How To Demolish A Negative Mental Habit In 21 Days
by Jean-Paul Cortes
(San Jose, Costa Rica)
Have you ever tried listening in to your brain's innermost conversations? What could all those thoughts be saying? Could they possibly be somehow getting in the way of your success?
They may be, in the form of negative mental habits. You've felt them, you've faced them countless times before. You know how painful it is to fall in their throes. And yet, we somehow hopelessly keep being pulled back by them, almost like an addiction.
That's what a habit is after all, an addiction of sorts to a usual way of doing and also to a usual way of thinking.
Like in addiction, once we're hooked it becomes very hard to “break” a habit. Even if we know that our “usual way” of doing or thinking about things is in some way harming or getting in the way of our progress.
You've heard about habits, but do you know about mental habits?
We tend to associate habits to behavior, in other words to things that we do. As such, when we do something often enough, enough that it becomes pretty much automatic, we say that we've acquired a habit.
Such habits are easier to notice because they're pretty obvious in what we do. But there are other deeper, more ingrained and sometimes much subtler habits that we don't even perceive that are nevertheless running the show.
New research in cognitive neuroscience has further opened the doors of understanding into human behavior. These discoveries have uncovered evidence showing that as much as 90% of our behavior is run by our subconscious mind. It's almost as if our programming consists of a series of invisible “blueprints” made up by our mental habits.
Keeping in mind that on average a person has around 50,000 thoughts a day, it's easy to see why much of what keeps us running, happens outside of conscious thought. Can you imagine how much resources, effort and energy it would take for our conscious mind to keep track of everything we need to do in our daily lives?
Why your programming may be what's keeping you down
These mental blueprints dictate what behaviors we choose to enact. To be certain, a mental habit, be it negative or positive, manifests as a chosen behavior: something we either do, stop or avoid doing. That choice is based on an expectation, one of what we think will happen to us as a result of whatever we do.
What happens if our thoughts about something are incomplete or inaccurate, if they're not based on reality? That's when we start making bad decisions.
When we want to change, our interpretation of situations and how things happen affect our decisions. If our mental habits were created on the basis of incorrect information, the chances are that we'll continue choosing behaviors that might not be in our best interest, we'll continually run around in circles and our change efforts will run afoul.
Does that mean we give up and dash any hope of change? No, quite the opposite; because there is always a way to change our habits.
How to break the habit...
While there's enough cause to worry, knowing that some of our mental habits are acting against us, there's no reason to despair.
This is because we can change our habits; in fact, even the most hardened and deeply rooted negative mental habits can effectively and permanently be undone.
You might be asking yourself, “But if we can't really see most mental habits, how can we change them?”
We start by paying attention to something we can see: our behaviors.
Lets take for example procrastination; most people would agree that continually putting things off, without good reason, eventually becomes a major obstacle for personal progress. The worst part is, that the more we put things off, the more we dig ourselves deeper into a hole. Even when we have every reason to get something done, it only takes a few seconds for us to decide to do something else: answer our emails, check our Facebook, reorganize our desks...anything but what we really need to do.
Why would anyone rationally continue engaging in unhealthy, non beneficial behaviors, such as procrastinating, knowing that things will blow up in their face?
It's hard to say, there could be many reasons, we might have learned it from our parents, friends, society or just picked it up somewhere. The point is, we've accepted our thoughts on something as truth, one we don't readily question because it has become the basis for our mental blueprints.
Lets think about this for a moment, in order to change our behaviors, we have to change our mental habits. But does it stand to argue, that by changing our behaviors we can also change our mental habits?
Yes, we can. In fact, it is the key that opens the door to change.
To be certain, it's not an easy task. The road is beset with setbacks. We're likely to take a few steps back, before we achieve lasting results.
Noticing the pattern
There is always some source of influence at work behind the scenes that both motivate and enable our behaviors.
We might be personally motivated to do one thing and not another, we might not know how to do what we need to do to achieve our goal or perhaps we might lack the skills to do so. Our social group might be exerting pressure on us to not change, or we might very well need their help to come to our aid. There might even be something that's more intrinsically rewarding to us with one behavior over another.
Once we figure out what this pattern is, we can pinpoint the behaviors we need to change and then apply a...
21 day habit breaking system
Knowing that our habits are tied to our behaviors and that our brains are practically wired to unconsciously do things the same way each time, it might make us think that we should just settle for things staying the way they always have been.
That would be a mistake. Because when we learn or do something new, our brains can actually grow new connections to deal with the new behaviors we give it. It's called neuroplasticity, which is a fancy way of saying that our brains can, and do, change; an old dog can learn new tricks.
In 1960 an American cosmetic surgeon published a book called “Psycho-Cybernetics,” through his work he noticed that it took 21 days for amputees to stop feeling phantom sensations in the amputated limb. Upon further research, he also found that it took 21 days to create a new habit.
This means that our brains take 21 days to adapt and form new connections when faced with change. It also means that if we adopt a new way of doing things every day for 21 days, it will become a habit to us.
This applies to any type of habit, mental or physical; by the end of 21 days, it should be harder to not engage in the new behavior than to keep doing it.
Making a molehill out of a mountain...
Doing something for 21 days sounds easy enough doesn't it? So why is change so hard for us and why do most people fail at it?
The reason is, we frequently create goals for ourselves that are too big for our breeches. In fact, they are so big and so long term, that we tend to lose steam and motivation early on.
But what would happen if we set mini goals and create a way to provide quick feedback against them?
Change becomes easier.
Lets take it a step further, what if our mini goals are clear, specific, achievable and tied to behaviors instead of outcomes? Well, that's when you've become a professional at changing behaviors and habits.
Now that you know how easy it can be to change a negative mental habit, imagine what you can do in your life, no longer being burdened by its weight. You can at least give it a try, can't you?
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