Is Your Life Expanding or Retracting?

Expanding Life article image header image.

Life is dynamic, constantly changing. Every self improvement is met with greater demands. We think for a moment, that life is expanding, and then the setbacks arrive. We may be prone to citing our personal misfortune to explain our string of bad luck. However, this is the way life is. We must accept life. We still need to move forward, expanding more than retracting. This requires not only doing the right things, but responding to the setbacks with appropriate corrections and resilience.

Part of the secret is honest evaluations. A common tendency is to place blame outside of our self. In psychology we call this externalizing. “I failed; but it’s not my fault,” We scream in self-protecting rhetoric. We tend to take credit for good and blame others for bad, errantly assessing experience. We feel competence where we are weak, encouraging dangerous ventures into the unknown. Assessment errors create greater vulnerability.

We blindly enter undertakings where we are over matched and unprepared. Newness to uncharted fields, even when properly prepared, always has a few surprises. We do our best to prepare for novel experiences, rooting out biases and arming ourselves for the unseen battles. Flourishing demands facing challenges, adapting to complexity and emerging victorious. Standing tall in the presence of the unknown is a terrifying necessity for future success and an expanding life.

Uncertain Futures

We never know how the future will unfold; unseen risks always interrupt the intricate plans. Life’s not perfectly predictable. We must adopt contingency plans, maintain enough flexibility to stop, examine and adapt. Only through conscientious measurements can we correctly identify if life is expanding or retracting.

Occasional Failure is inevitable but gathering wisdom from those failures is optional. To gain wisdom, we must accurately assess failures, identifying involved factors, and improve future contributions. Our ego fears these unbiased investigations that often uncover personal failures. We feel relief by washing away personal responsibility by self-righteously pointing a finger at someone else. But relief is bought for a cost, risking the repeat of the same destructive behaviors.

“Occasional Failure is inevitable but gathering wisdom from those failures is optional.”

~T. Franklin Murphy

Life is Complex, Not Random

Events don’t just happen. Life is not random. There’re always reasons behind the final product. We sadly live in a world full of violence. The senseless beating of an innocent victim doesn’t magically materialize from nothing; the dastardly act is contingent upon a string of proceeding causes. The road leading to the violent crime starts many years before the final culminating event. The perpetrator’s experiences and choices slowly intertwined with biological givens molding his present character. His life slowly changed with each set of exposures, choices, and consequences. These happenings are magnified by his interpretations, creating the sensible story to organize the inputs. 

A criminal typically doesn’t see themselves as bad. They create a story that justifies their badness, exaggerating the instigating factors and dismissing personal choice. The seemingly small threads weave together, creating the underlying emotions that motivate behaviors, building a growing disinterest in others, and weakening self-discipline over passions; the innocent child transforms into a violent man, senselessly administering hurt to others. All along the path, the small changes go unnoticed. The individual fails to see life expanding or life contracting. The final senseless beating was not a difficult choice, but the climax of many insignificant actions, slowly paving the path to destruction.

Only when we look close with clear spectacles can we see the growth or decay.

In Process of Becoming

We are in a process of becoming something. Most visitors to this website dedicated to flourishing are unlikely to senselessly assault. But we are part of a similar process. Our histories, ethics, and biological make-ups set us on course to become something. And that something is the result of an expanding life or a retracting one.

Erich Fromm taught we fall into two general categories. We can be lovers of life involved in continual growth or indifferent to life and in the process of decay. Growth is natural when kind elements abound, surrounding our souls with nutrients and gentleness. Life expands. Harsh environments destroy. We curl into ourselves to protect from the damaging elements outside. Life retracts.

A Biological Correlate to Expanding Life

Expanding or retracting life makes sense. We are moving forward or backward. If we are walking the wrong way on a slow people mover at the airport we must be walking as fast as the belt to maintain our position. When we stop walking we go backwards. If we hasten our pace we move forward. Life is much like this. However, expansion is more than a cute metaphor for life. Our brains expand and retract with experience.

Richard J. Davidson explains that “the brain can also change in response to messages generated internally—in other words, to our thoughts and intentions.” Basically, our behaviors, thoughts and intensions change the structure of our brain. He continues, “

These changes include altering the function of brain regions, expanding or contracting the amount of neural territory devoted to particular tasks, strengthening or weakening connections between different brain regions, increasing or decreasing the level of activity in specific brain circuits, and modulating the neurochemical messenger service that continuously courses through the brain” (2012, Kindle location 407).

​When biological givens are graced with nutrient-providing climates, the organism fulfills its destiny. Our thoughts are active ingredients in forming the surrounding environment. Our choices further refine or destroy the conditions. The mundane choices of friends, activities, and thoughts are important. All these little choices ultimately support growth or invite decay.

Join 50.2K other subscribers


Davidson, Richard J. (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live–and How You Can Change Them. Avery; Illustrated edition.

Leave a Reply

Discover more from Psychology Fanatic

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue Reading