I had a long, long discussion yesterday. A discussion I simply couldn’t successfully complete because the concepts eluded my ability to find human words. So I slept on it. Drank on it. Even forgot about it until I remembered I wanted to explore it. (That was kinda circular). And now Dear Readers, you get to see my second attempt at understanding what’s hiding around my corner.

PS: Yes, I used the word ‘soul’. And no, this isn’t about that soul.

Humans have default settings, I truly believe. Settings like if you’re given a choice between Coke and Pepsi, you just simply take one over the other because it’s what you do when you don’t want to make a formal decision. Do you exercise today, or do you eat that bonbon? We all start from a standard position and try to talk ourselves into the opposite. And if we can’t make a decision, we stay with our starting point.

As strange as it sounds to many who know me well, my default starting point is usually saying ‘no’. To start from a position of “what’s considered normal” and take it from there. Now I more often than not talk myself into a ‘yes’, because I also love adventure and wackiness. But I also almost always start the process with all of the reasons why I shouldn’t.

Men of my generation were generally raised to be rather stoic. We were told our primary roles in life were provider and protector. We (especially those of us raised in a blue collar semi-southern area) were told to always fit in. To follow the playbook. So naturally we start off decision-making with what society considers normal and then possibly branch off from there.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the way I’m wired naturally.

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I’ve always known that there was a huge disconnect between the way I was taught and the way I think. But imprinting is nigh impossible to overcome. Or so they say. But I have had my moments when I started off with “yes” and ran from there. When I never considered normalcy as my starting point.

That mindset pretty much describes the first time I lived in Barcelona. Each and every moment was “F*** Yea! LET’S DO IT”, following by a lame attempt to consider the opposite. And that was indeed the Real Rick Higgins. The guy I always knew was inside. I felt free. But sadly, I didn’t realize that it wasn’t as simple as all that.

Let’s say you’re overweight and want to be svelte. You diet and exercise, and at some point you hit your goals and you look damn sexy. What usually happens then? You reset back to your default. The reason you were overweight is because bonbons are part of your “normal”. So what do you do? You go back to “making the decision” to be svelte again and lather, rinse, repeat. Or … you can approach the whole endeavor not with the goal of becoming Hollywood Slender, but rather to change your default setting so you’re maintaining and living the life you want. One of these options leads to long-term happiness, and the other is a self-repeating loop. Why? Because one of them is your “default”. Either you change your basic starting point, or you relive the same decision process over and over.

So when I said “I gotta exercise my soul” it’s because this paradigm exists in many ways. Meaning, sometimes defaults are innocuous (like Code and Pepsi) and sometimes they rub up against your very being. Such is my relationship with yes and no.

I have known ever since I was a wee lad that I was different. That my values and desires were not of normal 1960’s born men. That I wanted to be creative and inquisitive. But instead I just followed along with the playbook and every decision in life started off with me on the wrong side. With me more often than not just accepting the default and staying with ‘no, that isn’t something I want to fight for”. And I was intensely unhappy, to say the least. And then … covid came along.

My default has indeed changed during the last almost 24 months. What was once “no, but maybe I’ll talk myself into it” is now a “NO, maybe I’ll … NO, JUST NO”. A simple decision like should I go to the store becomes “nah, I’ll just order it online because leaving the house requires a conscious choice”. And so my happiness quotient has dropped by a factor of many. And so when I was discussing this topic yesterday, I kept harking back to that first time in Barcelona when EVERYTHING started with a yes. When I was living the life of the “Real Me”.

But here’s the thing … the second time I lived there? Everything didn’t start that way, with a yes. It was more of a coin toss. Had I become numb to the newness of the city? What I think happened was that I didn’t realize that like exercise and diet, you have to continue to actively pursue things until they become your default. It doesn’t happen by … well, default.

And so with that second stay in Spain I slowly started slipping back into my unhappy norm. And the lockdown of 2020 finally forced me to see what was happening. So yea, I need to exercise my soul. Each and every day. It may never become my default to start with “yes” for every decision, but it will be easier to do so if I remember who I am, and to make a determined effort to not just fall back on the old path.

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