What is Authentic Action?
A key aspect of The Q ProcessTM is the final step of taking Authentic Action. People sometimes get a bit hung up about what exactly is it and why is it important.
In a nut-shell, it is important because it gives us an opportunity to practice showing up differently, showing up on our Q Card, when perhaps we may not have before. The more we show up in a new way, the more a part of us it becomes. Authentic Action is an opportunity to be very intentional about creating a new habit of being and a new habit of living based on that new way of being.
It seems we have a love-hate relationship with habits. We want all the good ones and we wish away the bad ones. We judge ourselves and each other harshly if we see we have more "bad" than "good" habits. Why? Well I think it's because the nature of a habit is that we do it unconsciously. It is as though we have a Habit Hobbit inside of us and once something becomes a habit we have turned over the frequency and intensity of that habit to it. Now, we act without thinking. I clean the counters often because I am in the habit of it. I judge that habit as "good." I often sit down to work without eating breakfast only to surface hours later too hungry to cook something sensible and reach for snack food instead. I judge that habit as "bad."
Just last night I was reflecting with my husband on how we used to be in the habit of eating out a lot. It seemed so much easier to just slide into the car, pick a place, be served and go home to a clean kitchen. We liked the time visiting as a family while we waited for the food, even if we didn't always like the cost of the habit. Actually cooking a meal seemed like a huge chore. After becoming more conscious about how we wish to use our money, and how we wish to eat a healthier diet, we got out of the habit of going out and developed the habit of eating in. It was hard at first. But now, it seems so easy to just cook dinner on our own or together. Now, the idea of getting in the car and finding somewhere worthy of eating seems like such a chore to us. Funny, isn't it? Just by developing a new habit, the way we think about "doing" dinner has changed.
Neuroscientists have traced our habit-making behaviors to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which also plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition. Decisions, meanwhile, are made in a different part of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex. But as soon as a behavior becomes automatic, the decision-making part of your brain goes into a sleep mode of sorts. "In fact, the brain starts working less and less," says Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit. "The brain can almost completely shut down. ... And this is a real advantage, because it means you have all of this mental activity you can devote to something else." So we may want to be thoughtful about what habits we allow to get to the point of auto-pilot.
As a mother I often reflect on what good habits I would like to encourage in my daughter. Should I suggest she get in the daily habit of making her bed like my mother did with me? Well I gave up that habit in an effort to overcome perfectionist tendencies, so no; I am not passing that one on to her. But I do reminder her to put her dishes in the dishwasher after her meal. That's a habit I am encouraging! What I know from my work with The Q Process is that I don't want the habits she develops to be born out of a need to prove her worthiness, or to avoid her parents' upset, or the fear of losing their love. And there in lies the rub. We often don't know how or why a habit we have got started in the first place.
The Q Process helps us discover which habits of thoughts, feelings or actions we have that we unconsciously continue to engaging in because we are trying to earn love or safety. By engaging in the 21-day practice we begin to notice when these habits are active so we can choose something else - eventually, even interrupting the old pattern in the moment.
Changing habits requires effort and energy and we seemed to be predisposed to preserving energy - so of course we resist this. And then we can lump shame on top of our resistance, thinking ourselves (or others) weak or lazy. That usually shoves us right into denial keeping us stuck in ways of being and doing that no longer serve us.
"What we know from lab studies is that it's never too late to break a habit. Habits are malleable throughout your entire life. But we also know that the best way to change a habit is to understand its structure," says Duhigg. The Q Process is one tool we can use to understand what is behind our habit. Then we simply need the proper motivation to start and sustain the effort required for the new way of being, seeing, acting to feel as easy and natural as the old and become a new habit. We need the twin powers of attention and intention.
How do routines and rituals play into this?
Antero Alli, a proponent of Iconoclastic Ritual (concept-free ritual, lacking in any kind of dogma), succinctly states that the goal of ritual is to touch into the living forces or the living source/force underlying Life and live beyond our mental reflections. This stream of aliveness is almost imperceptible when our minds are busy, busy, busy, filled with ideas, concepts, and stuff and acting on habit-driven auto-pilot.
