Tuesday, April 05, 2005


In the triangle model of self mastery, freedom-choice-responsibility, action is kind of collapsed into the "choice" category: the point of models is to simplify things, after all. But here, as we work our way through this little five step program for transforming a behavior or belief, we properly distinguish between making a choice and actually acting upon it. Action is the follow through which may or may not occur with regard to a choice. You may choose an item on a menu, and when it comes, not eat it. Or you may choose that you are never going to eat chocolate again, and the next day, lips-a-smacking, find you acted otherwise. If choice amounts to stating an intent, action is the making-real of that intention by manifesting it through behavior.

Action is the meat of habits. A habit, after all, is nothing more then a disposition or tendency to act in a particular way, a sort of behavioral groove. Habits like driving actually represent neural patternings created from repeating the motions over and over until you don't have to think about them any more. When we first learn to drive, we can't imagine how our parents do so many things at once: hit the blinker, turn the wheel, check the mirrors, clutch, break, shift, accelerate--it's too much to think about. After doing it a few hundred times, though, the actions become habitual, and only the context is new. The thinking part of the brain is no longer involved, and the actions are generated from the preset grooves lower down in the system. Probably most accidents occur close to home because the drivers are driving in a total groove with respect to the street context as well, and the mind wanders off to what's for dinner, then BAM!

Other behaviors in our day to day life function similarly. We've done them so many times that our acts become literally thoughtless. That's why so many of the choices underlying our life experiences seem so invisible to us. It's because they are so old! Our patterns of actions with one another are on auto pilot, and in the same way that folks rarely take the time to re-learn how to drive as a matter of improving their life, they also tend not to bother to re-inspect the choices behind their habitual interactions with one another. Unless, of course, they (you/I) embark on a path of service and self mastery. In that case, we bring to consciousness the choices underlying our habitual behaviors, and create again for ourselves the opportunity to choose anew. At that point, we can act on our new intent, and act again, and again, until through repetition we create a new and more functional pattern. We must set the autopilot consciously. It's not because of what your mother did, or your father said, or what your mother didn't say, or what your father didn't do, that you act the way you do! You act the way you do because you set the auto-pilot on most of your behaviors and methods for interacting with your world by the time you were about five. Well, it's time we grew that inner child up! Our world is desperately in need of some adult interaction right about now!

Back to our example which we've carried through these five steps, where the fellow recognized and acknowledged his tendency to make hurtful comments, and accepted himself nonetheless, and practiced until he was able to move the timeframe of his recognition to before the event rather than afterward, and he saw the choice before him to do the same thing or to do otherwise, in this final step, he acts: he fixes himself a sandwich, shifts his bloodsugar, and makes a sandwich for his wife while he was at it. Where normally she would have been off pouting and calling her mother/girlfriend/daughter about how she can continue to put up with this guy, and he would have been ranting about how darn oversensitive she is, now they are enjoying a pleasant lunch together, and she's thinking "what's come over this guy, he's acting like the kind fellow I fell in love with over that root beer float 50 years ago," and he's thinking, "gosh, isn't she cute, maybe I'm gonna get some before I die, this self-improvement stuff ain't so bad after all!"

Instead of rolling over and playing the victim, in his case, the innocent jokester stuck with the humorless oversensitive wife, he practiced introspection, took responsibility, exercised his freedom, choose anew, and acted upon his choice in a manner that generated a new (or in this case, a long fallow) behavior. In doing so, he created a different life experience, and his partner is an added beneficiary. He acted on his choice. While one act does not make a habit, he is off to a good start!


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