Ted Powell: When Your Mind Works Against You at TEDxJacksonville (Transcript)

And reflecting back on that situation, I also realized that when he was delivering the faith-healer’s promise or not delivering the faith-healer’s promise, he was also in no way again assuring me that Nancy was going to survive, and that there were no guarantees that I wouldn’t lose my soul mate and the mother of our three children here. And here’s a picture of her and Dr. Castillo who we owe a great deal of gratitude to.

So what happened to me in that particular situation? What does that tell us about knowing versus unknowing? And what I learned from that particular experience is that we as human beings have a strong desire to make the unknown known as part of our survival mechanism. Why is that? Because the unknown is a scary place. The unknown brings pain, it brings discomfort, and pain and discomfort is associated with death. So in a sense what we will do is we will tend to stay stuck in the I know and do whatever it is that we can to venture out and accept whatever it is that we don’t know. And that’s what I was doing in that particular situation – was clinging onto an answer that I knew would be absolutely positively certain that I would be okay in that particular situation. And this is a big challenge.

This is a challenge for us today. When our mind goes into that fearful place of wanting to cling on to what it is that we know. I have a metaphor for that. We call the mind going into a fearful place the Drunken Monkey. The Drunken Monkey is that fearful mind, that fearful way of thinking, that when it gets activated, when it gets going it starts spewing out all sorts of self-talk. I need to fix this now, you better do this, what happens if this happens? Why did you do that or what did I do that? How can I possibly handle this particular situation? And so what it essentially happened to me was I had gotten hijacked by the Drunken Monkey.

Now there are a couple of things to be aware of as you start to think about that negative self-talk part of our mind: the Drunken Monkey. One of the things that the Drunken Monkey likes: simplicity, clarity and certainty. Simplicity, clarity and certainty. There’s that part of our program that likes to have everything boil down to something that we can grab onto and phase absolutely and positively true.

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A number of years ago, I was talking to a theologian here in Jacksonville. And I was asking him about the rise of fundamentalism and extremism in religion. And he shared something with me that was very insightful. And he said, “Ted, it has to do with the fact that there’s so much change going on in the world right now, and that change is bringing out so much fear, it’s bringing out so many Drunken Monkeys that people want something that they can hold on to, that’s absolutely positively undeniably true — an ideology, a particular belief, and if the fear is strong enough they will kill people over that particular idea. So that’s the Drunken Monkey working at its most challenging for what goes on around us in our society”.

Rejecting the label

So what I want to do is I want to share three things that I learned from this particular experience and how I have applied them in terms of how it is that I relate to the world day in and day out. One of those is I call it rejecting the label and you see this a lot in the media out there. The label is basically I slip into accepting labels when I become intellectually lazy, and I want to label people based on their perspective or their point of view. Right winger, limo liberal, teabagger, America hater, you know why do we do that? Why do we label? That’s the Drunken Monkey at work, because instead of diving in to a complicated issue and trying to figure out the nuances, we want some easy way we can grab onto and say I get it, I understand that person. I know what they do and why they’re doing it.

So I’ve worked hard to reject the label, to work to understand the situation, to accept the facts regardless of whether or not they line up with my personal beliefs.

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Limit mental junk food

How many of you would agree that there is a lot of mental junk food in the form of news these days? As a matter of fact I had a lot of trouble with this speech, because I like to tend to change things at the last minute and there was so much stuff going on. I said, I want to use that particular example and so there’s some things to be aware of in terms of the media and how we digest it. One thing to be aware of is on a daily basis we digest infinitely more information than any previous generation of humankind. As a matter of fact, there was a book that came out recently that said even compared to 1986 and 2011, we took in five times more information in a day than we did back in 1986. That’s equivalent to 175 newspapers. Drunken Monkey doesn’t like that, right? No, no, because Drunken Monkey gets all overwhelmed and again says Okay, I need to label this, label that, whatever.

Drunken Monkey wants you to take shortcuts. You know, get to the easy answer. So there are a couple of other things about what’s going on in the media that contribute and feed to the Drunken Monkey. One of them has to do with the fact that a lot of the new sources are actually starting to program the content that they serve to you based on what your Drunken Monkey wants to hear. Anybody use Zite? So Zite is a news app that I kind of fell in love with, because a friend of mine told me, hey, you really want to take advantage of this. And so I looked at it and I started reading it, I started getting more and more drawn to it and fell in love with it, application and the next thing you know, I read that Zite basically has been programming the information to serve me exactly what is that I want to hear based on what I read previously. Of course I loved it but it wasn’t sparing me from having to confront a different point of view.

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