Ritual brings together the necessary attention with the potency of intention. In addition, it activates our subconscious mind by dealing in the language of symbolism - something our rational mind won't bother resisting. Anthropologists tell us of ancient Rites of Passage that were critical moments in past cultures that marked periods of change and transition in our lives. Community acts of ritual or ceremony brings people together in support of individuals on their life path. While we modern people still have signature rituals like weddings and funerals or religious rituals like first communion or baptism, ritual is a largely lost art in much of the Western world - spring break and prom night notwithstanding. Taking time to symbolically acknowledge the shifts in our inner life is a critical aspect of making those shifts more real to us - and to our Habit Hobbit.
In a seminar talk given by Carl Jung in 1939 to the Guild for Pastoral Psychology, in London he said, "You see, man is in need of a symbolic life - badly in need. We only live banal, ordinary, rational, or irrational things. We have no symbolic life. Where do we live symbolically? Nowhere except where we participate in the ritual of life."
Check in for a moment. How often do you create or participate in ritual and symbolic acts in your life? I know in my life, I can easily fall asleep to the need for the daily self-initiated practice of ritual that supports my spiritual purpose for being. Fortunately, I have gotten better at establishing routines that support me - these are sort of like conscious almost-habits. I still have to put energy and effort into them, but I notice immediately the effect of them when I step into a healthy routine.
Routines and Rituals are a pair or a polarity. We need them both even though they do opposite things for us. Too much of one and not enough of the other can send us over the edge.
Rituals amplify our ability to hold the simultaneous awareness of ourselves and the environment. They allow us to see ourselves and the context we are in, and then, if we choose, to use symbolism to claim and initiate a change of ourselves within that environment. Ritual energizes us when we need to act or claim our power to make lasting change - that's why we call on it during times of transition. It also supports us in letting go of who we were and/or what was before so that we can fully step forward into the new. It gives our subconscious self (and our Habit Hobbit) permission to be sad and grieve at the passing of the old and have the strength to bring about the new.
Routines on the other hand diminish our awareness of ourselves and the environment around us. Routines can help us to de-stress, to put the brakes on out of control thinking or feeling. They can bring us a great sense of calm and peace and settle us when we are out of sorts. When I was a teacher I loved the philosophy that strong classroom routines were 90% of classroom discipline. Children especially respond well to routines as it gives them a sense of rhythm to life, providing a feeling of safety as they can "count on" certain acts happening at the same time in their day. For them, how they are awakened and prepare for the day and how they are put to bed at night are key elements of how they order their world and feel safe in it: the more regular and reliable, the better.
We don't lose that need as adults. Check in for a moment and reflect. How are you doing with setting up regular and reliable routines for yourself? Putting aside a few minutes each day to mark the transition between work and home can do worlds to relieve stress. Sitting an enjoying hot tea or a cold beer at the end of the week may be just the ticket. The challenge can come when we overuse our routines and end up numbing out.
Ritual and routine function as a working polarity. As Alli says so clearly, "An effective ritual gets you as high as a good routine re-stabilizes you." And we need both.
The Q Process asks that we take Authentic Action when we notice we have an unmet need that is driving our feelings, thoughts or behaviors. This act not only allows us to practice being on our Q Card, it is also a symbolic way of telling our conscious and unconscious self that we no longer have to live with that need unmet. It is a visceral and concrete experience of knowing that WE can be the one to meet that need in our lives and that we can love and protect our "inner child" now that we are adults. When we are willing to do something different than we have before, as scary as it might be, it puts both the conscious and the subconscious on notice that it's no longer going to be business as usual and that our Habit Hobbit better get ready to change. This is why actually following through on what we write on the worksheet can be hard. Everything in us resists this change!
Doing some sort of symbolic act or ritual may be the best path forward. Symbolic acts (like lighting a candle, chanting a mantra, washing away the old patterns in the shower) seem less threatening to the conscious mind. Once we do the symbolic act of accepting the new and releasing the old, we may find it easier to take the new action in life. Eventually we must embrace the call to speak up for ourselves, to apologize as needed, to say yes when we need to, or say no if that's what's needed. When we act authentically and survive, we provide critical feedback to our body-mind that allows us to fully lean into this new way of being.
The authentic acts we engage in while doing The Q Process intentionally provide an update to our self-system (our operating system). We get a "felt-sense" of the new narrative we are writing for ourselves. And the more frequently we do the new action the faster the update is completed.