For a little child, being absolutely awestruck takes very little effort. With everything being new and astonishing, a healthy child is excitedly exploring the different avenues of life from inspiration to inspiration. Finding all the new wonderful things life has to offer creates a positive cycle for a child: the thrill and sheer wonder of the world around her fills her with energy enabling her to expand her borders; when she does, the cycle is ready to repeat itself. Again she’s filled with energy, and uses that energy to once again embark on a journey of expanding her world. The transmission seems to be on automatic!
Falling when learning to walk? Not a problem.
Food all over her face, the table and the floor even? It’s as if it didn’t happen!
It’s almost scary how good a child’s attitude can be when it comes to taking new ground. Closely observing and enjoying the most mundane phenomena, they’re natural explorers and scientists!
Years pass by, and the result of this cycle is astonishing. Given a protected environment the child undergoes a transformation increasing her capacity so much that it can be hard for the parents to grasp. Slowly, almost candidly, a stage is reached when the growing person has seen enough to no longer be phased by the structures and phenomena around her. The effortless amazement and the refreshment of it all slowly fades as the bar keeps getting higher and higher.
This is when an ‘automatic’ starts becoming a ‘manual'. This is when a child bridges over to adulthood. It sounds classic doesn’t it: gone are the golden days of childhood, enter grayscale adulthood.
Throughout our lives we find that many chapters can start with an ease and excitement, but suffer a decline later on. What started as an exciting opportunity can turn into a burden - we have a tendency to forget and to lose our focus. What if it didn’t have to go that way after all?
Similarly, the infatuation experienced during the first years of a relationship is made so effortless through the chemical cyclone that occurs in our brains. In this case the euphoria caused by chemicals such as norepinephrine enables us to feel the beautiful feelings of love, which makes us more inclined to act and behave accordingly. Soon, within a couple of years, the lovers will see a decline in the infatuation due to their brain chemistry changing back to normal. Again, reality hits hard, yet the story doesn’t quite end there.
Gary Chapman introduced a powerful thought in his book The five love languages.1 He ingeniously writes how there will be a day when the automatic, chemically induced feelings fade, but that is not the end. Rather, he goes as far as saying that that’s when ‘real love’ begins!
What is this real love? It’s the power of decision.
The nature of our human life is to eventually grow out of the season of 'easy amazement’. However, with the correct tools we’re able to develop what would otherwise be a passing season into a lifestyle. Now we may never escape the hardships of life, but we have control over what our points of focus are.
The key to harnessing and maturing the uncontrollable amazement we once used to have is to develop an attitude of effort and gratitude. In the same way a car with manual transmission needs a hand to switch gears, so does a life of wonder require conscious effort. However, do it enough and changing gears becomes almost like an automation. Heck - many (like myself) even prefer manual!
When you gently direct your mind to focus on the good things in your life - even ones that seem like a given to you such as a roof over your head or food on your table - you’re retraining your mind to eventually default to that attitude of wonder you experienced as a child. Through the power of consistent conscious decision we are able to shift what has become manual to automatic once more.
In order to get a deeper understanding of how consistent decision-making creates automations (habits), we need to look at how learning takes place in the brain. Keep in tune as next week we’ll take a peek inside of the mind!
1. Chapman, Gary, Dr. The five love languages: How to express heartfelt commitment to your mate. Chicago: Northfield Pub, 1995.