Every day, every moment offers an opportunity for growth and change. Sometimes the opportunity is real, sometimes imagined. We have two types of challenges in life; first, there is reality where we get to deal with serious illness, relationship disputes, unemployment, death of a loved one, and other major life issues. Secondly, there are the ones we make up all by ourselves. These are ego demands such as dissatisfaction with life on life’s terms (I want what I want when I want I it!), resentments, whining, complaining, criticisms, blaming, and all other attitudes that show lack of acceptance and forgiveness. That is just stuff that we have made up that seems real.
We can be grateful for the day when there are no major challenges because those are the days that we can practice the recovery principles of evaluation and correction of the “made up stuff”. In other words, we go to work on those defects of character that keep us miserable. We identify those traits which we need to address in our daily tenth step inventory. It is critically important to stay conscious and current on our shortcomings. Once identified, it is time to apply the principles of steps six and seven, eight and nine. If others are involved we owe amends or forgiveness, if not, we owe it to ourselves to change the attitude that is creating our stress. Doing this work on a daily basis is like exercising a muscle, we get stronger, better at it, and eventually it becomes our way of life.
In his book, Rewire Your Brain, Dr. John Arden lays out a simple formula for how to harness this science for personal behavior change. It follows the acronym FEED (Focus, Effort, Effortless, Determination)
- F for Focus: Attention activates your brain, so you want to pay focused attention to the behavior, memory, or pattern to repeat or remember.
- E for Effort: Take deliberate, specific action to program the new behavior or thought pattern. Practice. Even if it’s hard. Even if you fail sometimes. Keep practicing. The more you think a thought or take a specific action, the stronger the neural network gets. Note: many people give up on new initiatives before they have practiced enough – made enough “effort” – to create sufficient neural network.
- E for Effortless: Once the neural network becomes wired, actions that once required effort become effortless. Think of the effort required learning to drive a car; years later it’s effortless.
- D for Determination: Finally, you must exhibit the determination to keep the neural network strong. “Use it or lose it.” Continual practice builds the neural network even further until it becomes your dominant pattern.
That is the neuroscience of recovery too. So here is the wisdom: do the work every day, deal with the daily annoyances and irritations that are demonstrations of our disease of attitudes. When we do the daily work, we become ready for the big stuff when it hits. An example of this in my own history came about in 2004 after I had seen a physician who told me in so many words that I had cancer. She didn’t say it outright because as we all know it takes a biopsy to be sure. However, what she did say to me was this: “That is not a cyst and this is why.” She then explained the difference between a cyst (which I thought it was) and a tumor. After a period of ice cold shock, after I got home, I said a prayer. I was standing in the living room when I said, “Whichever ways this goes—live or die–I accept it.” Well we all now know the outcome; I completed successful treatment with an attitude of acceptance without fear or complaints. At that time I realized that I was able to “accept the thing I could not change” because of my practice (at that time) of acceptance for thirty-seven years.
Every day we have opportunities, real or created, to strengthen our acceptance and forgiveness muscles. And by doing so, we develop a brain/body/mind/spirit that is resilient and ready to take on the next challenge.