In yesterday’s video I talked about the tension in evolution’s competing drives and said there are practical and significant impacts in our life because of this.
The first drive is towards order and meaning. Order is just a mathematician’s way of describing the coordination and synergy that emerges when two or more things share a common goal.
The second drive is towards efficiency. “How can we get to our goal with the minimum of effort”? Habit’s are the mechanism that life uses to do this. A habit is something that is mindless, thoughtless, effortless and automatic; it’s a kind of machine that runs on autopilot.
Habits emerge to meet the needs of a particular situation, however because life is forever changing they can easily get out of date. For example, one of the most common types of habits are our emotional responses. A lot of the ways we relate to our life partners for instance are habits that we unconsciously picked up as children in relation to our parents. If you’ve had a partner I’m sure they can attest to this fact, as you can no doubt can for them. But living out of old responses that may no longer be relevant or helpful is only one of the downsides of habits.
Evolution’s drive towards efficiency means that our live’s are continually being drawn towards habits and habituality. It’s like a kind of gravity well that pulls us towards its machine-like efficiency. But in the process we give up what it takes over for us; our lives as a whole can become more mindless, thoughtless, effortless and automatic. But these are also the very things that makes our lives feel more nourished and meaningful. For instance, here are a few examples of things that can only be experienced or realised when we stop, and “wake up” from the general habituality of our daily grind;
- A feeling of gratitude or appreciation
- The opportunity to stop ourself from a habitual emotional response to something our partner just said
- A moment to reflect on how we could possibly have better handled that situation you were just in
- The development of a new direction in some area of our lives. Like a practice
I guess by now you may have recognised that all of these are types of practices. A practice is the antidote to habituality. Instead of being mindless, thoughtless, effortless and automatic, practices are mindful, choiceful, effortful and intentional.
I set this story up by talking about two drives of evolution or life; but, in fact there are three. And the third drive reconciles the tension of the other two. And that drive is towards conscious agency. In our own lives that simply means being the prime mover of them; what I call the Self-author or “self-authorship”.
And the underlying faculties of mindfulness, conscious choice, effortful action and intentionality are muscles. And like any muscle, they atrophy when they are not worked out, but grow in strength and fitness when they are. The stronger they are, the greater our ability to align our lives with the first drive of life, towards order AND meaning. And to create lives in which we flourish, and selves of which we are proud, and a world of which we love.