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

#YEG Secular Sunday Walks Begin

Please note, the schedule for the walks is that we now start at 11am, walk for  an hour and then anyone who wants to continue talking afterwards is welcome to stay afterwards to do so.

1330 Relax and Succeed - YEG Secular Sunday Walks Begin

Many people with no definable religion can still appreciate the value of communion with like-minded people. Sharing through silence or through words allows us to be together in a spiritual space that leaves us all feeling stronger and clearer for having experienced it. We can come alone, or we can plan to have friends join us too.

Even if you’re not here in Edmonton where I am, people can still find like-minded people to do this with. I recall a woman in Australia who met regularly with two friends. They would meet in a park where they would begin by reading a blog of mine, and then they would walk and discuss how they saw the principles in that blog come alive in their own lives. They all found it very helpful.

If you are in Edmonton, some of you may be former students, some may be people thinking of working with me that have questions, and still others might simply be people who want to spend more time with other people who are actively engaged in the act of increasing their awareness and controlling their over-thinking. And some might just like the idea of a pleasant walk outdoors (we’ll figure out a backup plan for rain).

It is a busy time of year, so maybe I’ll be alone. Maybe there will be lots of you. But the walk will be rewarding regardless. It will be a joy to be in nature, and nice to talk to or share silence with those present.

For those who would like to join others in a shared intention for the walk, I will give a brief talk before the walk starts. That way we can establish a shared focus for those who haven’t chosen one of their own. Other than that the walk will be about relaxing and opening up and sharing, so if you would like a regular dose of healthy peace and enlightening conversation, consider joining us.

Walks will commence on July 14th at 10am and will happen each successive Sunday until further notice. Note: this schedule has been changed since this post. The new information is below:

 

#YEG Secular Sunday Walks

11:00am-Noonish
Sundays

6750 – 88th Street
Argyll Community Hall

(Meet just south of the Japanese Garden)

Nearest Bus Stops: #2224 or #2531

I look forward to it.

peace. s

MoK: Casual Kindness

There are many ways to spread kindness into life. Most people remember the direct ways, like doing things for people or offering them a compliment, but there are also the indirect ways. Since people are experiencing what they’re thinking about, changing how someone thinks is to change how they feel.

Parents do this with their kids all the time. You’ve seen it. The kid is screaming about something, and then the parent introduces something new to bait the consciousness of the kid. Hopefully it’s not a threat or a gift, because if that happens too often that person will end up unhealthy. But if it’s an experience then it can be expansive.

So there’s the screaming kid at the grocery store, and the parent says, Do you want ride your bike this weekend with the adults, on the adult trails? And the kid starts thinking about that and they switch from anger to excited in no time. So why don’t we do that as adults? Adults actually argue with you to hold on to the idea that’s painful to them. Don’t try to change the subject on me! (Even though all the discussion in the world wouldn’t fix anything.)

You don’t want these efforts to feel forceful. It’s not some wedge of distraction you hammer into a conversation, but if you’re truly listening the way we all should–very intently and with no other purpose than listening–then you will find yourself struck with opportunities to turn the conversation toward something more enjoyable. It’s your nature. The trick will be getting out of its way.

If humans were designed to tune to negativity we never would have made it out of our first cave. We’d have been too scared. But instead we’re tuned for possibility. We see opportunities. So if you give someone an opportunity for positivity, well, that’s like bait to a fish. Eventually they’ll bite. And if you’re a patient fisherperson who doesn’t try to force the hook in, then you might find that you can succeed on your first try.

Today in the March of Kindness you want to listen carefully to the overall tone of a conversation. If it’s angry or sad or defeatist, listen intently and a natural response will occur to you that would pull the conversation toward something more pleasant and more productive. If you do it well people shouldn’t even notice that you did it.

That’s all that happy people do. When someone shoots them a ball of negativity, they gracefully give them back an easy play on a winning shot. You abandon the subject of their conversation and you focus instead on the tone only. You don’t argue any point, you simply offer a route to something more enjoyable.

You might have to offer it three times if they’re really upset, but eventually everyone would rather pedal their bike on a downslope. Just don’t listen with an agenda. Patiently listen and what to say or do will occur to you. Trust it. Your doubts are only made of thinking.

This is a very subtle form of kindness, and yet once you’re good at this it will be the one you’ll get to use the most. The sheer subtlety of it means it faces less resistance and it gets better results. So join the rest of us today and find some silver linings and help some others notice them too. Because in the end, we’re all in this life thing together.

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.