Much of what you do is determined by habits, many of which are outworn and no longer serve your life. Habits in themselves are not bad, and many of them help you in your life. It’s helpful to not have to think about much of your daily routine.
For example, you don’t have to tell yourself to brush your teeth or which way to turn out of the driveway on your way to work. You do these things automatically, which is good. Yet, there are habits that are holding you back, and these are the habits you need to rethink and change.
Brains create neuron pathways. These pathways in your brain are formed from habitual behaviors. The more you respond to the same stimuli, the deeper the pathway.
For example, if you are an anxious flyer, every time you see a television commercial about an airline you automatically feel anxiety, which deepens the pathway and reinforces your experience that flying is dangerous. Your response is on autopilot and the only way to change it is to consciously become aware of the pattern.
Change begins with ROD – recognition that your response is from habit and not the response you want to choose any more, that other responses are possible, and the desire to find a different response.
Recognition requires you live consciously. Become aware of your reactions and do not just take them for granted. Ask yourself how you react to certain types of people and situations. Ask: What faulty prejudices do I harbor?
How do I react when I see someone who is different from me? How do I react when someone has an opinion that is different from mine? Become aware of your instinctive responses to people and situations.
For example, pay attention to how you feel about the people in front of you at a checkout line. What are your thoughts about each person? Examine those thoughts to understand your reactions, and ask yourself if your reactions are based on habitual thinking or on rational thought.
Most likely you will find your thoughts about others are based on habitual thinking. When you become aware of this, you have taken the first step to make changes in old habits.
There are always other ways of thinking about or seeing a person or situation. For example, suppose you are in line to get cash out of your bank account. One of the people in line is a big man with lots of tattoos and a bandana tied over his shaven head.
What is your automatic response? Many would shy away, avoid eye contact and hope this man is not about to rob the bank or you on your way out the door. If so, that’s a habitual response more likely based on television and movie depictions than your real-life experiences. Your response might also be based on your parents telling you when you were a child to stay away from bad men who looked like that.
Now is the time to ask yourself what you are feeling and thinking about this person, and then ask yourself what other things could you think and feel about this person and this situation? This is not the time to let your imagination run wild and start thinking in the negative, but instead to use your imagination to think in the positive.
For example, imagine this man giving money to charities or being kind to a cute puppy. Be as wild and silly as you want. The idea is to change those automatic responses and get your thoughts to create new pathways in your brain.
Change is not always easy, so the desire to change must be present. It’s easier to go along with old responses rather than work to develop new thought processes. But old thought patterns keep you in a rut and do not allow for growth and the creation of more of what you want your life to be.
The desire has to be strong enough to get you to make the necessary changes. Once you have the desire, try the following ideas to help you make the changes. These ideas are simple and easy-to-do, but will make a huge difference in your life by rerouting those neuron pathways into new, more positive grooves.
- Change hands. If you are right handed, use your left hand more actively. For example, open doors, brush your teeth, etc. with your non-dominant hand. By making this simple switch, you will activate new brain pathways, which will help with bigger changes you want to make.
- Change routines. If you normally turn left out your driveway, turn right. If you sleep on the left side of the bed, move to the right. Again a simple shift in your life can make major changes. The idea is to mix up your habitual routine. This will help you with recognizing your habitual thoughts, feelings, and reactions to stimuli.
- Change what you see when you look into the mirror. If you wear contact lenses, wear your glasses for a day. If you wear make-up, go without or change the color. If you wear tee-shirts a lot, put on a tie. The idea is to see yourself differently, which helps you to start thinking differently.
- Write down a statement that explains one thing you want to change about you or something in your life. Start with something simple, be specific and write your statement in a positive form. For example, do not write: I don’t like my hair, so I’m going to change the color. Instead, write: I’m going to brighten the color of my hair, which will make me feel lighter and happier. Copy this statement on index cards and put them everywhere–in your pocket or purse, on the bathroom mirror, on the car dashboard, etc. Read the statement often until you make the change. Then, start all over.