DO WE HAVE FREE WILL?
HOW MANY “BIG” DECISIONS DID YOU MAKE LAST YEAR?
When we are asked to describe our future, we tend to speak of big decisions (what school will I go to, what job will I get, what person I marry, etc.) Yet even if we get married, buy a house, buy a car, have a child, and take a major trip, all in one year, that still adds up to only 5 big decisions. However, according to researchers at Cornell University (Wansink and Sobal, 2007):
We make 35,000 decisions a day
226.7 decisions each day on just food alone
That’s 63,875,000 total decisions in 5 years
What if every single “major decision” we have ever made wasn’t really a decision we made at all, but the compounding of millions of smaller choices into one major outcome? While this decision compounding effect is probably most apparent when looking at our monthly credit card statements, most aspects of life don’t come with such a transcript. Taking a look at each transaction we can easily see the effect that circumstances, marketing, and others around us have on the choices we’d like to think of as our own.
IF WE MAKE THOUSANDS OF CHOICES EVERY DAY, MOST OF WHICH WE ARE NOT EVEN AWARE OF, HOW CAN WE POSSIBLY HAVE FREE WILL?
Well we can’t. Not in this way anyways. Imagine a computer. The developer (you) writes the program (thought) that the computer (brain) runs. However, the developer does not run the actual program himself. That is the job of the of the hardware; of the computer. Once the developer inputs the program into the computer it is out of his hands. If the developer writes a bad program, the computer will run poorly, be vulnerable to viruses, and crash. A good program will run smoothly and provide a base for other programs to be developed.
Similarly, once we believe “X” and input “X” into our brains, millions of decisions will be made with “X’ as a fundamental reference point. Not being aware of this often leads us to attack the symptoms versus the root belief in attempting to modify our behavior. We try to change a few decisions and exhaust all our willpower just to have a thousand more instantaneously take their place. This is precisely how our brain catches the virus called:
“I’m powerless and have no control over my life”
This is not true. I have control. You have control. We have control. We have complete control in choosing what thoughts we want to create and what programs we want our brains to run. While changing a belief is hard, I would argue that it is infinitely easier than changing the grand canyon of actions that come from it. Whenever we find ourselves struggling to change a belief we can take comfort in knowing that for every one we change we, quite literally, change millions of little things in our lives. Still, this comfort might just not be enough when dealing with overpowering emotion.
Free Will Vs. Emotion
Choosing not to feel an emotion requires suppressing it only for it to manifest later. Repressed emotions cause us to project our own negativity onto our friends/families and, given enough time, cause physical health problems as well. No matter how strong our will may be, one way or another, the emotion will get out.
Although we do not have free will in choosing to have a particular emotion, we have absolute free will in choosing not to create thoughts based on this emotion. Once we run the program, it’s infinitely harder to take control and stop it. Once we form a particular thought based on an unpleasant emotion, our brain will replay a painful scenario over and over again. Like a song stuck in our heads all day long, it becomes almost impossible to get it out. Not ever giving birth to the thought in the first place is free will.
Choosing to just embrace, feel, and then feel even harder is free will. Whenever we do not let ourselves create any dialogue (program) for the brain to process we exercise free will and watch the emotion simply pass. We may not succeed every single time, but practice makes perfect. In doing so, we learn that we do not have to control every little thing in our lives, just those few count.