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Success is in the mind of the beholder

Monday 26th May 2014

In a now widely-shared  meme, Japanese alternative-medicine researcher Dr Masaru Emoto took two portions of cooked rice which he placed in separate containers. One he labelled “Thank you” and the other was labelled “You fool”. 

Over a 30-day period, school children were instructed on a daily basis to read the labels aloud as they walked past the containers. At the end of the 30-day experiment the rice in the ‘Thank you’ container remained virtually untarnished, while the negative jar was heavy with rot.

Emoto suggests that human thought can affect physical matter – that what we think, and how we project our thoughts has an impact not only on those around us, but everything we come into contact with.

Research on positive thinking and its benefits remains considerably murky, but Emoto’s experiment, though debunked, is food for thought. When it comes to the human mind and how we think, we are often our own worst enemy.

Choosing a profession in the arts is seen as risky business. The industry is an obstacle course and only those with the thickest of skins will survive. Auckland-based photographer Laura Forest knows how tough the industry can be. She doesn’t define success in monetary terms, but being able to support herself within her chosen field feels like winning. Sticking to her guns and staying true to her own style, has been important when it comes to standing out and attracting clients. 

Laura Forest: “Entrepreneurs fail many times on the path to success. The difference is in their attitude towards failure and the resilience ..."

Photo: Supplied

“The world is saturated in images, most of them advertorial, and many of them shot from a place of narcissism or intended to shock. I don't want to produce imagery like this. I aim to craft images with a natural grace.”

Laura was last year awarded a place on Art Venture, a a year-long programme run through the Arts Regional Trust that provides participants with mentorship, peer support and funding to help accelerate projects and businesses. As a result, she’s developed greater confidence and  a much deeper understanding and acceptance of her own creative approach; no longer feeling that she has to try and conform to existing stereotypes of what a successful business person might be. “Entrepreneurs fail many times on the path to success. The difference is in their attitude towards failure and the resilience one has to keep trying/ prototyping or pursuing an idea or vision.”

Photographer Laura Forest says positive thinking allows her to navigate through difficulty.

Photo: Laura Forest

For Laura, acknowledging the importance of taking on projects that align with her values has been something of a learning curve. She’s worked 70-hour weeks on “soul-destroying jobs”. In her first year of business she found her energy and passion for photography diminishing, and contemplated walking away in the hopes that would reinvigorate her love for photography. Working through this has helped her to consolidate the kind of photographer that she wants to be.

Laura considers herself lucky to be doing what she loves, but is ready to admit that it hasn’t been easy. “My industry isn't without challenges and frustrations, (and) positive thinking and having genuine relationships with my audience allows me to navigate those times and remember that what I do, matters.”

Tackling challenges and disappointments when life doesn’t go according to plan, is something that Amit Dull, 34, and Sri Rajasekar, 30, know all too well. As young men, both had their sights set on professional cricket careers and experienced the pitfalls of big dreams and high expectations. “I wanted to raise my bat to a 100,000 people,” says Sri. “It was very much, wanting cricket for the glitz and the glamour, rather than the genuine love of playing the game.”

Both men have learnt a great deal about success and failure over the years and have helped each other to overcome difficult circumstances. Two years ago they took the plunge to develop their life coaching practice, Presence. They’re relatively young for life coaches, but refuse to see their age as a hindrance. As far as they’re concerned ‘life experience’ is the key, when it comes to helping others to achieve their goals.


Sri Rajasekar on the cricket field.

Photo: Supplied


Presence incorporates Hindu philosophies – the cornerstone of which is serving others. Integrating positive thinking into their teaching practice is only a small part of what they do, but more importantly, embodying positivity and having positive energy when dealing with clients is beneficial, according to Sri. “You can’t expect clients to take you seriously as a coach if you lack energy and you look tired ...”

Under the umbrella of Presence the pair provide full tertiary scholarships  to a number of students in India. For Amit, the motivating force behind this was seeing real poverty first-hand. “When I was going to Delhi to play cricket (about 4am every Saturday), there were children sleeping by the side of the road. That left a big mark on my psyche, not just intellectually but emotionally as well.” 

