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Structure ….. (and Anti-Structure)

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Have you ever had days where you did not want to get up?  I can honestly say that it’s rare for me, but naturally being more of a night person it used to be hard for me to get up, because I get up very early to work with clients and patients.  Over the time though, when the alarm clock goes off you get up. All of us know that kid who had irresponsible parents, or soft parents, who let them do whatever they want.  Usually it’s reflected in grades, behavior, and outcomes.  Young people need structure and rules and the more living I do, the more I realize we need it even as adults and throughout our lives.  

Some of us can create our own structures which take the form of commitments we make to ourselves.  Some of us need the help of a social environment to become who we want to and achieve what we want to.  Most of us need a little of both, an ethical, moral and philosophical code of  living of our own choosing which enables us to become who we want to, and the support of a social world which pushes us to live up to the standards we set for ourselves and to live a meaningful, healthy, life.   

Structure becomes what you eventually do naturally.   

The alarm clock gives you structure and forms you into someone who is dependable and on time.  I use two alarms just in case.  One thing I really observed from being in the military was how quickly it changes people into someone else.  Young men who could not run very far or who had never gotten up early before or could not pay attention all of a sudden had to, and so they adapted and became what the Army calls “high-speed”. 

We adapt to our surroundings, positive or negative, constructive or destructive

If we are around negative and unhealthy people, then we become this way too.  Our environment has an effect on us.  For example, Wal-Mart gives me a headache- the noise, the lighting, the unhappy workers, the lack of pleasant surroundings.  If we are around things that bring us down, we will adapt and the structure will probably bring us down. This is common sense, but it is also something we forget quite easily.   

Our surrounding structures shape us into who we become at the end of our life. 

Mentally, if we listen to negative things on the radio or on TV, we will have negative emotions.  If we think about sad things, we may get sad.  If we worry and obsess, we will have a hard time deconstructing our situation to see the positive.  What we think about can affect our physical health.  Worry is a pattern in the brain, an anatomical pattern.  It’s a structural habit which is “grooved” into the brain.  Depression is like this too. 

Our brain adapts to the structural habits we allow it to be formed by- our obsessions, dispositions, attitudes, thoughts, self-awareness and sense of gratefulness or ungratefulness.    

Our physical bodies change and modify themselves according to the environments we put them in.  Exposure to the sun will damage the skin and cause sunspots.  Strength training builds muscle.  Aerobic exercise creates a more efficient heart and lungs.  Being around second hand smoke is polluting and carcinogenic. Being around a disordered, loud, and chaotic physical environment can cause mental and emotional health challenges.  We adapt physically to our surroundings.   

The physical structures we expose ourselves to cause changes in us, for the better and  for the worse depending on what they are. 

The Ultimate Question is This: 

How can we put structures in place which make us healthy and help us become who we want to become? 

Our souls and spirits are shaped by laws we give ourselves and by our purpose in life.   If it is to make lots of excess money at any cost, we may allow this structural goal to shape us into someone we don’t like.   In this example, there’s nothing wrong with money per se, but how we approach it might shape us if we don’t have structures in place which give us a balanced perspective to life where the mental, material, physical, emotional, and spiritual all work together. We all know that person who has gone down the road of trying to make an undefined amount of money and never seems to have enough.  That’s a sucker’s game.   The structure of an undefined goal of more material wealth is a downward spiral to misery.  

We also know the person who seems to have inner peace, happiness, good friendships and close family ties, rewarding work, and interesting hobbies.  Somehow they have life figured out, or so it seems.   

It could be that the structures they have in place allow them to succeed “automatically.”
All they have to do is show up! 

The laws we give ourselves form a structure and shape us and we change and want to stay within this framework because it allows us to thrive and be in harmony with others, with God, and what we’re capable of doing.   Also, we can consciously change this structure so that we adapt and grow and garner inner resources of resilience to become stronger.   Maybe we take on a public speaking gig, a leadership role, a family, or we commit to climb a mountain. 

The bottom line is that we need to be aware

We need to realize which structures are shaping us.   

Via Negativa 

One of my favorite principles is via negativa.  What was originally a theological concept and involved describing who God was by describing who God was not, became a philosophical concept which Ancient Greeks used in medicine and in living better.  Via Negativa means taking things away.  In general this is a wise structural concept.  If you feel like you could be healthier, take things away and see if you are.

