Can’t make up your mind — outsource! A recent article in the Globe & Mail* suggested that, in our over-busy world, we simply don’t have time to make all the trivial decisions that confront us every time we step into the intimidating and overwhelming aisles of an emporium. Choices abound — and challenge. Be it groceries, electronics — hell, even ordering a coffee is a forty-minute decision, most of the options for which I can’t even begin to translate. (Just for fun follow this link to Starbucks ‘menu’: http://www.starbucks.com/menu/catalog/nutrition?food=all#view_control=nutrition). The G & M’s helpful suggestion is to download an app that will ‘automatically’ navigate those banks of toothpaste, dish soap, cereal . . . Looks like some geek somewhere got it right — no doubt a dabbler in mindfulness practice.
The intimation is that, to truly ‘live mindfully’, we will do a couple of things: stay present and act with intention. The latter exhorts us to consider our choices with some measure of consciousness and awareness. This, of course, is the opposite of acting ‘mindlessly’, automatically. No problem — until we step out the door; and just maybe we need not even do that — just log onto the internet and well. . . TMI. And so we find ourselves in a bit of a bind. We can abide by the mindfulness dictum, acting intentionally. Which may translate into spending half a day in Zehrs: 30 minutes shopping and four hours ‘deciding with intention’ between the non-organically produced mixed greens from Leamington, costing us an extra 19 cents but satisfying our green planet mandate and the cheaper, Southern California equivalent which we’re obligated to bury in the bottom of the cart so the carbon footprint police don’t catch us; or maybe we could / should go to the local health food store and pick up the visually less appealing, but organically and locally grown produce and 150% more expensive and using more gas to make two stops instead of one . . . OR just do the automatic thing, and not give it a second (or even a first) thought! And get tossed out of the mindfulness club. Rock and a hard place it would appear.
Seems there’s some middle ground required. Our friendly app store geek may have it partly right: transfer the intention sideways — at least for the truly time consuming, but minor decisions that would chew up our day if we followed ‘the rules’ to the letter. This being said, automaticity, defined as ‘working by itself with little or no human input or control’, is definitely a two-edged sword. Once we’re out of Walmart or Starbucks, it may just be time to reinstate intentional behavior.
From the psychotherapeutic perspective, depending on the ‘theory school’ to which one subscribes, digging into the murky origins of one’s childhood is the sine qua non of change. Not because we discover the ‘real villain’ (mummy or daddy or the evil neighbor down the block) on whom to hang and blame all our neuroses; or because it allows an emotional release of all that suppressed angst. But precisely because it allows us insights into those behavioral paths, worn smooth by years (and years) of automatic responses — and, in the bargain, allowing us a choice. We can ‘mindlessly’ continue, for example, to respond angrily to frustration, because that’s how we saw annoyance acted out in our household. Or we can understand that this is a predictable knee jerk to which we’ll almost certainly fall prey if we just leave it to the engram that is the product of those years of unmindful, automatic impulse; and accordingly, at least offer ourselves the choice of behaving with tolerance, compassion, patience.
Most schools of thought emphasize at some level, an examination of our ‘core values’ as a precursor change. These, of course, are often devoutly held beliefs, inclinations, perspectives, views of self and others that have become increasingly ‘unconscious’ over the years; and, by extension, adopted as ‘personal truths’ and form the template on which ‘unintentional’ or automatic behavior is predicated. If we are to genuinely respond with intention / awareness, we need to begin the journey on that long and winding road of making these patterns, these pathways conscious again. We need to replace these ‘knee jerks’ with a ‘notice and choose’ strategy: taking careful note of those proclivities into which we automatically slide; then pause and decide if that is in fact the preferred response. Making an intentional choice.
As for toothpaste and latte’s, I’m OK having Mr. App Man take that on. For the more significant interactions of my day — maybe I’d like a little more personal say.