I’m amazed I can remember the summer of 1976.
It was one of the hottest summers in the UK since records began and it was also the year Jobs and Wozniak established the Apple Computer Company but made us wait 31 years for the iPhone. There was the first commercial flight of Concorde, and George Lucas started work on a film that would boost the toy industry for decades.
1976 also saw the late Dr Wayne Dyer publish Your Erroneous Zones, a book that promised to banish negative thinking from your life for good.
That’s a massive promise.
What A Relief
When I started reading Your Erroneous Zones, I wondered had I discovered the origin of today’s self-improvement blogs? There’s me researching like crazy when all I needed to do was read this book.
You often hear there’s no such thing as a new idea, only recycling of old ones. Your Erroneous Zones had received criticism from some for borrowing heavily from a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) known as Rational Emotive Therapy by Albert Ellis, but others can argue about that. No doubt Mr Ellis got inspired by someone too.
I was relieved to find my hang-ups are not unique. This book is proof it’s not you or me.
- Judge themselves too harshly;
- Over-react to small problems;
- Take matters personally, when they shouldn’t;
- Worry about non-existent circumstances.
Like weeds overtaking a flower bed, your erroneous zones - a metaphor for harmful habits, will grow more intense if left unattended.
Your Erroneous Zones demonstrates how we become paralysed by character traits or habits. Wayne suggests these are mainly created by cultural influences, and strengthened by a self-inflicted high level of expectation.
The Power To Embrace Life Is Already Within You
Life can be one hell of a struggle.
- Lack of a fulfilling career;
- The search for meaning and purpose.
Everyday circumstances conspire to test our mental health. But there are two mechanisms for coping with the pressures.
First, you have choices such as choosing not to have self-defeating reactions. Secondly, you are to take charge of your present moments — to live in the present moment and avoid being immobilised by problems or thoughts.
If we don’t live in the here and now, then happiness will always be elusive.
Life is short; death is long, so why oh why do we waste time doing unfulfilling things?
A mortgage perhaps?
Becoming a free and healthy person involves learning to think differently.
Lessons from Your Erroneous Zones
In the mid-1970s, thanks to my childhood bullies, I learned to hide away, glue myself to the TV and become immobilised.
Hence my journey on the road of self-reflection. However, I want to enjoy the ride rather than get hung up on the destination.
Self-Improvement Begins With Self-Love
My geography teacher told me if I loved myself, nobody else will.
Fair enough. Hormones had made me overly friendly with a female teacher, but the message was still wrong. We do need to love ourselves.
Give ourselves treats, pat ourselves on the back and skip the gnashing of teeth phase when we make a mistake. Accept yourself as you are and don’t stress out trying to prove something to other people.
- Accept compliments with a thank-you;
- Tell people you care about them;
- Improve your health.
Stop Seeking Approval From Others
When I escaped the bullies (we moved house), I was keen to be liked by children at my new school. I tried to be funny and did everything I could to be accepted. I was successful only sometimes.
Seeking approval from others is a form of self-rejection. Throughout your life, you will always encounter disapproval. So ask yourself — what makes others more right than you? Why would their opinions be more important than yours?
Do you ever wonder why some people like you more than others?
Fact - we all interpret personalities, circumstances and feelings differently. As a result, you are guaranteed never to be accepted by everyone.
Wayne recommends emphasising disagreements on the other person by using the word “You,” i.e. deflect the negativity away from yourself.
- Say what you feel in situations and expect differences;
- Thank people for their opinions;
- Practice ignoring disapproval.
Say Goodbye To The Past
How many times have you negatively judged present situations based on past experiences?
Other children sniggered at me when I got onto the school bus. For years I would sometimes look around when I heard a group of people laugh, wondering if they were laughing at me. Our childhood behaviours can become ingrained into our personality.
Wayne tells us not to label ourselves based on the past. Never say “I’m… shy, nervous, a loner, a failure, or unpopular”.
You need to set behavioural goals to act differently and break free from the self-brainwashing.
- Try a new activity you’ve never done before;
- If you’ve been shy, talk to someone you would usually have avoided;
- Keep a journal of the times you say “I’m (something negative)”, and work on reducing the frequency.
Guilt and Worry
Oh, that dreaded guilt and worry. Wayne rightly refers to them as “useless emotions”.
I’ve often tortured myself by thinking back to the time when my Dad was terminally ill. Should I have called more often, spent more time with him, could I have done more? Why didn’t I do such and such?
It was the way it was.
A few hours here and there wouldn’t have made any difference in the context of our whole lives and to dwell on it will never bring about change.
More recently when on an exciting expedition to Dublin to see Electric Light Orchestra (yes, that is exciting) I fretted about where I was going to park the car. What if the hotel car park was full, what would I do then?
Worry, worry, worry.
But I got to Dublin, found the hotel and parked.
I worried over an imagined problem that never arose.
The creator knows it does us no good. Matthew (6 v27) asks “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life”?
(oops, mentioned God. I promise to be more careful in future).
You shouldn’t punish yourself against self-imposed expectations.
