I have already deviated from my intention to blog every day. I’m a little torn about it, but feel the interactions I was having yesterday with complete strangers was vastly more important than blogging. “Excuse me, I know we are having an amazing conversation, but I have to go blog now.” Ridiculous right?
Several weeks ago I asked for individuals to provide me with a subject to write on. From one of my readers I received the following question.
“You speak in your blog of making intentional changes. Can you identify any unintentional changes that you later identified as a bad habit? And, can you recall any details of how they got there?”
Over the years, like many, I have had my share of bad habits. I was a chain smoker for over a decade. I used to drink a gallon or more of regular Coca-Cola a day. I have been a nail biter since the earliest days of my self-awareness. The list goes on.
Habits are a funny thing. Whether good or bad, habits they are formed via a “habit loop”. You have a trigger, followed by the behavior itself, and then the reward. Once these habits are formed, we can complete the action without even being aware we are doing it. As a smoker there were innumerable times, I would light a cigarette and smoke nearly the whole thing, before I was consciously aware I was smoking. The habit was so ingrained, the decision-making and awareness portions of your brain aren’t involved in the process at all.
Nail biting is another habit that is 100% autonomous of the mental decision-making process. The only instances in which I am aware I am biting my nails is when someone points it out.
Habits can work as a coping mechanism. For example, I realized early on after picking up smoking, it was the perfect social escape for me. I used to be loaded with social anxiety. Large social gatherings, parties, bars, and any other venue where I didn’t know a good number of people caused a great deal of anxiety. Smoking provided me with an out. It’s completely acceptable to excuse yourself from nearly any social situation to “have a smoke”.
Following the habit loop model. Social situations made me uncomfortable, trigger. I excused myself to smoke, habit. I was free from the social situation, AND, I also got the buzz from the nicotine. Double reward.
To touch on a habit that entered my life without a lot of conscious thought. About 7 years ago, I drastically cut my caffeine intake. I had read a fair amount of information on the potential long-term health effects of habitual caffeine intake. I decided I would cut way down on my caffeine intake. No small feat really, I generally drank 3 cups of coffee over the course of the morning. At lunch I would have a diet coke. The afternoon would be another diet coke or two or three. Followed by Ice tea or another diet coke in the evening.
I switched from regular coffee to decaf coffee. I gave up all caffeinated cola beverage. The one item I didn’t give up was iced tea. After experiencing 3 solid days of headache and fatigue, I started feeling better. My energy levels returned. I discovered I slept a lot more soundly. An unintended result I noticed within a week of cutting my caffeine intake, my day-to-day anxiety levels were drastically reduced. I felt much more relaxed, and situations in which my anxiety would spiral nearly out of control greatly diminished. In short, I felt great.
When breaking any habit, diligence is required. If you become complacent, the old habit can rear its ugly head. In the case of caffeine, I was hugely successful. I felt great, recovered from withdrawals and never really looked back.
Several years passed and all was well. Then one morning, after several days of unrestful sleep and long days, I ordered a half-caf latte at Starbucks. I went from dragging to focused and productive. Over the next several days, the poor sleep continued. And over the next several days, I continued ordering half caf lattes. The next week, even tho my restful sleep returned, I was still dragging in the morning. I kept at the half-caf lattes from Starbucks. Then around 10 am, I started making a regular coffee at work. Within a month, my old routine had returned. I was back to drinking 3 cups of regular coffee in the morning. Fortunately, I refrained from adding the diet cokes. Instead I would have a cup of coffee after lunch.
Three or four years of refraining from caffeine were interrupted within a months time. My old habit had returned. My high anxiety returned. The habit had crept back in. Having learned the benefits a restricted caffeine diet provided for me, my relapse was only a couple of months long. I was soon back on the wagon.
Habits come and go. The important take away is this: living conscientiously, and regularly evaluating what we do and why, makes all the difference. While, habits and “autopilot” serve a huge benefit in life. It’s important to evaluate our behaviors from time to time to ensure they are benefiting us, and not hindering or harming us.
Last week one of my readers responded to my request for topics with the following question, “If you had to face down one of your 3 largest fears tomorrow, what would it be, and what plan of action would you take?”
