I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, she is my greatest muse when it comes to writers out there. I get her, I can relate to most of the things she share. This week has been an interesting one for me, so much going on and yet very little time to sit myself down and figure out what is really going on in my head and how to start changing the current issues that I do not like.
I randomly cam across this post extracted from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook page about following your instinct and the impact of the choices we make.
It reads as this:
Dear Ones –
“TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS” is perhaps the simplest and most common piece of advice out there. And on the surface, it seems perfectly reasonable. It’s an easy statement to share and to endorse.
At the very least, it seems harmless, right?
But I don’t always love these words.
Remember what an “instinct” is, after all — it’s something that you do without thinking. An instinct is a reflex. An instinct is subconscious. An instinct is a reaction.
It would be lovely to think that we are born with a pre-installed software package of perfect instincts, like a beautiful migrating bird, or hibernating bear. When migrating birds and hibernating bears follow their instincts reflexively, subconsciously, reactively and without thinking, then everything works out beautifully.
But humans are a bit more complicated than birds and bears. Or at least I am. And life has taught me that when I do things reflexively, subconsciously, reactively, or without thinking, the results aren’t always so great.
Take my twenties, for instance. Back then, my reflexive instincts told me to do all kinds of crazy things. My instincts told me to jump into the arms of a bunch of random men, for example, without giving much regard to their character, or to the consequences of my actions. My instincts instructed me to tell lies whenever I was cornered, in order to protect myself — again, no matter what the consequences. My instincts told me to eat all the donuts whenever I was sad. My instincts told me to bury my feelings and to run from problems rather than facing them. My instincts told me to engage in dysfunctional friendships based upon co-dependence, rather than respect. My instincts told me to buy a bunch of stuff that I didn’t need, or (in the case of my first house) that I flat-out could not afford.
If you had asked me back then what the hell I was doing with my life, I would have said something like, “I’m just going with the flow, man! I’m just following my instincts, baby!”
Honestly, you guys? I sort of feel like adulthood began for me when I finally learned to STOP following my instincts, and to start THINKING.
I’m a big fan of thinking — especially if you’ve noticed that your instincts have perhaps led you into trouble. Around the age of 30, I started finally noticing the patterns of self-created chaos in my life, and questioning my instincts and learning to pause before I leapt. Maturity sometimes means stopping and asking yourself, “Wait a moment — have I ever been in a situation like this before? And how did that situation turn out? Weren’t the results terrible? So what have I learned? So am I SURE I want to do this, then?”
I have spent years now learning how to act with consciousness instead of instinct. I worked with a therapist to determine WHY my instincts often created chaos in my life, instead of peace. I have learned to do the brave thing, instead of the automatic thing. And again and again I have instructed my intellect to override my instincts, in order to prevent chaos from repeating and repeating and repeating…
In so doing, I have retrained myself. I have changed my reflexes and my responses. Which means that slowly, over the years, I have shaped new instincts. Which ULTIMATELY means that finally (in my mid-40s) I am back to trusting my instincts again…but this time, it’s because my instincts can finally be trusted.
All of which is to say, dear ones, definitely always trust your instincts….but only if your instincts have a proven track record of being trustworthy. If not, then for the love of god and all that is holy, please stop trusting your instincts for a while, and sharpen your intellect, instead. Look at facts of your life, instead of blindly following feelings. You have a beautiful and rich mind — don’t be afraid to use it. Try to THINK, instead of just acting and reacting. Wake up to yourself. Study yourself. Look for patterns in your history. Be open to change. Become a student of your own behavior in life, and do the work to find out why your reflexive actions haven’t always benefitted you. Call in the pros if you need them. Do whatever it takes to trade in dysfunctional behaviors for life-affirming ones.
And then — carefully, wisely, patiently, consciously — create a whole new set of brand new, sparkling, trustworthy instincts…and follow them.
It can be done; I am living proof.