This is similar to the “Pareto Principle”: 80% of the good things in your life come from 20% of the things in your life, and vice versa when it comes to the negative.  Maybe it will be an app on your phone, carbohydrates, a nagging relationship, excessive alcohol, or social games you don’t want to play anymore.  Regardless, try taking away structures first, via negativa. 

Here are some other suggestions for becoming aware of and using structure: 

Via Negativa carbs, alcohol, TV, emotional vampires, naggers, club memberships, pretense, debt, media, etc.  

Daily Exercise-commit to this and let it shape you. 

Mentors– meet once a week with a spiritual guide or counselor in a religious or work setting. 

A Code– Decide what you will or won’t do ahead of time.  For me, it’s cheating, lying, the 10 Commandments, pretending to like someone I don’t like.  Never be cruel.  I have my code I stick by and I suggest you do too.

MorningsGet up and make your bed.  Organize what you’re going to do.  Say 5 things you are thankful for every day.   

Balanced Meals– Never eat just carbs alone, which will spike your blood sugar big time.  Combine foods. 

Clothing– Try to dress as good or better than most people in a business or social environment, without being pretentious.  It shows you care and can be trusted. This is a good structure. 

Join / Sign Up / Commit Join the group, or pay for the class so you will follow through. 

Social Environments and Friendships– It’s amazing how difficult some people find it to be happy for others.  Real love and friendship is not controlling, demeaning, or jealous.  Celebrate your friends accomplishments and successes.  Only associate with positive people.  Your social environment is a big deal and will give you the structure you need to be healthy, but it can also bring you down. 

Family– I’m a big believer in family.  You were born into a family and you can never change that.  That being said, some families are EXTREMELY dysfunctional.  Some parents are jealous of their kids.  Some kids are not appreciative of their parents.  Some siblings have rivalries.  Be humble but set boundaries.  Love your family, but don’t allow shame viruses spread to you.  If you need to you can move far away, in the case of abuse or something like that.  I do think you have a responsibility to your family.  But you also have a responsibility to be yourself and say what you think, with respect.  Your family can be one of the best structures to give your life meaning, joy, and happiness, but it needs to be handled carefully.  You need to think about giving more than taking, like most things.  Many families stay together and this is the most important part of their lives- it is their life

Jobs – Sometimes, you need a job that gives you structure.  To do what I do requires a huge amount of self-discipline, because I do all of my own selling and marketing and service.  I have not earned a paycheck from an employer in my post-college adult life.  Most people need the structure of a job to become better though because otherwise you have to be completely self-motivated.  Look for a trade or organization which will allow you to succeed.  The military is a perfect option for many people, because it gives them the structure to have a good life.   

And….finally…..Don’t Forget Anti-Structure 

Sometimes, we need some controlled chaos, or what GK Chesterton called “legitimate foolishness.”  If we don’t plan for it, and allow it to happen, it will come out anyway and probably in a negative way- in the way of crime, movies, and disturbing forms of art.  Traditional society used to have this “Anti-structure” built into it in the form of festivals and fairs and parades, but since we are moving further and further away from tradition we have to be always mindful of our need to be free and wild in a controlled way at times.   

I’ve always been a fan of New Orleans.  From the very first time I went there, I loved it.  Not that I never overdid it on the revelry, because I certainly did, but it was more than that.  The “Laissez Faire” or “Big Easy” attitude of New Orleans is something we are missing in our lives.  We need characters and fun, and silliness at times.  We work hard, almost 24/7 it seems, and we never take the time to let the pressure off.  I’m not saying we need to go crazy, but we need to find healthy ways to blow off steam.  Here are some of my favorites: 

  • Weekend retreats  
  • Talk to a random stranger 
  • Concerts 
  • Swimming at Night 
  • Moderate Alchohol  
  • Parades 
  • Charades and impersonations 
  • Family traditions 
  • Dancing 
  • Singing 
  • Religious Worship 
  • Holidays 
  • Physical Intimacy 
  • Walking and exploring a city with no plan in mind 
  • Theatre / Movies 
  • Technology Breaks 
  • Friendships / Relationships 
  • Sports 
  • Stay up All Night 
  • Look at the Stars 
  • Intense Exercise 
  • Nature 
  • Music 

Set up structures in your life that help you, and allow you to live healthy and live free.  They will push you, keep you on the right path, and ultimately bring you joy.   
 
Read Next: Do the Opposite

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If you like my blog you might like one of my books:

Movement & Meaning is the powerful story of mental health and exercise
Healthy Work will help you find health and meaning in and through your work. 

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