Everything that has ever happened to us, up until this point in time – right now – has lead us here.
Every experience, every memory, and every action is shaped by the ones before it. The way in which we experience the universe is a learned one. We learn to read, understanding what each letter symbolises in all of their swirling glory. We learn the sounds they make when they are spoken, and the difference in upper and lower case. In many cases, we might even learn how they are used in other languages, and how they might change with accents resting atop them.
Similar examples of our experiences could be demonstrated by our interpretation of colours, or music, or even differences in tactile sensation. After all, the way many of us learn something might be too hot or too cold is typically by touch, right?
It’s all in the experience
So, what about other examples of experiences…
Love? Hate? An innate desire for great tacos? All of these things are learned experiences as well.
The concept of perfect love is such an experience, possibly exampled by a newborn child at peace in the world, cradled in their parent’s arms, warm, desired and totally care-free. For most of us, this is one of our first experiences, and this experience has the power to shape all others that come after it. Some babies learn to cry until they feel this comfort, screaming until they are cuddled again. For many of us, this profound experience connects to our need for physical closeness in adult relationships, moulded and shaped by those earliest experiences.
The same thing can be said for bad experiences as well. That example of something being too hot; did we touch the stove as a child? Or too cold; did we go outside to play without a coat on? Putting up walls after bad experiences is very common, and can range in example from fears of objects, people, or attitudes, right through to particular sayings, and further intricacies in language – “Never talk about the war!” could be one such example.
These things could possibly be why addicts are always chasing that ever elusive first perfect ‘high’. That seemingly perfect feeling that wraps addicts in its warm and blissful embrace, only to fade and leave them nearly as quickly as it came. Just like the child who cries to be held again…
Power in perception
All of these examples are great at demonstrating impact, and each one will be different for everyone.
Catching sight of the impact that they can have is a huge undertaking. Philosophers have talked for centuries about how life’s great events can change people in unexpected ways. Interestingly, there is also great power in catching sight of these impacts, these stories, and using them as levers in your actions to do something different.
Acrophobia, more commonly known as a fear of heights, is a learned fear. Not everyone is afraid of heights, but those who are have learned to fear them in a number of different ways. These might include such things as falls, experiencing vertigo or dizziness at height, or even witnessing or being told about other’s fears of heights. Identifying where and how this was learned is a wonderful starting point to taking control, and using the knowledge as a driving force to make change in your own behaviours.
This is not easy… not by any stretch of the imagination. It takes immense practice, patience, and a fair bit of time to catch sight of how these experiences can affect you out in the world. And catching sight of them is only half the battle… as you’ll want to do something with that new-found knowledge.
“You must unlearn what you have learned” – Yoda
The writers of The Empire Strikes Back were bloody onto something writing that line. It’s a good guide, too. A lot of the learned behaviours that are derived from the impacts in our lives need to be unlearned, in a way. Impactful things happen to us and these are things we aren’t going to forget… so, trying to rewrite and control the reactions that they drive in us is the next choice.
These impactful moments aren’t always bad things either.
The cry of a baby often drives us to do something, which might be an innate or genetic response. Evolution has made sure that we have a predisposition to generally take care of our young. However, the response that we take in order to satisfy that predisposition can become a learned behaviour, on a number of levels. Cradling a baby in our arms, feeling them calm, the warm embrace in our arms, can take us back to our own moments of perfect love, care-free and wanted.
Knowing that, we can even seek out these experiences. We can use them to empower us, and others around us. We can change discourse in dialogue, knowing what impacts we can have on ourselves and others. Taking control of our impactful moments and our reactions to them can enable us to make meaningful change.
The next great impact
Talking with your crush from dawn ’til dusk. Shivering, soaked to the bone after being caught in a terrible storm. Watching a loved one’s life slip away. The birth of your own child. Moments in your life that stick with you – truly impactful moment – have the ability to change the way in which you perceive the world in an instant. Catching sight of them is the first step.