Free Will and Mastering your Environment
Does the environment create the man, or does the man create his environment?
As many scientific studies show, the environment we grow up in affects the type of person we become--from our genes to our personality to our looks. The foods we eat and our emotional responses to certain events in our lives also shape us. This may seem to thwart the whole “free will” argument, and to a greater or lesser extent it does. Thieves, murderers, rapists, and the like are brought up in an environment where such behaviors can occur. Hell, this is a goal of the Zeitgeist Movement and the Venus project: to create an environment that encourages educated thought and that values sustainable living rather than destructive and unsustainable practices.
However, adopting such ideas without awareness of the consequences could be self-damaging. If you submit to an ideology of having no control over your environment, you turn yourself into a victim, placing blame, making up excuses, complaining and focusing on the problems which you have no control over. It may make you leave your own responsibilities behind you if you are more zealous in this train of thought. This is dis-empowering and may put you into a state of apathy, or worse. It can potentially even detract from your productive life on a more subtle, yet still noticeable level.
Is there a way to master our environment, or is our only choice to obey the nature of our reality and adapt to it? I firmly believe there is a way to consciously take control of our own reality on an individual level. As the author of this blog, I have made conscious choices that led to many productive changes in my lifestyle, escaping unproductive habits and shifting into writing and drawing instead of idly feeding myself entertainment.
The following steps are just ideas on how to give yourself power and permission to make conscious changes in your own lives instead of forfeiting them to your environment.
1. Admit your environment influences your decisions.
This is the easiest step for open-minded individuals, but it could be the hardest step for those who tend to succumb to the status quo or unhealthy habits. You have to make yourself aware of your own problems and conditioning before you can create the changes you want to see.
2. Figure out what influences you personally.
Now, when you admit you have influences in the first place, next you must find out what exactly is causing you to make your decisions. “Am I financially strapped? Am I stuck in a pattern of destructive behaviors? Why do I accept this bit of information while rejecting this other bit of information as truth? What did I do today and why did I do it? Why do I listen to this piece of music?” Just a few examples of questions we should ask ourselves. Also a wonderful idea is to write a journal and list these influences on yourself. No weapon is greater than exposure to information.
3. Mentally and emotionally prepare yourself.
This takes time and practice. Before you can even plan out change you must picture yourself where you will be after you make it. The more vibrant your visualization and feeling is, the easier it will be to manifest it. The more mentally prepared you are, the easier it will be to see opportunities, especially compared to someone with a mindset that they are a victim of their conditioning.
Personally, I meditated on and off trying to get into a productive lifestyle, but then an amazing synchronicity happened in my life when I decided to deactivate my Facebook account for a while. When I logged on to deactivate my account I was made aware of an Anime convention just 10 miles away from my town. Since the day I went there I noticed an enormous change in my lifestyle, drawing, writing, and exercising nearly every day, as opposed to hardly doing anything.
Make yourself willing to receive the change you want and let go of any resistance. Let go of your conditioning and past experiences, and allow in the changes mentally. Just do that and you will notice more opportunities open up for you. Also, let your vision be as flexible as possible. If you want a new car, for instance, but it "must" be a certain color, then an otherwise perfect car for you would be passed up since you were to stubborn for that specific color.
Most importantly, affirm yourself every day that you made the conscious decision to make the changes in your life. Affirm that you create your reality every day. This helps build the confidence in you to be willing to make the changes you want.
4. Plan out ways to change your environment.
When we write down what we think is greatly influencing us, we have channelled this new mindset to give us an expanded view on our issues. Now is the time to plan out a course of action to remove or negate these influences. Note that not ALL influences are necessarily bad. In fact, you may want to keep some of these influences, like your best friends if you feel they're truly helping you, or maybe your favorite hobby that you enjoy and feel productive in. List your conditions that you accept as part of your reality and mark off others that you want to change or eliminate. After that, set goals for making the reality you want to accomplish by going through each aspect you have written down that you want to change.
5. Convince yourself: “I can, and WILL do it!”
“If you believe in yourself, and with a tiny pinch of magic, all your dreams will come true.” - Spongebob Squarepants. (Yeah sure why not a quote from such a silly kids' show?)
