Have you ever noticed how certain patterns in your life keep re-emerging. Doesn’t it sometimes feel as though you’ve gotten yourself locked into some kind of bizarre dance that sends you round and round the same issues and behaviors time after time? Only part of our actions are really deliberate; the rest are all learned behaviors. We learned them because we had to. At one time, they served us well. Although we can no longer even remember when we climbed on board these thought patterns, our behavior very often gives stark testimony to our rigid, one-track mind.
There are many sayings and slogans in the many and varied recovery programs out there. There’s one that fits here particularly well (it’s from AA): “The same man will drink again.” It’ s true because, unless we’re able to confront the unconscious thought patterns that underlie our decision-making processes, when faced with similar situations, we’ll just naturally come up with the same conclusions whether or not they make any sense. Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity: ‘Doing the same things over and over again, each time expecting different results?’ The insanity behind self-defeating behavior doesn’t lie in the will – we seem to have plenty of ability to do whatever we really want to do – the problem lies, rather, in our patterns of though themselves. Another saying from the world of recovery states: ‘You don’t have a drinking problem so much as a thinking problem.
A person in this condition – and who hasn’t been in this condition at some time or other? – has only limited personal responsibility for his or her behavior. When your decision-making capacity has been hijacked by obsolete patterns of thinking and feeling, who’s really in charge? Isn’t it the 3-year-old who learned those ways of thinking and behaving in order to survive? We too often assume that our approach to the world and its challenges is somehow the ‘obvious’ way to behave when, in fact, it’s actually doing damage to us, to our relationships and to our futures. Think about it: we don’t know what we don’t know (another dandy slogan, but one that’s all too true). If you only knew why the same issues kept coming up over and over again and never seem to be getting any better, wouldn’t you do something about it? I certainly would!
If, in fact, the responsibility we bear for our actions is limited by our knowledge and understanding of ourselves and our world, aren’t we just amoral robots going about our pre-programmed patterns of stimulus and response? Wouldn’t we be justified in claiming that our parents, our enemies, our cultures or the devil ‘made me do it’? The answer, of course, is ‘No.’ The reason why we retain personal responsibility for our actions lies in our obligation to seek out and to root out the causes of our habitual, dysfunctional behavior. If there’s a 3-year-old at the controls of our train of thought, the adult in us has the responsibility of exercising parental authority. And, if, for whatever reason, we’re not capable of playing unsupervised in our own heads, then we have the responsibility to seek adult supervision.
What am I talking about? If your behavior is repeatedly getting you results that aren’t what you wanted, you have a responsibility to get help. Since you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t change it. If you can’t change your thought patterns, you won’t change your behavior, and, since you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. At midlife, you have a responsibility to yourself to seek others wiser and more experienced than you to help you navigate the minefields of your own mind. In fact, as someone who seeks to establish him- or herself as a mature individual, you need people outside yourself to assist you to derail your train of thought, so you can stop the train of events that follow upon them. It’s that train of events that we call a ‘midlife crisis’ and it’s wholly optional, depending on whether or not you’re willing to allow yourself to be vulnerable.
I made that choice out of necessity when I was 38 and my life was headed straight for a train wreck. That was a lot of years ago. Getting the assistance of a professional was a life-altering experience . . . one that set me up for a high-quality maturity, and one for which I shall be eternally grateful. I just did it again in a 5-day ‘brush-up’ session. I wanted to go even deeper into ‘moldy oldie’ hidden patterns of belief and thought that have long-since ceased to serve me well. The miracle is that, as soon as I see those things and how they’re affecting me, the “Aha!” response gets set off and I just simply . . . change . . . my . . . mind. At that instant, I see things differently, the sky clears, and the sun starts shining into those too-long-dark nooks and crannies of my heart. Of course, it hurts while you’re doing it (so does ripping off a band aid) but, when you come out the other side, there’s a sense of liberation like nothing else.
When I returned from this program at the end of last week, people came up to me and said things like, “What happened to you?” and “You look different!” Evidently change on the inside creates huge changes on the outside. However, contrary to a lot of people’s belief, changes on the outside seldom create genuine change on the inside. That’s why you can’t buy your way to happiness, or eat your way, or pleasure your way, or even work your way there. Your midlife transition invites you to do the inside work first and, amazingly, the outside has a way of catching up with it. Tired of getting the same old same old? Then maybe it’s time to derail the train of thought in your one-track mind and consider, just for now, that nothing in your world may be at all what it seems!
H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC
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