And Its Subjective Transitions

The only journey is the journey within. Rainer Maria Rilke

 It is said that life is a journey, not a destination. It could also be said that life is an inner journey with inner transitions along the way. Life as a journey is a beautiful metaphor. Journey is a process, a passage or a course. Transition is a passage from one form, state, style, or place to another. Life’s journey is full of transitions.  This blog is about one’s personal inner subjective transitions on life’s journey.

At the end of every road you meet yourself.  Zen Saying

Wherever you go, there you are. Jon Kabat-Zinn

Your life’s journey always features you, the inner you. You are the one on your life’s journey. And this includes your thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, fears, optimism, pessimism and all that is going on in your mind at the moment. And what is going on in your mind is  you — although you may not be aware of it. I am reminding you that what is going on in your mind (“in here”) is as important as what is going on along the journey ( “out there”). On your life’s journey, your mental map IS the territory.

The mind inhabits a private universe of its own devising. Diane Ackerman

There is no “out there” out there independent of what’s going on “in here”.  Fred A. Wolf

Many years ago the concept of transitions became very popular in the counseling and decision making literature. Transitions were described as having an ending, a neutral zone and a beginning; a good description of life’s journey and life’s inner journey. In his best selling 1980 book, Transitions, Bill Bridges made a point of the importance of the way you “see” these transitions periods. For example, reflecting on the past (the endings): Thus it is important in times of transitions to reflect on the past for a number of reasons — not the least of which is that from a perspective of a new present, the past is likely to look different. For the past isn’t like a landscape or a vase of flowers that is just there. It is more like the raw materials awaiting a builder.

This quote had a powerful impact on my thinking then, and still does. My subjective interpretation of my life’s transitions is significant. My image of the past, present and future may be the most important factor in determining what my future will be. I am the only one who can directly travel my inner journey. Others can tell me what they believe is the way I see things, or should see things, but they cannot see things the way I do.

These subjective transitions on our inner journey are often neglected, or out of awareness. Pausing to reflect on what’s “in here” has been a theme of mine. In choosing what door to open to the future, I urge you to sometime choose the door that opens to the inside. However, the journey within is not the journey most people travel.

Not in his goals but in his transitions man is great.  Ralph Waldo Emerson



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Isn’t What It Used To Be

 Or is it?

I have been advising about the decision making process since my first publication in 1962. This was my theory “by the book” and very rational. It was the accepted theory of the time. In the 55 years since then, clearly the interest in and attention to decision making has increased. And the opinions and knowledge has also increased and changed — several times. Has the way people make decisions changed?

How has deciding how to decide changed? For example, in 1989 I published my “Positive Uncertainty” article. It was in the same journal as in 1962 (Journal of Counseling Psychology). It was my confession that “I changed my mind” about my original decision making theory. But I wasn’t the only one.

Two Nobel Prize winners, Herbert Simon, 1978 and David Kahneman, 2002 changed popular theory and made it clear that human decision making is not, and probably cannot be, totally rational. Rational decision making is consciously analytic; nonrational decision making is intuitive and judgmental; irrational decision making responds to the emotions or deviates from action chosen rationally. Several recent popular books have tried to explain how to make “somewhat rational decisions”: Thinking Fast and Slow, David Kahneman: Decisive, Chip Heath and Dan Heath; Mindset, Carol Dweck; Being Wrong, Kathryn Schulz; among others. This is a history of varied decision advice.

Plus, our increasing knowledge of the unconscious mind and the identification of over 70 cognitive biases has influenced what we “know” about human decision making and made us less sure of how to define or prescribe the way people do or should decide.                                                               One’s unconscious mind is full of decision influencers acquired during a lifetime of personal experiences. And cognitive biases, acquired the same way, are usually out of one’s awareness. This means most of us don’t have a clue about how we make our decisions.

Other changes have influenced how people decide. The arrival of Information Glut: the reception of more information than is necessary to make a decision or that can be understood and digested in the time available. And social media, websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking. There is no validity or reliability filter for all of this “knowledge”. Since it could be said that “decision making is using what you know and believe to get what you want”, what you know, believe and want could be influenced by Information Glut and social media. How is one expected to make a rational or somewhat rational decision?

My point in reviewing this is to wonder out loud: “What difference does all of this advice make? Do people today decide differently (better?) than they did in 1962?  Maybe decision making advice is overemphasizing the methods and principles of science.