How do you beat guilt and worry?
- Accept yourself for the way you are today;
- Realise that worry only makes you less able to be productive in the present;
- If you prefer to wean yourself off, give yourself some protected worry time, e.g. 10 minutes a day, note your worries and then make the rest of the day worry-free.
Fear Of the Unknown
We all equate the unknown with danger.
Fear of the future leads to a lack of spontaneity and missing out on new experiences.
The thought of flying sends my mind into a non-stop movie-making machine (disaster movies mainly).
But if I let that fear dictate to me, I would never experience new cultures of foreign countries.
If you want to enjoy life, you need to step past the fear and do it, or as Wayne puts it:
You can do the same things the same way until you reach your coffin.
Fear keeps you in your comfort zone, unchallenged and underdeveloped.
One of the strongest fears is the fear of failure. But are you basing your failure on someone else’s opinion of how something should be?
Often there’s never one right answer, so relax, do what you feel needs done in your life and stop trying to be a perfectionist.
- Eat new foods;
- Travel more;
- Change jobs for goodness sake.
Avoid a Life of ‘Shoulds’
Stop obeying your own created laws:
- I should visit my mother more often, but how often?
- I should have tried harder for promotion, but to what end?
- I should be more outgoing, but is that me?
Our lives are full of “shoulds”, laws we create and then use to pressure ourselves into keeping.
There is no rule book.
I remember a management lecturer saying there’s no ‘one’ right answer. That also applies to life as well as management. More often than not, there are many different possibilities.
Decisions should be much easier if you avoid getting bogged down in silly rules:
- Wear what you like;
- Drink red wine with fish if you prefer;
- Don’t go to church if you don’t feel like it.
What rules would you change?
Life is not Fair
It can sound brutal, but life isn’t fair because to be fair would mean a right and wrong way exists.
A career coach told me the path to promotion isn’t fair. It’s not always the best candidate that wins the interview. Advancement can be driven by internal networks, not by some sense of fairness.
Accepting the injustices of life, even the trivial, doesn’t mean you should be a doormat. Wayne tells us this only becomes an erroneous zone if we let injustice punish us with negative emotions.
Don’t believe that life has treated someone better than you. Look at the person who has got the promotion, drives a better car or lives in a more comfortable home. Would you want to look like them, talk like them or have their woes instead?
- Look at your life now, and from the past, and reflect on what you are grateful for;
- Don’t allow your emotional well-being to be dependent on what others say or do;
- Don’t fear mistakes and relax about the decisions you choose each day.
So what will I do differently tomorrow, er I mean today?
Putting things off causes anxiety. It’s ironic that by putting something off, we can create more pressure on ourselves as the deadline approaches.
Wayne points out that putting things off prevents us from being strong today, because, by default, we’re hoping that circumstances or opportunities will be better tomorrow.
It’s worse than laziness; it’s false hope.
You can avoid the guilt, stress or anxiety and confidence-damaging behaviour by:
- Living five minutes at a time;
- Ask yourself “what’s the worst that could happen if I did it now?;”
- Eliminate the words “Hope”, “Wish”, and “Maybe” from your vocabulary.
Bye Bye Anger
The only antidote to anger is to eliminate the internal sentence, “If only you were more like me.”
Time and time again, I criticise other drivers for not indicating, especially at roundabouts. Then I proceed onto a roundabout and forget to indicate.
When people don’t do or say what we expect, it’s the same as wishing the world was different.
Our thinking causes anger.
Back to roads again. Over twenty years ago, I got infuriated at drivers who tailgated me. I took risks, e.g., pretended to brake or made rude gestures. I got incredibly tense, the base of my back throbbed with pain caused by tension.
But what if the other driver was in a hurry? What if they had to get to an urgent call or were racing to a hospital? I never thought of those things. I took it personally.
Anger hurt me and put lives at risk.
Now, I move to the side and let them on their merry way.
You need to think in new ways so as not to feed or create anger. The fantastic news within Your Erroneous Zones is that new thinking eliminates aggravation.
Sense yourself when getting angry. Decide to be mad later, say in an hour.
I bet you won’t remember to be angry when the hour is up.
When you sense the anger:
- Think of someone you love;
- Reduce expectations on others;
- Love yourself.
Is the Book Worthwhile?
The book has practical steps with a friendly non-condescending tone.
It may lack some realism, however. Wayne paints a picture of someone who has removed all their erroneous zones, the most fictional part of the book.
But my overwhelming sense is one of relief. The relief I’m not alone.
The mind is very complex and needs a lot of practice to fine-tune, and while the book helps, it isn’t a magic cure.
One criticism I have is that Wayne likes journals too much. Keep an anger journal, a seeking acceptance journal, a procrastination journal, and so on. I’d be embarrassed if my wife found a pile of journals like that under the bed.
What could I do instead of keeping a journal?
I know, I’ll start a blog. That way nobody will ever know what I think.
Dr Wayne W. Dyer
Your Erroneous Zones — Escape negative thinking and take control of your life
Copyright 1976 — Reprinted by Sphere 2007