This past weekend, I tackled a monster. I absolutely demolished it. And it was about time. That monster had been slowly consuming my house!
What exactly was this monster, you ask?
Go ahead, ask it.
OK, fine, I’ll tell you: It was the giant mess that had been accumulating in my mudroom.
“Wasn’t this article supposed to be about missed opportunities?” you say? I’m getting there. First, a story about mudrooms.
Mudrooms are great. You can leave your shoes in there, so they don’t track dirt and who knows what else into the house. You can store your bikes there. And when something needs to go somewhere outside of the main living space, well, you can just throw it in the mudroom!
After a while, though, things can start to go awry. That box of clothes that you meant to take to the thrift shop ends up under the garden tools that you didn’t have time to properly put away. Then the stack of newspapers that’s destined for recycling somehow never makes it the 10 feet out the door to the recycling bin. Piles grow, and merge, and space slowly disappears. One day you realize that your shoes are randomly scattered across the floor, not because you don’t want to put them away, but because you can’t; there’s no longer anywhere to put them.
But it’s all outside of the main living space, so you happily forget about it and go about your day. You get accustomed to the mess. You work around it. And every time you add something to the pile, because you can’t get to where that thing actually belongs, you tell yourself that one day, you’ll do something about it. But you don’t.
Well, that’s what happens at my house, anyway.
Until this weekend. This weekend, I attacked the beast. And I won.
Chad – 1, Mess – 0.
The garden tools found a new home. The clothing that we meant to take to the thrift store has been taken to the thrift store. The shoes… well, it turns out we had more shoes that we had designated space for. So I lined them up relatively neatly on the floor, and crossed my fingers.
And then something remarkable happened.
When I was done cleaning up the mudroom, my wife and I decided to check out a “Recycled Art” festival that was being held in a nearby town. We really enjoy seeing the creative reuse of materials, and this event didn’t disappoint. There were clocks made out of old computer hard drives, wine racks made out of old wine barrels, handbags made from old shopping bags, jewelry made from old everything, and of course a lot of metal sculptures made from flatware and old car parts.
That’s not the remarkable thing, though.
The remarkable thing was this: As soon as we got to the fair, before we had seen even a handful of artists booths, we ran across someone selling furniture made from repurposed scrap wood. And right there in the middle of it all was a shelf/bench combination, made from old apple boxes. It was cute. It was recycled. It was ridiculously inexpensive. And it was exactly the solution we needed for our shoe situation.
We didn’t go to the fair looking for anything in particular. And we had no idea what we were going to do about the shoes, yet.
I had taken initiative and made space in my life, and an opportunity arose to fill that space perfectly.
So often, we spend our days ignoring messes in our lives. We fill our spaces and our schedules with clutter, thinking that it’s harmless, and we’ll get around to cleaning it up, eventually.
But here’s the thing: That clutter? It prevents you from finding what you need. It leaves no room for the new things that you’ll need in order to change and more forward. It makes it very hard to be mindful.
If you’re happy and successful as you are, maybe that’s not a big deal. Maybe you’re not looking for any improvements in your life.
Or maybe you’re not even seeing the opportunities that could make life even better.
Make space. Be mindful. Good things will happen.
If you know me, you know that I’m not a big fan of metaphysical explanations. So you won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t believe the universe sent me to that fair, or that any stars aligned in such a way to lead me to that shelf. Likewise, when I met my wife, I could have given credit to fate, providence, or some other supernatural source. (If you haven’t heard that story, well, let’s just say that it could have easily been understood a some form of divine intervention.)
Instead, there’s a much simpler and much more empowering way to understand what happened. Here’s how it works:
There are opportunities all around you, all the time. Some are huge. Some are incredible. And some are small, but exactly what you need in the moment.
But you don’t see them. There’s too much “stuff” in the way. Or you haven’t yet done the work necessary to realizing that you need something.
There’s a whole lot that goes on around you, all the time. The human brain, though, is only capable of consciously processing a limited amount of information. There’s a lot that gets left out, blocked from your conscious mind by the perceptual filters of your unconscious mind. If you crowd your brain or your environment with too many other thoughts, things, or stimuli, then you leave even less room for your brain process anything else. You narrow the filter even more–meaning you prevent yourself from seeing many of the opportunities and resources that are just outside of your tightly filtered experience.
How does your unconscious mind decide what to let through, and what to filter out?
Some of it is hardwired into being human. Some of it is based on your past experience. Some of it is random.
And here’s the important bit: Much of it has to do with what you’re already thinking about or focusing on. It’s a form of confirmation bias: You’ll tend to notice and give importance to the things that you’re already expecting. Another great reason to be mindful!
So by making space for something in your life, not only are you opening up your perceptual filters to let more opportunities through, you’re also specifically and unconsciously flagging the specific opportunities that will help bring your thoughts into reality.
Are you lucky, or unlucky?
There’s a great study that I read recently that illustrates this confirmation bias perfectly.
Researchers contacted a potential subjects and asked them whether they considered themselves to have relatively good luck or bad luck.
The subjects were then asked to show up at a specific meeting place to take part in the rest of the study.
Little did the subjects know that “the rest of the study” was going to take place on the sidewalk outside of the meeting place.
As each subject approached the place, they had to walk down that sidewalk, where they found either a $5 bill or a pile of dog poo. Some of them found the dog poo the hard way, much to their chagrin!)
Here’s the thing: Both the cash and the dung were on that sidewalk, for every person, even though most of them found only one or the other.
Remember, before this, the researchers had asked these people whether they considered themselves lucky or unlucky. Care to take a guess as to which people found the $5 bill? It was, without fail, always the people who had self-reported as having good luck.
And who do you think stepped in the poo? The people who thought they had the worst luck, of course.
A similar study asked participants to count the number of photographs in a newspaper. On the second page of the paper was a large, half-page advertisement that said “STOP COUNTING–THERE ARE 43 PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS NEWSPAPER.”
Who do you think saw that ad? And who missed it?
Our thoughts and expectations shape our reality not by changing the actual circumstances, but by revealing to us only specific parts of the whole picture.
Make space for life to come in, and it will. You’ll be amazed at the opportunities that you being to notice when you have prepared a place for them in your life. It might be as simple as finding that perfect piece to add to your home that makes life both easier and more beautiful. It might be a new friend who brings new experiences and warmth to your life.
And it might be sudden revelation of purpose and passion that brings you the success and happiness that you’ve been waiting for, all along.
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