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

From Raving to Adulting

1340 Relax and Succeed - We should consider every day lost

Over the last few years, as people mature and their relationships and job responsibilities become more serious, I have heard from more and more people who want to shift some of their focus away from their party-lives and onto their adult lives.

Electronic Dance Music (EDM) has been a wonderful trend in human experience in that its venues have generally provided wonderful spaces in which people could feel free. With few ‘rules’ for dancing or dressing, people could really immerse themselves into the music, and that lead them to experience periods of true bliss. These can be genuinely profound experiences.

While the above is true, it is also true that much of the reason that EDM culture and raves are known for being so ‘loving’ or ‘free’ is because there is a much larger percentage of drug users at those events. But by their 30’s most ravers have seen drugs ravage many friend’s lives if not end them entirely, so concerns are natural. And they are increased by recent changes in the trustworthiness of drug purity. There are a lot of people who want to quit.

The favoured drugs tend to tip people towards temporary, drug-induced feelings of strength and energy (cocaine, methamphetamine etc.), emotional freedom (ecstasy, molly, MDMA, alcohol etc.), relaxation (ketamine, opiates) or spirituality (LSD, DMT, Salvia etc.). In a busy, stressful world, it is easy to see why searching for quick paths to those sensations would be welcomed by many.

These are often referred to as ‘lifestyle’ drugs, because they, together with the music and certain fashions etc., all form a subculture. It is valid as a subculture, but it can also be a legitimate impediment to developing a successful adult life.

1340 Relax and Succeed - Man is fully responsible

It’s one thing to date someone at 23 and spend your weekends on drugs raving to your favourite DJ’s, but eventually the job promotion thing, or the biological clock thing happen, and the people who want families tend to desire less partying and more responsibility. This is often when people first face the idea that they may have a casual addiction.

In truth, I rarely work on the addiction itself. For the most part, what’s needed is a helpful identity shift that allows us to keep the most important parts of ourselves from an earlier incarnation of our life, while we make a legitimate shift into our next phase of life –and until that final curtain, there is always another phase, so it’s a good skill to develop.

Once people have been taught how to make this shift comfortably, the drugs rarely disappear, but they do become more events than a lifestyle. Parents that used to go to every summer festival and rave possible are suddenly having children, serious jobs, and now they hit one or two big festivals a year as their adult time without the kids. Even then, most find their drug use trails off quite naturally and comfortably.

People should not feel strange or feel as though they’ve made a mistake if they’re wrestling with this change. It is never enjoyable to have to surrender freedom to assume responsibility for our life partners or children, but we’re not looking at the whole picture if we think we don’t gain in that trade. We don’t lose our old selves and go backwards, we build on that person and we go up.

There are other ‘highs’ in life. People don’t have to hate or be ashamed of their previous selves to find them. They merely need some guidance on how they can make that shift in ways that make sense, that foster growth, and that feel good. Because no one ever felt weaker by feeling more capable.

peace. s

Mental Health Opportunities

969 Relax and Succeed - I used to careThe medicalisation of mental health is the product of an industry. That being the case, it’s worth it to ask what the agenda of that industry is. I won’t pretend to be able to read the minds of drug company executives but I know they have the same problem that any executive in a publicly traded company has: your job and your pay and a large part of your family’s happiness is based on how well you either cut costs or increase profits. But what’s the mean for the rest of us?

A lot of people work in jobs where they’re already overtaxed by too few staff and old or malfunctioning equipment, so we’ve cut expenses about as much as we can. That leaves profits. If only we could have 15% more diseases every year….

A disease is a findable thing. A doctor can point to something and say; this is happening because a disease is impacting you in this particular way. A disease is its own entity seeking to do its own thing that is often contrary to the needs of its host. At the same time, with no disease present we know otherwise healthy muscles can atrophy and disappear if we just choose not to use them. They will appear diseased because they will shrink and contort but if we went to the gym and changed how we used them they could again be strong and flexible. So it goes with our emotions.

969 Relax and Succeed - If there are no ups and downsYou can feel an emotion and take a pill to rid yourself of it or; you can experience that emotion, become familiar with it and then master it. Some people never learned to juggle the ball of happiness by getting lots of chances to drop it. Some people never learned to juggle the knives of misfortune because they always closed their eyes and ran rather than face some early cuts. So when it comes to negative emotions we’ve either ran or tried to shut them down, but what if you coped instead? You remember that don’t you: coping?

I’ve written for years about the value of nature. I’ve written for years about the value of friends. I’ve written for years about the value of laughter and enjoyment. Meanwhile most people go buy something, or they go to their doctors and get mood pills or they go to a friend to get weed or some other socially acceptable medication, but hardly anyone copes. And every year it gets worse.

Bad things do not create a bad life. A bad attitude about things creates a bad life. Good things do not create a good life, a good attitude about things creates a good life. So what’s a good attitude? Turn it off! Give me my pill! Shut up! Go away! Nope. A good attitude is more like, wow, today was hard. Want to go swimming or biking tonight? How about if we visit the neighbours? They’re always so funny! Or how about a great meal?

969 Relax and Succeed - A good laugh and a long sleepThere you go right there. Want to know the difference between a happy family and a miserable one? That’s it: how you respond to the world. Happy people don’t have better lives they react better. They don’t dull themselves with a pill, they don’t smoke a big bowl and then sit in front of a screen until they fall asleep and they don’t sit and bitch and commiserate. They take action. They run somewhere, accomplish something or see someone.

Take all of the time you spent wasting life, wanting it to be better. Be honest: it’s a huge amount of your day for most even mildly unhappy people. Now what would your life look like if that time was spent exercising, or learning, watching comedies and seeing friends? Would your life still be so small and dull? Would it still seem overrun and rushed? Would you still have as many problems?

There are things we can do things about and things we can’t do much about. Start looking at your life for its opportunities. Rather than a pill take a walk. Rather than escapism connect with a friend. And rather than idleness choose movement. Your life is what you make of it. If it’s currently full of complaints and struggle then you built it that way. Start looking around for the invisible choices you’ve made and find better ones. Because you shouldn’t be surprised that you’d enjoy laughing with a good friend a lot more than bitching about a bad one.

Go create a good week with good choices. They’re not hard. They’re just not a habit–yet.

peace. s

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