I wait patiently for the elevator to arrive. I'm eager to head out into the tropical humidity and vibrant, lovely chaos of the Jakarta streets. The elevator arrives, and it's packed. As I step forward, the doors crash, nearly squeezing me. We arrive on the first floor, and I'm ready to alight. But a crush of bodies pushes forward; people try to fold themselves into the few remaining spaces block my path. I miss my floor, and we descend towards the basement. I'm fuming. My mind races, taken over by an ugly strain of accusations directed at my host country.
On the surface, this story sounds ridiculous, small-minded, xenophobic, even. I mean, how can I let one (or even many!) imperfect elevator rides affect me so deeply? How can I ascribe negative characteristics to a whole nation of individuals based on my disapproval of their elevator etiquette?
This is Blueprint
What is happening underneath my reaction is more complicated. My blueprint is conflicting with my new reality. And that makes me so mad! So, what is blueprint? Tony Robbins, celebrated life coach and self-help author, put forth the idea of personal blueprints. Our blueprints are powerful. They govern how we react to our self, to others, and to the world around us. Our blueprints are made up of three components: our most valued human needs (for example, the need for certainty, for love, for significance, or for connection); our beliefs; and our habitual emotions. We'll look at how our beliefs relate to our blueprint, and what this means in the expat context. According to Robbins, each and every one of us holds a deeply ingrained set of beliefs about how we should be, how others should be, how the world around us should be. This system of deeply held beliefs influences our actions, emotions, and choices. These beliefs form a significant part of our blueprint.
Blueprint and Culture
Our beliefs about how life should be are deeply influenced by our culture. For example, as a Canadian, I feel people "should" let passengers exit an elevator before entering it themselves; that they "should" hold doors open; and that we "should" take the stairs if we're able bodied and only traveling a floor or two. When I encounter a culture that does not share my view of elevator etiquette, powerful negative emotions are stirred up. My blueprint has been violated, and that feels bad.
Blueprints and Reality
When reality aligns with our blueprints, we feel great! We're happy and carefree. Life is easy. However, when our realities do not match our blueprints, we feel bad. Feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, even depression can emerge. Virtually all expats will encounter experiences where their own blueprints conflict with reality. You may expect that your neighbours greet you with a friendly "good morning" as you walk the dog. Or maybe you expect that busses arrive at a specific time each day, varying only by a minute or two. But as you settle into life in your new country, you realize that your neighbours don't greet you. They're cold and unfriendly, you might think. And you begin to feel lonely, isolated, and even angry. Those negative feelings don't easily subside. They're powerful, because they're linked to long-held beliefs about how life "should" be.
Change Reality or Change Your Blueprint?
When your blueprint is in conflict with reality, you feel unhappy. If you want to experience contentedness in your new home country, you have two choices: change the situation, or change your blueprint. As expats, it's not usually possible for us to change our realities. As much as I'd like to, I could never hope to "educate" and entire nation on the "correct" way to ride an elevator. Instead, I need to adjust my blueprint for elevator etiquette. But that's easier said than done, right? Especially when dealing with issues more substantial than elevator etiquette. A lifetime of cultural expectations shapes our beliefs and forms our blueprints, making them difficult to change. So, how can we go about shifting our beliefs and thereby altering our blueprints? Here are a few helpful strategies:
1. Be Mindful When you find yourself feeling bad, take a breath and regain focus. Identify your feelings: are you angry, unhappy, frustrated, isolated or feeling limited by life in your host country? What event triggered these feelings? What part of your blueprint is in conflict? Simply being aware of the deeper causes of your negative feelings can help relieve some of your frustrations.
In next upcoming newsletter, we're exploring how to master our emotions. We'll examine strategies for dealing with some of these negative emotions. Go here to sign up for our newsletter.
2. Write It Down Journaling can be incredibly helpful. Take time to write about the challenges you face in your host country, anything from day-to-day annoyances, to bigger, more troubling issues like corruption and injustice. As you write, examine how you feel when you come up against these triggers. Write about your blueprint, exploring your expectations for how life "should be." Explore the new reality of life in your host country, and see what areas of your blueprint need to shift. Reflection on the drivers behind your negative reactions will begin to alter your worldview, and help you come to terms with the reality in your new home.
3. Identify Pain Points One very effective strategy for changing your beliefs is to identify how they cause you pain. When you can see that a belief no longer serves you in your present, you can make the decision to let that belief go. As you think about your blueprint, make a mental (or written!) list of all the ways in which your blueprint no longer helps you in your current context. Show yourself how you are causing yourself pain by holding on to these beliefs. When you can see clearly how your beliefs are causing your harm, you can consciously work to change your beliefs.
Can you see ways in which your own blueprint is restricting your expat experience?
Expat Partner Success is holding a workshop entitled "Discover your blueprint for happiness" on February 18th in Garches (Paris). Karlijn De Broeck will look at blueprint in greater detail. We'll uncover strategies for changing your blueprint and helping you embrace your expat reality. We'll explore how to do this for ourselves, and how to support our children in adjusting their own blueprints. For more details and to register, go here.