Unhealthy Habits

1370 Relax and Succeed - We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong

All day long a billion details offer themselves up for our focus. And yet many of us walk around largely oblivious to our surroundings. Very few people will even notice the eye colour of the people they’re speaking to. Many people need photos to know the eye colour of their friends.

But if billions of these potential stimuli are offered to us, what makes us choose which ones to bring into focus?

Wiring. Our brain is flexible and it builds itself to efficiently do the things we often do. If someone hand-writes every day, the writing gets better and better unless some illness or injury is involved. The same goes for adding numbers. We might feel slow on week one, but by week four our brain has built a bunch of shortcuts.

When those shortcuts are super-efficient and are often used), they are often referred to as habits, and they will even often initiate themselves at specific times of day. These can be external reality things, like the way a photographer will often look at the world in ways that are different from non-photographers, or how someone might keep an ear out for the baby.

Or, we can also have internal, thought-based habits — like someone who worries, or a kid in church who sits there the entire time with their mind filled with thoughts about how much they wish they weren’t in church. We feel the urges to do those things, or think those things, due to the force of habit, just like water flows along low ground.

The popular shortcuts that we find destructive –or even meaningfully counterproductive– are not seen as habits, they are viewed as either obsessions or addictions. But to our brain those are largely the same things. They are things we feel compelled to repeat.

Why we want to repeat them is simply because nature naturally seeks efficiency, so the courses of thought most often used are the ‘low ground’ for our energy. If we’re tired and don’t have a strong flow of reality coming in, our brains will do what’s easiest –our habits– the things we practice and that our brains wire us to do very well.

If we’re struggling with alcohol, or games on our phones, porn, or anything else, plugging that brain superhighway is not how our brains work. We don’t shut down pathways in the brain, we redirect them.

1370 Relax and Succeed - Life does not get better by chance

It was by repeating actions that we built our brains in the troublesome way they may be. But it’s simply by repeating different actions that we can divert our thinking and steal all the traffic from our troublesome road. We can divert the energy to take another path through life that we find more productive.

But this requires us to stay conscious of what we’re really doing with our brains.

If we look at what drugs and alcohol, video games of whatever sort, as well as gambling, food, or sex, all have in common, it is that they either require our attention or they numb us. By doing either, the brain creates a way not to do the painful thinking it might otherwise do. This is a healthy awareness but an unhealthy response.

The healthy part is that, in a low energy state, our desire is to reduce the number of stimuli. These include the considerations and deliberations that can obsess our internal ego-talk. But if we’re doing it by distracting or numbing ourselves then we’ve just replaced a negative with another negative masquerading as a positive. We can do better.

The pressure –or urge– we feel to participate in an addiction will be like that kid in church. But just because we feel that urge to think a course of thoughts does not mean we need to actually think them, or turn them into action. If we think anything at all we are better to meditate on reality.

We can recognize that –in the technical brain sense– our urges makes sense. But we also know brains can re-write themselves. These two facts mean that we can take an addiction impulse, and then use it as a signal to divert our attention to a replacement activity that is something truly valuable to us. (It’s always much easier when we trade a leaning-post for a passion.)

If we’re lazy with our brains they will create more work in our lives. But if we do our best to stay as conscious of ourselves as possible, we can recognize those tugs and urges for what they really are: thought-thin prompts to start a justification narrative.

They are only thoughts. All we have to do is watch ourselves, because if we succumb to a habitual justification we often end up in self-hating loops of thought. But if we divert to something better (a book, a call to a friend, a class), we will soon find that we will feel quite positively about having converted an addiction into a healthy and rewarding habit.

peace. s

The Friday Dose #136

I haven’t done a Friday Dose in a while, but what I teach people has always been in pretty nice alignment with Dr. Gabor Maté. I recall early in his career he was seen as strange or even ridiculous, but I knew that he actually understood addictions and how the mind works far better than most other people.

If you’re a regular reader there is nothing here you wouldn’t have already read in thes Relax and Succeed pages many times before, but it’s a Friday, so sit back and relax for four minutes and have your mind expanded. And then and ask what that expansion means for your life.

You have a natural peaceful self. Don’t waste your life trying to change the part that isn’t the real you.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Flights of Passion

Winner: 2016’s Blog of the Year #9

929 Relax and Succeed - We aren't here to be perfectMany adult relationships won’t crash and burn with something like cheating or collapse under the weight of losing a child. Most will die a slow dull death and for that reason they are the ones that feel the most salvageable. Despite that possibility there is usually some external catalyst required for that to happen because otherwise the issue is difficult to overcome.

