For the first two weeks after I moved out of the home where I raised my daughter, I had a little problem with my car. When I left my office building at the end of the work day, it would automatically point eastbound, as it had for many years. The problem was, my new home was westbound. Moreover, it was always at a point when I was committed to the wrong route and with no easy way to turn around, that I would remember this important difference. After several repeats, my frustration mounted. Yes, okay, so the problem was not truly with my car, but with my brain. “Clearly, it’s on auto-pilot mode. Is my mind too full?”
Actually, with brains that are capable of sending 100 trillion messages each second, we’re all primarily on auto-pilot. Imagine if you had to be cognizant of every blink, every intake and exhale of breath, or movement of your eyes. Imagine if our brains only allowed one task at a time and each one required intentional thinking. Yes, auto-pilot is a blessing, not just with the functions of our bodies, but in ways we could never fully measure. Thanks to the multi-track of our brains, we are able to take a scheduled phone call and finish that pressing e-mail without missing a beat in either task. We can drive to our child’s school and make a mental list of our to-do items without missing a turn. Our fast-moving minds allow us to keep up with our faster-moving lives.
Yet, what about those fleeting, automatic responses that stunt our emotional growth and expansion?
Here’s an example: A position opens up in a department in which you have always wanted to work. When you learn about it, you automatically think, “They would never consider me for that job.” Or you learn a friend has just achieved their fitness goals and you think “Not me. I have never had that willpower.” These automatic thoughts can be habitually negative and limiting— and sometimes so fleeting we are not even aware of it occurring within us. However, they define who we are in ways more impactful than we realize. When I’ve asked individuals why they would choose such a mindset, a common response is, “I’ve always been this way,” or “It’s easy for you to be positive; that’s just who you are,” or “Was I negative? I wasn’t even aware…”
If you say or think something enough times, your brain becomes hard-wired to believe it. The thoughts we have are who we become. They cement our mindset. Just as positive ones can propel us forward, negative ones can hold us back. That is a powerful reason to examine the thoughts that occur automatically.
Experts tell us it takes 21 days to break a habit. Contrary to belief, it is not easy, but it is achievable. I have found two techniques that work well for me:
1_In coaching, we learn the power of two simple words: “UNTIL NOW.”
“They would never consider me for that job…until now.” “I have never had that willpower…until now.” These highly empowering words will immediately change a perspective from negative to positive. Your brain will rewire itself to believe what you say and more importantly, what you feel. “Until now, I’ve never been able to ask for that promotion.” “Until now, I’ve never felt worthy.” “I have never felt strong…until now.” