If only our best and worst experiences were rewindable, fast-forwardable, deletable. Hey, pause: They are!
"Why," a friend asked me the other day, "can't life be like TiVo?" She wanted to know why we can't just program ourselves to scan reality for experiences we're going to love and avoid things we'll hate. Why can't we replay situations we want to relive or that we missed the first time through?
I paused SpongeBob SquarePants for a fleeting moment of actual thought. My own response surprised me. You see, I believe life does work like TiVo. You may not realize that capabilities such as automatic search, record, replay, and fast-forward come standard with your brain. Learning how to use them can improve your experience of life as much as my handy new device has increased my enjoyment of television (I can operate about three functions on my actual TiVo, but they bring me a happiness I once thought could come only from, say, finding true love or becoming a good person). So let's consider the perceptual technology you've had between your ears since the moment you were born.
As you know, if you've got TiVo or any digital video recorder (DVR), the machine tracks your viewing preferences, scans the airwaves to find programs you might like, and records them—all by its little lonesome.
Unbeknownst to you, your brain is always doing exactly the same thing, surveying events and choosing the bits of reality that make it into your consciousness. With just a little instruction, we could use our TiVo-like perceptual faculties to create a much happier viewing experience.
To see how your search-and-record function is already set up, think of an important issue in your life. Then quickly write down a proverb or saying about that topic. The first statement that comes to mind is a good indication of the way you're programmed to see the world.
For example, if the topic is money, you may instantly think, "Money can't buy me love" or "Money doesn't grow on trees." The first belief reminds us that there are sources of abundance beyond mere cash; the second emphasizes scarcity. Each one filters for any evidence that supports it. Try these topics: happiness, love, death, work, and health. If only our best and worst experiences were rewindable, fast-forwardable, deletable. Hey, pause: They are!
Reset Your Preferences If you wrote down a list of pessimistic proverbs, it's time to adjust your inner TiVo's search function. You can do it with the touch of a (metaphorical) button: gratitude. The act of giving thanks programs your mind-DVR to record moments of grace and good fortune rather than pain and disappointment.
From the list of sayings you compiled above, choose the most negative. Then think of any positive event, no matter how small, connected with that topic, and compose a short thank-you for that experience. Scanning for small blessings quickly tends to attract large ones.
Master The Replay Function
Your mind-DVR also lines up educational programming. Automatically. Even if you hate it. This function is why you keep losing jobs or falling in love with histrionic martyrs. There's something you're trying to learn, and your unconscious self will keep reproducing similar experiences until you finally get the point. To block unpleasant themes from your Now Playing list, you'll need to identify the lesson, learn it, and act on your new understanding.
How does one make a high-quality recording of a glorious day? The long answer: Be fully present when it happens. The short answer: Breathe. The next time you begin wishing something—a meal, a child's graduation, an all-expense-paid week in Acapulco—could last forever, inhale deeply while thinking the words, "Breathing in." Exhale completely while thinking, "Breathing out." Instead of distracting you, this simple focus anchors you to the present, heightens perception, and creates memories you can access with remarkable vividness.
Delete! Pushing away painful experiences isn't the way to erase them. Fortunately, you can remove the part you don't like about these difficult memories: the pain.
Think of a time in your life when you suffered deeply. Now picture all the nameless people who may be suffering in a similar way. If you take action (say, by comforting victims of misfortune or correcting social injustice), you'll find the memory of your own awful experience gradually becomes one of the most useful and treasured programs in your archives.
When you're trapped in tedious situations (gridlocked traffic, a crushing job), you may want to fast-forward your inner TiVo to a more interesting point later in your life. Ask yourself: What do I want out of life? Now put it a different way: What do I yearn for? Yearning comes from a different place—not from the mind and will but from the heart and soul. You may want fame but yearn to feel valued, you may want revenge but yearn for peace.
Keep your attention on this yearning while pressing another button labeled "trust." Sometime today spend five minutes believing that whatever you yearn for is what you're meant to achieve. For five minutes, don't listen. Trust. I used to think that this was the way to get your hopes up and your heart broken. Now I believe it's just a practical method for enjoying previews of your right life, and inviting grand experiences to arrive sooner than they otherwise might.