Your character is determined by all the large and small decisions you make on a consistent basis. It’s not what you do once in a while that counts, but what you do day in and day out. Thus, the important moments in our lives are when we make or fail to make these critical decisions. For example, we might decide
• whether to become angry and defensive or to walk away from a downward-spiraling, pointless argument,
• whether to think about our long-term health or to indulge in unhealthy over-consumption,
• whether to act quickly on an opportunity or to procrastinate and let the opportunity slip by.
It pays to prepare ourselves ahead of time for decisions we find challenging to make when we know we may be tempted to make the wrong decision. The most effective way to prepare oneself is through dramatic enactment of likely conflict-inducing scenarios.
A great way to do this is to attend a drama therapy or psychodrama workshop. They can be incredibly transformational in addition to being fun. Yet, it may be more practical to ask a friend to give you feedback on your enactment. Otherwise, you can use your imagination or the bathroom mirror to rehearse a desirable response to a typical situation that tends to trip you up.
Through the rehearsal of conflict-resolution possibilities, you develop inner voices that have remained silent or ineffectual in the past. Kinesthetic practice benefits a person because it re-enforces the emotions that are tied to the desired response. Rehearsal allows you to embody the appropriate sensations, tone of voice, and body language, which may not be finely tuned or easily accessible for you.
For instance, one might imagine one’s spouse suspiciously asking, “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to town?” Normally, one might bite back with “Why didn’t you tell ME you were going to sit around and watch TV?” Instead, one might imagine saying, “I didn’t think of it. Sorry if you were worried.”
Simply saying these words doesn’t guarantee a desired result. You have to practice saying them with the desired intention of self-empowerment and compassion. In fact the words matter much less than the attitude accompanying them. Someone used to feeling resentment or submissiveness may have a hard time embodying self-empowerment and compassion without some rehearsal and preferably some help from a good friend.
In order to play a new part well, that is, to integrate a new way of being, you have to practice, just as if you’re rehearsing a part for a play. This has nothing to do with being fake or insincere. We develop who we are through practicing new ways of being. Preparing yourself by practicing or imagining yourself responding with an alternative to your habitual pattern will have an effect on who you are and who you become.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD