Last month I was honoured to attend my Dad’s 80th Birthday party. Yes, 80. He still looks great, is active in the community and with his family, swims and sails (garage sale-ing that is). Getting together the list for the party was a fun but challenging task – due in part because of his wide network of friends and colleagues spread over the world and over time… but more about that later.
In writing a toast to the birthday boy, my husband Mitch and I did some calculations. 80 years is approximately 29,220 days. Most people, without realizing it, make about 5000 decisions every day. So doing the math, that comes out to over 145000000 decisions in eighty years. Wow! So what does that have to do with the subconscious mind? A lot.
Driving on Automatic Pilot
Continuing to read this is a choice that you’re making consciously. However, there are many decisions that we make each day that have become unconscious or automatic to us. How many of our daily actions are ‘what we do’ without our even thinking much about them? Take teeth brushing, for example – this is a habit that was instilled in me when I was young. I don’t particularly notice the process of brushing until I forget my toothbrush while traveling or run out of toothpaste. There are many decisions that happen daily that have been seemingly pre-ordained due to the influences of our family, our culture, our community or our generation.
Those decisions, many of which were made when we were younger, were often made with others ‘help’. Automatic teeth brushing still works for me so I keep doing it. Yet it is important to realize that a decision made once can’t be made again differently. Our flexible and powerful brains can redirect us when we’re going down a path that isn’t supporting us. At first, re-making a decision feels ‘harder’ or more unfamiliar, but as we relearn, that new behavior, thought or feeling pattern becomes the new normal. (hypnosis and self-hypnosis can make the change easier)
I’ve found that communication problems or wire-crossing with others often stems from our assumptions of ‘what we do’, which may not be the way that others have learned or understood. Sometimes the fastest way to resolve these breakdowns is to call into question our presumptions, and imagine how our customs may not be the same as everyone else. Our perspective is our own, filtered by our experiences and upbringing. Understanding that and including that sort of compassion and openness to conversations with others tends to make communication, and daily life, much easier.
Little Choices, Big Direction Change
Some little choices can change the course of our lives. After retirement, my father answered a little ad in a paper and as a result spent years teaching teachers in Prague. A conversation with a friend led me to discover a life with hypnosis. There are many choices we have made without even knowing it, whose outcomes are not known until much, much later.
There are the dramatic alternatives – you’ve heard of stories of people who missed a flight and the plane they missed went down (my great uncle’s platoon missed getting on to a Liberty ship which was sunk by U-boats in the Atlantic). Both a friend of mine and I had the experience last week of taking a second look at a green light just to find a truck barreling through a red (phew!), but I’m not necessarily anything that dramatic. So when there are so many choices, how do we make the ‘right’ one?
Robert Frost wrote, “two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both…” and I understand that on a daily basis – the problem is often there are too many, not too few choices to make.
I’ve asked the ‘long-lived’ for some aged guidance on this and have discovered this advice: aim to make a fair number of decisions that feel good to you, that align with your inner strengths and moral compass, and that, upon reflection, don’t have us second guessing ourselves. When we second-guess a choice, it may be our subconscious mind repeating an automatic pattern or it may be trying to tell us something. Take some time to listen as our intuition can hold a lot of subconscious awareness and insight.
Choose the road less travelled?
I realize that many people feel pressured to keep up with the Joneses’ of their lives, and then fall short of their own at the same time. Some people get frustrated by not keeping up with someone they are emulating (who may be emulating someone else, and so on and so on). This siren’s song of the ‘good life’ tends to be a moving target. And when we can only be happy IF or WHEN we have the ‘perfect’ house, the perfect relationship, the perfect job, we are hanging our emotional wellbeing on others and situations whose job isn’t to make us happy anyway. It is our own.
Robert Frost finished his poem with these words, “Two roads diverged in the wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
I don’t think this means that whenever people are going left, you go right, yet while we may share the path with others during our journey on it, we start and end it alone. How we travel by ourselves, within ourselves can make the difference between an enjoyable travel or a nightmare trip. We may need to reassess our earlier and automatic habits and patterns, and question prevailing ‘logic’ or marketing (depending on how you look at it). Working with your own internal guidance system can sometimes take you to wondrous places and awe-inspiring adventures.
But what about mistakes? If you are going to make thousands of decisions each day, over the course of your life there may be ones that might not have been the best choices at the time. Just remember that you were just working with the information and insight you had at that time and were doing the best you could.
Interestingly, some of the most intriguing escapades can stem from our mistakes or failures. E.M. Forster wrote, “we must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” There are too many examples to mention where my well-considered masterplan went pear-shaped, resulting in an even more interesting experience than I could have dreamed. These foibles have led me to new places and people I never would have been able to see and meet if I had ‘succeeded’ in my conventional direction.
What path are you taking?
Mark Twain reinforces the idea of taking your own path with the maxim, “we can’t reach old age by another man’s road.” So if you’re interested in having a great life into your 80s and beyond, you might want to pay attention to the decisions you’re making right now that will place you on the path to your future. Are there decisions that were made for you in the past that aren’t working anymore? Would now be a good time to make a change? Are the choices you make feeling good to you and do they work with your personal assets and ethics? Are you accidentally following another person’s star – and is it time to find your own? Is it time to take your own ‘road less traveled’?
To take the road less traveled sometimes requires courage. It requires a sense of self that allows you to go right when others go left. Because sometimes when there’s no one else on the road you might think you’ve taken a wrong turn. Because making choices that aren’t considered ‘normal’ tend to force others to look at themselves and their choices too – and that can be uncomfortable. This road; your road needs a quiet leader whose shoes couldn’t be fit by anyone other than you.
My dad’s life is an inspiration to me. He has worked and traveled all over the world, which might be similar to my path in some ways but we are each following our own dreams and gifts. He’s just one man, yet if the proverb holds true “you may know a man by the company he keeps”, then the collection of people and best wishes at his party place my dad as one of the most interesting and loved men on the planet. I think his friends would agree.
Find your path. Enjoy your journey!