I spent the weekend with my husband at the Southernmost tip of Africa. It was a weekend to connect and align our vision and goals for the year. We made time for ourselves, away from the kids, to be together and remember who we are and why we chose to build a life together.
Isn’t it funny how we get so caught up in life with keeping busy that we completely lose sight of the bigger picture? Much of what I have learned on my journey through life so far comes down to building and maintaining perspective.
My husband is a bird watcher, which means he sees birds. He not only sees the birds but he identifies them as well.
As we walked along the beach on Sunday morning I noticed the little plovers running along the sand and made a remark to my husband. Before I met him I had never noticed these tiny little beach dwellers in all my 23 years of visiting various beaches around the country. In fact, if you had asked me prior to dating a birder what birds are to be found at the beach, I would have promptly replied Seagulls (and possibly Penguins, if pushed).
There is no chance that I had never been on the beach where one or two little plovers were wading on the shoreline but, to me, they did not exist in my awareness because I did not SEE them.
How much of our reality are we not seeing?
Our brains are designed to filter and make sense of information in the environment via our reticular activating system (RAS). One of the RAS’s functions is to focus our attention on aspects of our environment that are important to us.
Over our lifetime we each develop our own individual structure for interpreting the world. This is based on thousands of conscious and subconscious beliefs, disbeliefs, values, needs, desires and fears. Each of our unique experiences and interpretations is stored and our RAS relies on these millions of accumulated ‘facts’ and memories to direct our attention.
As a result, we SEE the world around us as a perfect reflection of our own structure of interpretation.
Gerry* (fictional character) has a subconscious belief that she is inferior and finds it difficult to speak up and voice her opinion or ask for what she wants. She doesn’t understand what makes it so difficult for her to be assertive and berates herself when she acts passively. Others sometimes take advantage of her and her RAS notices this causing her to say to herself – “You see! People don’t respect you, you are inferior!”
Biologically our bodies are programmed to maintain homeostasis, meaning change is instinctually viewed as a threat and actively avoided. As such, our brains do not want to rock the boat and cause a disturbance, so the RAS keeps showing us evidence that our unique perspective is indeed correct and perfectly in line with reality…
The more we are fixed in our single minded reality, the more difficult life becomes for us. Frustration, anger, resentment and anxiety are just a few of the built up emotions we will experience when coming up against people or situations that threaten or challenge our structure of interpretation. On the other hand if our structure of interpretation is full of negative, self-damaging beliefs we will find ourselves stuck in a world of hatred, disappointment and depression.
And, let’s face it, how we SEE things (especially when under stress) results in how we do things or how we behave.
“Actions speak louder than words.”
A lot of attention has been paid to BEHAVIOUR. We have developed the notion, as human beings who are capable of consciously directing our behaviours (to a certain extent), that if we know better, we will do better. And unfortunately, as some of us have realized (through diet and exercise for me), that is not always the case!
In a research study conducted in 1998 by Buimeister et al. it was proposed that 95 % of our everyday behaviour happens due to automatic processes. Once again, these processes have been automated to ensure our survival and based on our (mostly subconscious) structures of interpretation.
For example imagine my structure of interpretation has developed in such a way that I see spiders as a threat to my survival. Every time I come into contact with a spider or something that reminds me of a spider, my body will respond by causing me to FIGHT (kill it), FLIGHT (run away screaming) or FREEZE (scream and call for help, unable to move). Obviously I know that not all spiders are venomous or deadly but I cannot override that automatic behaviour with what I know at a conscious level to be true.
Does this mean that it is impossible to change our behaviour patterns? Should we just resign ourselves to accept our automatic behaviour no matter how distressing and disruptive it becomes in our lives?
If we look again at the example of Gerry; although she has a good understanding of what it means to be assertive, what it looks like and how to do it, she is unable to break her behaviour pattern of being passive with understanding of the behaviour alone.
In order to break habits and experience meaningful and sustainable shifts in the way you handle yourself in the world, it needs to start with building awareness and the capacity to SEE beyond your own structures of interpretation. One of the ways we do this is using perspective.
Albert Einstein said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This means that in order to resolve an issue at any level – thinking, emotion or behaviour – we need to shift our perspective.
How do we shift our perspective so that we can see that which we cannot see? Simply put: through observation and practice.
It is only through observing ourselves and catching onto what makes up our structure of interpretation – what are the beliefs I hold, my values, desires, fears – that we can take conscious control of actively changing behaviours that are no longer working for us.
Even this is not enough! We need to practice and embody alternative reactions in order to rewire our brain’s automatic responses. Behavioural change takes place at the level of the body, not the mind. Although our behaviour is based on our thoughts; behaviour is about acting, not thinking about acting.
“To be or not to be? That is the question.” – William Shakespeare
How often do you take a step back and ask yourself – Am I being the type of person I want to be? Am I living my life in the way I intended and according to my highest values? Am I living to my full potential? And do I actually even know who I am and what I want?
This weekend was, for my husband and I, all about BECOMING. But with the understanding that in order to BECOME, we also have to SEE ourselves and our lives with perspective, and DO the work necessary to break down old patterns that are no longer serving us and build up new habits that move us in the direction we have chosen.
As an Occupational Therapist and Integral Coach, Cath Valentine has a unique set of skills, knowledge and experience to guide and support you toward SEEING yourself fully and gaining perspective, creating and DOING the observations and practices necessary to break away from your patterns that are no longer serving you, so that you can BECOME the person you always wanted to be and live a life that you love.
My Renew YOU, Love your life program is an individualized coaching journey clarify, define and build a life that you can’t wait to get up to every morning. Contact me. You deserve it!