Last week I really enjoyed some performers that came all the way from Los Angeles to play at my local live music event, Live at The Institute. They’re called Sweet Talk Radio, and if you enjoy laid back harmonies and intelligent, evocative lyrics, pop along to their website and give them a listen.
The set was packed with tremendous material, but I really perked up my ears when singer Tim Burlingame delivered the following lyrics:
“Life was always in pencil, it was easy to change,
The words, all the plans that I put on the page
Nothing was permanent it was all sketches back then,
But she, she’s got me writing in pen.”
‘Writing in Pen’ is a truly sweet song about long term love, but to a Coach the idea of something either being ‘written in pen’ or ‘written in pencil’ beautifully encapsulates the concept of habitual thinking, both helpful and unhelpful.
Habitual thinking is a spell we humans can easily fall under. All too often we really do believe that we are stuck with a script of how our life will be, and that we have to see it through to its inevitable, bitter end. After all, it’s been ‘written in pen’, hasn’t it?
As adults we are often quick at spotting when beliefs and habits are being written into others – particularly children. We see a highly indulged child, and sagely comment that she is being ‘spoiled’, already envisaging the insufferable adult she is doomed to become. When we read about a man who has committed an act of cruelty, we are rarely surprised to learn that the perpetrator has been a victim of abuse himself.
And yet, time and again, people do manage to carve out a future that is seismically different to that which their background and circumstances would seem to have scripted for them. How do they do that?
In reality, we carry on re-writing ourselves our whole life long. Sometimes we are blessed by life, sometimes we are knocked about by it. Life helps us to discover amazing personal resources and depths of strength, so that we can not only survive the hardest heartbreaks, we can later look back and see the many ways those helped us grow. When we can find the strength to turn our toughest times into something truly positive, I believe that’s when human beings are at their most magnificent.
And what happens then is that people stop simply following the script. They start consciously – bloody-mindedly, even – taking control of life for themselves, and actively creating a new story. Be in no doubt, the thoughts you and I habitually think WILL influence the actions we take. And the actions we take WILL shape the outcomes we get.
If your habitual thinking means you ‘KNOW’ you’re not going to get that date, that promotion, that peace of mind, that funky pair of Doc Martens, guess what? You never will.
If however you re-write your thinking and instead consider how you’re GOING to get those things…well, you’ve already started on the road to a different set of outcomes, haven’t you?
Do you feel that some of your habitual thinking isn’t serving you well? Then here’s what to do. Whip out a new sheet of paper – right now, either literally or metaphorically – and starting jotting down the ways of thinking that will start getting you more of what you want.
Then make that thinking your default, by deliberately and consistently applying it over and over again until the old, unhelpful habitual thinking fades away. One day soon you’ll realise that you have a bright, shiny set of values, beliefs and perspectives that you are living and shaping your life by.
And once you know they are working out for you, consider them written in pen.