Sometimes it starts with something as simple as two little letters. “It”. It can describe a multitude of things: items, places, events, a problem, an action, or an activity…It is an amazing word we use to describe everything from simple references to our deepest inner desires.
I think it’s safe to say, we all have had an “it”. What is IT that you have always wanted to do? Where is IT that you have always wanted to go? Who is IT that you have always wanted to meet, or possibly be with? Have you ever done IT? Gone to IT? Been with IT?
I have had several ITs in my life. I always said I wanted to run a marathon, travel to Europe, learn how to horseback ride, and do countless other things. Some of these things I have done: I’ve run a marathon, and that’s well…IT. I haven’t been able to do one of my ITs because I discovered I am deathly allergic to horses, but I digress. Thinking of my ITs had me wondering: why is it that so many people dream of their ITS but never pursue them? In my experience, I have found that we so often build up these ITS and place them on a pedestal somewhere untouchable. I have caught myself saying things like, “In my next life I will do IT” … “Maybe one day I’ll go to IT”. Why do I use these expressions? I believe I only have one life, and tomorrow is never guaranteed, so why not do IT in this life?
Once upon a time, I wanted to go to University but wasn’t sure what I wanted to study, but I did it. I wanted to work a full-time job that provided for me, and I did that. I did the hobbies I enjoyed, and I filled my days with these bits of IT-s. These bits of IT-s became part of my identity: I was the psychology major who drove a bus and was a movie buff. But, I was not deeply connected to these bits of ITs. Five years later I was dreaming of other things—going back to school to study something other than Psychology, finding another job in a different field, and engaging in a different hobby. It seemed like who I currently was wasn’t who I wanted to be.
So how did I get here? How did I end up in this place where I was wishing that every aspect of my life were different?
When Bits-of-It-s add up, they become haBITS. A habit is described as “a settled tendency or usual manner of behaviour.”
Our usual habits often become our identifiers. For example, I often identify people based on their occupation or favourite pastime–They are a professor, a bus driver, a gamer, a bookworm, etc. I do this because whoever I am referring to spends the majority of their time practicing that identifiable skill or activity. In that sense, habits shape us and how the world identifies us.
When I meet people for the first time, they usually ask: “what is your name?” and “what do you do for a living?” From this, I presume that the two most valuable things about me are my name and my job.
(How many of you know of at least one person who is open about disliking their job?)
My psychology degree taught me that the human mind does not like conflict within itself; our minds look for consistency and contentment between our actions and perceptions. If a conflict arises within us, like hating your job, then this conflict sparks discomfort: cognitive dissonance.
When a person is holding onto two conflicting values, they tend to find excuses, rationalizations, and justifications for why they continue to perform repetitive, sometimes unhealthy actions. I hated my job, still, I went to work every day. For nine to twelve hours a day, I repeatedly performed this action because I convinced myself that I had to stay at this particular job. My rationalizations were: money, pension, benefits–I justified that what I was receiving in return was making up for my daily discomfort.
This can go for not only our job choices but any aspect of our lives and practices.
The tricky thing with Habits is they start as a conscious action but they eventually turn into a subconscious decision. If you continuously make the same decision over and over, it takes less time and effort for the brain to perform that action–otherwise known as running on autopilot; the longer you perform a habit, healthy or otherwise, the more ingrained the habit becomes and the harder it is to change it.
To inhabit means to live in or occupy a place or environment. Ultimately, we can end up inhabiting our habits. Humans love to function within the familiar. We often call ourselves “creatures of habit”. But what does that mean? Our thoughts and our actions every day determine how we function; do we perceive our futures with open-minded possibilities, or limiting beliefs? This will be different for each individual. For me, I inhabited limiting beliefs for a long time. I became so used to waking up and going to my job, I stopped questioning that action. I became so used to coming home from work and lounging on the sofa all night, I stopped considering there were other ways to spend my free time. I held onto the fear of failure, fear of the unknown, and the fear of not being good enough to become what I truly wanted to be, which held me back from taking the initiative to change my position.
Unfortunately, what made me turn a corner was a violent wake-up call – I spoke about this in my CAT(ER)PILLAR presentation at last year’s symposium. After a workplace accident forced me away from the job I was doing, I had to pivot in a new direction professionally and personally. I let go of my limiting beliefs out of the necessity of embracing what was now possible. I started asking myself what I wanted – what were my ITS? My ITS were going to YorkU to study writing, working in a field that involved helping others reach their potential, and changing my own lifestyle – I had always wanted to get into fitness and bodybuilding. This time, instead of instantly reciting my limiting beliefs to hold me down, I started seeing possible pathways to how I could make my ITS work.
I wondered, why didn’t I do this before? Why couldn’t I see all of these possibilities before?
When our current habit paths end, we are left with unlimited options of unobstructed paths to choose from. Once I accepted that I could not continue on the path I had been on, I had to choose another way – I had to escape my comfort zone of comfortable habits and embrace the leap down the rabbit hole to discover new ones.
Today I am happy to say I am doing all of my ITS and I am inhabiting my new habits. I just finished my 3rd year at YorkU in the Professional and Creative writing program, I’m now working as a fitness coach, and I’m about to compete in my first bodybuilding competition in 5 weeks! Change is possible. I realized those unobstructed paths to my ITS had always been there. I wish it hadn’t taken an accident to pivot my mindset to start looking for the possibilities and new directions. Sometimes the only obstruction on our paths is us and our own limiting beliefs.
MICHELLE PATTISON holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Ontario Tech University and recently completed her third year of the Creative and Professional Writing program at York University. She is passionate about how language can be used to uplift and encourage continued progression and improvement. Michelle channels her writing in the hopes it will inspire others to pursue their passions fearlessly, even in times of adversity. Metanoia is Michelle’s second year as a PWSA symposium panelist.