We humans tend to be strange, paradoxical, conflicted creatures.
We say that we want something in our life – be it more money, greater freedom, a wider pool of romantic prospects, a deeper connection, etc. Nothing wrong with any of those, of course; all entirely human and understandable desires.
And yet it’s rare to find someone whose life doesn’t contradict what they say they want. Money evaporates at a certain set-point, limitations are accrued unconsciously, opportunities to meet potential partners spurned, chances for vulnerability body-swerved.
I’m always honoured when friends tell me of the strange things they’ve done, of how they’re inexorably drawn to stuff even they can tell is self-sabotaging. It’s always good to know you’re not alone.
Each time it happens I reassure them that their actions are “perfectly logical”, given what they’re feeling and thinking at the time. And it’s not a line; I genuinely DO think and feel that they’re being completely logical in their actions, even if it leads to a crappy outcome. Especially if I know some of their personal history; hell, if I were them, I assure them, I’d have done exactly the same thing.
But it wasn’t until recently that I heard something which encapsulates this behaviour, and even points to a way out.
Last month I attended Michael Neill’s A Whole New Way of Thinking About Business. The opening week discussed premises and, in his inimitably humorous manner, Michael pointed out that “everyone behaves rationally, according to what they believe is true. It’s just that the premises they base their actions on are nuts!”
The two unconscious premises he shared were instantly relatable. He was shy, so hated parties with lots of people he didn’t know; and he was financially irresponsible, so had to factor this into every business decision.
And I realised that this was the missing link in what I’d intuitively understood about human behaviour, and the behaviour of myself and others. To quote the Scottish mystic Syd Banks,
“Every human being is doing the best they can, given the thinking they have that looks real to them.”
Given the thinking that looks real to them. Not that the thoughts aren’t real*, but that they look real TO YOU. So if your thoughts are,
- “I’m shy” – you’re gonna hate social functions
- “I’m not desirable enough” – you’re gonna take your date’s change of plans personally
- “I’m financially irresponsible” – you’re going to choose certain ways to spend your money over others
- “I can’t find anyone who’s X/like me” – you’re gonna spurn opportunities to be surprised
- “I’m not safe” – you’re gonna see negative intent in someone’s demeanour
“I once worked with a young woman who had been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which manifested in her repeatedly returning home from work during the day to check that her front door was locked and all her appliances were safely unplugged or switched off. […]
When we got together, she recounted her story and her desire to “get herself under control”. After a time, she settled down and asked me a question. “Why aren’t you telling me to stop?” […]
“As long as it looks to you like you really did leave your apartment unlocked with all the appliances running, it would be insane NOT to go home and take care of it. But if you start to see how the power of Thought is creating your reality, you’ll notice that some things stop looking quite so real to you. And when it doesn’t really look like your home is at risk, you won’t be inclined to leave work to go check on it.” “
Once his client realised that her thoughts about her apartment weren’t real, she was able to release her need to check on it compulsively. For Michael, he simply had the thought, “What if I’m not shy?” (and had the best time at a party EVER).
So how do we change these premises (which are allied to beliefs, but more action, logic and behaviour-orientated)? How do we shift the foundations on which we base our logical behaviour?
Firstly, by allowing ourselves a chance to breathe and reclaim a calmer, deeper mind.
For some that may mean meditation, for others a walk in nature, still others may find simple breathing exercises (extending the out-breath to be longer than the in-breath) rapidly soothe the nervous system.
And then, allowing awareness and a new thought to arise.
For me, I was doing some washing up and the thought occurred, “What if it wasn’t a problem to take care of me?”
As someone with a long-term illness who’s battled and felt bruised by the idea of being a burden to others, it broke a dam in me which meant I sobbed into my kitchen sink for a good five minutes.
Creating or holding space for new thoughts to arise naturally can be as simple as playing with the idea of “What if everything is up for grabs and nothing is a given?” or even “What if ..?” (although the latter can easily be hijacked by our alarmist, often negative, worries and concerns, hence focusing on the former idea initially).
Or it can be attempted more intentionally; for Michael and his finances, he explicitly had a process of labelling premises as part of his yearly business review, and almost didn’t mention it as it seemed so self-evident.
Because these premises, on which our logical behaviour is so often based, become our “story”; and when you realise that “you don’t have to think that”, the unhelpful stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and others fall away.
Which allows the space for something more sustaining, creative and wiser to arise through us in each fresh new moment.
Which is pretty logical, huh? 🙂
* * *
* Would it be awful of me to say that they’re not real, but generally a kind of cognitive “gas” that your brain churns out when it’s trying to digest something?
Our ‘personal’ level of thinking can get blocked, stuck in circles, teeter downwards or become generally unhelpful. So those thoughts that tell you bad shit about yourself? Just picture them as your brain farting as it processes stimuli, that’s all.
And if you can calm this level of thinking down and relax into a sense of spaciousness, the chances are that a new thought will arise – and perhaps one that isn’t hampered by your brain chewing itself.