We really are quite literally, in two minds; our conscious mind and our subconscious mind. One is creative and the other is habitual. To change or create a habit we must communicate with both.
I was the beer guzzling Queen of Bad Habits! My ability to effortlessly add bad habit after bad habit to my repertoire of evil doings was legendary. Unfortunately I was not so flash at creating the good ones, I needed to use every trick, tool and reward in the book to fill my life with happy healthy habits.
As someone who lacked self-discipline and was very spontaneous, it was like turning around the Titanic. I had to look death in the eye on numerous occasions for me to go from smoking, drinking, drug pig – to clean eating, skin glowing, advice giving, saint. Ok, I’m not even close to a saint – but gosh, compared to where I was, I reckon I deserve a knighthood!
Of all the topics, this one I am the most qualified, and feel very passionate about because I know how darn hard it is. I certainly failed plenty, and then bit by bit, step by step, I started to understand what worked!
First up, all you rock stars who have tried hard to ditch a dodgy habit, or establish a new one, it’s a formidable endeavour. (I’m not talking to the small percentage of you who have self-control made of titanium.) For most of us it’s really hard. The current trend, telling us to: Just do it! Change your life in 10 simple steps, 15 days to a smaller butt – doesn’t help.
Feeling like the task was too big was the most daunting hurdle for me, until I had a game-changing breakthrough and accepted it was going to take time. As long as I kept my eye on the prize, I’d emerge, not overnight, nor in a week, or a month – I needed to measure my betterment in years.
The best piece of advice I can give is stop focusing on what you don’t want, and totally focus on what you DO want.
This is where the two minds comes in. If we are putting a heap of energy into focusing on the bad habit (even giving it up), we are reactivating all the data stored in our subconscious. This data is associated with the status quo, often feelings of reward, pleasure, relaxation, our identity and even what we believe we deserve. It’s like being in quicksand; we can’t get out.
The flipside, putting our energy into the habit we DO want, builds a library of thoughts and feeling that pull us towards that change.
I used this theory to take my sporadic running practise to a more regular part of my life. I noticed it was always a big challenge getting myself out to dance amongst the lampposts. Once I was running I was happy. When I got home I was ecstatic, pumped full of endorphins, energised, any bad mood left on the pavement. I started to take time to immerse myself in these great feelings, mentally connecting this deliciousness with running.
I love the term Crowding Out. There is only so much space in our conscious mind, fill this space with words and feelings that pull you towards who you want to be.
A large portion of our life we operate on autopilot. It is universally agreed that our subconscious mind is ruling the roost 90% of the time. Without this wonderful autopilot our hectic lives would be almost impossible to navigate: useful habits like flushing the toilet, looking both ways crossing the road, and the manners that show off our education: to the not so useful, reactivity in conversations or even bigotry. These actions and hundreds like them have been created through Observation, Imitation, Repetition, Internalisation, and then becoming part of who we are, Actualisation.
They are entrenched because we have done them thousands of times, over years. We need to consider this when thinking about what is required to transform our lives.
Those who I referred to earlier, with the titanium backbones, also have a Herculean ability to delay gratification. Do not despair my lovely marshmallow friends, these two wonderful human traits can be developed. This needs to be done in baby steps, setting ourselves up to win. Otherwise we end up doing the opposite; creating further evidence that we can’t follow through.
This is SO important. Setting unrealistic targets puts us on a roller coaster of optimism, followed by failure – all the time eroding our belief in ourselves.
Get real with yourself, based on the evidence you have created so far – where are you at?
Example – you may have tried a 30-day detox, diet or cleanse, but have only ever managed to get to day 3 or 4. That’s awesome, you did three days – that’s your level. If you do one again, saying you’re going to do 30 days is possible, but unrealistic. Next time set your goal at five days. You have a much better chance of achieving your goal. You’ll feel successful, you’ll build belief in yourself and you’ll be on your way to your long-term goal.
Apply this to anything, choose the change you want, set a realistic goal, dwell on how bloody awesome you are, then choose your next small stretch.
A mantra I used in my most arduous years was “never give up giving up”. Change TAKES TIME. We often spend years building habits and beliefs that don’t serve us. To change or replace them we must swing the pendulum back with the same commitment.
Whatever metamorphosis you seek, this needs to be considered in the context of the beliefs you hold, the programming that underpins all your decision making.
If your beliefs do not line up with your new aspirations, you’ll be doing it hard. Eventually willpower won’t be enough. Think Lotto winners who are broke five years later, dieters losing 30 kilos only to expand again, gyms joined and not attended, study started – not completed, parenting practises changed, only to revert.
Why? Because the powerhouse that is running the show, your subconscious mind, is making minute daily choices in line with your beliefs. If the Lotto millionaire holds childhood beliefs that money is evil, or that he doesn’t deserve it – the money will quickly end up in someone else’s pocket.
Do not measure your growth in days or weeks. It is only when you look back in years that you will see how far you have come.
I’ve created a free worksheet below that will help you communicate with your subconscious mind. The more you put into each of these questions the better your outcome will be.
Download Habits Worksheet (pdf)
Download Habits Worksheet (doc)