Let’s say I arrive at Starbucks for my morning coffee. This affair usually takes 5 minutes. Well unbeknownst to me, today it will take 10 minutes. This doesn’t truly become a problem until around minute 5. Normally I would be carving my way out of the drive-thru, but right now I’m still behind an excessively large SUV with an entire cheerleading team bouncing around inside. This is going to take a while . . .
I mean those kids don’t even need coffee. Their activity requires the cognitive load equal to that of a donkey walking in a straight line. Plus they can’t even appreciate a good coffee like I can. It’s that damn mother’s fault. What type of cranial cob-webbed slut would take these children to have their bodies shocked with this adult only elixir? People like this shouldn’t be allowed to have kids let alone drive Transformer-sized vehicles. People should have to take an I.Q. test before having kids. That way we wouldn’t — Hello! Yes, I’ll have a mocha choka latte yaya.
What just happened there? Got a little carried away? Maybe my temper got the best of me.
Well, something a little more subtle just happened.
I just taught my brain that if an unwanted event occurs (long wait in line), that I should blame it one someone else (the people in front.)
You see your brain is always trying to learn about the body that houses it. It is always looking for patterns in your actions, thoughts, and movements. It is like an ever dry sponge, soaking every drop of liquid that comes its way. Think of it as your child, replicating your actions. Knowing this could change your behavior.
For example, you go to the gym every day at 6 p.m. Eventually your brain will think “Hey, about 11 hours after I become conscious, this guy starts making these muscles tired. Well I guess I’ll stop telling him we’re tired around that time. Maybe I’ll even help out by making him want to make the muscles tired.”
We tend to think of learning as something we actively do. Something you decide to do. It’s from this view bad habits are developed. You tell yourself you’re on a diet, then you see cookies on the counter that your roommate brought from work. You told yourself that wouldn’t eat them but you’ve had a long day so you justify breaking the diet. This creates the habit of not doing what you say you’re going to do. Slowly and slowly, starting with small events, it gets easier to fall through on your promises to yourself. Next thing you know you’re at a job that you said you would quit long ago.
To teach your brain a more beneficial lesson you’d have to notice what you’re thinking and feeling the moment negative emotions popup (or at least before they grow too unwieldy). In this way, you can notice those thoughts and feelings separate from yourself, rather than fully embodying them.
This is very tricky. Not feeling emotions is like looking at words without reading them.
We’ve been taught our whole lives that what we feel is very important. ALTHOUGH, It’s important to be aware of what you feel. It’s not important to feel what you feel.
So How Do We Do It?
First, when a feeling arises, take note of it. You might find yourself saying things like “Seems like I’m getting frustrated” or “I’m feeling really impatient right now”. This sounds easy, but you’ll find that most of your feelings slip by unnoticed. Usually, it’s not until you’re
Then you can start asking yourself questions. Some people would advise you to examine the emotions further with questions like “Why am I feeling this?” or “What is at the root of this?”. These are great questions, but I’ve found a few others that are way more effective.
“Will feeling this emotion get me want I want?”
“Is it important for me to be unhappy until this goes my way?”
These questions tend to reveal the ridiculousness of some feelings. This is not to say we are stupid for feeling certain ways. It’s just that more often than not our thoughts and feelings aren’t conducive to getting us we want.
Meditation is the most direct way of practicing it. It involves sitting down and literally noticing your thoughts and feelings, NOT trying to stop them. Meditation isn’t about having no thoughts or feelings. It’s about developing the superpower of being in the present moment and noticing everything that pops up in it. A lot of those things happen to be your thoughts and feelings.
If you’ve never tried meditation, or you did try but it didn’t workout, I recommend using Headspace. It has a great 10-day intro course that really gets you understanding meditation and how it helps you learn what’s going on inside you.
Here are some resources that will help you up your habit game.
The Willpower Instinct – Learn what affects your willpower and how to build this muscle. Read my review here.
The Power of Habit – Learn how to break bad habits and build new ones.
Josh Waitzkin on The Tim Ferriss Podcast – This interview with Josh Waitzkin explores how to cultivate awareness and excellence in everyday life. It will convince you as to why those things that you think don’t matter, matter.