Understanding habits, needs and negative emotions – Chapter Two

Understanding habits, needs and negative emotions – Chapter Two

It had been eight years earlier that I had left the fair shores of England by boat, I was twenty one years of age. I had headed for Australia looking for adventure and a new life. And now here I was back for a holiday in Maryport, the place of my birth. I was standing in the Labour Club with a pint of beer in one hand and a set of darts in the other. The three darts thudded into the dartboard. The chalk was moving on the chalkboard as soon as the last arrow hit the dartboard. In less than three seconds, the total was added together and then subtracted from the figure on the chalkboard. It had been calculated by David, one my best friends from childhood, and I stood in awe of this human calculator.

David and I had grown up together living just around the corner from each other. We played football on the local field most summer nights and built bonfires together in winter. During our school holidays we would head off on long adventurous treks across the countryside. We would meander through woods and forests or stroll along the sea front. We would often lie on our backs and chew grass while we watched the clouds drifting across the sky. We talked about what we would like to do when we grew up to be men. The one thing David didn’t do was spend much time at school. We would head off to school together but I would often arrive alone. David would choose to left turn at Dolby’s Chemist shop. This turn would take him into town while the rest of us headed down the long road to school. A part of me envied his ability to make that choice, as I was too afraid of the repercussions should I be found out. David wasn’t that interested in school. Even when we started school at the age of five I remember him sleeping beside me with his head on the desk at the back of the class. And now here he was, faster than a calculator when it came to calculating the scores at darts.

So how can someone who was not very good at, or interested in maths at school become this human calculator, calculating at super-human speed? It’s all about repetition, and the development of habits through repetition.

Repetition is the mother of skill, and skill is the result of habit. This is the brilliance of the mind. We teach the subconscious mind to do something and then it does it automatically, without thinking. We train the subconscious and it becomes our perfect servant. Compare a new born child’s abilities with your own. Adults walk, talk, get dressed and make coffee without much conscious thought. We might consciously make the decision to do something, but then most of it is done subconsciously.

We are taught to do many things in life – riding bikes, using computers, driving cars, playing football or netball – even how to dress and brush our teeth. But no one teaches us anything about our minds and how we use our amazing minds to create our lives. I find this strange. We have the most amazing computer in the universe between our ears and no one has taught us how to use it. And to make matters worse, much of the programming is done by others before we have developed a rational logical faculty of mind. The people in charge of this programming usually have absolutely no idea how it works. We develop sporting programs to develop physical fitness and skills, but there is not much around to teach people how the mind works or how to develop mental fitness for life. Much of this book comes from programs I have used with clients – programs that have proven over the past ten years to be effective. But don’t take it on face value – test it for yourself!

The way we feel is usually a result of our automatic mental habits of thinking – the way we have trained our brains to see the world. If we understand how our brains are trained then surely we can choose what we train them? First, we need to understand what drives our behaviour.

Our behaviour is like the wheels of a car. The ways we think and act are the front wheels leading forward and the way we feel and our physiology are the back wheels following. The engine driving it all contains our five genetic human needs. Our need for love and connection; for empowerment (a feeling that we are important to people: that we have an influence on our lives); for freedom; for fun; and for survival. Survival isn’t normally a problem if we have our health, food, shelter and freedom from harm. Freedom and fun go out of the window when the needs for love, connection and empowerment are not being met. Our needs for love and connection and empowerment are usually met through our relationships with others. I would suggest that over ninety five per cent of our problems are relationship problems – past, present, or lack of. I have found this to be true in my practice as a psychotherapist.

These five needs come in different strengths that create different personalities. The person with a high need for love and connection would usually like to be around others most of the time – a sociable person. The person with a high need for empowerment needs to feel important to others and have an influence over their lives – they usually like their own lives to be organised and structured. Someone with a high need for freedom might like their own space; they don’t need to be around others all the time. The person with a high need for fun might like new and interesting things and being spontaneous. The person with a high need for survival would tend to be more cautious and less spontaneous. All these needs in differing strengths create a myriad of differing personalities.

My wife has a high need for love and connection – a very sociable person who likes parties and being around others. I on the other hand have a high need for freedom and fun. I have skydived and done scuba diving, but these days I tend to meditate, read books and paint. I like my own space. You can see the obvious conflict. My wife likes to be around people most of the time and I like my own space and doing my own thing. We have learned to compromise over the past thirty years of being together. But that wasn’t always the way. We had some magnificent take no prisoner battles in the early days that we were lucky to survive.


Most of our destructive negative emotions are based on fear – a fear of lacking.

There are basically two types of emotions: love based emotions and fear based emotions. Most of our destructive negative emotions are based on fear – a fear of lacking. I believe that to understand this is to understand what stops us being happy.

If we want to find the root of our negative emotions we need to look a little further. To a distortion of these needs – wants.

A need is something basic that must be met for us to be happy. A want is a feeling of lacking something we don’t necessarily need. An example of this might be ‘I need healthy food to survive. But I want to have donuts and cakes.’ Often our short-term wants override our long-term needs.

About 2500 years ago a guy called Buddha told us that all life is suffering. This was the first of his noble truths. The second noble truth was that all suffering comes from craving. So where does this craving come from? It comes from wanting something different. By wanting something different you are basically telling yourself that you are not happy now; you are lacking something that stops you from being happy in this moment - now. Due to this perceived lack you are looking at the world in a fearful way and this in turn releases the physiology of fear – our flight or fight response. The body reacts with a general discharge from the sympathetic nervous system releasing hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and noradrenaline. These hormones produce uncomfortable sensations in the body that are designed by nature to protect us. They create a craving for relief from the stressor by causing us to run away from or fight the threat: The flight of fight response. Once the threat is resolved we go back to our normal state.

This system has worked well in our evolution to protect us from the physical threat of harm from wild animals such as sabre toothed tigers. It is not working so well for us now from an emotional point of view – from a mind conceiving irrational threats, and these irrational threats are wants. So let’s take a look at where these wants arise when looking at the mind of today, and in what way these wants are a distortion of our needs.

We can break down the wants into four basic areas to keep things simple.

Love is not something you can get – only something you can give.