Have you ever tried to change a “bad” habit (eating candy, smoking, not exercising, watching Honey Boo Boo, etc.), only to feel powerless against the momentum of something that you know is bad for you?
This is incredibly frustrating, but we beat ourselves up for the wrong reason. We think, “Man, I must be so weak if I can’t do something that I know is logically a better choice for me and my future.”
In reality, we’re looking at the wrong part of the problem. We are focusing on how much proof we have, when really we should be focusing on what belief (either conscious or unconscious) we have about that habit.
We typically do things to gain pleasure or avoid pain. But we feel conflicted when we do things that give us both pleasure and pain. And that causes us psychological distress as we struggle to deal with the simultaneous positive and negative reinforcement.
All of the habits I initially mentioned (eating candy, smoking, etc.) have positive short-term benefits and negative long-term consequences. Our lizard brain (the amygdala) operates in constant survival mode and only understands short-term feedback.
Thus, to overcome the lizard brain, we have to associate so much pain in the short term to the habit or behavior we wish to change that our brain wants to change to survive and avoid pain. We have to make the long-term consequences feel very real and immediate as opposed to theoretical outcomes of our current behavior.
What I’m saying is that we need a “No More!” moment. That moment where you’re sick of the status quo. That moment where you’re fed up of living the same routine over and over again. That moment where you take the first step to change your life.
That moment could be as simple as throwing away all the candy in the house, cancelling your cable service, or some other symbolic act. But it is a powerful act, because it signals a change in your belief about what you’re capable of and what you’re willing to settle for in the future.
Then, as I mentioned in my post on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, it helps to put a structure in place immediately to support your new belief and decision. Sign up for a gym class with a partner. Work on a schedule of healthy meals with your partner or housemate.
Habits are hard to change on our own, and beliefs are hard to maintain in a vacuum. Creating a support structure for your new decision and belief can make all the difference in creating new, sustainable, and positive habits in your life. Those “No More!” moments are rare, and we should take all possible action to support them when we create them.
Belief is seeing proof in advance. Before you have verifiable evidence, you believe that a different reality is possible.
The way you make a change is by seeing your results in advance. Your lizard brain can’t distinguish between real or perceived threats, and it also can’t distinguish between real or perceived success.
If you believe in your success in advance, your lizard brain assumes that it is true. This makes it much more likely that you will follow through on the actions necessary to create that success in reality.
Changing your beliefs is one of the hardest things to do in life, but it is also one of the most rewarding when you see the results that you envisioned ahead of time become reality.
Have you been able to change certain habits or beliefs in your own life? I’d love to hear about your process in the comments below!