man looking in binoculars during sunset

What We Look For When We’re Looking or How We Have Been Trained to See

Trigger warning: mention of childhood conditioning.

Also, I’m not a therapist but do see one if you are struggling, or another professional as appropriate.

In my brain there are a lot of connections that light up like little fireflies as thoughts shoot around. There’s likely a unicorn wandering about over here and a cesspool of unwanted stuff over there, and little random snippets of trivia fluttering about like brightly-coloured butterflies.

Perhaps your brain is similar?

And then under all that are some train tracks, hidden in overgrown grass, but there all the same. And my mind-carriages just snap into their grooves without me even noticing sometimes and suddenly I’m back to where my mind was trained to be, through early repetition and observation. Before I even knew what thoughts were.

I have one track that I’m not proud of. But I’ll share it, because I think it might be useful. My first underlying instinct of what to look for when I see something new (not in-person, but on TV or another removed way) is to immediately find out what’s wrong with it. My other way of looking, which is more conscious and more “me” is warmer and more appreciative (and nuanced). But underneath – that old train track is steering me. Telling me what to look for. What to see. What is most important.

So, recently I’ve started to pull the grass up to uncover this particular track, now that I know it’s there, to reveal the mechanism behind the instinct. Is it scary to think that something we do so naturally might not be a genuine part of us at all?

“But how do you know it’s not genuine?” I hear no one asking. Well – because it doesn’t feel like me. It feels like the people I learned it from. No blame – we all have stuff to deal with. But that is what it is.

And it happens in loads of different areas of our lives.

However, today I want to ask:

What are you looking for when you’re looking?

Because most of us have been trained to look for something. Trained to orient ourselves around some kind of certainty which fits in with the way we see (or have been taught to see) the world.

OK, do you have your answer? I’m going to give you some further questions you can ask about this particular way of looking at things.

Take your time and you may want to write the answers down. Also, try to keep an open mind and accept the ‘fresh’ answers rather than formulated or more controlled ones. They may be unexpected. OK, call to mind your way of seeing, now ask yourself:

  1. How do I feel about that?
  2. How is it affecting me?
  3. How does it shape my view of the world and me in it?
  4. How do I think that would make the person I’m looking at (or creator of the thing I’m looking at) feel?
  5. And finally – what is a more genuine way for me to look at things?

It can be hard to remember not to be too self-critical when trying to deepen our understanding of ourselves. After all, we’re often looking for what’s ‘wrong’. A deeper view of ourselves is not that reductive though, the self is not sorted into good and bad in such a black and white sense.

It might be more helpful to see traits and behaviours as ‘more’ or ‘less’ us. I know that I enjoy my intellect, and that intellects love looking for what is wrong – it gives them something to grip onto and wrangle with. They aren’t so engaged with rainbow-hues and positivity that is enough in itself. The intellect likes to dissect and compare and contrast and it really, really likes facts it perceives as distinct objects. The edge it likes to use to orient itself around is often a flaw, so to use it in this way, you have to look for flaws. On the other hand if you were an engineer maybe you wouldn’t be looking for flaws so much as weaknesses and if you’re in a creative mode, you would be looking for possibilities, while a communicator or pattern-maker might be focusing on connections. (These aren’t specific terms used within a specific system, by the way, just the language I’m using right now).

Woah, I didn’t mean to get into a discussion on aspects of the mind! What I mean is, I like that intellectual side of me. But I don’t like the fact I can have a behaviour that is mainly the result of conditioning that supersedes my free will and my personality. So, without throwing it all out, or condemning it, I want to find the parts that feel like me and the way of doing things that feels like me also.

And then when the old behaviour shows up (which it always will, especially at first), I will start to practice allowing myself to be different in the moment. And take care to process the emotions that come up (which could be any, but will usually include uncertainty and fear – because it’s different).

So, if you’re looking to change how you look at things, do be gentle with yourself, and be intentional about how you do it. The current way won’t be all bad or all good, most likely. Find the parts that work for you. And then notice how when the way you look is more attuned to who you are, things start to shift.

And as always, take care of yourself, you good-looking person!