In a course I took for college, a textbook described the cycle of failure and success. If you start off with low self-esteem, you will naturally have low performance expectations, which leads to reduced effort and higher anxiety. The result of this cycle of failure leads to actual failure. On the other hand, if you have high self-esteem, you will have high performance expectations, increased effort and lower anxiety, which will then result in actual success.
Now, it's one thing to say “I can do it” and it's another thing to say it and feel it. You have to set your intention onto the task you want to complete, no matter how hard it may seem. This goes back to step 3 of preparing yourself mentally, but the difference this time is to focus on the success during the process. Take 15 minutes just to meditate to tell yourself that you are indeed capable of changing your livelihood. Visualize your success - even feel your body and emotions moving in accordance to your success
6. Change and reject homeostasis.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” - Charles Darwin
This step can be a difficult one, but if you maintain your mental mindset and convince yourself you can do it, then you should feel at ease. The mind, body and soul rejects change, no matter how beneficial it may be, or even how dangerous it would be to remain the same. Change is something we all have to overcome. If we want to live in a globally sustainable community, we will have to implement change on a grand scale for it to work, which resistance, as we witness daily, is already difficult to overcome. The only advice I can really give is to try to change little by little. Think of the analogy of the frog and boiling water: If you throw the frog into it immediately it will try to escape. But if you slowly increase the temperature over time it won't notice a thing. Try making smaller changes that add up to bigger outcomes.
Perhaps the biggest way to change is to completely remove yourself from your current surroundings and immerse yourself in a completely different world. Move out of your house for a bit if you feel brave enough. This may be a bit too drastic, but if you're the kind who thinks they're the more head-on approaching kind, then this could be a good way to push you into making your own reality directly. This is what worked for me, as I mentioned above, removing myself from the same old house for one whole day just to experience an Anime convention. But that only came through to me once I was able to see the opportunity, thanks to my mindset. Sure, it might have still been there, but I most likely would've rejected the offer since I used to not go out without any plans.
7. Keep the results and overcome symptoms of homeostasis.
“A habit is only a habit when you are unconscious of it. Once you have been made conscious of your habit it is now a decision.” - Bashar
Once you think you have overcome homeostasis, you may feel tempted to get back into the old ways. This may even result in physical “symptoms” like twitching and increased anxiety. This is the homeostasis trying to fight you and get a grasp back into your life. Remember, body, mind and soul reject change. The smaller the change, the less likely the struggle will be. If you think you may be changing things too fast, take a step back and add in something small to help you go forth.
Likewise, you can try to increase your tolerance for bigger change by simply training yourself. One way to train yourself to take bigger steps forward is to make a playlist of random songs you like of random genres. Mix them around in a random order and just listen to it. Listening to a smooth jazz song then a heavy metal song following it may feel awkward at first, but this could (hypothetically speaking) help you tolerate bigger changes in your life in other aspects than music. If it seems a bit too intense, organize several songs in a category and mix the categories up. Do what makes you most comfortable and then slowly push yourself toward discomfort. Another practice you can do with music is to try to change your attitude. If you are in a sad mood, try playing uplifting music, then tell yourself out loud "I made the decision to be happy in this moment."
As said in the previous step, if you feel you need an extra boost, immerse yourself in a different environment physically. Maybe you don't have to move out, but you could rearrange your furniture to try to get a visual and physical feel of change.
8. Relax and reflect.
Are you satisfied with the results? What could you do better next time? Do you feel you must repeat the tasks you have accomplished? No matter how stressful the task may have seemed, you should just relax and say, “I'm glad I got that done. I made the conscious decision to do this.” This will encourage you to continue practicing making your reality truly yours. Take more notes so you can learn from your mistakes and improve on your process.
Here's an example of how this could work:
Say you want to read more challenging material, like “Science and Sanity” by Alfred Korzybski. Seems like a challenging goal, but you can follow these steps to help you accomplish it.
Step 1: Once you understand that you feel intimidated by reading such difficult material, then you may begin changing that.
