  • Many of us have incredibly busy lives that often feel stressful. The stress, the film suggests, has the effect of making our world seem smaller, of making our mental walls close in. The suggestion is reasonable, although I’ve never heard it put quite this way. Stress hormones are known to suppress the function of our brain’s chief executive, the prefrontal cortex. This area, on the brain’s surface just behind the forehead, governs numerous decision-making, thought-juggling tasks. Stress inhibits those processes. As a result, children who grow up in stressful homes have trouble in school. It somehow never occurred to me, though, that my own stress could shut down my thinking capacity, or that, more generally, the epidemic of adult busyness (or worse) might be having that same impact on an entire culture. The film indicates, moreover, that if we don’t slow down and figure out how to limit the stress in our lives, our brains could be dangerously compromised. When you can’t think clearly, you could end up like the film’s protagonist: a victim of impulses that lead to dangerous behaviors such as drinking and driving. I am not sure the slope is usually that slippery, but the advice to slow down and take it easy for these reasons did resonate with me.
  • No matter how mellow our lives or how well our brain’s CEO is operating, the film reminds us that emotion is what really guides our behavior. Our fears, loves, ambitions direct our attention even down to manipulating the eye muscles that govern our gaze. People often feel that their feelings are immobile, that they are stuck with them and so simply need to cope with them or somehow, work around them. But in truth, like everything else in the brain, the emotional system is flexible. We can train ourselves to feel differently about things. Strangely enough, one way to accomplish this about-switch is though practice, or so the movie’s experts tell us. People who practice suffering every day do the same thing as people who practice their golf swing: they get better at it. Conversely, if you practice optimism, you may well get better at that. Programs for children such as Goldie Hawn’sMindUP, an initiative spreading through schools around the world, help instill such emotional habits and patterns at an early age.
  • Another way to influence your emotional reactions is to retell your life story. Think about the story you are in, how you cast the narrative of your existence. Ask yourself, the film advises, “What might be a different perception of the same facts that would change my life for the better?” Assemble the pieces of your life that are dark, broken or dirty into an attractive mosaic or cast them off to the side as unworthy of inclusion. Psychotherapists frequently help their clients recast upsetting events in a new way. The technique can be very helpful, although perhaps difficult to accomplish on your own.
  • Sometimes we need turn off that internal storyteller. Lighten up. Relax. Be in the moment. Research suggests that practicing mindfulness, a state in which we focus fully on the present moment without elaboration or judgment, can lower stress and increase happiness. Or as one talking head put it, “We are all in a deep slumber.” So let’s wake up.
  • Once we open our eyes, we should also be willing to take risks. To achieve success, people need to say yes to the unknown, and embrace the discomfort of unsafe territory.
  • Another piece of related wisdom the movie tosses out: Be gentle with yourself. Take the time to pat yourself on the back. Be kind to others as well. Love, we learn, is the act of me allowing you to be you.

A $40.00 Glass Of Lemonade

Have you ever purchased a $40.00 glass of lemonade? A friend of mine recently did, and when he told me the story, I learned a valuable lesson from the ten year old girl who sold it to him.

Turns out my friend went out for a run, enjoying the beautiful weather in Arizona. Towards the end of his run, he came across a young girl selling lemonade at a homemade stand that she had set up on the corner of the road. The young girl started talking to my friend even before he had reached her, enthusiastically asking him whether he wanted to buy a glass of cold lemonade. Amused by her gregarious personality, my friend stopped and talked with the young girl. She had set up the stand in the morning, and had been out all day trying to sell lemonade to anyone who was passing by. My friend explained to the girl that because he was out running, he didn’t have his wallet with him and didn’t have any money to pay her for the lemonade.  ”Never mind” she said, “I will give you a glass of lemonade anyway, because you look tired and hot and look like you need one.” Without a second ‘s thought, she poured him a glass of the lemonade, and wished him well on the remainder of his run.

So impressed was my friend with the personality of this young girl, her sweet and caring nature, and the fact that she so effortlessly was willing to help a stranger and give what she could in the circumstance, my friend returned an hour later and handed the young girl two twenty dollar bills. It was only then that he also learned that the girl was raising the money for breast cancer awareness, donating all of her proceeds to women facing the terrible disease.  ”Without a question” said my friend, “that was the best glass of lemonade I have ever had, and was worth every penny of the $40 I spent on it.”

I don’t know about you, but after hearing the story I remember a couple of valuable lessons from the example of this young girl. The first is that there is goodness all around us. It is easy to feel gloomy and down these days, with all of the negative and depressing news we get fed daily by the media about the state of the economy, our political environment, and the wars that rage around the world. But beauty, goodness and love exist everywhere, all around us. And the more that we focus on being those qualities ourselves, the more we will see them in others and in the world around us.

The second reminder is that the intention to do good in the world is a powerful force, and when combined with a generous and caring heart, will cause people to tell their friends about your efforts and open up their wallets to support your intention. As I learned from the example of this little ten year old girl, it is strong enough to make a small glass of lemonade taste better than a glass of lemonade ever has, and be worth every penny of the $40 dollars it costs.

Imagining the best,

Austin

Upcoming Events You Don’t Want To Miss!

For those of you interested in taking your experience and learning in life to a deeper and more meaningful place, you have the opportunity to do so in the next six weeks.  Here are a number of events designed to elevate your awareness, provide you with deeper insights into yourself, and inspire you.  I encourage you to find out more about them, and then follow your heart and sign up for the one that is calling you.  Doing so will be honoring and keeping a commitment to yourself – the first necessary to making your dreams and highest imaginations of yourself, a reality.

1.  Join Austin in The Trial – a courtroom like examination of your deepest illusions.  Click here The Trial  for more details.

2.  Austin Vickers and Dr Michael Vandermark present this four day training program for professionals interested in mastering and learning to teach the Content to Process Shift.  Click here Human Process Mastery Training Program for more details.

3.  Coming this month – Join Austin Vickers and Girlfriend University Founder Renee Dee in this morning program designed to show you how great leaders turn imagination into reality.  Click here The Science and Power of Imagination for details.

 

 

 

 

People v. The State of Illusion Debuts At #1 Over The Weekend!

People v. The State of Illusion made its theatrical debut last weekend, and audiences flocked to its opening.  With big number all weekend, Harkins announced that the film was #1 at Camelview in Scottsdale, one of the top independent theaters in the country.  The film significantly outperformed Higher Ground, Senna, and The Guard also playing at the theater.  Due to the successful opening, Harkins has extended People v. The State of Illusion for at least another week.  It is playing five times a day at the theater, and people can get tickets by ordering them online at www.HarkinsTheatres.com or by getting them from the box office.  However, the movie was sold out opening night, so people are advised to get their tickets in advance.  Writer and Producer Austin Vickers will be doing an encore Q&A following the 7 pm showing this Saturday night.

“I think People v. The State of Illusion really resonates with people because it addresses issues like stress, perception, and how we look at life, but does so in the context of a story that is emotionally compelling” says filmmaker Austin Vickers. “If you have ever thought about who you really are, or wonder whether as an individual, family, community or country we can overcome the issues we face, then this movie will really speak to you.”  Although receiving mixed reviews from critics, audiences are giving the film rave reviews.  ”I have been making movies and attending premieres for over 18 years” says the film’s director Scott Cervine “and I have never seen audience reactions like we had at the premiere and Q&A.  It was amazing.”