Imagine people are airplanes and the people inside are the potential experiences that everyone is born with. Flying is living. There is nowhere specific to go, so the closest thing you can do to “winning” is to land with all of your passengers / potentialities having already disembarked because they were fully realised. In short: you lived.

Okay, so everyone’s an airplane and when we’re flying high we have tons of perspective and we can appreciate tons of choice in terms of our direction. When we’re low-consciousness, we’re weaving through mountains of thought that half block-out the sky. It feels perilous and scary and we get angry and absent-minded in our efforts and yet the “mountains” are ultimately ephemeral; made only of our own thought and existing only within our own consciousness.

929 Relax and Succeed - Make your life worth lovingA relationship is when two planes choose to fly together. You happen to be on a similar course, you like how they fly and how their plane’s design works, and your passengers love waving to each other so you radio over and ask them if they’d like to join you on a permanent flight. Maybe you even make it official in front of all of the other pilots at some ceremony where you sign each other’s Flight Logs or something.

Obviously your planes fly differently so they’ll be impacted differently by weather, but in general the flying is good and you both enjoy the flow of your travels. This goes on for years until something happens. Maybe it’s an addiction, maybe you work too much, or you’re always angry or depressed, but somehow one or both of you goes into a downward spin. You’re no longer going anywhere, you’re only thinking about how much you hate the spinning.

The most their partner can do is radio instructions to them because the healthy partner does not actually have their hands on the unhealthy partner’s controls. Instead they naturally begin circling from as close as they can get without doing the same tight dangerous spin. They radio the tower for wisdom but it’s reconfirmed that there is nothing that can be done other than the pilot changing course. Any direction will do, but the plane needs to straighten itself out and only the pilot can do it.

929 Relax and Succeed - Don't let your struggle become your identityIn the best case scenarios the person realises that they are just spinning on thoughts about past regrets, or thoughts about future anxieties. They realise that there is no “correct direction.” They just need a direction. What was hurting wasn’t the danger in the future or the pain of mistakes made in the past, it was the spinning itself; it was the asking of the unanswerable question. At a certain point there are no more answers sought because in the end it is accepted that all that can be done is to fly and so the person does.

But in some cases the person spins too long. And while their partner has done a lazy circle for literally years in the hopes that their companion will pull out of it, eventually their passengers get restless. How much fuel do they have? There’s a lot of life to experience and they can’t live any of it flying in circles for literally years. Because one plane’s going down does that mean both should? The pilot feels that pressure and the passengers note that there’s been little to no sign that anything will change. Eventually the only question is: when will the pilot listen to the passengers, not if. And therein lies the problem.

Once that plane finally does depart (as incredibly reluctant as it will be to go), there will be an immediate sense of relief on the part of the passengers and crew. After all, they’ve just been doing a wider version of that same spin. They do not want to go down in the middle of a deep ocean having not seen much of anything in literally years. Ironically, their departure can sometimes be what triggers a genuine recovery in the partner. By focusing on that change the unhealthy pilot’s mind gets out of its loop and focuses as suddenly the partner gives chase.

929 Relax and Succeed - We travel not to escape lifeThe problem is that they’re usually a long way behind. It makes sense that they would radio their beloved other pilot and ask them to circle for a while until they catch up, but at the same time they can appreciate the difficulty in that. Now that they are finally in motion the notion of travelling backwards or circling more is particularly unappealing. Often even an intense love for their partner cannot overcome it. Too much recent time has been spent on down and backwards. Their souls are literally starved for forwards and upwards.

These are crushing circumstances. No one wants what comes to pass. These are the worst and most poetic days we will face in life. There are no winners in a scenario like that spin. People can pull out of those dives and they can draw a strong and passionate direction from the emptiness of their previous life so those experiences are never losses. They are however extremely painful. The most we can come to is an understanding that the passengers in all the other planes have the same will to live that ours do.

How long a partner should circle is the big debate. Some say marriage vows say you circle until your plane goes down. Some people say you leave right away. Others dedicate years, decades and lifetimes. There is no right answer. Others may judge but, they’re not in your plane, they don’t know your fuel situation and they don’t have your passengers. So all anyone can do is use all of their plane-flying skills and instincts and do what they genuinely feel is best. There just isn’t a better flight plan than that.

Enjoy your day.

big hug, s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.