We have all become prisoners and we don’t even realize it. We may not have shackles on our legs like the slaves of early America. We may not be in the prison camps of Auschwitz. What’s worse is that we’re prisoners and slaves and may not even realize it.
If we’re walking around in a five foot circle, we don’t realize that our cage is 10x10 feet. We may even realize that we’re in a cage, so we just decorate it up and make it feel more comfortable. It’s still a cage.
What is this cage? How was it created? What is it keeping me from? Is it to protect me and keep me safe, or am I a prisoner?
Our cage is created by our brain, our life experience and our stories. One of the purposes of our brain is to keep us safe. It does such a great job at this that it creates imagined fear of things that won’t even happen. It keeps us safe, but it keeps us small and limited.
Our life experiences give us different perspectives on what a ‘normal’ life is. In the western world, a normal life for many people consists of slaving away our lives for 8–10 hours a day at a job we don’t even like. We eat out at fast food restaurants, numb our minds with hours of TV and social media, and take medication for depression and anxiety. It’s no wonder we’re not getting the results we want in our lives. If we took care of our cars like we do our minds and bodies, they’d break down pretty quickly.
Why did we choose to buy into this lifestyle? Why did we just accept it as our reality? Did you know that you can make another choice?
I played the corporate game for years. I actually enjoyed what I did as VP of marketing and sales in technology companies. I was good at it. It wasn’t until I nearly died and had a second chance at life that I realized I was stuck in a maze. I wasn’t chasing my passion. I was helping somebody else chase theirs.
For the past sixteen years, I’ve searched and studied books, philosophies, science and world-changers to see what resonated with me. I realized that as happy as I may have been, my ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.
Here are five things that have helped me escape from my cage that limited me so much.
Growth happens outside of our comfort zone. Getting comfortable with the feelings of discomfort allows us to expand our reach and accomplish new things.
Take a personal challenge to do one uncomfortable thing per day for 30 days and see what it does for you.
Understand that fear is fabricated by the brain
Another thing that the brain does is make up a lot of fears of things that might (but rarely do) happen in the future. This keeps us from taking action, because we somehow believe that our brain can tell the future.
The best antidote I have found for fear (after really understanding that they are made up) is to lean into the fear. Courage (which comes from a place of love; cor being the Latin root for heart) and action minimize or eliminate the fear. It’s almost like you can love the fear away when you lean in and take action, despite feeling the fear.
Realize that you are not your thoughts and emotions
This concept has proven so powerful for me. When I realized that I HAVE thoughts and emotions, but I am NOT my thoughts and emotions, I create the ability to separate from them, so I can look at them from a distance.
When I choose to be present, and thoughts and emotions come up, I can choose what I want to do with them. I can evaluate if they benefit or not to take any action. With our thoughts and emotions, we can do one of three things; we can attach to them (which makes them bigger), act on them, or we can let them go. Many times, we just become victim to them because we think they are us.
Understand that most of the world is made up
In order for us to all get along (which we don’t do very well, anyway), we make up a lot of stuff. Somebody (or a group of somebodies) agreed that we should measure time based on the rotation of the planets. Then, to make things more complicated, we broke things down into years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds. The same thing happened with distance, only we still haven’t created a universal agreement. Some people use miles, yards, feet and inches, while others use kilometers and meters.
Some of these made-up things, like time and distance, are beneficial. Other things are not. Years ago, different groups made up a concept that if you were a different skin color or different race, you were inferior and should be treated as such. We saw this with the native Americans, the Jews, and slavery in the early U.S.
When we come to realize how much of our reality is made up, we can expand our cages by deciding which things we choose to accept and which we choose to reject.
Stop being a slave to what others think of you
This concept ties back to the second principle of fear, but deserves to be called out separately. This is one that comes up frequently with my coaching clients. It’s also funny when I’m speaking to an audience and I ask, “how many of you are afraid of what others think of you?”, because many people don’t raise their hands because of the fear of what others will think of them. Ironic.
I hate to break it to you… people don’t think of you nearly as much as you think they do. Also, your fear of what others think of you is not what they actually think of you, but your perception of what they think of you. You can’t read their minds, so you have no idea what they think of you.
When you can let go of this fear and slavery, you stop being a victim to your fear and start living your life the way you want to, not the way you think others want you to live your own life.
What do you know for sure is absolutely true? One of the power principles that I coach is “Powerful people ask powerful questions.” Asking yourself what you know is absolutely true is a powerful question for escaping your cage.
Our amazing brain does something called anchoring. It takes the first piece of information that is given to us, then looks for proof through confirmation bias. The brain doesn’t care if the information is true or not. It just works to provide support. Many of these ‘truths’ were anchored as children based on our experiences. We just took them for granted and accepted them as truth.
We make up stories all of the time. If we’re going to make them up, why not make up empowering stories and let go of the ones that disempower us or keep us in a small cage.
Bringing it all together
We can expand our cages and who we are by expanding our thinking. When we can learn to think differently about our fears, our thoughts and emotions, and what we consider our ‘reality’ today, we can reframe reality. By doing this, maybe we can see that there really is no cage, just like the boy in The Matrix shared with Neo that there is no spoon.
If you’d like to learn more about achieving higher performance and delivering better results, you can download my FREE ebook “Zenpowerment Power Principles for Executives and Entrepreneurs”.