We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths – Walt Disney
Nowadays our unconscious attention if being ripped apart every minute of every day. So many urges and things stimulate us at the same time. Think about the time you are at work. You probably work with other people in the same room or what’s even more challenging you might work on open space. Your collages talk to each other, to you or on the phone. If you are exceptionally lucky you can hear one radio at the same time. You have learned to exist in this overwhelming flood of noise. People are walking around and accidentally, but constantly catching your attention. When you actually try to focus on your work, you see emails coming in, you receive phone calls or messages on communicator. Even if you have managed to put everything aside and focus, after 5 minutes of strenuous work, you receive a reminder in outlook that in 15 minutes you have another meeting. And it’s all gone. Curiosity might be the answer.
Although, we really might try to pay attention, it is extremely hard to stay focused. Why it’s so hard? Well, after we start our focus quickly begins to wonder in different directions. We feel instant urge check our Facebook or email. We want to take part in ongoing conversation. We want to make a coffee or something else.
Years of evolution
Why this happens? What is going on? What we experience is mechanism developed by hundreds of years of evolution. It’s called positive and negative reinforcement. Dr Judson Brewer MD PhD had a great TED talk on this matter. He says that we are programed to think like that: ‘…We see some food that looks good, our brain says calories, survival, we eat the food, we taste it, it tastes good. Our body sends a signal to our brain that say remember what you are eating and where you found it. We lay down this context related memory and learn to repeat the process next time. See food, eat food, feel good, repeat. Trigger, behavior, reward.’
Our brain whispers to us that we can use that process in other areas of life. When we feel bad or sad, we try to do the things that makes us feel better. Like eating cholate, ice-creams or smoking. We try this and we quickly learn that it works and we feel better instantly. Same process, just a different trigger. This time instead of signal from our physical body like hunger, thrust or pain, we are experiencing this emotional signal. It’s a promise to put us in a momentary state of joy or happiness. It fades quicker than it came but we learn to repeat the process and it becomes a habit.
Most of our daily behaviors are results of automatic and unconscious actions. We don’t pay attention to the things we do repeatedly or quite frequently. What happen when you drive? You sit behind the wheel of your car and you just drive. Easy, automatic.
Do you remember how it looked at first? When you just learned to drive a car you were cautiously preparing for every single drive. You were carefully adjusting your seat, mirrors and seatbelts. You where slowly starting the engine and changing gears. Now tell me do you remember the exact moment of putting on your seatbelt this morning? Do you remember closing the door before going to work today? Of course you don’t. We don’t pay attention to our daily repetitive behaviors. There is no reason in trying to change it because that’s how our mind naturally works.
Instead of fighting our brain or trying to force ourselves to pay attention we can go with this natural reward based learning process but add in a twist - says Dr Judson Brewer. To do it we need to get curious about our momentary experience. What is actually happening in that particular moment? How do you feel when you execute this behavior? We need to get curiously aware and we need to do it mindfully. We need to move from knowledge to wisdom, for knowing in our head to knowing and feeling it in our body.
Prefrontal Cortex understands on intellectual level that we shouldn’t consume junk food or sweats, overeat or smoke, and it tries it hardest to help us change our behavior. That is cognitive control, but unfortunately it is the first part of our brain that is being ignored when we get stressed out. We are much more likely to yell at our spouse or kids when we are stressed or tired even thou we know that it’s not going to be helpful. Unfortunately, we just can’t help ourselves. When prefrontal cortex is bypassed, we go back to our old habits which is why this disenchantment is so important.
Seeing is believing
Seeing what we get from our habits helps us understand them at the bigger level. It helps us know it our bones. Seeing is believing. So we don’t have to force ourselves to hold back or restrain ourselves from this behavior. We are just less interested in doing that at the first place. This is what mindfulness is mostly about. Seeing really clearly what we get, when we get caught in our behaviors. It will not trigger any magic. We will not mysteriously and instantly change our behaviors and actions but over time we will learn to see more and more clearly the results of our actions. Thanks to that we will be able to let go of old habits and from new ones.
Mindfulness is about just being really interested in getting close and aware with what actually happens in our bodies and minds from moment to moment. Willingly focusing on our experience rather than trying to make unpleasant cravings go away as quickly as possible. It’s supported by our curiosity which is naturally rewarding.
What happens when we get curious? We start to notice that cravings are just made out from body sensations. There is tightness, there is tension, there is restlessness and they come and go. You can either manage from moment to moment or you can let this humongous scary craving to choke you. When we get curios we step out of our old feared based reactive habit patterns and we step into being aware. We become this inner scientist, where we eagerly await that next research.
Mindfulness training is incredibly powerful tool. You can use the same technology that is driving you to distraction to help you step out of destructive habit pattern of smoking, stress eating or other addictive behaviors. However, be aware that context matter most. When you start to automatically prompt your desired behavior it will become the next everyday routine. Right when habit urge arises, you need to go to your inherent capacity to be curiously aware. Instead of activating your old behavioral pattern, notice the urge, get curios, feel the joy of letting go and repeat. Set up this triggers to activate your curiosity. Pull your trigger (article is coming soon) in the right direction
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