The other day I said something out loud that I’ve said in my head a million times and the moment I heard the words escape my mouth, I cringed.
I was out walking with a friend and I said, “I think most people are living their lives asleep. Just going through the motions until they die.”
I’m embarrassed all over again right now as I remember it.
What I meant was that I think that most of us (myself included) are living a life that’s built almost entirely on old, subconscious habits and patterns.
Habits and patterns of thought.
Habits and patterns of behavior.
Habits and patterns of what we notice and what we tune out.
I guess I was thinking of that as sort of a state of robotic repetition – like sleepwalking through life.
But when I heard myself suggest that out loud, I realized how completely wrong I was.
People don’t live in a state of robotic repetition at all; far from it!
In fact, every one of us is constantly wrestling with our worries, fears, hopes and dreams. We’re tied up in knots about it all! Gobbling down anti-anxiety and depression medication in the hopes of finding some peace from it all.
As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.”
We’re all worried that we’re not doing enough.
We’re all afraid that we’ll lose the things we love.
We all want to be noticed and admired.
What I’ve been doing is using the wrong word. Asleep was the wrong word. It’s not that we’re asleep; it’s that we’re programmed.
Don’t worry, this isn’t devolving into the rant of a conspiracy theorist. I don’t mean that the government is controlling your mind.
I mean that, over the course of each of our lives, our brains have built a program. That program has been pieced together from what you were taught, what you’ve experienced and (mostly) what you’ve repeated.
And since our human brains love to learn and then automate things into habits so that we can save energy by repeating them without thinking, our brains have used all that information from our lives to construct a program that we’re now simply repeating every moment of every day.
This means that we’re living lives that feel very novel, but are actually pretty repetitive.
We tend to worry about the same things, get angry about the same things, notice the same things, feel the same things, think the same things and do the same things every day.
Every day feels exhausting and stressful, but it’s actually a whole lot like yesterday.
We may be living lives of quiet desperation, but the desperation is always pretty much the same. If we feel a bit worse, we use coping strategies to feel a bit better. If we feel a bit better, we fall back to our old program to find something familiar to worry about.
As Russel Brand recently said, “You don’t choose between working a program and not working a program. You choose between a conscious program and an unconscious program.”
So, what I want is not to wake up, but rather to choose.
I want to choose how I think and feel, and not just continue to run my old program.
How do we do that?
By first recognizing and acknowledging that you actually have a choice and then taking responsibility for exercising that choice as often as you possibly can.
By taking some time to figure out how you want to feel, reverse engineering how someone who felt that way would behave, and then choosing to behave that way each day.
This can start from the moment you wake up each morning.
Choose what thoughts you invite into your head and which one you allow to hang out in there.
Choose what you make things mean.
Choose what you notice in the world around you.
Choose what you give your attention to.
Choose how you spend your free time.
Choose how you speak to yourself.
Choose what you believe about yourself.
Choose what you eat.
Choose how you move.
Choose what you buy.
As much as you’re able, be deliberate and intentional about the life you’re choosing.
Be the architect, engineer and designer of your own life by choosing how you’re going to think, feel and behave every single day.