Beat Down…by Your Own Thoughts?


images   Recently I find myself fascinated by a book called, “The Power of Habits” by Charles Duhigg.  In the book, Duhigg talks about how we develop habits.  At first when we are after some reward, our brains are alive with activity as we process how to find the way to get a desired result.  But, once we figure out a system that leads to the prize (however small), our brain activity quiets down and habit takes over.  It’s sort of like an efficiency built into our minds to save valuable thought processes for new challenges.  As a system it makes total sense.  However, our brain makes no distinction between ‘good’ habits and ‘bad’ habits.  And, every habit started somewhere most likely in response to a perceived need.  It works like this ~ we receive some cue in our environment such as feeling tired.  We learned, perhaps long ago, that when we bite into the yummy donuts that mom brought home we received not only a delicious treat for our taste buds, but also a subconscious burst of energy.  Thus we concluded that doughnuts made us feel good (not associating the hidden, added burst of energy).  So now, based upon habits that developed long ago, once we register the cue (I’m tired) we wander into the kitchen in search of the reward ~ a doughnut.  It wasn’t necessarily hunger that sent us on our mission, but instead feeling tired and unhappy.  Thus a habit was formed, i.e. that doughnuts make us feel good.  Now a doughnut here and there isn’t a bad thing, but when, out of sheer habit, we reach for a doughnut or a cookie or some brownies every time we feel bored, sad, tired or unfulfilled, we have developed a ‘bad’ habit that makes us fat! (smile)  The problem is that the habit, now firmly entrenched, escapes our conscious mind and just sort of kicks in, in response to cues in our environment.

While every successful person has consciously and subconsciously learned good habits that helped propel them towards their successes, what happens when we have developed bad habits that serve only to defeat us day by day?  Well, because of the nature of habits, they will most likely continue until we do something different.  Let’s say that when you were very young, you learned that significant people (parents, teachers, caregivers) seemed upset with you on a consistent basis for reasons that escaped your young, developing mind.  Absent the love and encouragement you should have been receiving, you received primarily only criticism and complaint (Close your mouth!  Get out of here!  Sit down and shut up!).  Then you probably developed a bad habit of seeking how to get your reward (they seem happy with me today) by finding ways to please them (modifying your behavior) in response to the cue (you are annoying me).  The result?  A people pleaser is born.  Now, many years later in adulthood whereby you should know better, you find yourself responding to the same environmental cues with the same techniques.  You go to work and your boss ‘seems’ annoyed with you.  They haven’t said anything to you, but you have become very adept at reading cues on their faces and in their body language.  Instead of employing a healthy attitude (I’m doing the best I can and if you have an issue with me, I suppose you will bring it up…) you subconsciously kick into your habit that requires you to engage in all types of disingenuous behaviors and flattering words to ‘earn’ their approval.  Of course on the inside, you are seething because you see what you are doing, but remain unsure as to why you do it!  Bad habit = consistent defeat!  And to make matters worse, you not only engage in people pleasing but actually subconsciously seek out the scenario that you hate and thus the cycle continues…

The aforementioned scenario plays out in a thousand ways to the unsuspecting victims.  Bad habits of thought perpetuate and reproduce.  People with low self-worth didn’t come out of the factory that way.  Instead, in response to some environmental cues and unmet needs, they learned to feel bad about themselves.  They learned to not expect anything good to happen in their lives.  And when things go wrong, as they do for ALL people, they blame themselves and attribute it to the flaws and shortcomings they have been rehearsing to themselves for years and years (many of which started when they were too young to know better).  A pretty slick trick, you have to admit.  If you want to beat humans up on a consistent basis, all you have to do is talk them into developing a bad habit and then it will perpetuate itself for years to come.

So, if you find yourself unhappy, unfulfilled, depressed or just plain worn out by life, ask yourself what stories you have been telling yourself.  What are you saying to yourself that no one else can hear?  When things don’t turn out the way you planned, is it because there is really something wrong with you or is it because something out there is resisting you and thwarting you from getting the things you want in life?  All of us face obstacles to our dreams; our plans; our rewards, but the issue isn’t the obstacles but rather how we have habitually learned to think!  And, as Duhigg aptly explained, we don’t change our habits by ignoring environmental cues or by not seeking rewards, but instead we first have to recognize our habits and then seek to change the behavioral response to the cue while still providing ourselves the same rewards.

You are still going to have times that you feel down or tired or unfulfilled, that’s just life folks.  But instead of reaching for that doughnut, go for a run or turn off that TV or take a quiet bath with time to reflect on why you feel the way you do (don’t just mindlessly ignore it).  Then, think about your successes; your wonderful family or that fantastic new house you just bought.  Think about how you can change anything you don’t like if you will just give it some serious thought.  Make some plans to go in new directions and get that ol’ mind active and functioning again.  Then, go bite into that doughnut and think to yourself, life is good young fella, life is really good!

Just some habitually good thoughts…

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