Why do you do the things you do?
Think about it, every decision you’ve made until now was governed by a force in your life, whether you realized it or not. From seemingly insignificant decisions like what you would eat for breakfast or wear to work, to life-altering decisions about who you would marry, or where you would live, every choice can be brought back to the same source.
Yes, who we are dictates what we decide, but what we decide also dictates who we are. It is a continuous, evolving cycle and whether you are aware of it or not, it is at work in your life right now. I call it the “principle-practice” model.
Your principles dictate your practices, and likewise, your practices dictate your principles.
How does it work?
Every time you make a choice, you re-enforce certain beliefs that you have about the world and yourself. We sometimes like to point to people who are obtusely racist or sexist as being prejudice, but we fail to acknowledge that every one of us, even the most egalitarian, brings prejudices based on our past experiences and our model of the world.
The difference is, most of the time it is in our subconscious so we cannot even identify we are doing it. We take action thinking that we have all the information, but we are merely repeating a past behaviour.
In the same manner, strong-held beliefs, or principles (beliefs that affect actions) will draw us to make choices without even realizing we are drawn to choose them based on more than external information.
For example, having the value (principle) of family first won’t necessarily mean family dinner together every night of the week, but it will mean deliberately spending time together. Likewise, practicing intentional time as a family will strengthen the principle of family first in your life.
The good, the bad & the ugly
The good thing about the principle-practice model is that you have the ability to change your own fundamental beliefs about the world and also the choices that stem from them. You don’t have to always do things because your parents taught you to do them growing up or because your friends are doing them now.
The bad is that you might be re-enforcing principles that, if you were asked blatantly if you held them, you would deny. For example, you believe, or at least profess to believe, that shopping local is the future of our economy, yet you consistently purchase things from chain retailers because of cost or convenience (or both).
This isn’t about judgement by anyone else in regards to your decisions, it is about each individual taking the time to understand that sometimes our walk and our talk don’t align.
The ugly is that I am guilty of playing jekyll and hyde roles in regards to what I profess to stand for and where my feet actually go. But there is yet hope.
Why should you care?
Once you imagine that you have tremendous influence over your own future, nothing can be accepted at face value again. So you want to get in shape but say that you’ve “never been the athletic type”. It no longer matters. If your new principle is that you want to be fit and healthy, your identity has shifted and your choices, from exercise, to diet, to social engagements, will be altered to reflect your new values.
In the same way, if you begin introducing activity and healthier food options, you will begin to re-inforce the principle that you are a fit person who lives a healthy lifestyle, making those outcomes even easier to make in the future.
If you’re not sure where to begin, start by looking at whether you want to change your practices or your principles and then begin taking small action to align them and begin living out what you believe.
Change takes time Just as you didn’t get where you are today through one decision (though one choice can often impact subsequent ones), you won’t change your practices or your principles overnight. It takes time to reflect on where you are, how you got there, and determine where you want to go next. But each choice you make, both large and small, is laying a stone in the foundation of your future. And don’t you think it is worth taking the time to ensure those stones are properly placed? The more solid our foundation, the higher and stronger a house we can build on top. Decide for yourself who you want to be today and make the choices that will get you there tomorrow.