Sometimes, you and your body find yourselves at cross-purposes. Here’s how to take control.
Ok, imagine I’m a magic genie.
With a swish of my silky pants, I offer you a magical bargain. I hold out both of my hands. In one hand there’s a red bean. In the other hand there’s a blue bean.
I say, “The red bean will make you happy. The blue bean will make you certain. Which one do you choose?”
I can make you happy or I can make you certain.
(Or looking at it another way, I can cure unhappiness, or I can cure uncertainty.)
Which one would you choose?
At this point, it sounds kind of silly right? Of course you would choose happiness.
Happiness is everything. We talk about having a fundamental right to the pursuit of happiness. There’s no right to the pursuit of certainty.
Happiness is life. (I saw it written on a chopping board in a home-wares store in Westfields, so it must be true.)
And so you think you will take the red bean, and you imagine passing your days away with a blissful smile on your face, your grandchildren dancing around the petunias in your garden.
But when you go to grab the red bean, something strange happens. Your body stops doing what you want it to do. In fact, every time you go to grab the red bean, your hand darts over and tries to grab the blue bean.
You become locked in a tussle with your body. Your body desperately wants to grab the blue bean. It’s doing everything it can to route your bio-electrical energy to your blue-bean grabbing hand.
To grab the red bean, you must summon all of your will and focus. You must keep your mind in almost meditative focus, single-mindedly set on your goals of happiness and contentment. You must crack the whip of discipline over your body. You must rise above your instincts and take a firm hold of the reins.
It takes will. It takes discipline. It takes extended focus. But finally, you manage to do it.
You grab hold of the red bean of happiness.
At that point I tell you that they’re not actually magical beans. I’m just making a laboured point for the sake of a blog.
But that point is important. You and your instincts have very different attitudes when it comes to unhappiness and uncertainty.
As far as your body is concerned (and I’m using ‘body’ here as a short-hand for our instinctual biological drives), uncertainty is the enemy.
Along with loud noises, the dark and things with sharp-teeth, uncertainty is terrifying.
Because if there is uncertainty, there is the possibility of death. Staying alive is the primary directive, so if uncertainty even only remotely opens the way to death, then it is to be avoided at all costs.
As far as the body is concerned, there are very few things in life worth taking a gamble on – specifically, sex and energy-rich foods. For everything else in life, there is no appetite for risk of any sort.
Unhappiness on the other hand is just a sort of inconvenience. It’s unpleasant, but not particularly problematic. No one ever died of unhappiness. It never even really stopped people having sex. Models look surly all the time and imagine how much sex they’re having.
As far as you body is concerned, happiness is a lower-order priority.
And if given the choice between happiness and certainty – the red and the blue bean – your body would choose certainty every time.
And so even though you think you are living the pursuit of red beans, if you are not watching yourself carefully, if you are not cracking the whip of discipline – then you are probably just chasing blue beans.
Or, as soon as you stop watching yourself – as soon as your goals slip from your focus – you will willingly do things that make you unhappy, as long as they make your life more predictable and safe.
This is the human condition.
You can’t fix this. You can’t change your biology.
But you can work with it. Make this tendency conscious, and develop practices (like goal setting and meditation), that give you greater control over yourself.
Red beans are possible…
But only through consistent discipline, will and focus.
This is your lesson for today.