Living a more conscious life by being purposeful about the choices you make and opening your mind to other ways of both being and doing.
Let’s start with a question……
How often do you notice yourself being on auto-pilot?
Following a regular journey when you meant to take a different route?
Reacting to something/someone in the same way when you’d promised yourself to behave differently next time?
Or, perhaps more significantly, moving away from or suppressing what you really want in order to meet someone else’s needs or expectations?
This kind of unconscious thinking, processing and, in some ways, behaviour is incredibly important as it makes the things that we do often as easy as possible and, as a result, uses up far less of our precious mental energy – it’s often known as creating a habit.
For example, I couldn’t tell you the exact process I go through to clean my teeth because it’s something that I’ve done twice a day for the last 37 and a half years (that’s somewhere in excess of 25,000 times). And because it’s so well practised and indoctrinated into my life, I can do it without fail and without consuming any willpower or general thinking energy – to the point where I’m very able to think about something completely different whilst doing it.
Sometimes the habits that you generate are very useful and positive, often supporting you with your self-care. But you’re just as capable of practising something enough times to create an unhealthy habit and then may have to face the significant challenge of addressing and replacing it with something better.
Often people get carried away with the ease of unconscious living and forget that, although some of your norms (habits) and societies norms (expectations) are necessary and really useful, that you have the opportunity to step away from them whenever you choose – and, in my opinion, it’s really healthy to challenge yourself to do so on a pretty regular basis.
Live your life by design, not by default.
The big things
On at least a weekly basis, I find myself talking to clients about ‘conscious choice’. Often this is in the context of their perception of what’s ‘right vs wrong’ or ‘good vs bad’ – whereas my view is that anything (within reason) can be the right thing to do, as long as you’ve thought about it relatively carefully, evaluated it based on your priorities and preferences and have, therefore, made a conscious choice about what you’re going to do.
This way of operating and making choices is in contrast to just taking the easiest route, the path of least resistance, doing what everyone else has done or scrimping on your research.
By being more conscious in your thinking, you’re able to open your mind to significantly more options and opportunities – rather than being confined and restricted by either what you’ve always done before or by what someone else/society has prescribed or expects from you.
I find this often comes into play with big decisions, like career choices for example. The starting position is a fixed mindset with limited choices…..I can only work in this industry because I need to earn this amount of money. The problem here might be an unconscious assumption around $$ – when first challenged on this, they often don’t even know the amount they need to earn in order to have a nice contented life.
Of course there are parameters within which we have to operate when making big, life altering decisions. But I’d encourage you to challenge exactly what they are and where their boundaries lie before you let them restrict your range of choices.
The little things
We all develop expectations for and assumptions about ourselves – it’s impossible not to do. They’re shaped by our parents, our formative experiences, our own standards, hopes for the future and, more and more so these days, by media coming to us at pace from the wider world.
Whether it’s the way you look, what you wear, what you eat, where you hang out, how you spend your time – there are an infinite number of tiny things which you can become particular about because it’s what’s expected of someone like you or even just because.
Differences in tastes and preferences make the world interesting but make them yours, based on what works best for you and what gives you the greatest overall contentment and satisfaction in life. Don’t end up staying in the job you don’t enjoy just because you need to earn the kind of money that enables you to go to the expensive restaurants in a certain part of town, when you’d actually be just as (or more) happy down the local pub with a lager shandy.
Conscious choice about the small things extends beyond the material facets of our life, you also have the opportunity for free and purposeful choice about how you react to the things that go on around you every day, about how you choose to experience your own life.
So much of your experience is open to interpretation – how someone feels about you, why they behave the way they do, how your life stacks up in comparison to others – you regularly have the choice about how you perceive things to be. What about if you made the conscious choice to seek and only respond to the truth and then to broadly follow the theme of being kind, positive and forgiving to yourself and others?
You could do that. You just have to make the choice.
The tough path
In my opinion, operating with conscious choice is a great way of thinking and being. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
Some people may feel that, along the way, they are victims of your empowerment – that you change from playing by their rules to playing by your own and that isn’t quite so convenient or beneficial for them.
Others may find it really challenging that you’re choosing to do things differently to ‘the norm’ because it challenges their own beliefs and the mode in which they operate or conduct their own lives.
Be aware of how others react and then decide whether to ignore them, perhaps because they’ve demonstrated that they’re more interested in themselves than what’s best for you, or find a way of communicating with them so they understand the choices you’re making – and perhaps you can influence them to be more conscious too.
If you’re finding it tough to:
Then I’d very much encourage you to go back to basics, think carefully about your priorities and preferences, determine what’s really ‘true’, test your assumptions again and perhaps experiment with a different way of thinking, doing or being.
Your original assumption may well hold true.
BUT if it doesn’t, your life may have just become conscious and you may have allowed yourself to open up to a whole new world of opportunities.
Hana Manthorpe is a recovering prolific overthinker and now works as a Mindset Coach helping other people with their thinking. She knows how overwhelming, confusing, frustrating and boring it can be when you’re stuck inside your own head and how much it takes you away from enjoying your experience of life. She prescribes, for herself and her clients, curiosity, consciousness, playfulness and compassion as the antidote for that inner critic.
You can find out more and read more from Hana at her website here