When you’re two years old, you are trying to figure out how to move in the world. You are learning how to speak more effectively, you are learning how to walk without running into things, you are picking up social cues by your parents or television programs, and you’re probably learning what broccoli is so that you can avoid it at all costs.
Gradually, as your life unfolds you learn these things a little bit better. Walking becomes second nature, speaking becomes second nature. Your habits start to form and become permanently rooted, so that if you’re reading this as an adult, you don’t think about these things. Rarely do you ever wonder the best way to move your legs so that you can get somewhere efficiently or effectively. If you look at the way other people walk, it’s always in the same way. Perhaps they lift up on their toe before they take the next step, or maybe they slouch and sink into the floor between steps. Maybe they stick they’re chest out. Maybe they look at the ground in front of them. But if you spend enough time with someone, you can usually identify them from a long ways away based solely on the way that they walk. Though most people think of habits like brushing your teeth at night or biting your fingernails when you’re nervous, walking and talking—and thinking—are habits.
Yes, thinking. That thing that happens in your head. That thing that sometimes feels like it’s out of your control. Thinking habits will shape and change your entire life. Changing those thinking habits is one of the critical first steps toward improving it however you want. But that will have to be covered in the next post (see How Your Thought Habits Shape Your Life).
Other things in nature have habits too. They’re called robots. We program them to perform the same tasks over and over again for us, so that our lives become easier. The text your reading now was programmed into a computer which understands page styling and html, so that you don’t have to decipher meaningless binary digits to read these words.
But you, reading this now, are not a robot…or so you think. You have free will. You have the ability to not read these words. You could decide, if you wanted to, to stop reading altogether, until the day you die. You could decide you really do like broccoli, and it’s time to start eating a lot of it. Or you could decide broccoli is a conspiracy. You could choose to believe broccoli farmers are actually Illuminati members. The robot cannot decide that. But decisions are irreparably intertwined with your thinking habits. This is the key to your kingdom, presented to you in all its glory.
The single biggest problem that everyone faces is the lack of complete control over this free will. Most people are preprogrammed robots, who are influenced largely by our social circles, the media, and “preprogrammed” beliefs from childhood about what is good and bad, or right and wrong. Most people are not completely aware of their surroundings, most people act based solely on how they feel about a particular subject, despite the fact that their decision will almost certainly send them into imminent doom. The entire point to this blog is to escape our robotic nature, together. The art to living consciously, being fully aware of your surroundings, and making concrete, logical, good decisions will be topics explored fully and in depth.
This post, my first post, will hopefully help shock you out of your robotic nature. How many thoughts do you really have that are completely your own thoughts? When was the last time you did something that didn’t occur because of outside influence in some way, shape, or form? If you vote, why do you vote? If you watch TV, why do you watch TV? If you’re in a relationship, why are you in a relationship? If you get up every morning and go to work, why do you do that? Can you genuinely assess what the cause of something is? For a long time, I got really worked up over sports, politics, and religion. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that all that anger and argumentation wasn’t making me any happier, and especially that it wasn’t making any real difference that would eventually provide me with satisfaction. The reason that I kept doing it was because I was influenced by my surroundings: I played football and baseball, my friends liked to argue about sports, and my dad liked to yell at the television about the president or how much money he was paying in taxes. The problem with all of these things, I eventually realized, was not that they did those things, but that I let myself do those things. Now, I don’t get worked up over politics, I don’t tell people why they should or shouldn’t have a religion, and I don’t get in heated debates over who the best player in the game is or whether or not taking steroids is morally alright. Getting worked up over these things don’t benefit me, but it’s only through realizing where the causes of influence truly came from that I was able to dissuade the continuing of those habits.
Ask yourself these questions with me, ask yourself more questions, and don’t expect an answer to come right away. If you can ask them, you’re already on the right track.
When I took a philosophy class my sophomore year in college, I started to look for real, identifiable, concrete answers to the problems in my life. At that time, I didn’t really have anything I wanted. I wasn’t particularly happy, I was a mostly insecure person, I wasn’t particularly good and I didn’t stand out in any way compared to my peers. I would often find myself saying things and immediately wonder where those words came from, and why I stood so adamantly behind them at all. I wanted to be a more attractive and likable person, but it wasn’t happening for me. I began to question my view of the universe and my place in it. I realized that most of what I thought and most of the opinions I had wasn’t something I came up with, it was something I bought into because somebody who seemed confident at saying it convinced me. Even my parents, who are both (mostly, if I’m being honest) intelligent people, gave me advice that I wish I hadn’t followed, even though most of the time listening to them had worked out. Thanks to that philosophy class, I was given an opportunity to escape my robotic nature, and gruelingly I went forward with a new outlook on life.
The most important thing, as you read forward and as you grow as a human being, will be your ability to control your immediate emotional reaction. Can you read something that is completely contrary to what you’ve always believed? Can you read something that makes you immediately upset and angry, only to reconsider it in a calm, logical state? Can you ask why? Can you accept an answer that’s correct, but also one that you don’t like? Get comfortable with being uncomfortable, because it’s the only way you’re getting somewhere different.