I walked into a door today

I may have finally learned not to swear every time I bang my head on a door.

I am six foot two, so it happens quite a lot.

I’m also a man, so I don’t look where I’m going.

The elapsed time between me banging my head and swearing is probably less than a second. Swearing is for me therefore what psychologists would call an “automatic response”. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about swearing. I just get on with it.

But I’m not proud of it. It’s childish. It’s pathetic. I think (jury still out) I may finally have learned to control the impulse. Time, no doubt, will tell.

I share this one of my many frailties to make a wider point...

we all have automatic responses, and some of them hold us back in the world.

Here’s just three recent examples I’ve come across:

  • Instant dismissal of any ideas that don’t fit with my view of things
  • Leaping in to do something myself because it’s quicker that way
  • Always blaming somebody else for creating a problem rather than looking at my own part in it

Dependent on how we’re wired, we all have some automatic responses.

These can be pretty hard-wired behaviours. We may need to work hard – indeed we may need some courage – if we are to change them into something which would be more helpful for us.

But look what we’re missing out on, just taking the three examples above:

  • The chance to come to a better decision or understanding of things
  • The chance to develop somebody else, and also develop myself by doing something else
  • The chance to grow by learning from my mistakes

I’m working on the head banging thing. It doesn’t affect anybody except me. I will see little benefit other than to my own sense of self-control. But automatic responses also betray who we are at a deeper level, and that’s not something I’m always pleased with. Do I need to learn deeper lessons about self-control?

Just maybe it’s worthwhile for all of us to think about our automatic behaviours, and the lessons we can learn from them.

Working to change myself at that deeper level is definitely worth some effort. I’ll have a measure of progress next time I walk into a door…