The Similarity of Second Chances

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Have you ever noticed that the Universe always gives us a second chance?  It took me a long time to figure this out, actually, but even I can take a hint when hit upside the head with a brick. Repeatedly. This reality was highlighted for me as I read a story by Katie MacAlister in her Dark Ones series, Shades of Gray, which has nothing to do with the number 50, a good thing because I couldn't get through the first 20 pages of that book; terribly written, IMHO, and lots of better options out there if you want to read about "alternative lifestyles." This story is about Noelle, who gets a second chance to fulfill her destiny as a vampire's Beloved, if only she can convince him to have her.

Unfortunately, the kinds of second chances we get in real life do not often include a one-for-one Mulligan or the opportunity to have a second chance to make a first impression. The kinds of second chances we get in life are of the more karmic variety.

We might get a second chance to be a better partner with our next relationship; or a better parent with a younger child, or perhaps with grandchildren. We might be presented with an opportunity to be a better friend or employee or sibling or host or child in subsequent situations as we progress in life.

Sometimes, these second chances are fairly obvious and we are able to recognize them. In those situations we have two choices:  do things differently this time, and hope for a better outcome, or keep trying the same approach, perhaps with more passion or force of will, and think that this time, it will be different.

Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker, says if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. Wise counsel. I just don't always act on it. Because, as we all know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I do that all the time. It's called denial.

And then, there are those times when I can't even recognize that I'm being presented with an opportunity for a do-over. That is quite frustrating because it's one thing to lie to oneself about whether I’m doing a breaststroke in a river in Egypt. It's quite another only to recognize that the Cutco knife salesman in whose face you slammed the door was really opportunity knocking. I hate it when that happens.

But the Universe is generous with us and if we have made mistakes in the past or practiced habits that undermine our success, we are often given another chance to do it better. Sometimes, we can feel like we are living in our own personal Groundhog Day movie when we do the same thing over and over. Clearly, we can't help ourselves. My dating history before I met my beloved husband is proof enough of that.  As was the endless loop of fighting and bickering that characterized my entire relationship with my mother. Groundhog Day on steroids.

So, how can we break this vicious cycle of stupidity, misery and irritation, depending on the severity of any particular bad habit or endlessly repeating situation?  Interestingly enough, an answer to this burning question appeared in my inbox just this morning.  I read about a journalist named Charles Duhigg who wrote a book called The Power of Habit.

In the book, which I confess I haven't read but will nevertheless quote liberally at cocktail parties thereby displaying the breadth of my erudition, Duhigg explains the neuroscience behind the effective creation of a new habit. He tells us to look for a "cue," the event that will trigger us to rely on a new habit to replace one that no longer serves.

So, when you've had a bad day—the "cue" -- and you would normally reach for a glass of wine and a handful of cookies, it would signal your brain to implement plan B-- a green drink and a brisk walk outside to clear your head as a new means of transitioning away from your day.

Or, if you meet a compelling new bad boy (the cue), you execute the new habit-- i.e. run screaming from the room--instead of the old one, which involved immediately jumping into bed with him.

Or, if you are me, and the days of obsessing over bad boys are firmly in the rear view mirror, thankfully, then it's time to look for other areas that the Universe is offering opportunities to get it right this time. In my case, I would very much like to develop new habits when the "cue" is empty, unstructured time on my hands.

As I've probably told you before, I am often a human doing rather than a human being. I rush to fill the void of time with busy work or meaningless puttering around and before I know it, I'm either totally overwhelmed or wondering where the day went having accomplished nothing and feeling like crap about it. This is behavior that causes me much distress and I do it over and over again. To the point where I work way too hard to fill my time with quasi-meaningful activities so that I can avoid the self-hatred that comes with wasting time--the most egregious sin of all, in my book. But all of this activity masquerading as accomplishment is really just another aspect of denial.

If I can't leave some or even a lot of unstructured space in my life, how will there be room for anything new to come in?  There won't. So I need to learn to tolerate the discomfort of unstructured time (my "cue") and insert new, more constructive habits in place of my old, less-than-productive habits.

So, I'm grateful for the similarity of second chances (or in my case, fourth, fifth or fifteenth chances) to do something differently and get a different result. I'm taking my cues and implementing a new plan. I'm getting off the insanity treadmill and taking a walk on another street. And, hopefully, it will work out as well for me as it did for Noelle and her not-50-Shades-of- Gray.