Doing Something Different 2


So Fletcher discovered that people with 'bad habits' got rid of them completely and with almost no fuss simply by changing tiny, seemingly unrelated things in their other activities. No working on their body or their mind.

I've seen those with a cognitive bent find this a bit hard to swallow. That's not just cognitive scientists or therapists, but the average Joe in the street too. Many of us are deeply convinced that thinking is the central, controlling part of our whole experience, so are also convinced that unless you 'understand' your problems, you'll be stuck just fiddling around the edges of them.

We don't even seem to notice that plenty of the time we're not thinking at all, in the way we usually mean that term. We're just immersed in whatever it is we're doing, responding to the people and events around us without 'stopping to think' (revealing phrase) at all. The committed cognitivist counters here with mystical mumbo jumbo about our ideas shaping our entire experience and perception, sub-consciously - in other words they push the fantasy one level down, out of plain sight. It's special pleading, if it's not anything you can actually demonstrate in plain sight, it's not going to be any better an idea pushed into the sub-conscious.

Also we all know that as we grew up our ideas about things changed and matured, but do any of us remember sitting down and nutting it all out? Or did a whole lot of that happen because of the experiences we had, which flowed through into our ideas automatically?

What Fletcher stumbled upon without fully recognising it is the full continuity between ourselves and the world around us, and between our 'body' and our 'brain'. Nobody just thinks, just as nobody just breathes. Everything we do is part of a fully connected wider pattern of activity that can be described in simple everyday ways, like 'catching the bus' or 'making a cup of tea'. All the mind-body therapies, the cognitive sciences, anatomy and physiology - all the talk about minds and brains and bodies - it all slices and dices these wider patterns of things that are actually us. Who you are is partly that bus you take, that tea you drink, that breeze you walk through. It's not just your body. Those things 'erect' you, everything that happens in your body is the automatic response to those activities, which help to shape your actual physical being.

Once you understand that continuity the field is wide open to change your life. Take the frequent disagreements and dislikes between people, say at work or in the home, fighting with the teenage kids etc. Nearly every time we rush straight at what we've identified as the problem like a bull at a gate, counselling or talking something through, or having conflict resolution, or avoiding the other person altogether, and so on. We're convinced that unless we address that specific issue, it won't go away. But doing something different allows you to ditch all of that and drastically simplify your approach. Just change something else. Something tiny and simple and non-controversial. That's it.

If you're fighting with the kids, dump the issue altogether and change some routine in the house instead. Change lots of them. They won't even notice because it's not what you've been fighting about. Or if they do notice they won't make the link. If somebody at work gives you the shits, change some small thing about the routine at work. Change a few things. Do the same if your health isn't great, and everything the doctor is throwing at 'the problem' isn't really helping.

The beauty of all this, as Fletcher himself notes, is that not only are you breaking up the bad habits and problems in your life, you're enriching your life at the same time. This is the point - bad habits and problems are not mind or body problems, they're experiential patterns in a person's life. They're people in experiential ruts. And you don't have to expend one Joule of energy trying to figure out things, just change some of those everyday activities in small ways, and let life itself unravel that rut for you. Your focus is out into the world, into your activity, and away from your body and the mind you think is lurking up there in your head.

If you want to get all technical about it, and this is beyond how Fletcher describes this, it's really about equilibrium. It's not just science that deals with equilibrium, our own lives are a set of dynamic stabilities or equilibria constantly forming and re-forming and breaking up, with new patterns appearing as new things enter our lives, which we hopefully manage to inflect into some new equilibrium pattern. A chronic problem is equivalent to what scientists might call an 'attractor in phase space' - it's a particular equlibrium in your life that isn't productive from the viewpoint of you enjoying yourself very much. So to break out of this you do what breaks up all equilibria, you prod and poke and disturb things in some way, until a new equilibrium forms.

You do something different.

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