It took just over thirty years for me to understand the promise of instant gratification should be viewed as a warning, not an enticement. Too often, our brains trick us into doing what’s easy, safe, what feels good RIGHT NOW, and they do it using super-stealth weapons like endorphin rushes and other neurochemical high-fives and back slaps humans usually aren’t even aware of, let alone able to fight against.
Brain V. Soul
Brains don’t want us to expend extensive amounts of energy, or do activities that can lead to harm or pain. A brain is hardwired to be safe and efficient for its own survival. The soul is not. When we choose what we want now over what we want most, the instant gratification high passes, and the longer-term consequences dig in to the parts of us that matter most. How we define and feel about ourselves, how we value ourselves and our dreams. These shimmery, slippery things that make humans human go dull. They start to ache and fade.
When I mention brain versus soul, this is what I’m getting at. The struggle of our true selves in this physically and biologically defined world that we share with so many other struggling souls.
I know. Words like “soul” and “non-physical” are immediate triggers for my husband (and many others) to glaze over and start nodding politely. They’re over-used and heft with cheese and implications and I don’t want to over do this line of talk (ever), but here, I’m being honest, and this sort of thinking helps me make sense of the world.
Our brains are beautiful, biological wonders, but we can’t put all our stock in an organ that can be completely distracted by jingle sounds and flashing lights. Think of a slot machine, the glow of an iPhone, a bulging pair of sequin-covered breasts. It takes about .0001 seconds for any one of these to claim the entire focus of a human brain.
To work toward the bigger goals in our lives, we have to train ourselves to not always immediately trust our impulses. We have to muster enough awareness and discipline to maintain a sustained, focus effort in the right direction, towards what matters most to us.
THEN, it gets worse. Once we manage to marshal our faculties in some sort of productive and consistent manner, we have to be patient and accept that (most) humans grow and learn in the tiniest, most frustrating increments imaginable.
Patience Is A Real B*!#$ Sometimes
It is. It really, really is. There are times impatience burns through me from head toe to like static under my skin. Thankfully, this happens less and less as I get older and understand these things, impatience (or frustration, or fretting over what I’ve NOT done, or where I am versus where I want to be), are a complete waste of energy and time.
We must control what we can control, right? I can put the work in. Read, write, study craft, practice, seek and accept feedback, listen to people who are where I’d like to be, learn from those on a similar journey, and if I keep doing this long enough, at the very least, I will know the sort of peace that comes from making an honest effort towards something that matters to me.
I believe this, but it’s still hard and some days I feel like it’s taking me a really long time, though I’ll tell you, I don’t have the first clue as to what the “right” length of time should be. I know my groundless expectations and subsequent impatience are not always rational, but they’re there sometimes anyway.
Probably because no one wants to experience personal growth in real-time. Seriously, no matter how much we loved Rocky, we didn’t want watch every pull-up, squat, and sit-up he did in that barn over all those weeks. We want (or at least think we want) the time-lapse miracle, the before and after snapshots, the movie montage turnabout, set to mood-appropriate music where we reap the benefits at the end of the song.
Of course, nothing real or worthwhile actually happens this way. If we want something we have to gut it out. We have to want it enough to show up and work alone, and to keep at it we have to love the process, the work, because (as the quote says) that’s all we really have a right to.
Discipline. Focus. Patience. These are the things that will make or break our plans. Far more than talent, luck, and connections. (Though we need a bit of all these.)
The day-in-and-day-out is not glamorous or interesting to anyone else. Not even my parents can pretend to want to hear about the hours I spend reading, writing, and re-writing, and these are the people who cheered when I learned to use the toilet. But, I love reading and writing. My best days always include both.
If we can get ourselves together, these brains can be trained (taught? convinced?) to go along for the ride, and as we get stronger and see ourselves changing into the person we hope to be, inching toward the goals we hold closest to our hearts, it gets easier to and easier to value things like routines and schedules and deadlines and determination. It gets easier to say no to things that lead us away from what’s really important to us, no matter how fun/enticing/sexy/gorgeous/easier/more glamorous they may seem in the moment.
It can be a slow, long process but nothing is more worthwhile than honest work, is there?
Do you think my brain v soul thoughts are totally off the mark? Do you struggle against discipline and/or patience, or have you? What sort of distractions get the best of you? What strategies have you devised to stay on track?