Science can assist us in becoming more skilled choosers,                                                             but at its core, choice remains an art.  Sheena Iyengar

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And Accepting Advice

The world is filled with people who are anxious to serve in an advisory capacity.               Charlie Brown on the baseball mound surrounded by players

It is always foolish to give advice, but to give good advice is fatal.  Oscar Wilde

It is true that the world is full of advice givers. It is also true that giving good advice is not always welcome, and sometimes dangerous. (Socrates was a Greek philosopher who went around giving people advice; the people poisoned him). The world is also full of advice about advice. This is because it is easer to give advice than to take it.

When Sigmund Freund was asked what was difficult, he said: To know one’s self. And what was easy” To advise another.  So advice-giving is apparently easy but unwelcome. And those who need it most seem to like it least. Philosopher John Collins explains: To profit from good advice requires more wisdom than to give it.

 I have been giving advice about decision making for years. And I find it easy to do. I hope it is fair to say that I read the decision making advice of others and I don’t find it hard to take. I probably do find it difficult to take advice about matters other than decision making.

This blog is an introduction to my next blog (very soon) about the current status of my decision making advice. I will be reflecting on my habit of giving such advice.   And I will be passing on my 50 plus years of good advice to you.

The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself. Oscar Wilde

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The Key To Open-Mindedness

 You can’t grow clinging to the status quo.

 It is said that curiosity killed the cat. It could also be said that curiosity keeps humans creative. Curious is defined as a strong desire to know or learn something. Creativity is defined as the ability to produce original and unusual ideas or make something new or imaginative. Curiosity and creativity are two sides of the same coin; they both result in change and they are both associated with uncertainty. People like certainty; and people only like change in others. This blog is a reminder of the open-mindedness of my positive uncertainty “philosophy”.

So curiosity and creativity are a mixed bag of change and uncertainty. Curiosity means asking questions but most people like giving answers. Creativity creates change but most people don’t like personal change. So why is being called a curious or creative person a compliment? These terms are compliments because of their dictionary definitions. The desire to learn Is a valuable and respected trait. Imagination, originality and unusual ideas are highly regarded in others.

Curiosity and creativity have been key concepts in my writing about Positivity Uncertainty and The Process of Illumination. The status quo is the current situationthe way things are now. Things would stay the same without curiosity and creativity. Open-mindedness is another key factor in producing change. I have been promoting personal change: Become as capable of change as the environment. But I am not the only one:

Our heads are round so thoughts can change direction. Francis Picabia

We must continuously unlearn much of what we have learned, and learn to learn what we have not been taught. R D Laing

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Change your thoughts, change your life. Wayne Dyer

Be open to outcome, not attached. Angelis Arrien

Change happens; it happens to us and by us. Changing your mind isn’t a crime and changing your mind changes you. You can’t grow without change; you can’t learn with a closed mind. Recommendation: With an open mind, have the curiosity to look for change in the status quo, and have the creativity to cause change in the future.

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Listening Or Telling?

 To be wise has changed from being able to answer the questions                                                      to being able to question the answers.   Unknown

Children ask questions, adults tell the answers. Which is the best way to learn? Students are taught what is already known. How does that help discover new knowledge? Our desire and need to know should lead to asking questions.

Questions are like keys. The right question, asked at the right time,                                        will open a door to something you don’t yet know.  James Ryan

This blog is directly the result of reading James Ryan’s recent book, Wait, What: And Life’s Other Essential Questions. I recommend it. I have often written about the virtues of asking questions, as have many others, but this book gives some excellent examples. This emphasis on question asking is a lot like the current emphasis on the value of failure. If you always succeed you usually aren’t asking questions.

As I read this book, it reminded me of Stephen R. Covey’s 1989 book, The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People. Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Diagnose before you prescribe. I think, even today, most of us are more ready to prescribe and to be understood. Seeking to understand others and understand oneself has been the theme of my Process of Illumination articles, essays and blogs.

James Ryan presents “five essential life questions:” Wait, What?  I Wonder? Couldn’t we at least? How can I help? What truly matters?  His question, I wonder?, is really two questions: I wonder why? And I wonder if?  This chapter hit home to me. His focus is on curiosity, which has been a key concept for me. Curiosity means to have a desire to know and learn. Curiosity and creativity have been themes of my writing for years.

Ryan says: Asking I wonder why allows you to remain curious about the world. Asking I wonder if allows you to remain engaged with the world and is a way to prompt yourself to try something new. And he points out that asking, “I wonder why?” about the present naturally raises the question, “I wonder if?” about the future.

