Do It Your Way

Created June 9 2023

Welcome to this week’s Bill Harvey Blog.

Every human being is unique. A combination of genes and experiences that has never existed before and will never exist again. You are one of these unique creatures.

Then, why would your conversation, for example, sound like everyone else’s?
It’s partially because much of our learning is by imitation. That’s OK as a starting point, but then a fully realized individual will assimilate all of the different body movements and ideas that have been taken in imitatively. Not continue for an entire lifetime frozen into those imitated attitudes and behaviors.

Everyone has had the experience of having a friend or acquaintance who always says exactly the same things in any given type of situation. That person is playing tapes from his or her mind.

Everyone has had the version of this experience involving some unfortunate people who have lost some part of their short term memory, and continue telling you the same stories, over and over again.

Imagine for a second that you, yourself, are a little bit that way. Not because of memory loss but simply habit.

How many times a day do you say the same word?

A few of us have been lucky enough to see monkeys, like in a zoo, or maybe even in the wild. Monkeys learn by imitation and you can see their learning take place, you can watch as they copy another monkey or a person – maybe even you are that person they are copying. Monkeys are closely related to humans, sharing a common ancestor, and seeing the way monkeys imitate can tell us a lot about ourselves, and get us to question all of our beliefs and ideas and attitudes, because maybe they became “ours” during a similar process.

It’s fun not to be a predictable person. That often requires giving fresh thought to a question rather than simply popping out the thing you always say about that question. That freshness is fun too. It isn’t a mistake to be playful in life, as long as your conduct suits the occasion. All of life is the playfulness of consciousness expressing itself.

It’s easiest to see how imitative behavior is formed when observing children, they are in the thick of it. Often, they don’t know the complete meaning of what they are saying, they are just repeating something they’ve heard. The problem is that this can continue way into adulthood.

You can imitate
Everyone you know
I told you so
–The Beatles, “I Dig a Pony”

We all value our freedom. We have a sense of free will: we observe ourselves making a decision, and we feel it inside when we have reached that decision. We know that we could have gone the other way. Therefore, we must have free will.

Some thinkers have pointed out that these feelings could be illusory, and that one could have predicted that decision from the outside, having observed your past behavior. It follows logically from this, that if you want to have free will and freedom of action, you need to study which actions you have been taking, and try to discern why you have been taking those actions. Especially, was there someone else who influenced you to begin that pattern of action. Only after careful self-analysis can you know for sure that you are establishing your own self as an independent thinker and action taker, not someone who has been other-directed for a lifetime.

Self-analysis starts with self-observation. You need to be aware of what you are doing from moment to moment, and why and how you are doing it. That is studying yourself as if from the outside. Each impulse that arises in you to do something is a phenomenon to be studied objectively. You don’t need to use words in your mind to ask yourself “why would I do that” before following the impulse and allowing your body to take the action, or ignoring the impulse.

The level of detail is important when you are observing yourself. You will want to focus on the details, not jump to one general conclusion right away. How do your eyes move and what happens to your breathing when you are thinking about a given subject. Your expression and body as you walk into a room – what are you projecting to others – and why, at that moment?

Study not only things that seem to be important but also things which seem to be trivial. When you get out of bed in the morning, how do you swing your feet to the floor, and how long have you been doing it that way? Does the position you sleep in remind you of anyone else – e.g., your father or mother? It’s important to actually experience the feeling of discovering these things about yourself. How much of you has been simply copied from your models, and how much has been independently considered by the real unique you?

You don’t have to be like your friend in order to be his or her friend. Be your self. But first you must discover who that self is.

In some cases you might come back to the same conclusions and ways of being as before. In other cases you may realize the way you do certain things – for example, the way you laugh sometimes is false and you’ve never liked that about yourself, you were mimicking someone else, and you’ve been doing it for a long time, and you’re going to learn how to break that habit by patiently catching yourself. At first, whatever program you are trying to delete from your repertoire will win over your will power, but as you persevere, you will gradually become dominant and the habit will eventually be totally broken, only to return in moments of extreme stress, until you lick it there too. Breaking conditioning is not easy but it can be done by this simple patient method.

But you have to be guiltless about your robot winning sometimes, especially in the beginning. Don’t let it depress you and don’t lose confidence. Accept that you will need to retrain your autonomic systems by not losing your cool, steadfastly and with resolve repeating the cancellation of those impulses as soon as you can in each situation. In some cases, you will have blurted something but you can explain and change your response to what you yourself truly feel in the moment. In other cases, you can stop it before a word leaves your mouth, but after you somehow telegraphed that you were about to say something. In the same way, you can truthfully explain the deconditioning you are going through, in order to become the person you are meant to be. There is no shame in metacognition, it’s a valuable skill that has never been given the attention in schools that it deserves. It will make you more effective and happier after your inner world housecleaning is done.

Love to all,


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