“We are constantly trying to hold it all together. If you really want to see why you do things, then don’t do them and see what happens.” ~ Michael A. Singer, “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself”
These are words that I’ve now listened to many times—each time growing more curious about and grasping the profoundness of the statement.
Understanding human behavior, especially my own, has been a focus of mine: what motivates me, what scares me, why I do the things I do, what might happen if I stopped doing them, and much more.
I want to better understand the reasons for any behavior in my life, be it of benefit, or detriment; the definition of “good” or “bad” based on the subjective individual and societal definitions. And I want to decide which I’m willing or unwilling to adopt.
I, like many people, have made mistakes in my life. I’ve hurt myself and others. I have also loved deeply and had my heart broken. Regardless of the “good” or “bad” experiences, my own behaviors influence the outcome. Each phase and chapter, influenced by my environment, thoughts, emotions, and external reactions.
Many behaviors we have are habitual, and we never question them.
On the surface, they appear to be, “good.” Or, maybe we know they are “bad.” Either way, they appear to be the norm, or to benefit us in some way, so we keep doing them.
> Fixing our appearance
> Saying “thank you”
> Agreeing with people
> Buying the best phone, clothes, car, or house
> Chasing relationships
> Bettering ourselves every day
> Smoking, drinking, or gossiping
But over the course of the past few years, I have learned something. I have learned more about the nature of my behaviors by stopping them—stopping them, and seeing what occurs when I do; stopping to see what happens inside of me before I act; stopping to see how my mind handles the absence of the behavior.
Daily, I get cleaned up and fix my hair before leaving the house. Why is that? Many answers may come up: I feel better when I do, or, it’s just what you do. But, I find it goes a bit deeper than that.
I realize that the reason to clean up before leaving the house is nothing more than an attempt to stay in control—an attempt to control what people think of me. If I perceive myself as looking good, I interpret that as having control over people’s opinions of me. And if I have control, I feel safe. This way, I can feel okay, because I believe no one will dislike or judge me.
If I were to go out, hair disheveled, with a wrinkled shirt and mismatched socks, I would notice a change in thoughts. I would wonder if that person that laughed in my direction was laughing at me, or if the two women staring in my direction were judging me because I wasn’t matching. Whatever the worry, it’s a fear of judgement, criticism, and standing out.
When I dig deeper into that fear, I can connect it to my own subjective need to survive.
If I can control what everyone thinks of me, then I will most certainly have the career I want. I will have the relationships I want. I will then be able to have love, shelter, and all the things I need to survive. I will tiptoe through life in control, without ruffling too many feathers. And because I pay close attention to that every day, I will be okay. For now, at least. Until I have a thought that someone doesn’t like me, that I offended someone, or that I have been criticized.
The moment that thought occurs, I am no longer okay. I must find a way to regain control. So, I ask myself, “who do I have to be to avoid criticism, judgement, and to be liked?” The truth is, it’s not those events I want to avoid—it’s the emotions and thoughts they provoke.
Not every motive for cleaning up comes from fear, though. I notice that if I get cleaned up, even if I don’t see someone, I find enjoyment because I feel refreshed. There’s a mental split in our motives.
Part of me gets cleaned up, and dresses the way that I do to try to please other people so that I feel I belong and fit in. Another part of me does it for myself and the sheer enjoyment of it.
The side driven by a need to fit in and be accepted comes from fear—fear that comes from the thoughts either in that moment or leading up to it; fear that is created by the finite walls of comfort that I have built around my entire life. That fear-driven side of me shows up in other ways, too.
And yet, there is a side of reasoning: I enjoy looking nice for myself. Each thought pattern carries a different mental weight on our shoulders. When not motivated by fear of survival, life seems a little less rigid—a little brighter.
Yes, people judge. People criticize. People make decisions about us in a split second. People will not like us. People may not hire us. People may turn us down. People may laugh at us. And yes, the opinion of other people can impact our careers, our relationships, and our entire life. But, out of seven billion people on this planet, it’s naive to think or expect that each person will like and relate to us.
To think that out of seven billion people, we actually need that many to accept us is stressful and unrealistic.
How many people do we honestly need to connect with and relate to in a way that leads to a meaningful life? It’s a practical question—a question of going from an undefined and abstract drive to belong to an innate understanding of what we really need in our lives; understanding what it really takes to live a life that we, personally, are okay with when we reach the end of it.
We are all heading to the same place. Death. Decomposition. Dust. Often we are so wrapped up in our lives, we forget we have only one.
For me, I’ve chosen to be clear on what motivates the things I do. Is it fear? Is it a perceived finite limitation that has nothing to do with reality? Is it based on my morals? What is it?
Understanding the motives behind what we do, fear or otherwise, opens up opportunities. This self-study can create an opportunity to decide if we are living the way we want to continue to live, and the best way to understand the real reasons we do what we do, is to stop doing them.
Stop getting cleaned up before going into public for a few days. Heck, do it for one day! See what happens in your mind and emotions. Or, if you really are interested in your personal motivations, stop exercising for a week, and see what happens. How much of your motivation to workout is based on how good you feel or how healthy you are? How much is based on how people perceive your physical appearance?
Stop gossiping for a week. When you do, how much of your gossiping was for the purpose of feeling good about yourself? How much of your gossiping is a way to avoid staring at your own shortcomings?
Stop apologizing for everything for one day. How much was your need to apologize driven by a need to fit in? How much of it was to cover up a belief that you deserve less than everyone else?
Stop avoiding one conversation you have been avoiding. How much was the procrastination due to a fear of hurting someone’s feelings? How much was due to a fear that you are unworthy, or an impostor?
Behind our behaviors lies an opportunity to see how we limit the happiness that we say we want. Behind our behaviors lie the walls of limitations that are not grounded in reality. Instead, we invent them in our mind.
Yes, we have limitations in reality, and often it’s our own fear that tells us there isn’t anything we can do about them. So we give away any possibility of doing or creating something different.
Listen to the conversation we have with ourselves. Listen to the voice and urges that say we must do or say something. Then pause. When we pause long enough, new directions in life can be created from within that spaces.