In simple terms it's about habituation: habits of thought and habits of action. I derive it from the ancient wisdom of Aristotle and Confucius. Both ancient sages (in slightly different ways) suggested that our life's habits make for our character, and our character determines how well we live. Good habits makes for a flourishing life, a life of wellbeing. With my clients, I call it a "life practice," and I give suggestions about how to develop such.
It's not an easy fix. The converse of a good life practice is a bad one. Unhealthy habits make for an unhealthy life—and that includes both habits of thought and habits of action. How difficult it feels to break unhealthy habits, and to replace them with healthy ones!
I have played guitar since I was fifteen. My first summer job was at the "2 and 11 store" on Blackpool promenade. Two pounds eleven shillings—like a dollar novelty store. On my way to work I passed a music store. Proudly displayed in the window was a nylon string guitar, on sale for £32. I worked for two and a half weeks, saved all the money, quit my job, and bought the guitar. The rest is history, as they say, and Summer '73 was filled with the magic of learning to play. I have played ever since, and built up some good habits and some bad ones. Recently, I was playing around with flamenco style. I realized quickly that I had picked up bad habits with the use of my first and middle finger, right hand. I had to change the habit. My fingers wouldn't play the flamenco way—too habituated in old patterns. To change the pattern takes much practice. As in guitar playing so in life.
One of the habits of thought I have been playing with is the way we think of others—heroes, exemplars, the people we look to for inspiration, the ones we follow. We humans are meaning-seeking, myth-creating animals. It's natural to want to find and follow others who have "made it," the folk with charisma. Sociologist Max Weber suggested that this is the beginning of all religious traditions. The charismatic figure attracts others who become followers. In time, successive generations of followers mythologize the founder, and make the founder something they likely were not. The mythology gives meaning. It's not just a religious phenomenon. We lionize others, set them apart, idolize, and want to be like them. Too often the bubble bursts, and we find the exemplar is not quite what we thought. Disillusionment creeps in, and the meaning we had created crumbles in proportion to the let down. We are left looking around for some other exemplar to follow. It can become a repeated pattern, a habit that doesn't lead to wellbeing. How do we avoid such letdowns?
Here are a few habits of thought I have found helpful:
1. Don't expect too much from people, and don't put others on a pedestal
2. Be kind with your own mistakes, and be kind with the mistakes of others
3. Learn from all, but find your own path
4. Don't be afraid of the changes and turns that life brings
Now where is that guitar ...