By: Betty Mahalik
Buy a computer – any computer – and it comes loaded with software automatically set to certain default settings. For example, the default setting for Word is Times New Roman 12-point. Last week, as I presented one of my periodic Best Year Yet(R) programs, I found myself referring to default settings of the human variety. Human default settings are those areas of life where we unconsciously cooperate with limiting thoughts and behaviors that keep us from living our best lives.
A default setting in our lives can be anything from automatically turning on the television set when we walk into a room, to spending too much time surfing the net or checking email…it’s usually brainless, time-stealing, and rarely does it add value to our lives. Deeply entrenched default settings become beliefs like: “I’m not smart enough, pretty enough, educated enough…”, (or any of a thousand variations). And just as documents preset with Times New Roman 12-point type have a consistent and readily identifiable look, our habits of thinking, our default settings produce results that are consistent with them as well.
Default thought: “I don’t have the right clothes (or whatever), so I can’t start working out.”
Result: Not working out.
Default thought: “I always have to be available for my clients.”
Result: No time to refill your own tank, ultimately leading to burnout.
Is it possible to change our human default settings? Absolutely. Is it easy? Not usually. But if you find yourself defaulting rather than designing how you want to live, work, or play, with commitment and consistency, you can override your automatic settings. Here are some steps to help you do it:
First, become aware of your default modes. You might start by making a list of things you do habitually that may not be useful or beneficial. Too much email or TV, not exercising, making excuses for not starting a project or growing your business, blaming others for what’s happening (or not) in life, working too many hours, not pursuing a hobby, and always saying yes when you want to say no are just a few examples of default settings that may be keeping you stuck.
Secondly, notice the amount of excuse-making and rationalizing you generate around your default modes. You’ll often recognize these monologues by their characteristic repetitive phrases: “I can’t,” “I have to,” “When I get X, then I’ll do Y,” “It’s only,” or “Just this once.”
Thirdly, see if you can drill down to the core issue that’s really at cause. A few years ago I realized that I was a victim of “yes-itis,” a behavior characterized by the tendency to say yes to everyone’s requests for my time. I realized that my default setting was based on a belief that in order to be liked I always had to say yes. When I recognized it, I created a new internal message for myself: “I say no to others so I can say yes to myself.” Then when my old default behavior came close to kicking in, I would remind myself of the new message. Eventually this became my default setting. And now, though I do occasionally slip, most of the time I at least stop to check my gut to ask whether this program or project is something I really want to do (is it a “yes” to myself?) before deciding to commit to it.
Finally, it helps to create options to steer you away from old, habitual patterns of behavior. If you have a habit of turning on the TV the minute you walk in the house, start by entering through a different door. If you tend to spend too much time on the computer, close the door to the room or office where your computer is located. If you work tend to work too much, schedule times to meet a friend that require you to leave the office earlier a couple of days a week. If it’s saying yes to your own detriment, develop the habit of requesting 24 hours to think over any decisions before making a final commitment.
Ultimately we all get to choose the life we want to live. For some it will be based entirely on default settings, never questioning the beliefs or behaviors that dictate the quality of their lives. This week, I challenge you to examine your default settings to see if they are really adding to the richness of your life or just the convenience of it. Trust me, I’ll be doing the same.
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