Step 2: Why does it feel difficult for you to read this piece of material? Do you feel you won't get anything out of it? How capable are you of retaining information? Where should you start? Should you read something less intense first? Ask yourself where your boundaries lie and question why you have such boundaries.
Step 3: Take a moment out of your daily life to relax and affirm yourself. Build the confidence inside you and trust yourself that you will be able to understand the material. Tell yourself you will bring back lots of useful information. Imagine and feel yourself finishing the entire book and imagine what information you can share thanks to reading it.
Step 4: Once you figure out where your boundaries lie, then you take the next step to plan and organize your way through reading “Science and Sanity.” You may want to have sticky-notes available, or maybe start with a book slightly less challenging than Korzybski's work.
Step 5: Once you feel ready to tackle this challenge, all you need to do is say, “I will comprehend every bit of information in this book.” Take a 15-minute break from your life and just meditate on your goal. Keep a high self-esteem so you can create the cycle of success.
Step 6: Now begin reading the book. Perhaps one of the more difficult things is to just push yourself to do something. It may seem daunting at first, but you're taking every note you think is necessary. If you come across a word you don't know the meaning of, have a dictionary or thesaurus next to you. You should have clear and focused intent on the goal. Even after each couple of chapters take a few minutes to meditate and think about the material brought to you.
Step 7: All right ... you finished the first chapter. Good. Now keep it up! There are many more to go! The problems you may experience may include not taking notes, getting distracted by your TV, window, thoughts, or computer, answering that text message and wasting 10 minutes talking to your friend, or forgetting all the information brought up in the last chapter you read. When you're in the middle of a task you may want to move your attention to something else. This is what you should be training yourself to do, maintaining focus until what you want done is done. However, if you feel distracted, don't let this discourage you!!! Forgive yourself, and just be thankful for what you have accomplished.
If you feel you're distracting yourself too much, then simply stop! Take a breather and relax. You may be reading more than you can handle at the time. Just calm down and take another brief moment to relax. Doesn't have to be long, but you should just process the information you have received in the last bits you read. Once you have done that, take a break from reading until you feel confident in reading again. Always remember your intention. Your intention is perhaps the strongest emotion you can have to be productive. Patience is the key; be patient with yourself and the book, and before you know it you will have read through it all.
Also, note each distraction and what your reaction was. Catch yourself being distracted in the middle of reading. Then make new affirmations, telling yourself that you won't be distracted.
Step 8: Take a moment to reflect on what you have accomplished, whether reading the entire book or reading just up to chapter 3. Note what you messed up on and how to improve upon it. If you felt you were getting distracted too often or you think you may have missed a key bit of information, re-read that section with a clear and focused mind. Don't forget to ask yourself, “Was this beneficial to me, and what can I do now that I have accomplished this?”
Now, some of what is said here may seem obvious, but obvious never occurs to some people until it's stated bluntly. Other stuff might seem a bit too metaphysical for some of the readers and might turn them away slightly. Just remember, it is ultimately what you make of it. You may ask yourself after reading this article, “Does this work? Can I really get out of my habits and conditioning?” Well, the truth is, I don't know because I don't know who you, the reader are. You ultimately decide whether this bit of information will be useful to you. It did work for me, though, more or less. I made the decision to remove myself from an unproductive environment and briefly enter a creative one. Then I took all that information and brought it back home. Some of these steps you could possibly even skip.
Lets go back to the quote I put in the very beginning:
Does the environment create the man, or does the man create his environment?
I think it works both ways. If someone is unconscious of his or her environment they become subject to and molded by said environment. However, if they are aware of their conditioning, they can make the decision to create something better for themselves. This is similar to how people working for a resource-based economy are striving to create a better environment after being aware of the flaws of this current socioeconomic paradigm.
Five years ago I would have never even written a blog or drawn a picture. But now my passions have shifted from that of an idle-minded gaming and Internet junkie into someone of great creative potential. We can all decide for ourselves how we react to our environment, even if we can't directly change the environment ourselves.
So is there free will? Well I freely decided to make this blog. What did you consciously decide to do today?