Theory is wonderful, but how do you actually re-programme your subconscious mind in order to permanently erase thoughts and beliefs that limit or undermine you, and replace them at a subconscious level with more helpful, enabling ones. To expect your brain to suddenly and permanently ditch what has kept you alive and seemingly well for years, just because one day you consciously think something sounds like a good idea, is a bit crazy, we wouldn’t have evolved as human beings if it was that easy. However, as I said last week, it isn’t difficult either, but it does require determination, commitment, and a good reason why!
The link between what we believe, think and repeatedly ‘DO’ is a critical one here
Take a smoker who consciously wants to give up smoking. They know ‘consciously’ that smoking is bad, but they are stuck in a vicious cycle with a ‘subconscious’ belief that undermines and sabotages the conscious belief. The subconscious belief could be something like, “If I stop smoking, I’ll eat more and put on weight”. This subconscious belief drives conscious thoughts that permit the existing behaviour; such as, “I won’t do it now because Christmas is around the corner, I’ll give up after Christmas”. Once the thought has been thunk the subconscious has won and the brain starts to expect and anticipate the positive feeling (release of dopamine) associated with having the cigarette.
Going through the process I described last week of questioning, de-bunking and re-scripting a subconscious belief system is really helpful (even critical) for a major change. This can be hard to do by yourself but give it a try and be sure to make it real, short, precise and enabling. For example “smoking is making me slow and making me ill”. Notice the change in thoughts that naturally flow from the change in belief.
Once you have re-written a belief you need to work on it to keep it alive. For a while it will be very vulnerable and is in danger of being sabotaged. You consciously ‘know’ it to be true but it needs to be continually ‘fed’ into your subconscious in order to overwrite what was there before. Imagine the old belief is written in the subconscious in BOLD BLACK type, and the new one is written in faint grey. You need to give the new belief a louder voice, some bold type and eventually eliminate the old one! But how?
Visualisation: Seeing yourself embodying desired behaviour is very very powerful. In an experiment involving basketball players practicing taking free throws, a team was split into two groups, one group practiced their throws for an extra 20 mins per day, while the other group just visualised practicing their throws for an extra 20 mins per day. The results were amazing, there was no discernible difference between the group who ‘actually’ practiced their throws and the group who just visualised throwing! Visualising yourself as the version of yourself you are aspiring to become is seriously powerful.
Positive Triggers: I have a picture in my kitchen that constantly reminds me of my beliefs and values. It’s just one of a few triggers I have around the house to help keep me on track. I’m motivated by the carrot so most of my triggers need to be positive ones but some people are motivated by the stick. Depending on your inclination and using the smoking example, you might either benefit from a picture of a set of black lungs or someone bounding up a mountain full of vigor.
Practice: The neural pathways in our brains that carry established behaviours are like superhighways, (like driving a journey we drive very often, we do it almost subconsciously). By contrast, establishing new neural pathways for new patterns of behaviour is like creating a new track in an overgrown forest! Each time we ‘practice’ a new behaviour we reinforce the ‘new’ pathway and neglect the old one. Over time the ‘new’ pathway takes over and becomes the instinctive one. We are basically telling the subconscious that this is the new ‘right’ way!
Bogus Benefits?: Being aware of what you enjoy and get out of the beliefs and behaviours you consciously want to change is also important. This, and this alone can make it very hard to change.
Is it a miracle or fault of the human brain that we are so predisposed to hang on to what is not necessarily entirely ‘good for us?’ I’m not sure! For now, I want to leave you with the most important fact as I see it. The subconscious is the true captain of your ship, but it cannot reason, It believes what it is fed, so be conscious of what you feed it through your beliefs, your thoughts and your day to day behaviour.