First thing: We only choose 5% of our behaviors and reactions. According to some recent literature and research, about 95% of what we do is outside our awareness. We behave and react from a place we do not have conscious awareness. When did we develop the repertoire of responses in this 95%? F. Scott Fitzgerald nails it in the first line of The Great Gatsby: "In my younger and more vulnerable years..." One of my favorite opening lines of all time. Yes, when we are born to age six, we are basically walking around hypnotized, quite literally. Our early brain wave states matched those of adults under hypnosis. We were completely vulnerable to suggestion and took what we saw for the truth, including what we were taught to believe about ourselves. We are learning at exponential rates! Our parents represented our model of how to deal with the world through everything they did. If you have kids, you are their window to the world.
The last half of that famous Gatsby line is, "...my father gave me some advice I've been turning over in my mind ever since." In fact, we are turning all that information from our parents, siblings, TV shows, teachers, etc., over and over in our subconscious minds. Good thing we don't have to think about everything every time there is a situation--we'd surely die. So much of what we learned in our hypnotized state is very important. However, there are also some thought patterns and ways of relating to the world that don't serve us so well, and yet, we see our ways as normal, and further, not like our parents. Believe it or not, we are so much like our parents because they were major factors in developing how we see, act, behave, and respond to the world. If you know your in-laws, you know a lot about your spouse, and if you are not too bright, you bring this to your spouse's attention.
The second is this: Knowledge itself does not bring change. I can know it doesn't help to ask my wife 3 times if she really wants to eat at Jimmy John's--she has made up her mind and it is not helpful to challenge it. It just comes out and the consequences follow, which in this case, are an eye roll, a sigh of frustration, and a wife who no longer wants to make choices if she is going to get interrogated about them. But, my need to make sure she is sure of her decision comes from my childhood where it was "normal" and "rational" to second-guess decisions. We learned not to raise our hands because we were not really "sure."
So what makes the difference? In one word, intentionality. The more you are intentional with your responses, the more you are able to respond in more productive ways. This grows your "response-ability." The more I practice not second-guessing my wife's dining decisions, the more I can choose a beneficial response. The best part is that it really doesn't matter if you know why you say or do what you do, although a therapist can help you with that. What matters is knowing how to choose different responses that may not feel natural (indeed, they are not), but have better chances at being beneficial, and more importantly, getting your wife fed!
Two books to consider: Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton, and Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
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