I watched Click, a hilarious mess of a movie the other day. I was pleasantly surprised to see another layer in each scene: symbols, patterns, universal truths.
In the movie the main character struggles to become a new man. And yeah, his name is Michael Newman. In desperation, Newman unknowingly accepts help from the angel of death, named Mortimer (from the Latin word mortis.) He has no idea that he’s not getting a regular household item, and no idea he’s been tricked into receiving it by the angel of death.
The angel of death gives Newman a remote control that works like a DVR controller for his life. It lets him control the pacing, volume, language, and visual effects of his life: Newman can pause, fast forward, slow down, skip, mute, change language, color, size etc. of each moment in his life as it unfolds.
The remote gives him no power to create anything.
The comedy unfolds in scene after scene until Newman realizes this power isn’t helping him: He’s screwing everything up. As he picks and chooses to skip moments in his life that seem tiresome, challenging, frustrating, uninteresting or irrelevant his marriage, family, relationships and health fall apart… His career skyrockets.
Upset, he tries to revisit pivotal moments where things changed and struggles with the remote. And realizes it’s begun to act on its own, without him even touching it, and against his will. So even when he realized the error of his ways, he couldn’t control the remote which kept doing the old things he’d asked it to.
He confronts the angel of death about it, and gets this response:
“It’s not a malfunction it’s a feature. It’s using its memory to execute your preferences.”
I was not expecting to get a life lesson from an Adam Sandler flick.
That line shows how, when something does what it’s designed to, if you’re not aware of it you can unintentionally program it to do things early on that over time work against you.
We do this constantly without realizing it: We’re programming our own minds. Yeah, they don’t fast forward and etc. (thank goodness!) But our minds control our feelings and actions: It’s the control panel for our body, and our life.
And our thought processes really work like that feature on the remote. They don’t just fire off randomly. We develop patterns, and habitual lines of thinking.
It starts early, as we begin to learn when we’re born.
We learn what hurts, what makes us happy, what makes us sad, what we like and don’t like, how to communicate, information, and even information about thinking.
All that knowledge settles within the brain or operating machine we’re each born with, becoming our thought processes. And when I say settle, I mean they settle. When you hear someone joke about how they were raised, they’re basically saying this is where some of my thinking, and some of my actions come from.
They’re basically describing their feature, and what memory is used to execute their preferences.
Which is fine if you’re cracking a joke about food or accent. But how often do we fail to recognize our thought patterns and habits when it really matters? Like when we’re following them into failure, depression, sadness, anger, confusion, self-defeat?
That’s why it’s so important to recognize our thinking can be habitual, operating on past preference, old habits. And how easily that means we will let our own lives spin out of control. Because no one is perfect, and thinks the perfect thing constantly. In fact, our learning capacity diminishes as we get older, at the same time we’re holding onto old stuff.
Yes, that means your brain follows patterns you started setting up for it when you were two. I used to eat ants when I was two. I’m pretty sure y’all didn’t have consistently right thinking back then either.
See, our brains work like a Rube Goldberg machine, triggering a chain reaction that eventually leads to an event: For us, it may be feeling, moving or speaking.
As a baby, this may be as simple as tasting juice you like, which leads to swallowing it, and then gesturing for more of it. This is simple because there’s not a lot that goes on between that first taste and the choice to act. You pretty much make three decisions:
I like it.
I want more.
As an adult, it may (I hope) be more complex, like reading something inspiring, pondering it, remembering it, and letting it lead you to invite friends to begin a new project later that night. That’s complex: It’s like the juice tasting with a bunch of additional and different chains of thought.
There’s a whole separate line of thought that leads you to think you can do something. Yet another line, that leads you to store it for reference. Another that lets you recall it, another that leads you to choose who might do this with you, and another that leads you to act, or start doing. And a whole bunch in between.
Simple or complex, once a trigger for our thinking has led us to do something enough times, we stop putting as much energy into thinking about it. This can especially happen with our thoughts about self, and as it did in the film, with our relationships and family because we’re so regularly exposed to our loved ones.
We tend to think along the same lines when we wake, when we look in the mirror, when we consider eating, dressing, planning our day. We also develop a pattern of feeling about ourselves. We grow a tendency to think the same thing about others in our life, good or bad, when we see them, interact with them in particular ways.
We easily go on autopilot, as the character Newman in the movie did, much to his annoyance: Agreeing to do things without thinking, his voice in his own life lost.
So our actions become patterns that can form habits, or conditioned behaviors. Even if the habitual thinking leads to our own destruction. Our brains will operate a lot like that remote control in the movie, where they remember preferences and execute accordingly.
Which is fine if we’re faced with the same decision everyday, or the same things everyday, the same people, or even if we remained the same. Forever.
But if the world is changing around us, and people are changing within it, and we’re changing as well, we realize this feature is really a malfunction.
If you’ve ever overreacted to something, or been underwhelmed…
If you’ve ever gotten excited to see someone or felt poorly when you think about a person or situation…
If you’ve ever struggled to understand something new or different, ever fought the urge to do something not really in your best interest… Or if you battle complacency in not doing the things best for you…
More often than not, we’re operating on our mind’s preference malfunction.
The good news is, we can not only shut that preference malfunction off completely… We can actually make it work for us instead of against us.
More to come on that.