I know, I know. Rewriting our life plays and changing how we do things is easy to say, hard to do. It can be confusing and sometimes frustrating, but I hope to shed some light on the confusion and offer some "editing tips". The first step in rewriting our life play is to understand a bit more about how and why we do the things we do.
First, it is helpful to know that we are making choices at every moment about everything we think, feel and do. You've already made hundreds of choices today. Whether or not to hit the snooze button, whether to go for the oatmeal or the donut, whether to start the day with a smile or a frown.
Often, however, we are not aware that we are making choices at all. To prove this point, please take a moment to stretch. (Thank you for indulging me). Now, how did you stretch? Did you stand up or stay seated? Did you put your hands above your head, bend at the waste or do something else? Did you not stretch at all?
Did you consciously decide to stretch in those ways or did it just happen? My educated guess, that in most cases, the choices just happened. This is exactly the way many of our choices are made.
Many of our choices are made on auto-pilot. We are rarely aware that a choice has been made or that other choices were even possible. Our choices are often very fast and patterned, based on a self-created role and a history of responses. One unexamined choice leads to the next unexamined choice until we have created a role and life story for ourselves that we may not have intended.
We accept our role and storyline without rewriting or editing our material. Even when our choices are not helpful, not leading to getting out needs met or even bringing us the opposite of what we want, we often stay in our patterns out of default, for the sake of ease, or based on little or faulty information with which to make better choices.
In order to maximize opportunities for getting our needs met positively and effectively, increased personal success, mental health and a satisfying life story, it is very helpful if we look at each microscopic moment of choice as it occurs - choices about how we think, feel and act.
It is difficult to look deeply at our choices because these choices are so wrapped up in our ways of looking at the world. Each choice we make is based on a number of unnoticed and unquestioned assumptions. These assumptions inform our thoughts which lead to our feelings which cause us to act. This assumption-thought-feeling-action chain occurs so rapidly, we rarely notice that it occurs. This makes it exceedingly difficult to influence any part of the chain in order to make a different, possibly more effective choice. It is possible, however, to think of ourselves as "Choice-Detectives", examining the assumptions upon which our choices are based for errors in logic, and then learn to base our choices on more factual information.
These assumptions, or beliefs without proof, were put together when we were younger, based on the limited amount of information we had at the time, and then rarely questioned. For example, we may have been part of a very hard-working goal-oriented family. It is possible that our parents only rewarded us when we got A's in an attempt to get us to do our best.
Observing this as children with little information or a broader context, we may have arrived at the assumption that we must always be perfect. Based on this unquestioned assumption, it is possible that as an adult, we may have little tolerance for our imperfections. It is possible that when we make inevitable mistakes that we berate ourselves for days afterward.
These assumptions tell us what to think and how to feel and act, like a running monologue in our heads. They affect every area of our lives, from our emotions, to our self-confidence to our relationships. How many of us have ever avoided trying something new because we assumed that we would be bad at it? How many of us let ourselves get overtaxed because we assume that we have to be everything to everyone?
We can look at the last example to see how the rapid assumption-thought-feeling-action chain works. A friend calls us for a favor. We are swamped, and the logical choice would be to say no. However, if we assume that we have to please and be liked by everyone, we might think that it would be wrong to say no, feel stress mixed with a dose of guilt, and an unbidden "yes" might fly out of our mouths.
In order to influence the assumption-thought-feeling-action chain and make more effective choices according to our deepest held desires, it is helpful to push the "personal pause button" on the "VCR" of our lives". I know, more metaphors - what can I say! I will take it from a metaphor to a useable tool, in the next blog entry!
~ Adina Bloom Lewkowicz, LISW