A Well-Beaten Path (Part 1)

 It was when I was late for a meeting with a sponsor, running  around the house cursing, senseless with anxiety and frustration at once again not being able to find my car keys, that I had this epiphany:  we don’t make things different by keeping them the same.  If you want different results in your life you have to do things differently. I had an inkling that this was true for far more than my habit of flinging my car keys to the nearest table top when I first arrived home. If I wanted to continue to look for my car keys frantically each morning, then I needed to continue doing exactly what I was doing, if I wanted a different start to my morning I was going to have to do things differently.

That day I began to put my car keys in a single visible spot the moment I walked through the door. Shockingly, ten years into this new habit, most mornings I actually find my car keys.  I did things differently and got a different result. Should you think my epiphany ridiculously small, let me assure you, it has had a huge impact on my life.

Most of us mere mortals, struggle to make even simple changes in our lives, and find it even harder to make those changes stick. Think for a moment of a few changes you have tried to make in your life.  Getting up ten minutes earlier to make it out of the house in a more zen life state,  starting each Wednesday with a workout, the commitment to check your daily planner the night before, the promise to take three deep breaths before responding to your teenager [actually scrap the last one as totally unrealistic].

It turns out that there is good scientific evidence in brain science of why it takes real effort to make even the smallest change in your life. Read Norman Doidge - The Brain that Changes Itself, and learn that our brain makes connections through its neurotransmitters of all we have experienced.  If we rest our hands in our lap left over right, that will become the pattern the brain and body recognize, if then we decide to lay our hands right over left, not only will it feel weird, it will take mental attention to achieve.  Imagined experiences seem to be as real to our brain as real experiences, they too lay a footprint on our motor cortex.  Simply said, the brain bears the footprints of all we have imagined and experienced.  The things we do over and over are not just gentle footprints on our brain, they are a path that becomes laid down each time we do the same thing. In time, that track becomes a ten foot ditch in the road we can’t get out of.  Another word for a well-beaten trail, a rut. 

We all get into ruts, whether they are little ones like always needing to start the day with a cup of java, or more destructive ones like never saying what we really think, not investing in lifelong learning, or continually repeating a negative pattern with our kids. Recognizing we are in a rut is a good first step in getting out of it.  That sort of awakening is similar to my car key epiphany, unless you realize what you are doing, you will not have the ability to change the habit or limiting ways of thinking.  Today is a good day to just start noticing.  Notice the thoughts that are negative and limiting, don’t try to do anything about them for the moment, just notice them.  Noticing in itself has the transforming power of bringing you into the present moment.  Also notice what things you do today that seem ineffective, limiting or downright irritating.  Perhaps there will be a couple things in your life that are so irritating you might even want to take a stab at changing them. Right those ones down.  I think it makes sense to start with one or two relatively small habits that you can experience some success with.  Small habits are going to be easier to change, but they can also be a single brick that opens up the flood gate of change.   .... Silken