Why do we eat what we eat, do what we do, say what we say, think what we think? Clearly, the answers to these questions are complex, but part of the answer might have to do with choices we made hours, days or years ago. That is, choices we’ve made in the past have set the stage, in part, for how we behave today. In the same way, decisions we make today play a role in shaping our behavior tomorrow.

We use what is accessible

Human nature is such that people tend to use the tools and ingredients that are most accessible to them when they interact with the world. The type of food people ate, houses they built and pottery they made depended upon the raw materials closest to them. The language they spoke, the stories they told and the dreams they dreamt were influenced by the words, images and ideas they were exposed to.

The experiences we expose ourselves to generate the ingredients which build our repertoires for future behavior. Sometimes we choose these experiences deliberately because we want the raw materials they offer. We may choose to listen to a certain kind of music because we want those special rhythms, tones and chords to become familiar and second nature.

But sometimes we make lifestyle choices without realizing the impact they might have on how we’re likely to respond out of habit in the future. When we hang out with this crowd or that crowd, we may not realize it but we’re adding the things which that crowd typically does to our repertoire of likely activities. Of course, we have free will and don’t have to follow the crowd, but if the crowd happens to recreate in a certain way or respond to conflict a certain way, this probably increases the odds of us responding similarly.

We choose what is accessible

When life is calm and easy, we have the luxury to consider a wide range of options regarding how to respond. But when caught off guard, in the heat of the moment, suddenly our list of responses narrows to that which is most familiar and accessible. And what is familiar and accessible is determined, in part, by the experiences we’ve been exposed to.

So the TV we watch, the websites we visit, the apps we use, the music we listen to, the books we read and the conversations we have all deposit images, words, feelings and reactions into our collection of readily available things to say, think, feel and do.

Lifestyle choices, in part, determine what is accessible to us, and what is accessible to us partly determines our habits. Yes, it’s theoretically possible to bring into the house junk food, trash TV and aggressive language and not consume it or act upon it, but what an uphill battle that is.

Looking ahead

It’s true that we don’t have total control over all the influences that affect us. Some experiences were handed to us without our consent. This is especially true for children who rely upon adults to create safe and healthy environments for them. But as adults we have a great deal of control, more than we think, over the experiences we encounter. We have the ability to decide how we would like to be and where we would like to go in life. And we have the ability to make changes in the choices we make today so as to consciously select the building blocks which will shape our habits of tomorrow.

Art Frenz, Ph.D.

Image courtesy of nattavut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Psychological Fitness

“Psychological Fitness” is my monthly column featured in the Binghamton, NY Press & Sun Bulletin since 2004. This page highlights articles, or adaptations thereof, from that column.