The last few months I’ve been increasingly fascinated with habits – our natural autopilot states. When was the last time you actually concentrated on tying your shoes? When you go to your favorite restaurant or bar, do you end up ordering the same thing almost every time? Do you brush your teeth first thing when you wake up, or after you’ve showered? These are all habits, and we probably do the exact same thing 90% of the time.
Charles Duhigg has spent years researching and writing about habits in his book, The Power of Habit, and now I’m reading “Smarter. Better. Faster.” – a book that examines productivity – basically, an extension of our habits. How do we harness our energy effectively? Do we take care of the important e-mails all in one consecutive swoop? Or do we break them up into smaller, more digestible chunks? The annoying thing about habits is that what works for someone in terms of overcoming them might not work for you.
My friend and I were chatting earlier in the week and discussing emotions. When we’re feeling angry, depressed, anxious, scared, worried, aggressive, passionate, and a plethora of other excitable emotions, it’s as if we don’t cognitively have control. Our emotions take control. It’s not even necessarily autopilot; we end up on an emotionally defined path that we sometimes don’t feel we have the say in where things are going or where we’ll end up.
As I’ve been reading in Duhigg’s new book, I’ve discovered that the main problem is we’re not often actually thinking. Our days are often so similar that we don’t have to engage ourselves that much in terms of using our minds, so our bodies and brains establish thought-patterns that for the most part, keep us alive, but maybe don’t better us a whole heck of a lot. For example, I may have arrived safe at work yesterday. But I honestly don’t remember making conscious decisions on the drive there. I just sort of arrived, in a tired, grey fog of, “I need coffee NOW.” I automatically reacted to other cars on the road and traffic signals and I obeyed all of the laws, but I wasn’t engaged.
Successful people are engaged. They force themselves to constantly think. They’re always visualizing things – always creating new mental models for what may occur.
Back in the day – about two decades ago, when I started playing baseball and my former STL Cardinal father was coaching me – he’d say, “visualize the ball – imagine the sound of the bat making contact and think about how fast you’re going to run.” For the record, I wasn’t a power hitter and I couldn’t run very fast, but I could throw. So they stuck me out in Right Field and eventually when I had some hand-eye coordination, Third Base. (Side note – Allie loves Mike Moustakas from the Kansas City Royals and he’s a third-basemen, so I guess we’re like the perfect fit or something?!?!) Sometimes they let me pitch, but that’s another story (they called me “Wild Thing” – and I wasn’t a partier…so…you get the point). All of that is to say, my Dad knew the importance of me creating mental models, “visualizing the ball” meant actively engaging the ball, thinking about where it was going to go and where my bat would go after it at, led to me getting a lot more hits than if I had swung aimlessly all those years.
The bottom line is that we have to have the courage to ask ourselves, “Why?” Why are we doing what we’re doing? Why are we dating the woman of our dreams? Why are we hanging out with friends that rarely make an effort to get back to us? When we ask ourselves these “why” questions, we’re thinking, and when we’re thinking, we’re more successful. “Why” does so-and-so need an immediate reply and “why” is this project so important? “Why” are we on an exercising program instead of a regular at our favorite bar or ordering mochas at our favorite coffee-shop? “Why” are we believers instead of doubters? “Why” is our glass half-full instead of half-empty?
These “why” questions make all the difference.
They engage us to the degree that our thoughts can influence our actions, and our immediately defined emotional paths no longer have control of ourselves. I believe this is why we hate accountability. Aside from the fact that we’re prideful beings and dislike being questioned, we don’t like the extra cognitive processes that come into effect when someone questions our natural path, because that means extra thinking, extra time, and more potentially disruptive emotions taking place.
So, why are you who you are? And what do you believe in?
What difference do you want to make? Why are you going to put the effort into making a difference? Why is it worth the sacrifice?
Why is your life worth living? Why do you make a difference?
“Why” makes all the difference. “Why” defines who we are and who we’re becoming. “Why” leads to love and longterm relationships and “why” leads to breaking off from disruptive patterns and inconsequential relationships. “Why” leads to life and “why” leads to death.
Why is your heart still beating? And why are you taking the time to read my wandering thoughts? Why am I worth your time? And why does that beautiful blonde girl still love me despite my lack of defined path? Why has all the answers, yet why has all the trouble.
Why is worth it. Life is hard. All it’s questions and all it’s lack – yet we have the ability to change it all. We just have to think, a little bit more.
Right there with you,
Justin “Wild Thing” Meyer