Bringing together cutting-edge research in psychiatry, neurology, and related fields in an accessible, substantive, original way, Dr. Beck offers powerful methods for solving the problems that beset ordinary people. Using her trademark wisdom, empathy, and engaging style, she connects you with proven, effective strategies that have worked for the hundreds of people she has coached. For those who have found your North Stars, this book will be an invaluable tool to stay the course and overcome obstacles. For those who still feel adrift, it will provide a way to find true North and follow the path of best destiny.
Dr. Beck identifies three stages along the path to recapturing a satisfying life:
• "The Stargazer" helps you understand why it is so easy to lose yourself and offers strategies for sighting your North Star
• "The Mapmaker" uses this newly clarified perspective to evaluate your situation and plot a course for upcoming years
• "The Pathfinder" discusses the adventures that may be encountered as you travel along this new life course
Whether you are seeking better relationships, a more focused career direction, a more harmonious lifestyle, or the achievement of specific fitness goals, the colorful anecdotes, case studies, and exercises in Steering by Starlight will point the way.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"The first guy to go in always carries a shotgun," says Kirk Fowler. He's not a big man, for a law enforcer; in fact, he's not much taller than I am. This is a quality I appreciate in a martial arts instructor. Kirk is my sensei, and in the middle of a lesson, he's telling me how he used to serve warrants on suspected drug runners and coyotes, con artists who take would- be immigrants' money, then load them into trucks and abandon them in the desert to die.
"These are really violent people," Kirk says, "and they have an intense fight-or-flight reaction at that first sight of the officers. They're usually doing drugs as well as selling them, and that makes them about as violent and unpredictable as humans get. You're never in more danger than when you're walking into a room to serve a warrant. It's scary as hell."
It's hard to imagine Kirk terrified. He's a master of aikido, a martial art that focuses more on inner peace than on physical power. I'm learning aikido because it works like magic. Literally. An aikido master gently touches your head, and suddenly you're on the floor. You try to slug him, and you can barely lift your arm. These effects feel almost supernatural, but given a few minutes, anyone can use them well enough to see that they're real. So it isn't surprising that Kirk's aikido training was very helpful when he worked for the Border Patrol. What is surprising is the way it helped.
"One day when I was serving a warrant, I decided to try going in with my energy totally calm and relaxed, instead of high adrenaline. The suspects were in a motel room, wired, scared, and well armed. To reach a place where my energy was calm, I had to imagine that all of them were already dead.
"So I went into that room feeling really quiet and respectful, the way you'd feel going to a funeral. And when I opened the door, no one did anything. The suspects just looked at me as though they'd invited me to a summer picnic. They cooperated with the officers through the whole arrest. Even to me, that was weird.
"From then on," Kirk concludes, "I kept my energy tuned that way whenever we served a warrant. I still had the shotgun. But I never needed it. Over and over, people who should have fought or run simply started cooperating."
I know this makes no kind of sense. It sounds like an exaggeration, if not an outright lie. But I don't think it is. I've seen and felt Kirk's energy change the atmosphere in the room without his moving a muscle.
"In my mind," he says, "the fight's already won. You begin where you want it to end. That's most of the battle."
Most people will never discover this because it contradicts everything we're taught to expect. We have a linear view of progress: We start at the beginning of a task, and we work our way to the end. This is a useful way to look at things, but it isn't the only way. Especially when you're seeking to fulfill your destiny, the best way to succeed is to begin at the end.
A Quick Trip to the Observatory
By the time you finish this book, you should be able to identify and dissolve most of the mind clouds that keep you from seeing your own North Star. This is a process you'll continue all your life. It's a very specific and disciplined way of thinking (although it's easy and delicious once you're used to it). It will bring you inner peace and also help you build your outward empire. But it takes a while to make all that happen, and I've never been a fan of deferred gratification. So right now, even if you're a homeless junkie who found this book in a dumpster and is planning to eat it, I want it to give you access to the end of your journey, the fulfillment of your best destiny.
