We humans love to put metaphorical stakes in the ground.
Our minds crave certainty and efficiency. As a way of feeling more certain, we love to label, classify, decide, and generally believe that we know what’s what.
Here’s how this can look:
Liz was struggling with a binge eating habit. To help her move past her habit, we talked about the fact that she is completely mentally healthy and habit-free by nature, and that all of her experiences in life are created by the moment-to-moment personal thinking that crops up on top of her mental health.
Learning something new (especially the kind of insightful learning we were doing, which has nothing to do with studying or practicing) can be a process. You see a little, you think you get it, then you aren’t sure…then you see some more, then you realize you’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. It’s always in motion, constantly changing as you’re seeing new things.
Your judgments of how-you’re-doing or what-you’re-seeing at any point are extremely skewed.
Ending a habit can go the same way. Often—but not always—it’s a process of seeing a bigger truth that begins to diminish the need for your habit, the habit dying down a bit, maybe cropping back up, then dying out for good. It definitely doesn’t always look this way, but it might. This way, or any way it looks, is perfectly normal.
Rather than sitting comfortably in that flowing, evolving, zig-zagging process, Liz was constantly stopping to evaluate herself and make predictions about things.
“I’m not getting it.”
“I had a great day today! Maybe I am seeing something after all.”
“I binged today. I am sliding backward.”
“This isn’t working.”
“This is working!”
“I can’t see myself feeling different in the future.”
Liz’s mind was busy, trying to put herself and her progress in a bucket so that it (her mind) could believe that it knew what was what; so that it could predict what was coming.
The problem with constantly sticking a stake in the ground is that you lock yourself in. Those stakes in the ground—in Liz’s case, the labels she kept giving to her experience—are nothing more than her opinion in that very second.
That’s the thing about life always moving through us—it doesn’t sit still long enough for our labels and judgments to be fitting for longer than it takes to make those judgments.
By the time the words come out of our mouths, things have already changed. But when we put a stake in the ground, we hold things in place a bit more.
Yes, in one moment her opinion was that she wasn’t seeing anything. But so what? That’s an opinion at one moment in time.
In one moment she binged, and in one moment she couldn’t imagine a future free of her habit. So what? So what? Those are snapshots of where her thinking was in a single moment, right before it changed.
They are not stable statements of fact and especially when they aren’t what she wants, they aren’t something to cement into the ground and hold on to.
When we let those thoughts and judgments go, our mind starts back toward ‘clear’. We have the opportunity for instant, constant do-overs. Instant, constant fresh starts.
Rather than letting our experiences flow right by, we get scared and say “hold the phone!! I have a declaration to make! I. AM. NOT.GETTING.IT”. And our declarations make it so. Life doesn’t make it so. Our declarations do.
Now, don’t become worried when you hear this. You might be reading this thinking, “man, I put stakes in the ground everywhere I go.” We all go through life calling things names and making declarations.
As long as you have a healthy brain that’s oriented toward efficiency and certainty, it’s likely to happen.
But you’re on to it now. Notice how you want to put yourself, your progress in life, your day, your habit into a bucket. You want to make a statement about it, give it a name, come up with a prognosis or prediction.
And remember that by the time you finish forming that thought, things are already moving toward being different. That’s the nature of our minds, with experience always passing through. It’s the nature of life.
And see if you can let things be a bit more fluid. Your stakes in the ground are comforting for a little while, but they are ultimately inaccurate and quite limiting.