By Claudia Lee
B.F. Skinner proposed the idea that human beings are the way they are through learned behavior. Behaviorism, his field of psychology, explores this theory through experiments that encompass modeling, imitation, and training. Skinner essentially claimed that we are robots; we tend to repeat responses that lead to positive outcomes and not the ones that lead to neutral or negative outcomes.
He says that free will is beyond our control and we do not shape our reality because we are imprisoned in our routine.
Skinner’s view strips away the richness and experience of being human. It removes the intense emotions of joy, sadness, fear and the ways we conquer or express them. It diminishes hope, desire, and bigger purposes that we may have.
But that doesn’t make it untrue.
Take a look at your life.
Many of us wake up and the first thing we do is make a cup of coffee, or read the notifications on our phone, or hit snooze for an extra ten minutes. We sit in the same seat in class, take the same route to work, gravitate towards our friends when we go out instead of socializing with new people. We are creatures of habit because unfamiliar things frighten us.
To live fully and presently, we must examine all our moments and weed out the ones where we are in default mode. Is it the edge in your voice as you speak to your mother? Maybe it’s the way you greet your coworkers — you know, half heartedly — because it’s too early, because the weather’s horrible, because you two just aren’t that close enough to be genuine. Do you automatically whip out your phone when you see an incredible sunrise? How about when you’re at a concert and your favorite song is being performed? We have a tendency to forget about these moments because we are too busy not authentically enjoying it. To authentically enjoy it, whatever “it” may be, is to pay attention. To be engaged. To be enthusiastic. We could make a huge impact on our life and other lives if we changed our default modes. It’s hard to break out of habit. It’s also hard to be more enthusiastic and whole hearted when the rest of the world is full of empty “Hi, how are you’s?” and “Have a good day’s.”
These automatic phrases we say to strangers and even loved ones strips us from having a real connection, and connection is the thing that matters most in life. Human beings are social creatures and we are nothing without our relationships. The people in our life make our life. Have you ever noticed how singing your favorite song with your best friend is infinitely better than when you sing it alone? Or how food tastes so much better when someone else is eating the same thing? This idea of integration, connection, and sameness is how we live the good life, but the only way to start expressing these qualities is to stop our default mode and take a look around. The first step to living the good life is to reflect and examine our behavior towards others and ourselves. Undoubtedly, we have excuses for all things we do mechanically. It’s easy, it’s the norm, it’s expected. To spot our patterns, admit our faults, and want to change is a true triumph.
Turn off autopilot so we can make life more interesting and genuine. Try tea instead of coffee one morning. Instead of checking your phone right after you wake up, just sit there for a few minutes and listen to the morning. When you do, maybe you’ll notice some really incredible moments unfolding, like the sound of breakfast being made downstairs with its clatter of plates and pans, or the birds chirping out your window singing to you that summer is finally coming. We may find that when we don’t lift up our phones for another picture we can see the color and outline of the sunset so much better. We can hear our favorite song performed at the concert so much more intense, every note crisp, every beat vibrating in our bones. To ask how someone truly is could help that person get through another day. But we should never just “get through” our days—it’s our responsibility to do more than that. To be more than that. Don’t just show up—thrive in these moments because we’ll never get them back. Sing loudly, laugh fiercely, clap hard, dance like no one’s watching, and most importantly, show your compassion and emotion. Open up your heart and allow yourself to be sensitive. There’s nothing wrong with expressing love and gratitude, but our culture is so keen on making sensitivity seem like a negative thing. People may be taken aback by your energy, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong and it doesn’t make you any weirder than anybody else—everyone’s pretty weird once you get to know them. To be alive, to really feel intensely, to say things like they matter—that’s the best part about the human experience. If we treated every day as a celebration, how would our lives look? How would the people around us feel? How would we transform and impact our community?
We should embrace change because life is constantly changing whether we like it or not. We grow older, we switch lovers, we find ourselves living in a new city, we find new jobs, we learn more about ourselves and evolve, our friends and loved ones evolve, relationships change, the seasons change. It’s a constant cycle of movement and there’s nothing that can stop it. Take advantage of the fact that we have the power to shape our realities, which is how this change continues. Get messy, get bold. Weed out those moments of mechanical motions, repeated phrases, and half-assed hugs and kisses. Zeal is contagious, and the energy and light you reflect out can only be reflected back to you.