the problem with easy

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the behavioural impulses associated with my mental illnesses are at best, ones i’ll ultimately regret, and at worst, ones that are harmful. i fight against the negative urges, hate myself for having them, and give in more than i’d like but i don’t think about them at a level above stubborn resistance very often.

why is it so hard to separate ourselves from behaviours that are harmful? it seems to be a problem with our construction; it’s easy for us to maintain things that are negative. part of the problem is that we are hardwired to embrace actions that offer minimal mental challenges; our brains like to follow well-worn paths. it’s great when this adaptive characteristic is related to beneficial behaviours but it can be hellacious when it’s not.

science confirms that our brains like it when things are easy, and routines and habits are definitely that. plus, we get a feel-good hit of neurochemicals when we perform things by rote, even if the behaviour itself is negative.

the harm-benefit analysis of what we’re doing is less important to our brain than the ease of execution. when we get triggered and want to execute our programmed behaviour, an analysis is not required. the least effort is the best way as far as the brain is concerned.

despite that programming quirk, i believe it’s still possible for me to choose a better, more conscious way of acting. the capacity to do so is there, at any rate.

“upon every action that thou art about, put this question to thyself; how will this, when it’s done, agree with me…that my present action, whatsoever it be, may be the proper action of one who is reasonable.” (marcus aurelius, meditations, book 8, II)

i’m starting to learn to put aside impulses in order to ask, “how will this make me feel if i proceed?” it’s work. my instinct is to go with my gut, and deal with regret and recrimination later.

a better process would be to observe and analyze the thought, then ask if it fits into the parameters of recovery that i am trying to establish.

i need to work on my timing. think first, act second.

in my heart, i’m want to do it. the problem is that i’m not walking the walk consistently. it’s easier to hold onto a philosophical position when you’re not struggling. mildly ironic, considering that it’s when times are dark that deeper thought would be the most helpful.

when i’m triggered – or even if i’m anticipating being triggered – it is exquisitely tempting to let myself drop back into old behaviours. to give myself permission to fail because failing is so much easier than trying. whether the behaviour is good for me is secondary to the ease of its execution. it’s marginally comforting, however, to know that this is a universal problem, a common component of the human condition.

 

(an interesting read on habits: https://www.fastcompany.com/3060892/the-science-behind-why-breaking-a-bad-habit-is-so-hard )

(march 23, 2018)

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