When he discussed the application of these two questions to yourself, I could identify with it. I have always been curious about myself and spent a lot of time looking back and forth in my life history. This has resulted in my writing “The Reinvention od H B”, beginning in 1997 and “The Process of Illumination” beginning in 20010 and “Positive Uncertainty” in 1989. Al of this was a combination of my asking why and if questions of myself and encouraging others to do the same. This book provided some reinforcement.


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What Do You Predict?

 The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know. — Socrates                                              The more you know, the less you understand. — Lao-Tse

 The future doesn’t exist, so the future of uncertainty doesn’t exist. No one knows what it will be. To me it seems likely that uncertainty will continue, probably increase. The future world is expected to bring more complexity, which brings more uncertainty and more unknown. So what does this mean? The unknown future of uncertainty means we have to develop ways of dealing with this uncertainty and the unknown, and even become comfortable with what we don’t understand.

In an increasingly complex, unpredictable world, what matters most isn’t I Q, willpower, or confidence in what we know. It’s how we deal with what we don’t understand.            Jamie Holmes in Nonsense, 2015

I have written a lot about what we don’t know and don’t understand; so have many others. Abraham Maslow once said: We have a need to know and a fear of knowing. He was speaking about self-knowledge, knowing oneself. However, when it comes to other knowledge, it seems we have a need to know and a fear of not knowing, which leads to a strong desire for certainty. This will not serve us well in our complex, unpredictable future world. Here is brief sampling of what some others have been saying about uncertainty:

We live in a complex world; we often don’t know what’s going on; and we won’t be able to understand its complexity unless we spend more time not knowing. Margaret Wheatley

The truth is that we cannot avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure. It is also what makes us afraid.  Pena Chodron

Man’s natural state is not doubt, but credulity — a combination of suggestibility in the face of whatever is clearly and strongly presented, and the will-to-believe whatever is personally and socially congenial.  Harold Larrabee in Reliable Knowledge,1945

Ralph W. Sockman has called what we know “An island of knowledge”. The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.  Wonder: one that arouses awe, astonishment, surprise, or admiration; a marvel, (Dictionary).

A future strategy for living in this increasingly complex, unpredictable, uncertain future world may be to see it with wonder, awe, and admiration. If the future were certain, there would be no need for future strategies; there would be nothing we could do about it. So, feel positive about the uncertainty, and believe you have a role in creating our future.

Life is not a puzzle to be solved but a mystery to be lived. Thomas Merton


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Doubt May Be The Best Sensor

The surest way to lose the truth is to pretend that you already possess it. Gordon Allport

Today it is hard (often impossible) to know for certain what is true. Although that has probably always been true, it was less true in the distant past. To the medieval mind the possibility of doubt did not exist. William Manchester. Actually I have been promoting the benefit of doubt for many years, but it doesn’t seem to be catching on.

I think most people would agree that truth has become a major political issue. Headlines are saying: “We Live in a Post Truth World”. Post-truth was the Oxford Dictionaries website’s 2016 word of the year. It defined post-truth as relating or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. In this blog I am suggesting that the technique of political doubting may be a modern day truth detector test, a way of sensing “alternative facts” and falsehoods. Can you imagine a politician saying: “I don’t know?” Or even “I’m not sure?”  Can you imagine President Trump having any doubts?

It seems that even if a politician doesn’t know or isn’t sure he/she can’t say so. Of course this has always been true; but what makes the need for a political truth detector now so urgent is that our current president’s “Trump’s Truths” are making history. If other politicians follow Trump’s successful methods, we would have an impaired government and a lack of public trust. How bad could this be?  Gleb Tsipursky predicts: * Without serious intervention to clean up the pollution of truth in politics, this spiral will lead to the end of our political order as we know it. It’s no exaggeration to say that relying on emotions and personal opinions over  facts will very likely destroy our political system.

When government doesn’t have the public trust, it needs a reliable truth detector. Emotion and personal belief, in the definition of post-truth, overrules objective facts. Emotion and personal belief gives a feeling of certainty. At the risk of a self-serving opinion, I would propose that attaching feelings of doubt, uncertainty and open-mindedness to one’s emotions, beliefs, facts and truths would serve as a possible sensor or detector of reality. Definition of reality: The state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them. Oxford Dictionary.

Doubt, uncertainty and open-mindedness lead to questions and being receptive to new ideas and information. Being sure you posses the truth leads to closed-mindedness, which is unreceptive and has nowhere to go. Maybe we should start a political discussion (or even a debate) about the virtues of open-mindedness vs. the virtues of closed-mindedness. Which is the best truth detector?

  • An article titled “Toward a Post-Lies Future” in Utne Reader, Summer 2017 and The Humanist, March – April 2017


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