Living on autopilot
When was the last time you stopped and thought to yourself “why did I just do that?” It might have been in response to something someone said or did, or to something you just watched on your smartphone, or maybe even to a sound or smell that brought back a memory. Whatever happened, if the thought of questioning your reaction occurred to you then you had a moment of self-awareness. And self-awareness is the basis of conscious living.
“We don’t see things as they are,
we see them as we are.” [anonymous]
Whether we notice it or not, the way we interact with the world is determined by who we are and what we feel. All the stimuli we receive from the outer world, whether positive, negative, or indifferent in themselves, are filtered and then interpreted in light of our values and beliefs. The resulting reaction may or may not appropriately reflect the stimuli. To some extent we all live our lives in this autopilot mode. Yet are unintended consequences the main ripples we want our behaviours to create?
The challenge is that our reactions may not serve our best interests, in the sense that they won’t necessarily help us achieve what we want out of a given situation. Let alone what we may want more generally in life. So how can we live more consciously?
Living more consciously
Definitions of conscious living vary – I like this one. Conscious living is about setting an overall direction for our lives, then intentionally making it become reality. It implies ongoing awareness of our values, thoughts and feelings, and a deep understanding of the impact of our actions on ourselves and others.
Living consciously releases the power each of us has to shape
our destiny and the world around us.
A first step to conscious living is indeed to realise that perhaps you could have reacted differently. A second step is reflecting on how you reacted, and equally importantly, why you reacted in a certain way. Your reflection may surprise you. As an example, I am sure that at some point you’ve reacted negatively towards something a loved one said just because “they caught you at a bad moment.” Your reaction had more to do with something you were worried about, or perhaps with having an enjoyable moment interrupted, than with what was said. And yet you probably triggered a counter-reaction in your loved one that created an awkward atmosphere for the day. Was this what you wanted?
Reflecting is not to be confused with ruminating. Ruminating takes you around in circles making up scenarios based on scant evidence. It leads to non-constructive self-criticism and the reinforcement of limiting beliefs. And you can get so used to ruminating you become addicted to its perverse effects. Reflecting on the other hand aims to help you gauge whether your behaviours support your goals. It does not aim to classify behaviours as good or bad, simply as useful or not useful. It helps you develop new beliefs to replace those that may be limiting you. And it can help you in many others ways too.
A new paradigm
Just as a caterpillar gradually becomes a butterfly through self-induced metamorphosis, our transformation comes from within. Becoming self-aware is the start to transformation. Reflection is the fuel that fosters change from self-awareness. When we can consciously decide to change certain aspects of our life, we can create our desired paradigm shift. No matter what point in life we are at or what we have already achieved, the stage is then set to realise our dormant potential.
Whether you believe that each of us comes to this world for a reason or that throughout your life you build that purpose, conscious awareness will guide you better. As Carl Jung put it, “until you make the subconscious conscious, it will rule your life and you will call it fate.” Who would you prefer to have running your life?