We say we want things, but there’s a way to determine what we really want.
Look at what we have.
Whatever it is we are creating in our lives is what we want.
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That said, in the absence of clear and authentic desires and goals, we have a default want.
One that guides our behavior, sub-consciously, all the time: to be safe.
With very exceptions, our default is to avoid pain (and not, actually, to seek pleasure).
Of course, we do seek pleasure, but if you were to create a hierarchy, the two might be close on each person’s “scale,” but avoiding pain is given more sway in our automatic – or default – behaviors.
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Stimuli is entering our consciousness all the time.
How we process this information is critical to the nature and direction of our lives.
There are two levels, in simple terms, to this stiumulus processing: non-conscious (or sub-conscious) and conscious.
In terms of non-conscious processing there are two keys: filtering and pattern recognition.
Because of the massive amount of information our brains ignore vast amounts of what it intially senses. Certain stimuli though get accorded a priority: threats.
This is where pattern recognition comes in: our limbic system (our emotional brain, which operates at lightning speed, and process things before our neo-cortex does) is always examining stimuli against memories of past threats. If something matches a negative stored pattern (i.e. a memory) then our survival response (i.e. fight/flight/freeze) is activated.
The problem is, the limbic system values speed over accuracy. Why? Because way back when, when things were much harder for humans, speed mattered. The slow were dead and the fast survived. Whether it was a tiger or somesuch jumping out at you or some food appearing, acting fast mattered.
The problem is, now in the modern world, we have this highly developed response mechanism, but precious few tigers crossing our paths (and very little worry about food, at least for anyone reading this . . . ).
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So, given that we are hard-wired to react quickly to threats – perceived or otherwise – and to play-it-safe rather than take risks we have an opportunity.
An opportunity to accept the truth of our biology and work in concert with it, or remain at its mercy.
Remaining at its mercy means bumbling along reacting to scary things and preferring the safety of the known.
Or, we can take steps to be more and more at choice.
We can find a way to quiet our mind and thus have greater awareness (some form of meditation . . . ).
With this greater awareness we make accurately evaluate what happening around us. We can make accurate and resourceful choices about stimuli.
We can stop acting by default and start acting by design.
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So, to change what we’re getting, we must change our default stimuli processing.
We must bring greater awareness to our basic mental functioning.
We must move beyond the automaticity of simple limbic pattern-recognition to conscious resourcefulness.
Whether it’s the foods we choose to eat (and how much) or how we handle our all-important Annual Review, if don’t develop the muscle of awareness we will continue to play small and live by default.