Rethinking Thinking Using the Ladder of Inference

In today’s fast-moving world, you are under pressure to act swiftly rather than spend time understanding the facts and reasoning things through. Not only can this lead to incorrect conclusions, it can also cause conflict with others who may have drawn different conclusions.

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Improve Your Communication in 5 Steps

We have spent years learning how to read, write, and speak; yet what about listening? What training have we received that teaches us to deeply understand another human being and to be an exceptional listener?

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Inside Out

images-4I recently watched a Disney/Pixar movie called Inside Out.The movie’s premise is around five emotions that drive Riley, an 11-year old girl’s, thoughts, actions, and behaviors and her struggles surrounding her parents decision to move away from the home and friends she’s always known.

images-2The five emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust all play important parts in the movie yet in the beginning, Joy was in charge of the control center that drove Riley’s feelings.

It was interesting to watch as Joy toiled with why Sadness was one of the members of the emotional team. At one point she draws a circle on the ground and asks Sadness to not step out of it. This was Joy’s way to prevent her from having any influence on Riley’s psyche. As I watched her do this I thought oh no….emotional suppression…this is going to backfire. Spoiler alert….it did and in a big way.

In the film, like in real life, all of our emotions serve an important purpose to our well-being. They provide us insight to our inner and outer environments in ways that help us to connect with others, avoid danger, and recover from loss.

Anger helps us to overcome obstacles, fear alerts us to threats and engages our fight or flight responses, sadness signals loss, and happiness (joy) helps us to pursue and attain important goals and encourages us to cooperate with others.

images-1Another task that Riley’s five primary emotions performed was to take care of her “core memories;” the memories that define her personality. When Sadness touched one of memories, it started to shift from a happy memory to a sad one. This frustrated Joy who only ramped up her efforts to control Riley’s emotional state. Her frantic behavior caused the core memories to become dislodged from their secure location, requiring Joy to chase them. Next thing you know she and Sadness are out of the control center and into Riley’s memory banks and unable to get back inside.

images-6This left Fear, Anger, and Disgust in charge of the control center. As you can imagine, Riley’s thoughts, actions, and behaviors soon led to chaos and a re-creating of her core memories.

Most of us, at one time or another, have wondered what purpose sadness serves in our lives. Sadness helps us to slow down and examine a situation, a process, a decision. Without it we wouldn’t think too deeply on how our actions and behaviors affect ourselves and others.

images-5There are a couple of scenes in the movie where Sadness’ natural tendency is to lay down and rest in the mist of challenge. This balanced out Joy who is overly full of action and ideas on how to get back to the control center. Joy had the energy to move them both through the memory banks and Sadness provided the road map on how to get back. T

We need to think of our emotions as a gift rather than something to be suppressed and avoided. When we don’t acknowledge our feelings we loose our sense of self. We may be conscious or not of this but feelings are the drivers of everything we do – they are in charge. The movie was a great visual depiction of this process.

“Our feelings are the primary motivating source in our lives. Without acknowledging our core feelings, we lose our sense of self.” – John Bradshaw

In the movie Inside Out the five emotions provide:

images-4The gift of Joy provides us with emotional vitality. It gives us the zest for living and involvement in our life.

images-1The gift of Anger provides us direction, motivation and boundary setting.

images-5The gift of Fear is that it is a primal part of being human. It helps protect us from harm and keeps us safe.

images-3The gift of Sadness provides us with sensitivity and compassion for ourselves and others. It brings with it also the gift of soulfulness and increased depth of being.

images-2The gift of Disgust or who’ve I identified as Shame, give us humility. As human beings we have limits and shame reminds us that we are “perfectly imperfect.”

Knowing, feeling, and expressing all of our emotions whether love, joy, fear, sadness, shame, anger, etc…is good for our health. They keep us moving steadily through our lives. The word emotion derives from the Latin verb meaning to move or move out. This is exactly what our feelings do; they help us to move in the direction which we need to go.

Being able to notice a broad range of feeling provides us with a richness and balance in our lives. Emotions give us clarity about our responses to events and access to them is a critical piece to developing heightened self-awareness.



Got meaning?

What are the things in our lives that give it meaning? Take a few moments to reflect and write down what is meaningful. When we can take time to reflect, it gives us an opportunity to appreciate what is already fueling meaning for us. It also reminds us that we may need to slow things down a bit so that we can enjoy the blur of meaning that is currently whizzing by us.

Over the last six weeks we’ve been practicing six of the seven happiness habits:

  1. Mindfulness – using a nonjudgmental awareness and being present as we move through our day.
  2. Gratitude – we’ve been counting our blessings and focusing our attention and thought on the positive aspects of our lives.
  3. Physical wellness – exercising and eating right to provide an instant boost to our happiness.
  4. Altruism – by practicing random acts of kindness, volunteering, and donating money to help others in need we are increasing endorphins which make us feel good.
  5. Authentic and vulnerable – we have the courage to be our true and authentic self so that we can open the door vulnerability and forgiveness – thereby deepening our relationships.
  6. Social connection – Connection is our ability to forge meaningful authentic relationships with others. It is the essences of human experience and it gives meaning to our lives; it is also the anchor to our relationships.

Through our practicing of these happiness habits, life’s meaning should already be increasing. When we find a greater sense of meaning and purpose, it allows us to experience and enjoy life more fully.

“Happiness is a set of skills that we need to learn and practice so that we can become fluent in happiness.” – Christine Carter.

We all have different interpretations of what creates, develops, and enhances meaning in our lives. Unfortunately, we sometimes loose sight of these and get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. Was your meaning list all that you wanted it to be? If you said “yes,” you are way ahead of the curve! If you said “a little bit” or “no,” keep reading.

There is a fairly simple step to finding more meaning in our lives. Are you sitting down? Here it goes…..meaning is a function of our own perception and reaction. We can increase meaning by observing the cause and effects of our feelings and behavior and then to use that knowledge to guide our future thoughts and actions. Hum….that sounds like self-awareness. Yup, it is! Meaning is created through our own interpretations and reactions.


The seventh happiness habit also includes a review of our natural strengths.  We covered strengths in a previous post. As a reminder click here.

The final step of habit seven relates to success.  As we discovered with meaning, success is also subjective.  Rather than read about my take on success,  take three minutes to watch the 8 components to success according to Richard St. John’s from his TED Talk. I promise, it is well worth it.