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What If We Are Not What We Repeatedly Do?

What if much of what we "do" is learned?

So, as it turns out, Aristotle may not have actually said “we are what we repeatedly do.” Or, he may have said something along these lines in Classic Greek, but it doesn’t quite translate into English. Whatever the origins, this quote is oft used by people who are trying to get others to examine their habits, their actions, and their lives.

But what if what much we “do” is learned? And furthermore, what if that learning was programmed into us early on, long before we could make conscious decisions about right and wrong or good or bad? Is our “being” still tied to what we do? Or could we entertain the idea that what we “do” is indeed vitally important to how we exist but it may not actually be a full representation of who we “are.”

Next week the Rewire Retreat will be in full bloom. A wonderful group of us will be meeting in Southern California to once again retreat. Retreat from the world, from the chaos, the busyness. Yes, to everything there is a season and even if the season is only a couple of days, there is also time to retreat.

This year’s Retreat will have a heavy emphasis on our habits. Habituation (or simply, “habits”) is the third characteristic of the Lizard Brain and one that impacts every person deeply. The human brain searches every day all day on new ways to make habits. And since so many of these habits go on at an unconscious level (which is largely the point), we do not process them as good or bad. To be clear, I’m not saying there is no such thing as a “good” habit or a “bad” habit; I’m saying that, because the habits part of the lizard brain usually operates at an unconscious level, we don’t think about habits in those terms at the precise moment we’re engaging with the habit.

But the reason I bring it up is to provide context for our Aristotle (mis)quote: I want to suggest to you that you are much more than what you “do.” You see, if you drink down the idea that you are what you do, then there may be no point at even attempting to do anything new. Too often I hear people claim, as a simple example, that they are not morning people, or that they are naturally high-strung, type-A folks. Recently I had a client say that he was A.D.D. and it was just who he was.

Now, I am not implying that there aren’t people who struggle with attention disorders, or people who legitimately struggle with mornings. There are. But I think we have to be very careful about what we attach our identity, our personhood to. When we do this, we can inadvertently throw in a cosmic white towel and simply accept some things about us that we do have the power to change.

Certainly what you do matters. The actions you take, the decisions you make, and the habits you create are all crucial to the direction you will follow.

But don’t buy the lie that these represent the sum total of who you are. Today I want to tell you that you are something bigger and more than your actions.

By accepting this, you also accept a responsibility to press ahead and improve; to take the parts of you that are not your habits and use them to change those habits that need changing.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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