Insights Aren't Enough
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | February 2017 (edited 2019)
We read and study, soaking in mass quantities of information; but fail to act. Change comes at the point of decision.
The heavens open, a voice cuts through the icy air, and our hearts melt. Blessed with a momentary charge of clearness, we courageously move forward. We each have a few epiphanies—moments of enlightenment. But the brief clarity is soon clouded with the familiar uncertainty. The enlightenment fails to translate into a changed life. We scratch our heads and try to regain the motivation to fight off approaching confusions. Change doesn’t automatically follow insights.
Driven by the glorious hunt, we gobble up new information, desiring enlightenment, believing the next discovery will transform our pitiful lives. When change doesn’t magically follow, we rejoin the hunt. Our chase for meaning continues indefinitely. We our stuck on the treadmill of dissatisfaction, grasping for enlightenment but never satisfied with what we find. Insights contribute to healthy transformations but don’t create change without other necessary ingredients. Ingrained patterns of behavior need more than a simple insight to evolve into healthy action—life’s too complex.
“In a moment of anger, I can cause a life time of regret," the quote provides momentary insights, a glimmering hope for change; but the words fail to relieve us from the power of angry impulses. The jolts of anger continue—the same triggers still ignite the same fiery response.
Insight broadens understanding, serving as a valuable tool. The actual change comes from skilled use of the tool. We must face the demon and make a different choice—not take that drug, wait to make the purchase, study for the test, or calmly consider a spouse’s point of view. The new action when forced repeatedly creates the change. Attentive efforts redirecting automatic impulses eventually creates a new habit—change. If angry responses disrupt meaningful intentions, we must find strength to intervene; a quote may soothe our soul, giving a dose of motivation and renewed purpose. Addictions, however, are a different animal, requiring more than a daily motto or motivational quote. Abandoning addictions demand skilled efforts, supported by supportive others willing to share the burden.
"Attentive efforts redirecting automatic impulses eventually creates a new habit—change."
Knowledge is wonderful, but the painstaking work of change remains to be done. Insights illuminate old patterns but don’t eliminate them.
The waves of emotions flow from triggers in the environment, giving life to internal pushes. Understanding this process helps interrupt the unhealthy cycles leading to undesirable consequences—broken relationships, criminal records, hurt feelings, and lost employment. By identifying errant beliefs, exposing deceptions, and fervently employing better behaviors, we transform futures.
We are enlightened not by reading but through living. With experience, we give order to the fragments of knowledge, forcing words into the world of feelings—where disciplines, impulses, and ego protection exist. Through mindful attention, behaviors, emotions, and sensitivities become clear, unobscured by the blinding biases. Unhealthy patterns become evident. At first, when unaccustomed to mindful living, only a few crumbs fall from the table of knowledge; with persistence, guidance and courage, we see harmful patterns beginning to materialize, giving us an opportunity to catch them before they run their destructive course.
Insight provides momentary waves of positive feelings—a good place to start; but only by the sweat, blisters, and sore muscles of active engagement will we change the trajectory of our life.