Think of the techniques in this chapter as ways you can visit a celestial observatory in your head. The observatory has powerful telescopes that you can use to get a clear look at the stars. For a moment, as you look through those telescopes, your own North Star will shine like a floodlight. You'll feel as though your destiny is a done deal--until something pushes your mind out of the observatory and back into its typical patterns, the well- worn trails ground into your life by repetition and habit, and you go back to feeling as though nothing in your life will ever really work.
You may have experienced this after hearing a powerful speaker or watching an uplifting movie. "I can do anything!" you feel. "Nothing can stop me now!" Then you get home from the convention hall or the movie theater, and everything goes to hell in a hand basket. Your spouse yells at you, the mail is full of bills, the cat has eaten the steaks you left out to thaw and is now experiencing bouts of diarrhea in parts of your home you didn't even know existed. Abruptly, you lose your connection to your Stargazer self and slam back into your cold, cruel, earthbound daily life.
Upcoming chapters will help you learn how to keep this exhausting emotional vacillation from smacking you around. You'll learn to live in your Stargazer self, which exists beyond the reach of what Chinese philosophy calls "the 10,000 joys and sorrows" of ordinary life. But right now, from the word go, I want you to be able to run back to the observatory and look through the telescope whenever you need reassurance. This can help you stay motivated as you learn the sometimes baffling work of becoming a full-time Stargazer. So, as they never told you in school, last things first.
Step 1 on the Path of Your Destiny: Getting Whatever You Want
Screenwriters tell us that all movie plots begin with a character who wants something very, very much and is having a lot of trouble getting it. We viewers identify with that character immediately, because that's us up on the big screen. That struggle to get what we want is the story of our lives.
Identifying Your Wants
Right now, you probably have a mental list of things you want very, very much. You may be working toward these things, buying Lotto tickets in bulk, praying in every living language as well as interpretive dance. In the space below, write down a few of the things you most frequently wish you had: a bigger house, loving friends, more time to meditate, a boyfriend with fewer than 12 pit bulls. List up to five of these things.
Some Things I Really Want
Thing 1: _________________________________________
Thing 2: _________________________________________
Thing 3: _________________________________________
Thing 4: _________________________________________
Thing 5: _________________________________________
No offense, but if you're like most people, the things you just wrote down probably aren't what you actually want. More likely, each thing is a means to an end. Remember King Midas? When he got his wish--that everything he touched would turn to gold--he found himself surrounded by cold metal objects that used to be his bed, his favorite horse, his wife, and his children. Obviously, this didn't feel nearly as good as he'd expected. The moral: What we think would bring us happiness often won't do the trick. What we're really after when we yearn for something is a feeling state.
Look back at the list you just made and imagine that you already have each thing on the list. Try to feel as you'd feel if you had millions of dollars or a perfect lover or a gorgeous body that never gets tired or sick. Pay attention to the feeling state you'd get from this dream come true. In the spaces below, write a word or two that best describes the feeling state you'd get from having each of the things you want.
How I'll Feel When I Have What I Really Want
When I have Thing 1, the sensation I'll feel is: _________________
When I have Thing 2, the sensation I'll feel is: _________________
When I have Thing 3, the sensation I'll feel is: _________________
When I have Thing 4, the sensation I'll feel is: _________________
When I have Thing 5, the sensation I'll feel is: _________________
I've found that while people's desires seem endlessly varied, the feeling states we all desire are few, simple, and universal. They include peace, security, belonging, comfort, love, joy. We think we'll get these feelings by nabbing anything from an Olympic gold medal to our parents' approval. I hear a lot of statements like these.
Popular Lies about Destiny
"If I could find that special someone, I wouldn't be lonely anymore."
"When I get that promotion, I'll finally know I'm good enough."
"If my spouse stopped being critical, I'd be able to relax."
"What I really need is a job in television. That would be so exciting."
"I need my mother to say she loves me; then I'll be happy."
"I'd have plenty of confidence if only the right mentor would show up."
"Once I'm at my goal weight, I'll feel great about dating."
"Building my dream business would be easy if I had an MBA."
If you can't see that all these statements are false assumptions, you haven't been sitting in my life-coaching chair for the past 10 years. From my vantage point, you'd have seen many, many people who are deeply loved and still lonely, beautiful and still horribly self-conscious, professionally successful and still so terrified of failure that their nocturnal tooth-gnashing could crush diamonds. Here's something you'll need to hold in your mind, at least temporarily, if you want to get a good look at your own North Star: External circumstances do not create feeling states. Feeling states create external circumstances.
