If we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions. It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.
Nothing worth doing is every going to be quick or easy, but if we spend our lives going around in an ever-decreasing spiral of sameness then any progress we wish to make will be a long and hard time coming.
Sameness is living on autopilot and can cause habits and behaviour to become negative, so to break the cycle of repeated patterns of such negative behaviour we need to move from automatic to manual –
Make the decision to change
Awareness of why change is necessary
New thinking processes
Understand autopilot triggers
Accountability for our actions
Life vision for moving forward
Making the decision
To get your thoughts working for your benefit and not to your detriment you really do have to decide that, going forward, you will make a conscious effort to determine your actions and not live in a phug of automatic reactions.
You also need to set an intention as part of your decision-making process – a conclusion that almost sent me into hiding because the ideal climate for intention setting is to be in the moment when doing so.
I found that problematical because I am far more inclined to be mind-full than mindful, and living in the moment proves almost impossible for me but I started off with a mental declutter –
- Acknowledged that who I am is what I’ve got and appreciate that.
- Adjusted my expectations.
- Assessed what was important to me.
Awareness is a vital pre-requisite for moving away from a life on autopilot, as you need to recognise all the things you are thinking and doing that have put you there. That probably sounds like a sure-fire case of my stating the bleedin’ obvious but you may be really surprised at how many detrimental unconscious acts you carry out in a day.
Now if you multiply that over a week and then a month it can be grim indeed. I was queen of underestimation in my detrimental doings – I have no idea why because deep down I was fooling no one, and especially not me! Every time I tried to kid myself it was just another excuse to carry on doing what I was doing, and when I eventually added that to the other things that had crept in over the years well, yes, I was in a sameness spiral – downwards.
How long it will take you to extricate yourself from your mise en scène of monotony will very much depend on the depth of it. Mine was pretty bad and, like many, I wanted quick fixes, but they just don’t work and the only way I found to stop being an automaton was to go back to basics, lay the whole miserable vista bare and start to pick away at it.
The method I used was to get a roll of paper – mine was a rather posh roll of high-quality drawing paper, as I’m a picky-arsed Virgo who needs things to be just right but, quite frankly, brown paper or plain wallpaper would have been equally effective for anyone – but me.
What I’m about to explain is tedious in the extreme but it worked! I drew a timeline – initially I thought a week would do but ended up doing over month. The timeline was marked off in days and on the line I marked every single thing that I did the same – morning routine, travel to work, food, television programmes, evening routine (I did say it was tedious …). I even put in bouts of negative thinking, bad dreams, reactions and so on. The first few days I was beyond airy lairy and didn’t stick to it but did eventually become quite obsessed with marking it up.
It was just over five weeks when I rolled out the whole vexatious vista before me and was horrified at what it revealed. Seriously, there is something about looking at such a painful panorama that hammers home the awareness of what a fix I was in.
New thinking can come in many forms but to me it means –
- Noticing when my thoughts and responses are founded in negativity and challenging them
- Changing my inner dialogue from negative to positive
The way I set myself onto a more positive path was to start by taking the major instances that I had identified (on my posh roll of paper …) and subjecting them to what I call Rummage, Review, Reframe –
Rummage – What is it? Is it related to the same negative family set? (Yeah, I know, it comes to something when your negative thoughts and behaviour are part of a group – but it is useful to understand if they are related …), Is it frequently happening?
Review – What impact is it having? How is it making you feel?
Reframe – How can I change my viewpoint or action on this? How can I turn it into a challenge? What small change can I make? What would my goal for change be?
The questions you ask are entirely up to you, but the aim remains the same – not to change the facts but to cause a shift in the way you see and deal with them.
Usually autopilot triggers have something to do with coping in a situation and to understand such triggers you need to have a look at where they are coming from, such as –
Examining the source of such triggers can assist greatly in either avoiding the triggers or, at least, make you more conscious of exercising greater care when you are in such a danger zone.
Becoming accountable to myself started with –
- Taking back my time – to stop drifting and once again become the author of my own timetable; and
- Accepting that I am not responsible for what life throws at me but being completely responsible for what it means to me and how I deal with it.
It necessitated a bucketful of truthfulness, many feelings of discomfort in the early stages, and understanding that initiating change will take small footsteps.
I started with my time – making, for example, conscious decisions as to when I would wake up, what time I would leave for work, what route I would take – and sticking to them. It’s hard at first but for each small victory – such as setting a time to get up and doing so for, say, a week – it certainly became easier and I soon began to notice the subtle change in mind-set.
I think establishing a life vision is a right chore! Due mainly to my inability to set a path and stick to it. I’m never going to be perfect at it, but I have learned a few things –
- Don’t sabotage yourself by trying to have your life course mapped out so far into the future that it paralyses you into returning to your comfort zone.
- Gain an understanding of who you are, your place in this world and what motivates you makes it a darned sight easier to stay focused on what you are aiming for.
- Beginning with an end in mind but being clear that such endings can be moveable feasts that can change as you grow.
- Goals are great but don’t be overly rigid – You do need something to aim for or you will have nothing to hit, but don’t fall into the trap of making it the be all and end all of your life.
And finally, the bells ring …
My way of breaking a pattern and to stop it forming is to interrupt it, and by interrupt I mean consciously stepping in and blocking the negative signals before they can become established.
Some use poetry which, bizarrely, there appears to be a run on either ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling or Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ – and that is great but there is no way I could concentrate long enough to remember the lines so …
I resort to bells.
Not real ones, my nearest and dearest were beyond relieved to discover – but the ones entirely in my head.
Every time my mind goes a wandering, negative thoughts start to creep in or the purple mist starts to descend then I focus on …
‘The bells ring
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
The bells ring …’
I don’t know whether you recognise this chorus but it’s from ‘Testament To Youth In Verse’ by The New Pornographers. I had never even heard of it until I saw an episode of ‘The Good Wife.’ It is so catchy and an absolute corker for interrupting negativity. Doesn’t matter when, (but the early hours of the morning are bad for me …) I just swing right into it. It’s not about blocking but interrupting, and by doing so you weaken the signals.
Difficult to start but now I couldn’t do without it – so much so, in fact, that I usually only have to do as far as the first couple of lines and bingo, the signal is so weakened that I can move on.
It gives me immense power and, most importantly of all, means that the days of slipping into automatic have gone …
Yes, yes, yes, … yes, yes, yes … yes, yes yes!