If we each take responsibility in shifting our own behavior, we can trigger the type of change that is necessary to achieve sustainability for our race or this planet. We change our planet, our environment, our humanity every day, every year, every decade, and every millennia.
Imagine yourself in this scenario. So there you are walking into the building confident about the job interview you are about to attend. The phone screening went very well, and it seemed like the interview was just a formality. After checking in with the receptionist, you see a man walking past you looking at you with what seems to be a belligerent look. Like a reflex, your facial expressions changed as you are thinking to yourself, “Why is he looking at me like that?” Your body language changes the closer he gets and he finally reaches the receptionist desk. The receptionist points at you and the man calls your name. “Oh great,” you’re thinking, as you ponder on the many things he may say to you. As you reach him he says, “Let’s start your interview.”
More thoughts are racing through your mind and you are wondering if you could go through with an interview with a person who obviously does not like you. You both sit down and as you are prepared to defend yourself he begins by saying, “I apologize if the interview is short, I just found out a loved one has passed away.” And now you realize that every thought you had was incorrect because his look was a look of disbelief and grief not anything personal.
What happened in this moment was your thoughts controlled your external behavior, from your body language to facial expressions. Often times we are unaware of these things because it has been hard wired in our minds to react in certain situations based on external stimulation. The way the mind works is that as we go through life our minds not only store memories, but learned reactions that are associated with those memories. When we face similar situations, our minds turn to those learned reactions rather than attempting something new. In this example, that is why it seemed like a reflex response because maybe in the past we have had encounters where someone who didn’t like us or were angered at us had the exact same look. The look triggered a thought; the thought in return triggered a behavioral response.
[su_quote cite="Earl Nightingale"]The mind moves in the direction of our currently dominant thoughts. [/su_quote]
I won’t go deep into psychology, but in a nutshell, habitual behaviors are coded in neural pathways in a part of our brain called the basal ganglia. There is some truth to the phrase that old habits die hard simply because habits are like stored programs in our brains. It’s like an automatic email response that when a certain email comes in based on criteria, a pre-written email will be sent as a response. In this example, the criteria would be the habit and the response is the external behavior.
As we go into the series, “Empowering The Mind: 14 Strategies To Help Win the Battle In The Mind”, it is important that we begin by understanding why the battle is in the mind. All of our actions are controlled by the mind. Our laughter, our smile, the way we walk, how we interpret sounds, etc. are all based on learned behavior in our brains that began early in the brain’s development. A baby learns that if it cries when hungry, someone will respond with nourishment. If no one ever satisfied the need, the baby then learns that crying does not bring results, thus when hungry it will not cry as a first reaction. That of course is an unhealthy behavior. So we must be able to identify both healthy behaviors and unhealthy behaviors, and trace them back to the original thought. Once we have identified the thought, we go through and see if there is an event related to that thought.
This creates the connection of past experiences or our environment influencing our thoughts either negatively or positively, and those negative or positive thoughts then shape our daily behavior. So here are your goals for this week.
- Write down any behaviors you would like to see changed.
- Find three (3) people whom you trust and ask them for feedback on those behaviors. Journal their response.
- After the feedback, ask them to share any behaviors they feel may be unhealthy that you may not be aware of.
- Take your list of behaviors and what has been shared with you and make a new list. As you are making the list, for each item make space for the following questions.
- Can I think of an example of when this behavior was evident?
- What were my thoughts during this example?
- What else do I remember happening at the time?
- How long has this behavior/habit been present?
- Do I remember the first time I noticed the behavior?
- What was happening during this time?
- After reviewing the answers to the above questions, do I feel that a past event may have played a role in my way of thinking.
This will get you started in discovering your behaviors, the thoughts behind the behaviors, and how it connects to past events or something that was going on at the time. Every behavior you list may not be a habit, but you will see that there are connections between your thoughts, your environment, and your behaviors. If you were in an environment where everyone is angry, you will either move from the environment or you will become angry and join in. What determines your choice is based on your learned behavior based on past experience.
Here is one of the greatest tools in changing habitual behavior; repetition. Dr. Maxwell Maltz published a book called Psycho-Cybernetics, and from that we get the ideology that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. From a scientific perspective, forming a new habit means our brains are forming new neural pathways teaching our minds to respond differently. I want to draw two points from this. First, we must address the question of, “If that is the case, then why do we tend to fall back into the same habits if our brains has created new ones?” Even though our brain formed a new pathway, it does not necessarily destroy the old one. That is why sometimes we relapse back into the same way of thinking, and the same behaviors. This is why if you are recovering from an alcohol addiction, the worst place to be is surrounded by alcohol until you have strengthened yourself to be around it without taking a drink.
That brings me to my second point of repetition. The effective way of forming new habits is by doing new things in repetition. If you took the next 10 Mondays and woke up thinking, “Monday, this is a great day!” rather than, “Oh gosh it’s Monday, bah,” you will find that eventually it will become second nature to wake up feeling positive about Mondays. But here is the key; the idea of 21 days to form new habits was misquoted. What Dr. Maltz actually said was, “it requires a minimum of about 21 days” and he never placed an exact number on how long it would take.
I wanted to share that so that we all understand that habits and behaviors can be changed with time, and there is no exact science that can indicate how long it will take to form new habits. As a matter of fact, a researcher named Phillippa Lally did a study that concluded that participants showed a change in a range of 18 to 254 days. Starting a new workout routine is only challenging because it involves forming a new habit. But if we repetitiously keep making an effort to do so, it becomes part of our daily lives. What drives us to repetition in changing our exercise habits, our eating habits, and any habit or behavior is desire. We will perform our greatest when we are doing something we are passionate about. Our passion fuels our desire for change. Our desire fuels our repetition to work towards change. Our repetition fuels our brains to form new habits and thoughts. Our new habits and thoughts fuel our external behavior to reflect our new way of thinking. And that is the battle in your mind; letting go of the old and embracing a new way of thinking with the end result being a new behavioral response.
[su_quote cite="Warren Buffett"]It's better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you'll drift in that direction. [/su_quote]
[su_quote cite="Willie Nelson"]Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results. [/su_quote]
[su_quote cite="Plato"]Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge. [/su_quote]
So what is your destination? I believe you can get there. What is your goal? I believe you can accomplish it. What is your obstacle? I believe you can overcome it. What is your desire? I believe you can fulfill it. It’s all great that I believe this, now it’s time for you to do the same. The world becomes greater, when we endeavor to make ourselves greater in it. So each day, wake up and remind yourself that you control your mind so that your mind can control your behavior. Emphasize healthy thoughts and change unhealthy thoughts; liberate your mind!
In our next topic, we will address the strategy “I can accomplish anything in my life.” If you would like coaching assistance for what was covered in this topic please use the request form below. I’d be more than happy to assist you. Thank you for your time and may you have a successful week.
- Each day you wake up this week, repeat the words “I control my mind, therefore I control my life.” At some point during the day, write it down as well.
- After you have made your list as discussed earlier, pick one to work on and begin to think of ways you can change your thoughts to influence a positive behavior.
- Start a habit of asking yourself these questions from a quote by Henri Nouwen. “Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love?” This will help to start a habit of self-reflection, and can help to prevent unhealthy thoughts and habits from forming.