Choice vs. Habit

We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘people are creatures of habit’ but I’d like to add a prefix to that. We are ‘pleasure-seeking’ creatures of habit. And by pleasure-seeking, all that I mean is that we make our decisions based on comfort. (Interesting how when you read that phrase, ‘pleasure-seeking’, you may have thought of evil and disgraceful…when did pleasure-seeking become so shameful?) We make our decisions based on what we think will bring us security, make us feel loved and worthy, right? Or maybe you’re like one of my friends who makes decisions based on which option will bring the least amount of discomfort. 

So if we’re naturally pleasure seeking creatures, why do so many of us feel like we’re struggling in our lives? Why do we feel lost and confused, hopeless and helpless? This is where the second part of the phrase can provide some insight. We are also have the habit of making these decisions to come from a confused part of ourselves. One that operates out of opinion and knowing, instead of observation and curiosity. In short, we make our decisions from our minds not from our bodies and hearts.

As we age and develop we form opinions about what and who we like, what we don’t like, what we’re comfortable doing and what we’ll do anything to avoid. I’m talking about everything here – not just, are you a cat or dog person? All the little idiosyncrasies that make you exactly you – it’s incredible and beautifully complex! These traits are formed over years of experience and are shaped greatly by the information we receive from our culture, family, peers, education, and the list goes on. All of these opinions and thoughts we have about ourselves and the world – this is called our perspective, or, our frame of mind. 

It’s exactly that, how we frame something. Wow we view our world. It’s like looking out a window, we only see what’s within the frame. We see a very small picture of the world, our subjective view. We’re so used to looking through our particular window that we fail to notice that there are an infinite amount of windows that offer us different perspectives. And there are no rules about how we frame something, except the ones we create. It may feel like our perspective is predetermined due to the spontaneous ‘natural reactions’ we have to events in our life (we often call it a ‘situation’ or ‘predicament’, like we’ve made it a problem) but that’s just a habit and it can change.

Now, all that being said, we only feel good (read as; joyful, positive, peaceful) when we’re in a frame of mind that is open, dynamic, creative, and grateful. And oftentimes, over the years, our window, our point of view, becomes fixed and reinforced by habitually reacting in certain ways and finding ourselves in situations that we’re “okay” with. We consistently choose to see things in the same way we’ve seen them before and make our decisions based on what we expect will make us feel comfortable (or what will make us feel the least uncomfortable). We deepen the groove in which we feel comfortable and on either side of this valley lies the unknown. The more fixed our own perspective becomes the more frightening other perspectives feel. So much so that we very rarely step out of our ‘comfort zone’ to see things a different way. 

In order to shift our perspective we do well to nurture our curiosity and intuition while letting go of an expected result. When we are curious we are interested and engaged with our experience. Curiosity implies a child-like interest in what we’re doing. We’re fascinated because we’re viewing things from a neutral perspective, one that hasn’t been influenced by our habituated action/reaction cycle. Everything becomes incredible! It’s like we’re encountering each interaction and event for the first time again. Curiosity alone can help to break us out of our habitual thoughts and reactions to things.

As we approach these everyday events through this lens of curiosity, experiencing for the first time, we’ll also practice listening to our intuition, to trust our gut and heart. This requires patience, honesty, and practice. We tune into the feelings in our heart and ask, ‘how do I feel?’. The little voice in our head will be spouting its internal monologue about its own opinion on the matter, but this is not our intuition. Intuition is felt not thought. 

Finally, we let go of expectation. If we approach any situation with an expected result then most likely we’ll end up finding it. Our intention lays the foundations for our experience. If I’m going to give a presentation and I expect to do poorly or sound silly because I’m nervous then I am approaching this situation with discomfort and no matter how well the presentation went, I’ll focus on the mistakes I made and label it as a failure. If I let go of the result and allow myself to be nervous, because it’s natural to be nervous speaking in front of a crowd, there’s not as much weight behind the nervous feeling. My mind won’t be on high alert for any missteps or stutters so that my attention is on my speaking and not on my internal critique of how I’m doing or how it’s coming across. But this is just an example and we only change through empirical evidence. We need to test the results through our own life and our own experiences. 

Ultimately, you have the choice to change how you feel. You can choose whatever window you want to look through. But there’s a catch, it takes honesty with yourself in order to feel and acknowledge what window you’re looking through right now. When I work with individuals, I never simply suggest that they view things differently. That’s the most frustrating thing, isn’t it? We’ve all been in a shitty situation when someone says, ‘well why don’t you just see the positives here?’. Not exactly helpful. First we have to accept that the way we feel now is logical within our frame of mind. It’s okay to be stuck. It’s okay to feel like you’re not where you want to be. It’s even okay to be suffering deeply. These are signs from your body to take a pause and look with honesty and compassion at where you are right now. Only then can you take a step out of choice instead of habit.

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