On Monday night I gave a talk called Train Your Brain To Look For The Good: The Science of Gratitude as part of the Mindful Dinner Series I curate for V Stars and Brilliantly Blissful Beings. In my talk I mentioned that entitlement is an obstacle to cultivating a grateful mindset; when we feel we are owed something, it doesn’t occur to us to be thankful for it.
On Wednesday I met with a man, let’s call him Joe, who told me he wanted me to prove to him that the Intrinsic Brilliance program and process works. He didn’t say it in a skeptical, I’ll-give-it-a-go type of way, but rather in a demanding it’s-your-job-to-fix-me manner. I found this both incredibly interesting and simultaneously grossly unappealing.
Later that evening I shared the experience with my friend Gabriella Salmon asking the all-powerful question, what can I learn from this? I know without a shadow of doubt that this man came into my life to teach me something, but I was puzzled about what that might be. After reminding me that I can still learn something from him without ever seeing him again, Gabs asked me, “How does being with him relate to your core desired feelings of grateful and graceful?” And in light of that question, it instantly became clear to me: it didn’t feel graceful. It felt like an obligation.
A bit of context: Joe is a lovely man that has allowed his mind to become his enemy instead of his friend. He does not enjoy his own company, yet struggles to overcome the social anxiety that ensues when he leaves the house. He confided in me that he feels lost, apathetic and like he’s failing at life. He’s never been able to let people in although he wants a loving relationship and family. He’s been on unemployment for years, because he lacks the confidence to work. Joe found out about me through the Sydney Talks website, but wasn’t successful in triumphing the fear to actually attend the event. Still, he wanted to meet with me to find out how I could help him.
Sitting across from him at a café in Newtown, I saw his intrinsic brilliance; and for a short while, I was able to help him see it too. “It actually feels achievable,” he said after I guided him though a centering exercise to help him connect to his authentic self. Then when the conversation turned to next steps and committing to a program package, he panicked, his entire body tensing and voice dripping with fear at the thought of doing the impossible: paying.
It was obvious to me that he had developed a belief that his financial situation is finite. That the amount of money he has now cannot be changed and that there isn’t anything he can do about it. Now, I can help anyone dismantle any belief that doesn’t serve them, but first they must acknowledge that they have the power to do so. I can cite countless examples both academic and anecdotal of people training their brains to live a life they love (not to mention sharing my own story) but it’s up to them how they ingest that information and what they do with it.
In Joe’s case, not much. His defenses were up so high, I could only feel compassion for him in the moment. Later that evening, though, I began to investigate why he’s entered my world and what specifically I found so off-putting about him. I soon realised it was his sense of entitlement.
When I suggested to Joe when there’s a will, there’s a way, a concept that my mom often reminded me when I was growing up, he scoffed at it and reminded me that he doesn’t live in a fantasy land with leprechauns and pots of gold. And yet, in most of the countries in the world, for someone to receive an unemployment check, it would be the equivalent of finding a leprechaun with a pot of gold. It’s all in the way we look at it.
I’m certain that there’s nothing in Joe that isn’t also in me too so of course I then asked myself, where in my life am I exhibiting a sense of entitlement? No investigation needed to unveil that – it’s regarding my partner, Kevin. I had begun to believe and behave as though Kevin’s time was my time to schedule as I see fit, thus sometimes feeling annoyed when he didn’t do what I wanted him to, and affecting my ability to be truly grateful when he did. I so appreciate Joe for bringing this to consciousness for me so that I can change it.
In fact, I’ve already felt the difference it makes. Kevin had breakfast with me this morning and I was so delighted just to be sitting there with him. I finally realised that he didn’t have to do that—he wanted to—he was choosing to spend time with me. There are millions of other things he could have chosen to do instead, but he picked me. And that knowledge brought me so much joy. I spent the morning grinning with glee because someone wonderful wanted to share space and stories with me. How brilliant is that?!