Brought up in a middle class family in Haryana State in Northern India, the experience was a big wake up call for Amit, and it remains constantly in the back of his mind. The death of his father also served as a reminder to make the most of the life that he has. Amit recently made the bold decision to leave his IT career and his $100,000 salary behind in order to focus on Presence. He has no qualms about driving a taxi part-time to supplement his income.  Sri agrees, that having the right motivation is necessary if the pair are to succeed,  and serving others, far outweighs dollars in the bank.

“If our motives were around money, then we will fail. I genuinely believe that. If you’re always focussing on money, you’re basically focussing on a lack of what you don’t have.”

Thinking positively doesn’t have to encompass the deep roots of religion, or in the case of Aimee Whitcroft, even wearing rose-tinted glasses.

At 31, with a background in science and business, Aimee is a social entrepreneur who also owns digital  start-ups. Referring to herself as an “enthusiast extraordinaire”, she’s  the founder and host of Nerd Nite, which has accumulated an international following and she’s driven the Mongol Rally.

Following her passion for learning and trying new things has been integral to her success, her motto is “try to be the change you want to see in the world”. She says that means seeing the good in people and the potential for a positive outcome when faced with a challenge.

For many people in New Zealand, the reality of mental ill-health is part of that ‘complication’ that can mean the difference between success or failure

She has also developed an awareness of the need for strong, resilient communities and believes that contributing to “meaningful” projects (she currently mentors young people) helps to improve life prospects for others. “It is more potent ... than the trappings of conventional success.” She’s an advocate for incorporating positive thinking into her daily life, because it stands as a reminder that most people are decent, and that life is complicated for everyone.

For many people in New Zealand, the reality of mental ill-health is part of that ‘complication’ that can mean the difference between success or failure. Many New Zealanders will experience depression or anxiety (as The Wireless reported earlier this year,) in their lifetime, and for ‘extrovert-introvert’ Charlotte Hayes, coping with depression and trying to remain positive and upbeat can be challenging at the best of times. “I fight an on-going battle with the black dog (depression)... It’s something I’ve learnt to deal with on a daily basis over the past few years, and the trick seems to be not to feed it...having faith that it’s alright not to know the answers, and that things will get better with time.”

Dealing with depression hasn’t stopped her from leading a full life.  She has worked here in New Zealand and overseas; from teaching English in France to working in an AV production studio in Rwanda, teaching piano in Australia, and working on The Hobbit Trilogy.  Most recently, she co-managed Live the Dream, a social enterprise accelerator programme, and coordinated the Festival for the Future event. She’s  adamant that finding moments of  happiness comes from staying true to your own beliefs rather than trying to please others.

Charlotte Hayes in Rwanda.

Photo: Supplied

“Happy thoughts truly feed happiness, but I’m a big believer that you should never feel you have to act happy if you’re not. Life can be crappy and the better we are at communicating truthfully, the more empathy we can develop for those around us. Vulnerability is not a weakness.”

Body Language Specialist and Consultant Suzanne Masefield says remaining true to one’s emotions, thinking positively but also having an ‘awareness’  of how your body language and posture align with your thought processes, can help build resilience and assist individuals in tackling obstacles effectively.

She says thoughts and emotions are reflected in our body language whether conscious or unconscious; that ‘positive thinking’ results in a more upright posture, open body language and increased energy levels. But if your mind won’t participate and the positive thoughts aren’t flowing freely, focussing directly on the physical – adjusting your posture so that you’re standing with feet forward, palms facing upwards and shoulders back, can effectively lift serotonin levels and elevate mood. 

“(It) increases testosterone, which heightens confidence levels and lowers the stress hormone cortisol, enabling you to think more clearly and become more positively proactive in your life.”

She asserts that 90 per cent of a person's decisions are based on emotion so “micro-expressions” – the tiny facial muscle movements that pass over the face take half a second and reflect conscious and unconscious emotions, playing a major role in how we communicate. “Spotting micro expressions- whether it be when dating, during job interviews, buying a new house or finding a new flatmate can tell you what that person is thinking, without them uttering a word.”

Can positivity help? Think back to Emoto’s rice experiment. If anything, what it might suggest is that positivity can’t exist without negativity.  Life is about striking a balance between the two, so that we can weigh up what we really have in front of us. 

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“Same here! A really fascinating article and fantastic to see all you wonderful people making a difference in this world. Keep it up :-) ” — Sri Rajasekar

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Sonia's a storyteller, fashion finder, sort of writer, poetry lover, cold weather hater, mother of one and non-stop thinker.
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