I spent a good amount of time pondering this question, primarily to identify my 3 largest fears. Largely I came up blank. I am not fearless, but as a general rule I try not to allow fear to hold me back.
I can think of one instance in which fear held me back from completely something I wanted to do. In this particular case, we were at the county fair in San Diego. In the previous years we had noticed the bungee jumping crane and how fun it would be to do it. This was the year we were going to bungee jump. I went first. They attached the foot harness and hoisted the basket up to the nauseating height in which I was to jump from.
Having watched other jumpers, I knew the routine. The crane hoists you to the top. A few words between you and the attendant manning the basket. They open the gate, you lean out over the edge while holding on to the cage behind you, and they count down from 3. On one, most people hesitate for a slight moment and then let go. Simple.
Once the attendant opened the gate, and I was leaning over the side, I couldn’t let go. He counted down a few times. I couldn’t do it. I came back into the basket. The attendant tried to reassure me everything was going to be ok. After some deliberation, he offered that he could count down and then give me a firm push, “helping” me jump. I told him, I would likely throw him out of the basket if he touched me.
I agreed that I would try again. He opened the gate, I leaned forward, and he counted down. When he got to one, crickets. I simply couldn’t do it. Somewhat humiliated, I had the attendant take me down in the basket. 10 minutes later, Brian jumped successfully.
In retrospect, there were two things working against me. I’m not particularly fond of man-made heights. I never have been. Put me on a single track trail on the side of a mountain, I’m fine. Put me in a glass elevator on the outside of a tall building and I have good deal of unwarranted anxiety. The second issue, I started playing the “what if” game with my self. What if something goes wrong? What if I die? We have all played it. It’s generally a no win game.
The mentor who taught me to firewalk, Tolly Burkan, tells a story of him skydiving for the first time. He was mortified of heights, and he decided he would face his fear by skydiving. Once in the air, he started playing the “what if” game. Moments before he jumped, he was shaking in fear, felt nauseous, but proceeded to the door of the airplane. Thoughts raced through his head, “You’re going to die! You’re going to be injured!” At that moment, he screamed out loud, “So WHAT!” and he jumped.
Since that day, he has no longer been afraid of heights. His desire to overcome his fear was stronger than the fear itself.
In many cases, I think this is all that is necessary to overcome your fears. Your yearning to overcome them is stronger than your fear, allowing you to move past the fear to accomplish your goal.
When you really think about it, our fears are unsubstantiated. We build worst case scenarios on risks our mind exaggerates. The scenario we build is often enough to prohibit moving forward.
My experience with both participating and leading firewalks, I have learned a great deal about fear. Firewalks teach you to face your fear (all humans are inherently afraid of fire), embrace it, set it aside, and proceed. Is there potential for being burned? Absolutely, and I have been, once. Out of over 20 walks, I would say those are pretty good odds. Staring down a 12 foot firewalk the mind invents A LOT of what ifs. My favorite, when asking participants their worst fear about walking on fire, “My feet will burst into flame!”
After successfully navigating a firewalk, your own limiting beliefs about fear begin to change. You no longer view fear within the same frame-work. You have just proven a fundamental belief wrong, particularly with such a strongly engrained belief as “fire burns.”
If I had to face down one of my three largest fears tomorrow. First I would assess if this is something I really need to overcome. Is this holding me back from something I truly wish to accomplish. Second, I would assess “why” I am afraid. Is this based on real or imagined fear. Have I had a negative experience with this in the past? If so, how will this time be different? Imagined fear is derived from what-ifs. To overcome what ifs, you must determine if you are accurately representing the risk involved. And finally, set aside those fears and take action.
As humans, we have evolved to fear things. To move beyond our fears, we have another wonderful trait called courage. We can never eliminate all fears, but with courage we can overcome.
If you have a particular issue you are struggling with, feel free to contact me. I would be happy to provide my 2 cents.
As always, your mileage may vary.
As time goes by, my blog seems to be evolving. I am enjoying the time I spend writing and the feedback I receive from my readers. In the psychological terms, this is referred to as a positive feedback loop. I dig it.
