Our lives are the sum total of our actions; I think we’d all agree.
I mean, sure, “stuff happens,” but the primary arc of where we came from – and consequently where we are going – has been, and will be, determined by the decisions we did or did not make. Whether that’s where we live, what we do for a living, or even who we choose to spend our lives with; we didn’t just wake up one morning with all our choices pre-decreed for us. We were given options along our life path and we made decisions. Those decisions had consequences; those we like, we labeled “good.” Those that didn’t turn out as we wanted were called “bad.” Yet, the bottom line is we chose our paths.
As for why we made the decisions we made, they were either well-thought-out, analyzed, and planned; or, maybe more often than not, they were choices propelled by habit.
To permanently change habits, we need an accurate understanding of what they are. Most people mistakenly consider habits to be repeated behaviors done without thought; developed over time. Whereby that’s partly true, it misses focusing on the more significant elements: everything which precedes the behavior. Not understanding the entire chain condemns us to be victims of our actions instead of their masters.
That said, let’s re-define more accurately what exactly is a habit: “A recurring pattern of thoughts and feelings triggering a repeated behavior, which all work together to make our lives better or easier.” The graphic shows how they all fit together.
We are not mindless Zombies, aimlessly wandering the landscape, driven by impulse and instinct, reacting without any control. Instead, since most of us have functioning brains, we develop patterns – rituals – which allow us to lower the cacophony between our ears and think less while removing feelings we label as “negative.” The benefit of which is that it simplifies our lives by putting much of it on autopilot. After all, it’s hard to constantly be “on,” we need relief.
There are three components to habits.
1) Thoughts: Thoughts are like leaves in a stream; a continual, non-stop flow of observations. “Observations,” it must be pointed out, are our perceptions of what we see or hear; they are not necessarily accurate as we don’t see and hear the whole picture. It is – quite literally – our unique viewpoint of what happened. Others might see it differently. Moreover, it might be different than what we observe.
That said, most thoughts are “emotionally neutral” and go unnoticed, yet periodically – for whatever reason – we focus on one. A random example might be, “I am 67 years old.”
2) Feelings: As Louise Hay said, “a feeling is a thought that sticks.” To that end, being 67 years old is simply an observation, in the same manner as “I have two arms” or “I have green eyes.” There is no emotional component to it until we filter it through our Beliefs and Values. If I believe that 67 is “old” and close to death, I might feel fear and notice other areas where I am less agile or strong than I was 30 years ago.
3) Actions: We are “hard-wired” to respond more quickly to emotions than to logic (thoughts). So, in response to my (perceived) impending doom, I will try to triage the prickly emotions now taking over my body. As an example, I might choose to break out a bag of chips and mindlessly consume them, putting my feelings on the back burner while enjoying the satisfaction of something salty and crispy. Over time, I realize that eating something “fun” diminishes the anxiety I get from observations I don’t like. Therefore, I develop the habit of eating when stressed or frightened, leading possibly to weight gain, impacting my lifestyle, further amplifying the fear that I’m losing control of my body, and triggering more eating. The habit cycle is complete and continues.
To effectively – and permanently – unleash ourselves from the vice-grip of habits, we must change what we say to ourselves.
If my Beliefs and Values are that “Life is long and wonderful and aging is a gift not given to all,” my emotions will be completely different. I will feel empowered. I will breathe deep into the beauty I see in my aging body and celebrate the gift it is to me for however long I am to be. The observation (“67 years old”) did not change, but because what I said to myself was different, my actions – and hence my life – did.
Summed up, “What I say to myself determines what I do to myself.” If my life is not as I want, or expect it to be, and if I slow myself down enough to allow an alternative interpretation to let itself be known, I will indeed change the trajectory and outcome of my life.
One final note: Habits aren’t developed overnight. It’s vital to be patient, compassionate, and kind to yourself while you tread this new path, creating a whole new habit. Avoid beating yourself up for the inevitable slip-ups that are bound to happen. Remember, if guilt or shame were motivational, we’d all be happier, healthier, and more successful.
About the author: Scott “Q” Marcus is the CRP (Chief Recovering Perfectionist) of www.ThisTimeIMeanIt.com and is available for coaching and presentations. You can find out more via his mailing list at www.ThisTimeIMeanIt.com/signup If you’re on Facebook, join his motivational group, “Intentions Affirmations Manifestations.”