Imagine you are driving in your car. You have your sick child in the car with you and he needs to get to the hospital right away. You are in a hurry, but the speed limit is only 60 kilometres per hour. What do you do?
Normally you would never speed. It is important to you that you are a moral citizen who follows the law so you are kept safe, others are safe in your car, you don’t hurt anyone else outside of your car and you don’t get into trouble with the police, or end up having to pay fines.
However, this is a life and death situation, so getting somewhere in a hurry, becomes a top priority too. So which one do you choose and why?
We have two strong beliefs – 1) I must obey the law 2) I have to get my sick child to the hospital immediately.
Which one wins will be determined by which belief is the strongest IN THAT MOMENT. Your beliefs will always dictate the decisions you make and the actions you take IN EACH MOMENT.
Before we move on to exploring the next three steps on the Mind TRACK to Happiness process, it is vital to understand your behaviour and the behaviour of those around you because this understanding will give you even more assistance with accepting the reality of why you are experiencing what you are.
Whenever we make a decision the brain first assesses all the information you have about the factors surrounding that decision. It accesses all of the memories and beliefs about those memories that relate to that decision and it determines what you believe about your options. Whichever beliefs are the strongest in your mind will dictate and influence the decision you make.
Furthermore there will always be a self-worth component factored into your decisions, always making sure that your best interests are taken into consideration and that this decision is the best one for you. As selfish as it sounds this is what we do as human beings.
That’s not to say that we never do things for other people to be kind, however what do we get out of being kind? We feel good (worthy) after we have done it. No matter what we are doing, there is always a payoff for ourselves.
Let’s go back to the example of your sick child in the car and your option to speed or not speed. Most of us in this situation would choose to speed, because your child getting treatment at the hospital becomes the most important thing in your mind. Your child is valuable to you. You love your child and don’t want to lose them, so your top priority IN THAT MOMENT is getting to that hospital as quickly as possible.
Obeying the law comes a close second because only one belief can win out in order to influence the final decision and in this case your child comes first. This is because in order to maintain your life’s worth, it is important for you to have your child in it because of your love for him. You could be conscious of the safety of your vehicle while you speed fast, almost honouring your responsibilities as a motorist, but ultimately your belief about your child’s welfare and how important he is in your life, determined the final decision to speed.
Self-worth (or your life’s worth) is always at the core of the decisions you make and the actions you take.
The cause of all stress is how we are viewing the event and what you believe this event means about you – that is, your self-worth. If I am stressed or depressed I believe that this event is devaluing my life or self-worth in some way. If I am anxious it is because I believe there is potential for this situation to devalue my life or self-worth.
Understanding the payoffs behind the self-worth and what priorities are driving someone’s behaviour (including your own) helps you to see that it couldn’t have happened any other way due to the beliefs they/you had IN THAT MOMENT.
We only ever make decisions in the NOW.
In every moment in time we have a certain amount of information. Whenever we experience an event, we are accessing the knowledge that we have acquired up to that point in time. We cannot know more than what we currently know. It is just a physical impossibility.
So when we react to a situation, or make a decision it is with the current information available in the brain. As mentioned the brain is, not only analysing what is currently happening, it is also measuring it against what you already know and what you remember from your past and accessing the most logical response available based on what how you usually respond.
It does this really quickly and often without you even noticing it. This is why awareness of your thoughts is always the first step to changing your thoughts.
For example, let’s say that the house is a mess and you need to clean it up because you don’t want your husband to come home to a messy house and think that you’ve been doing nothing all day. This is a priority for you. Why? Because if your husband comes home and sees the house dirty and thinks you’ve been doing nothing all day, what does that say about you? I am not being a good housewife or I’m not getting the approval from my partner which makes me feel good, or he will say something and I will feel like I’m doing a bad job. This is the self-worth component to you and why you feel like it ia priority to clean the house up before your partner comes home. There can be many different reasons, but ultimately this priority will be about you and how you will feel when your partner comes home to a clean or messy house. This worth aspect (feeling good or bad) is what is driving your priority to clean the house before he comes home.
However, as you go about your day, the kids have been particularly challenging and during their sleep when you usually do the most of your cleaning, you decide that you have had enough of doing so much today and you are going to take advantage of the peace and quiet while you have it and decide to watch Oprah instead.
IN THAT MOMENT you weighed up your options to clean the house or take a break and watch Oprah and Oprah won out because that was the priority IN THAT MOMENT. Perhaps you were telling yourself how much you deserved to sit down and relax and that you would worry about the housework later. If you didn’t get it all done before he came home, then that was his problem and he could deal with it if it happened, but right now you were going to reward yourself with a quiet sit down while the kids were asleep. You may have even justified it by saying ‘I do enough around this house. I deserve some time to myself for once. No one ever gives me a break, so I’m going to give myself a break. If he doesn’t like it, he can clean it up himself’.
