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A Journey of Eighteen Inches

A journey of eighteen inches can take a lifetime. The journey I refer to is from our head to our heart.

This is the journey that we often need to make in self development. It is usually the journey we need to make when we want the changes we have made in our lives to stick long term.

I know that I have found myself saying things along the lines of, “I know it in my head . . ., I know I should but . . ., I know that it isn’t good for me when I . . .”. And yet I persist in doing these things.

We Are More Than Our Thoughts
I think these moments show us that we are more than our thinking. To make a major change involves other dimensions of our lives.

For instance it may mean changing a physical habit – the way our brains are wired. It may mean a change in our feelings. In some way it means that we finally ‘get it’ – that we knew it in our heads but now we really know it.

Making the Journey

One way we make the journey is seeing ourselves or our past differently. This can include everything from pretending that we had grown up in a different culture or family to years of work with a good therapist.

Talking to others about how they grew up – and what they thought was good and bad in their upbringing – can give us a useful perspective on what is distinctive about ourselves and our past. (Reading autobiographies can do this too.)

One way you can do this now is to imagine a scene from your past that you remember vividly. And then bring your adult self in to observe what is going on. Perhaps to give support or set appropriate limits for your younger self.

Another is by making a decision to behave differently. This can include developing a new habit.

If you find dealing with thoughts and feeling confusing then you can use action. For instance if you feel that you are stuck in a bit of a rut then you can decided to go for a slightly different walk to your usual, or, shop in a different direction at the supermarket (yes, I do usually go down the aisles in the same order, maybe it is just me).

Knowing that we have actually done something differently can help something ‘hit home’ for us.

Another is to see our future differently.
This is easiest with smaller changes that we need to make. With bigger changes it can be harder to know that our future can be different.

We can do this rationally – by planning, prioritising and scheduling. If you want to go this way then it is important for the change you want to make to be observable and measurable. “Feeling different about [X]” doesn’t work with this way of doing things. Nor does, “Knowing I can do [X]”. It has to be something like: I have jumped out of a plane with a parachute, walked around the block each day for 30 days, had six conversations where I have listened to others this week.

We can also use our imagination. Imagine a preferred future and then backcast from this preferred future. We can organise our way, by planned change, to this future; or, we can compare our present to the preferred future and just decide on one small change that we wish to make.

Finally, (which is kind of all of these ways in one sense) is to see that we contribute to our experience. People have different likes and dislikes and respond to the same situation in different ways.

If someone was in my situation at the moment they would have different thoughts and feelings about it to me. They would be having a different experience to some extent.

[I don’t mean that they would be finding an awful experience to be pleasant or a delightful experience to be horrible. I think this is rarely the case. What I mean is that we each have our own particular ways of experience delight and misery.]

This is a way of seeing that we do have some control over our experience. That the way we approach others has some effect on how they respond to us (usually); that there are things that we can do to bring more joy into our lives.

When we see that we are involved in creating our experience we can really ‘get’ what we know only in our heads.

I hope that one or more of these four ways of moving from our head to our heart are useful to you. If you have found other ways helpful I would love to hear about them in the comments.

On a personal note: I am no longer writing for the Philosophy, Psychology and Real Life blog. All my posts (apart from the occasional guest post on other blogs) will now be hosted here.

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I'm Evan Hadkins. To find out how to live a more satisfying life you can download my manifesto on living authentically. It is a book of exercises to guide you to finding, nourishing and living from the core of who you are.

If you would like me to write about some aspect of living an authentic life please don't hesitate to get in touch. There is a box in the sidebar where you can leave a question anonymously if you wish, or you can email me, use the contact page, or comment on this post.

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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Evan 2011/02/07, 6:08 pm

    Thanks for the mention Daniel

  • Arlin Pauler 2011/02/09, 4:11 am

    Would you say that living authentically can be framed as communion with Truth, as in just what is so; and therefore, in a sense, a kind of communion with ‘God’ or a ‘Higher Power’?

  • Evan 2011/02/09, 6:42 am

    Hi Arlin, yes I think you could put it that way. I think authenticity means a sense of what is real for ourselves and in our situation – so something like truth or what is real is part of it. Some people do have a sense of communion but not everyone, of those who do not all experience it as God or a Higher Power. I do think that experiences of transcendence are possible. I tend to avoid god language (because it so quickly leads to well rehearsed arguments and fruitless discussions) and try to stick to describing experience without it. (I guess this won’t please those strongly committed to this kind of language). Thanks for your comment.

  • Arlin Pauler 2011/02/10, 3:13 am

    I too generally steer away from the, as you say “well rehearsed”, rhetorical hysteria around concepts of deities; I only went there because I sensed you would have a suitable context for getting what I was referring to.
    Being complete with all that, I want to drop down about 18” to my “Core” and share with you what your comments in general, and particularly this blog, have mean to me.
    I have for some time now been trudging along my path of Authenticity, as though hacking my way through the psychic jungle of my interior, seeking my own – authentic – way of being in interdependent relationships, both professional and personal; particularly in my marriage. (This cobbler has needed a pair of shoes of own.) Given the need for brevity here, I’ll skip specific details and trust you can get the essence of what I have to say without them.
    For me you have hit a bull’s eye in regard to your intention to share what helps others live a more satisfying life. Applying what you have shared with me to my own life, not just academically to Life in general, has integrated several fragmented pieces into a more complete, therefore for more useful, perspective on where I am, where I am going and how to continue moving forward. Given the importance to me of having an adequate sense, at least an intuitive grasp, on my process, this has made my Life, the work of my personal growth, much more satisfying. I believe it will also make me more successful in moving forward; sometimes sooner is better. THANK YOU!

  • Chris Edgar 2011/02/10, 4:56 am

    Hi Evan — I’ve been thinking about this recently, and it seems to me that the split between my head and my heart that I sometimes perceive comes from shutting out, or ignoring, the physical sensations I’m feeling. My body is the only thing that can tell me what I want, and when I’m not attuned to it, getting what I deeply want becomes impossible.

  • Evan 2011/02/10, 9:47 am

    Hi Chris, I completely agree. It took me a long time to learn this (I used to be even more heady than I am now!). Thanks for your comment.

  • Evan 2011/02/10, 9:49 am

    Arlin many thanks. It is delightful to hear that I have helped you integrate some pieces. And many thanks for letting me know, I am very grateful, Evan.

  • Celeste Varley 2011/02/12, 1:27 pm

    I sense and honour the distinction you make between, as you say: “we contribute to our experience” and we are to blame for it. I think many get caught up distinguishing blame from responsibility from contribution. And I liked your whole article too, so thanks again.

  • Evan 2011/02/12, 4:02 pm

    Thanks Celeste.

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