Here, let me show you.
Testing the Causal Direction of Desire and Destiny
It's easy to see that in everyday human interactions, most situations come from feeling states rather than feeling states coming from situations. Consider these scenarios.
1. You're an employer looking for someone to hire. Two clients apply. One is desperate and frantic. "Please, please, I need this job; you've got to help me," he begs. The other candidate is calm and confident. He asks, "How can I help you?"Which one would you rather hire?
2. You're shopping for clothes. In one store, a salesperson dogs you, pressuring you to buy more expensive merchandise, now! In the other location, you get a cheerful "Hello," and then you're allowed to try on outfits without pressure. Where do you feel more comfortable making a purchase?
3. You meet your friends Pat and Chris for lunch. You haven't seen them for weeks. Pat is relaxed and happy, eager to catch up. Chris, on the other hand, keeps putting in passive-aggressive digs at you, the absentee friend: "I wish you'd made it to the concert, but I know you're too busy for insignificant folks like me." With whom do you want to spend more time?
Unless you are truly an epic codependent, you probably feel more like cooperating with the people who behave as though their needs are already being met. This is simply how human psychology works: When we push, grab, manipulate, or pursue people, they start to feel as though we're huge mutant versions of the bird-flu virus. For this reason, if no other, you'll experience far more success in all areas of life when you dwell in a sense that your goal has already been achieved. (It's also true that when you reside in a calm future-self, even inanimate objects like money seem to seek you out--but that's a level of magic we'll talk about later on.)
Quick Stargazing Exercise for Beginning at the End
Try this: Think of someone whose approval you covet. It might be your lover, someone else's lover, your boss, a celebrity who may never even meet you, or (if you happen to be an approval whore like me) every single person you ever meet. Get all those needy feelings front and center. Let them fill your whole mind. Now imagine that you get to spend an hour with the person whose approval you seek. Can you feel the desperation, the grasping, the sick sense that this hour isn't nearly enough? Excellent.
Now, begin at the end. Imagine that you already have this person's approval, that they adore you, that nothing on God's green earth could ever diminish their total approval. You are awash in approval. You couldn't possibly in a million years soak it all in. Letting this mental position fill your mind, picture interacting with your hero again. Can you feel the freedom, the ease, the humor that's suddenly available to you? Can you feel yourself start to smile without trying? Can you tell that this version of you is way more likely to get approval than the version who's always desperately seeking it?
If so, you have just visited the observatory in your head and focused briefly on the truth as your Stargazer self knows it. If not, try again. Sometime sit takes a while to focus the telescope, but you'll get there with a bit of trial and error.
Once you can do this exercise in your head, try it in a public place. My favorite social venues are coffee shops, so that's where I do most of my experiments, but you might choose another location: a bookstore, a shopping center, a rock concert, exercise time in the yard. Just choose a place where there are lots of people milling about.
For Trial One, walk into such a place thinking, "I need these people to like me! I need them to do what I want! I need their help!" Notice how people interact with you. For Trial Two, go into the same place the next day. This time, prep yourself by thinking, "These people love me. They think I'm clever, handsome, talented, and gracious. I rock their socks." If you can keep such thoughts in mind, you'll notice that you move differently, talk differently, smile in a different way as a sock-rocker.
Do this exercise several times, and you'll start to notice how differently other people act around you. The more desperate you feel, the more they'll move away. The more sure you are of their adoration, the more positive interaction you'll get. If you want extra validation, have a friend precede you into the space you're using for the test and observe the way other people interact with you.
I've supervised this experiment with clients who have very low self-esteem, including some juvenile delinquents and ex-convicts. The results are amazing. In a self-critical, fear-based mindset, the clients seem to physically repel people--everyone in the space literally moves away, some slightly, others dramatically. But when my clients manage to hold on to thoughts of being worthy and lovable, others move toward them, usually smiling, appearing to relax as they get closer. No one seems to be doing this deliberately; it's like watching afield of tall grass bend one way, then the other, as the breeze changes.