Do you see what you are doing here by having this conversation? You started by talking to yourself about what had happened during the morning with the kids being challenging and this made you feel down (a little worth-less) in that moment. In order to feel better (worth-more) you started to look for something to do that would make you feel better and that was to watch Oprah and relax. Because the decision to do this was ultimately conflicting with your beliefs about cleaning the house, your brain began to analyse and reason why you should make yourself feel better IN THAT MOMENT. You began finding ways to protect your worth by justifying why you needed to watch Oprah and feel better now.
Your priority for watching Oprah instead of cleaning the house IN THAT MOMENT was because of your priority to make yourself feel better by having some time out.
Now later on, you may find that you didn’t get the housework done in time, your husband is about to walk in the door in about 10 minutes, and you are thinking to yourself ‘I shouldn’t have watched Oprah. I shouldn’t have done nothing while the kids were asleep. Now I have a messy house and he’s about to walk through the door. Why didn’t I just do it earlier like I normally do’
Now you’ve gone into stress mode because you are in conflict with the reality that you didn’t do what you normally do and now you are resisting the consequences (having a messy house).
However what this whole lesson is about this week is to understand that your priorities in each moment are governed by your beliefs and which priority belief was the strongest in that moment dictated your behaviour.
In that moment, it was more important for you to get time out than it was to clean the house and you could not have made a different decision because that was the priority belief that your mind chose in that moment.
It may sound like you don’t have any say in what priority beliefs your brain chooses, however this is where your awareness comes in.
If you have an understanding that your beliefs dictate your priorities and that all of your behaviours and choices comes down to the priorities you have in that moment, then you can become aware of what you are thinking in those times and make decisions more deliberately instead of habitually.
For example, let’s say that you were aware of what you were thinking when you came to the choice of housework or Oprah. You might have recognised what you were saying about your morning and noticing how you were attaching the morning’s events to your self-worth (‘I’m having a bad day with the kids and I’ve had enough’) and you may have been able to change that by upgrading your beliefs to be in alignment with reality (‘oh well these days happen’). Now that you are accepting that reality that the kids have been challenging, you may consciously say to yourself, ‘Okay, I’d really like a break right now instead of doing the housework like I’d normally do. It has been a full on morning and right now I’m going to make it a priority to take a break because that’s what I want right now. I’ll do the housework later and if I don’t get it done, that’s okay. There’s always tomorrow.’
You see that there was not blaming or justifying. It was simply what you wanted in that moment based on your beliefs that you had had a full on morning and now you wanted to take a break. It is still doing something to make you feel better however you are taking responsibility for the decision rather than having to find reasons for it.
You don’t need to use anger, blame, judgements or resentment to make the decision to take a break, you did it because you were consciously aware that in that moment that is what you wanted to make you feel better. You know your worth is still 100% whether you sit down and watch Oprah or not, however it’s okay to be consciously aware that you are believing it will be better only because of how you are rating it, and then do it anyway.
If you were to make this decision in this way and be okay with it without all that justification, then when your partner comes home from work and says something, you wouldn’t be reactive. You would simply say, ‘yeah the kids were full on, so instead of cleaning up, I watched Oprah and enjoyed the peace and quiet while I could.’
If he responded in a negative way, then that is because of beliefs that have been activated in his mind that causes his responses.
We only ever make decisions and behave the way we do because of what is going on in our minds IN THAT MOMENT and we cannot access information that we do not have.
Sometimes we believe that we should have done something differently, however we make this judgement after we have received new information.
A simple example may be: ‘I shouldn’t have taken my daughter shopping with me because I just knew that she was too tired and I had the opportunity to leave her with a friend and I didn’t and now I’m having to deal with her tantrums which is making my shopping trip longer and very painful.’
Thinking like this is in conflict with the reality that you did take her with you and this is the consequence of this decision. Back then when you made the decision there was a reason why you chose this option. You would have weighed up all of the pros and cons and memories of shopping with her and a priority belief (the strongest belief you had) was accessed and governed your decision to take her in that moment.
This priority belief will be about your self-worth too. Perhaps you didn’t want to bother your friend (be a bad friend – worth-less) because she has children of her own to look after. Perhaps you wanted to spend some time with your daughter (wanted to feel closer to her which makes you feel good – worth more). Perhaps you thought that she was your responsibility and you can’t just keep leaving her with other people (doing what you believe a responsible, good mother does – worth more).
There will always be an underlying self-worth belief that governs the decisions you make and the actions you take.
Over the next week I will be explaining more about how to understand your behaviour and the behaviour of others to see what underlies it and how to accept it before moving on to the solution focussed steps of the Mind TRACK to Happiness process (steps three to five).
It’s important to being able to accept the reality of what is currently happening in your life and because we attach these events so strongly to our self-worth, in order to detach it from our worth, we need to get a healthy understanding of it so we can accept it and move into the solution to your problem.
Over the week I will help you to further accept the reality of your child’s behaviour, any problems between you and your husband, why you don’t make time out a priority, and what causes conflict between family and friends. Also, I will help you to understand emotions such as blame, criticism, judgements, resentment, anger and guilt and how our priority beliefs are governing these reactions too.
All of this week’s learning will help you to forgive and accept the past so that you are fully prepared to start planning your future in the following weeks.