Living by Choice Versus Chance
I love this quote because it speaks so clearly to the difference between living consciously and making conscious, purposeful choices about how we think, feel, and act, versus allowing our experience of life to be ruled by unconscious reactions to the situations and people who happen to “chance” into our lives. Further, for those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that our conscious decisions and unconscious reactions actually come from the conscious and unconscious parts of the brain.
For example, the lower 20% of the brain (the limbic system and brainstem) are by nature unconscious, meaning that they react to stimuli and affect our experience of life in a way that is, for the most part, outside of our awareness. This is exactly how it should be when we need to react without thinking to be safe in a fight-or-flight situation. In fact, even when all is well, this unconscious part of the brain regulates heart rate, breathing, blood pressure etc., which is great, because if we had to think about and make conscious choices about all these bodily functions all of the time, we would become easily overwhelmed.
The problem happens when the unconscious limbic system interprets some person or situation as dangerous (requiring a fight-or-flight reaction) versus simply negative, and engages the unconscious brainstem. This triggers reactions such as stress, worry, frustration and/or anxiety which only makes the original negative stimulus seem more threatening, and a cycle of stress and frustration is born and exacerbated.
The solution, therefore, is to ensure that the conscious brain (the neocortex, what I call the “Top of the Mind”) is making purposeful choices with respect to how we interpret life and the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that follow. For example, if we understand that our negative emotions and reactions are the result of the middle brain misinterpreting some negative situation or person as dangerous or worrisome, we can then choose to either feed/trust that reaction, or change it.
Do we choose to deal with the situation from a position of worry, anxiety, stress and frustration, or do we believe that clarity, confidence, and creativity would better serve us?
If our choice is the latter, what would trusting these more purposeful qualities or characteristics look like? In other words, how would we be dealing with the situation differently? Further, what if we went into life having chosen whether we are going to trust our conscious actions or unconscious reactions? That is, what if we front-loaded how we want to think, feel, and act so that we go into situations already clear about the best of who we are, and have made bringing these qualities to life our Highest Purpose, or the most important thing that we do? How would this affect our experience of life?
As Mr. Walsch put’s it, “A Life lived by choice is a life of conscious action. A life lived by chance is a life of unconscious reaction.” Maybe it is really that simple. Do we want to live a life of choice or chance… a life of conscious action or unconscious reaction… a life ruled by the lower 20% of the brain or the upper 80%? There is one thing that is for sure…if we don’t choose consciously, the choice will be made for us by our unconscious, and the result will be a strengthening of our old reactions.
That’s the bad news. Here is the good news. If we are willing to make coming from the best of who we are and the “Top of the Mind” our Highest Purpose (or the most important thing in our life), and practice this conscious way of life almost all the time, this will result in a more purposeful experience of life. In addition, each time that we access this part of the brain, we will create and strengthen a more purposeful neural pathway. Do this enough times and these more positive neural pathways become our new habits!
In other words, our unconscious reactions will gradually become congruent with our conscious actions, and the result will be a clear, confident, creative experience of life where “chance” is no longer the deciding factor in terms of what we think feel and do… something worth our energy and efforts, don’t you think?
~ All the best, Dr. Bill