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The $10 bill

2 May 2020

I was walking down a country road absent-mindedly scanning the ditch, like when I was a kid looking for treasures. Maybe I'd see a frog, some odd thing someone tossed from a car, a baseball that went over the fence. I remembered the time my older brother had found a $50 bill. Jackpot! (It was like a year's allowance back then.) I took a few more steps and then, wait…what? In the ditch. Like it was there for me to find. Was a crisp $10 bill.

So now I ask you, what meaning would you attach to this? If you'd recalled a childhood memory, and the same event happened to you a mere moment later. Think about it for a moment. What would this mean to you? 

Would you run to buy a lottery ticket to keep your luck going? Maybe it would confirm your faith in a high power? Go back and look for more money in that lucky ditch? Would you see it as a sign? Perhaps you'd decide to pay it forward and give it to the next down-and-out person you see. Or maybe you'd just think 'it's about time I had a break' and buy yourself a well deserved chocolate sundae. 

We all take facts or data and add our own meaning to them…all day long. We point this out to other people at times when we notice them doing it, telling them that their 'truth' is just their opinion or their perception. To grow as a person, it's helpful to realize that this is part of being human, and that we all do this. Think about some of the adages you live by. When you say things like 'actions speak louder than words' or 'haters gonna hate', you're expressing the meaning you've attached to something, and tapping into your own, unique belief and communication system. These 'truths' that guide us are not necessarily the truth, or even based on the facts. And it's hard sometimes to figure out the facts, the real truth. To wade through the filters of cognitive bias, emotions and experience. If you found the $10 bill and thought "I just knew good thing happen to good people" it could be from confirmation bias. If instead you decided "I found that money because I was thinking of my brother's $50 jackpot when we were kids" it might be from illusory correlation. (Check out the Codex Bias online for more on cognitive bias.)

As a leadership coach, I focus on this stuff to help people when the meaning they're attaching isn't serving them, when they want to shift their mindsets. It helps them get unstuck when the meaning their brain chose isn't helpful or productive. To do this on your own, watch when you're feeling a strong emotion (like feeling indignant or righteous or wronged) and hit pause. Ask things like "is my truth the truth?" or "whoops, is my bias showing?" And then think about other possible meanings that could be possible? What might someone else decide is meaningful in an event, that could help you reframe it or come up with alternate ways to think or feel?"

This is how Ted says to do it. Not the Ted Talks guy. Ted Kuntz, who wrote  Peace Begins With Me. Ted says that one of the ways to 'feed your positive wolf' is to take responsibility for the meaning you attach to events. He uses the example of three different people who all score 80 in a round of golf. One wants to give up golf. One is satisfied. One buys everyone a round of drinks! The difference in their reaction is because of the meaning they attached to their score, based on their expectations of the game before it even started. Take charge of your own game: your leadership game, your self management game, or maybe just your I-want-to-be-more-content game. What meaning do you want to attach to events? It's your choice! Managing your thoughts and feelings can bring peace in times of turmoil and hey, couldn't we all use a bit more peace?

Are you still wondering what meaning I attached to the $10 bill when I found it? Well, so was I. I brought it home, told my husband the cool story, and knew that I didn't want to spend it. That's all. So Elton-the-seal-carving-dude has been holding onto it. Yesterday, riding my bike down the same country road, I found my eyes scanning that same ditch. Why was I still drawn to scan the ditch? What was the meaning in this? I figured it out. It's a symbol for me to use, to help others (and myself!) when we're stuck! That's the meaning I'm attaching to it. And I like it. Let's use it together to help shift mindsets. To be curious, rather than being 'right' or even self righteous. To make shifts happen in our thoughts and feelings. Seemed like a meaning worth sharing.