Evolution has two, somewhat competing drives, and these affect your life in a very real way. One drive is towards increasing order and power. Life seems to favour cooperation and synergy, so that parts cooperate with one another to create more complex coordinated wholes. Atoms in a sense cooperate with one another to form molecules which in turn create cells and organs and people etc. In the world of work, people form into teams and departments and organisations.
So it is with our selves. As we build our practice and in turn our self-authoring fitness, we strengthen our ability to coordinate our multiple selves into a single coherent self. Then all of our selves are pulling in the same direction. And coordinating all of our awareness, intelligence and will in the service of whatever is important to us. Just as a team or organisation is only as powerful as its coordinated parts, so too is our power as individuals and authors of our life limited by the coordination of our “selves”.
Evolution also favours a drive towards efficiency; that is the ability to do something with the minimum amount of effort and energy. Once life has found a proven tactic to achieve a particular outcome it makes use of this brilliant little technique called a “habit” in order to lock the proven tactic in. And then all the energy previously exerted in awareness and experimentation and choosing can be automated. Brilliant!
You can see the footprints of habits everywhere in life, from the obvious ones in our own behaviour, to our cognitive biases, our instincts and our autonomic nervous system. Habits are like a kind of machine; programmed, efficient, automatic, but also single-purpose and not adaptive to change.
And that points at the problem in the space between the Life’s drive for order and power and the drive for efficiency. Because life is forever changing, but habits are not. A habit is defined by its lack of change. So you can imagine that this difference might lead to a problem. Spoiler alert: It does.
And habits are everywhere. They are a kind of invisible matrix in which we are embedded. And we couldn’t live our life without the efficiency they bring to it. However, it’s a kind of Faustian bargain. Faust, in the German legend, trades his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge. We have traded the gifts of mindful awareness and conscious choice in exchange for efficiency. And this has numerous costs in our life, which I will talk about later.
The problem isn’t with habits per-say, but when, we as the authors of these habits, forget that we created them. We’ve set the machine in motion and walked away from it. Days, weeks, months and years pass by and it invisibly and automatically carries on doing what it’s programmed to do. But the operator is AWOL. No one is checking to see whether the habit machine should still be turned on.
So how are we going to find a way of reconciling these competing drives of evolution in our life? Because whilst this might sounds very abstract it actually has very practical and significant impacts in our life; indeed our very well-being depends upon it. What’s the answer? Tune in tomorrow, and I’ll spill the beans.