As a kid I used to love the “choose your own adventure” books. I would often read every possible adventure choice to see how things turned out. It revealed to me a very important lesson I have carried into adulthood. Every decision we make affects our future. To what extent we may never know, or may never think about.
Who we are today is a direct result of the decisions we have made in the past. This is can be rather sobering for those whom have never thought much about it. There is a huge amount of opportunity when we think of life in this manner. When you reflect on your life, if you decide you don’t like who you are today, it is very EASY to make changes. Simply change the decisions you make on a daily basis.
For example, if you wake up one morning and discover you are 30 pounds overweight (speaking from my own personal experience) it isn’t hugely difficult to make changes to decrease the waistline bulge. You simply have to pay attention to the decisions you, often, make on autopilot every single day. Start first thing in the morning. Instead of the venti latte, perhaps, switch to a tall coffee. Use just a splash of half and half and add no sugar. With this simple cognitive decision, you have removed 200-400 calories from you diet. And the day just started. Think about every single thing you put in your body and the result it’s having. Are the decisions and habits about diet serving you or hindering you?
This is one example of choosing your own adventure in life. The opportunities for change in your life are only as limited as the time you are willing to spend reviewing the decisions you make every day.
We are a society of instant gratification. We want it NOW! and we want it bigger, better, faster. Unfortunately, when it comes to personal development and change, things rarely happen this quickly. We WAY over estimate what we can accomplish in a month, or a year. We way UNDER estimate what we can accomplish in 5 or 10 years. Remember, the decisions which brought you to where you are, took your entire lifetime to make. Don’t be discouraged if the changes you make don’t yield immediate results. If you stick with it, it is assured you will see differences in your life.
An airplane leaving from LA heading to London charts a course. Just to make things easy, let’s say to fly to London, the course set is dead on 90 degrees (east). Minutes after take off, the pilot thinks the course is an error, and adjusts the course to 85 degrees. The plane would still be heading east, but now with a slight northerly heading. If you were a passenger that had flown this route many times, the route would appear unchanged for you for quite some time. Due to the large body of water you would fly over called the Atlantic Ocean in route to London, the course change would likely be completely imperceptible to you. The change would only become clear around the time you were supposed to arrive in London. In fact, from a simple 5 degree change at the beginning of the trip, you would be nearly 500 miles north of London when you were due to arrive!
I know, I know. what’s the point? The point is, some believe you must make drastic change, abrupt, changes in life to see any benefit. Often, these choices are impossible to adhere to, and in the long run result in little or no long term effect. However, small changes, over the course of longer periods of time can result in huge changes. And all the while, the small change you made is virtually imperceptible to your daily life.
Your mileage may vary, but give it a try! Start with something small, set an intention for change, and monitor yourself regularly. Watch the changed you unfold.
Now, I need some help from you.
After receiving very good questions from you for my Q&A blog post, I wanted to offer up another opportunity for you to pick the content of my upcoming writings.
Your assignment if you choose to accept it, Email, text, or respond in the comments of this message, to provide me a topic you would like me to write about. It can be anything, anything at all. With a few exceptions, I will do my best to write about the topic you choose! It can be something you are curious to know about me. Or it can be some sort of informative blog post on a subject you simply want to know more about but don’t really have the desire to research. Make it fun! I want to write! And I want to write about things of direct interest to you!
I look forward to your feed back.
As a result of my recent time in the wilderness, a few people following my blog have reached out to me to ask my advise. These individuals shall, of course, remain confidential. Based on my writings, they have seen some of the clarity and realizations I have reached. They are hungry to reignite their own passions in life, or find their way again.
I spent some time pondering this very issue myself. In one of my encounters on the trail, I ran across a gentleman in his mid 30 named Haiku. He spent a good amount of time in his 20’s and early 30s building a tech company. He poured his heart and soul into the company, often working 18 hour days, 6 to 7 days a week. As a result of his dedication, his marriage ended abruptly in divorce, and his social life was non-existent. After spending 8 years, engulfed in his work he reached the inevitable point of burnout.
