Should you act first, think later?

One of my main experiments to date is eating in different places while eating alone. This sprang out of the desire to eat with no distractions and being simultaneously terrified and bored of the idea of eating alone, in silence, at the dining table. 

The first time, I decided to just eat on top of the table. I put a chair on the normal dining table and ate cross-legged in front of. It went well and I managed to get through a twenty minute meal in relative contentment. One of the best thing about it was, from my elevated height, I could look out of the window better than when normally sitting at the table. It provided a small, low level interest throughout the meal. 

I went on from this to eating on the floor, in the bath, on the sofa, and under the table. Reflecting on it, this series of experiments touched upon two two really important things:

1. It gave me the choice to do something different

2. I realised I acted first, to help change my thought patterns. I forced physical change to allow psychological change. 

This is actually not as obvious as it seems, a quick search on internet reveals we often think of it the other way round. First think of how you want to change, then hope your behaviour changes. I must admit this, intuitively, does feel a bit baffling. Try to imagine yourself having a nice time eating alone with no distractions. Even though I've done it, it's hard. It's different each time, and if you've never done it, you'd have no idea how it would look like. Human imaginations aren’t that great in my experience. Far better to try it out and gather real information than guessing how it will go. 

There is some research out there that backs behaviour influencing emotion. This school of thought seems to originate with a guy called William James, born 1842, who said for instance,

“We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh.” 

The act changes the emotion. It's been picked up on in modern psychology, Richard Wiseman wrote an informative article about it. One of the bits that caught by eye was,

“When you eat with your non-dominant hand you are acting as if you are carrying out an unusual behaviour. Because of that you place more attention on your action, do not simply consume food without thinking about it, and so eat less.”

The minute we do something different or weird with our bodies, forcibly change our habits, we need to think about it. We finally have to engage our brain, it can't be done on auto-pilot, and really, we’re much better as humans if we engage our brain once in a while.

I found a lovely article on this subject, explained with example of walking the dog. Jo Verrent  explains beautifully that, even with a task you know can be pleasant, sometimes you just don’t want to do it,

“Sometimes I just want to sit on the sofa watching crap telly. Sometimes I want to stay in bed, hiding under the duvet and pretending to be asleep.”

We’ve all been there. Her response was to give herself a new task each time to make the walk interesting - go on a different route, take a gin and tonic for the journey, or not cross any existing trails. The result was transformative,

“from the moment I started to think about how this walk would be different I felt invigorated, charged with a new sense of excitement rather than of boredom.”


What do you think? Do you find it easier to change your thought patterns first, and then let actions follow? Or change your routine and find your thinking alters as well?