Unconscious Decisions

IMG_1683Going deeper and deeper into knowing and understanding myself is important to me. Who was it that said, “An unexamined life is not worth living?” To me, it is more than that. Discovering oneself can be the greatest and scariest adventure that a person can go on.

I often coach people that have put up barriers to their own happiness. One of the reasons that coaching is so valuable is that it is easier for someone on the outside to see that the barriers are self-imposed. We all tell ourselves stories about who we are, what is important to us and how we should act in the world. But, the truth is, these are just stories. When I observe one existing in the psyche of a client, we haul it out, brush it off and shine some light on it. Once exposed, the power of the story diminishes and sometimes belief in the story completely dissolves.

Now it seems a bit hypocritical to not examine my own beliefs in the same way so I continually try to see these stories and rid myself of them. But, here is the problem, it is much more difficult to see them in yourself. You go through your day making large decisions and small decisions both consciously and unconsciously and it is not always easy to see that you are basing these choices on subconscious beliefs that you might not even be aware of.

One of the ways that these stories can be unearthed is by journaling. But if you are a veteran journaler like I am even this starts to lose its effectiveness somewhat. Recently, I started to examine each of my behaviours individually and tried to determine why I did what I did. So, I threw a small notebook into my bag and I started to write down things like, I bought some groceries and then I tried to write down why.

The first thing that I had to guard against was the apathetic, “because I needed groceries”. That is the story. That is the left-brain, the logical, planning, learning, socially acceptable part of your brain, telling me a story about why I went for groceries.

The more in depth analysis looked at the fact that I had enough food in the house that I could go for days without actually shopping, so “needing” groceries was just a story. So, why did I decide today, not in a few days, not later today, but right now, to buy groceries?

Another story popped up. “I was near the store and it was the most convenient time to buy them.” Closer examination blows this one out of the water as well. If I didn’t actually “need” them as discussed above, then the fact that it was convenient does not get to the heart of the matter.

So, why did I go in? What was my actual motivation? Then, slowly, the truth starts to surface. I wanted a particular item. “OK, why did you want the item?” This is when it gets interesting.

As it turns out, I was looking for a particular feeling, a way to bring pleasure into my life and the particular item was not in the house, so I told myself that I “needed groceries and this was the most convenient time to get them.” When in fact, I wanted to look forward to eating something just because I knew that I would enjoy it, so I went in.

These are very different things. We all eat for enjoyment, but this was a prophylactic shopping. I was not planning a specific meal; I was taking steps so that I would be able to find pleasure in eating. Now, I am not critical of this, but lets face it, there must be another layer to this.

Deep, below the surface of this story line about needing and convenience was a larger truth. I had recognized that I would be alone, with nothing to do in the near future and instead of calling a friend, thinking of an activity or taking another action to make sure that I could enjoy myself at the later time. I went grocery shopping for something that I knew I would like to eat.

So the underlying belief here was that if I have time when I’m alone and have nothing planned to do, the best thing for me to do is eat something delicious. Well, let me see here, that one is worth taking out and shining some light on. Don’t you think?

This type of journaling is going to be added to my repertoire. I need to unearth these habits and see where they originate. It might be scary and leave me open to finding out things that I don’t like about myself, but it is an adventure worth pursuing.

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