In doing a life inventory, he found his social life was non-existent, his love life in shambles, and his work life, which had fueled him for so long, he now no longer found fulfilling. He sought out a drastic change. In 2013 he separated from his company leaving it to his business partners, and started out on the Appalachian trail. As he lamented to me, his mentality when starting out on the AT was, “I am going to complete this regardless of the consequences.”
From the sharpness of his stare when he made that statement, you could tell he was reliving the moment. From what I gathered, “regardless of the consequences”, included dying. He completed the trail and had found peace. While hiking the AT, he decided he also wanted to complete the PCT, but considering he completed the AT in late 2013 there really wasn’t time to thoroughly plan for the PCT. So he put it off until 2015. Which is where I had the good fortune of meeting him and sharing a day of conversation with him.
Over the course of the day, I learned his next career path is one of becoming a counselor. He wants to go back to school and receive his credentials, and then take clients and or groups into the back country for a little nature therapy. I told my story of having unwound several years worth of stress anxiety bitter and jadedness. He was elated at my story, as it was basically proof of concept for what he wanted to do. The only difference, my therapy was self guided.
With the permission of the person whom asked I will share the story of one of my friends. One of the friends who confided in me he had lost his passion has a somewhat similar story. His story does not read quite as extreme. He has always been one to maintain his social circle, but never found himself romantically fulfilled. He would often state he was married to his work.
Over the years, his career has evolved and devolved in certain ways. Recently he moved back to San Diego, reversing a decision he had made several years before to relocate. He had assumed his social life would go back to the “way it was” when he previously called San Diego home. When he left the company he was working for, his work had become less fulfilling and reward, but more demanding. He no longer had the passion to pour as much time and effort into it without the reward.
Today, he finds himself in a similar career, working less hours, and occasionally too few hours, causing some financial stress. When he returned to San Diego, he found the relationships he had left were different, or had evaporated altogether. And now that he is no longer married to his work, he finds the lack of any romantic involvement unsatisfying. His message to me, “My fire has dimmed, and I need to figure out how to reignite my passions.”
My advise to anyone who might be struggling with the questions, “what’s next?” or “I’ve lost my passion.” Or “I’m simply lost.” is simple. Go for a month long hike! Just kidding. While it has proved invaluable to me, it’s neither feasible, nor interesting to everyone. No, the advise I would offer is different from simply going for a hike. It does however contain the same elements.
The advise I would give is this, find something beyond your comfortable level, or outside your realm of normality and go do it. You need to at least find it moderately interesting, and you should do it alone (meaning without your current friends or family members) It doesn’t have to be huge. You don’t have to make a ton of changes to your life. You don’t have to devote huge amounts of time to it, but go do something different.
There are about a million different things you could do, but here is a short list of things to give ideas
- Take a cooking class
- Join an intramural sports team
- Join a book club
- Volunteer at a local organization (Hospice, big brothers/sisters, LGBT center, etc etc)
- Take an art class
- Take up running
- Go for a Hike! (sorry couldn’t resist)
- Take a yoga class
Stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying something new does numerous things.
Doing it alone, allows you to escape the patterns you are currently in, and removes the influence of friends or family. Even with the best intentions, they may sway your beliefs about something before you even start. It will also give you “alone” time even if its with a group of other people.
With it being something new, there will be a learning curve. I have found people generally enjoy learning new things. It gets their mind working, which has sometimes been long dormant with the patterns of every day life.
It will introduce you to new people, spawning new friendships and potential romantic relationships. The individuals you meet will automatically have something in common with you!
These are but a few of the benefits.
Often, those in a rut, or finding themselves unfulfilled with their current “life” don’t need such an extreme reboot as Haiku. We often dwell on what makes us unhappy, and expand it. If we directed even half this energy on a new project or pattern, our joy and fulfillment expands. We no longer find the job we have unbearable, because suddenly, that horrible job provides the means to participate in an endeavor we do find rewarding.
By no means am I saying you should stay in a job you hate, but you get the point.
As with all my writings, your mileage my vary.
I would love feedback if you find this useful. Feel free to email me directly if you like. firstname.lastname@example.org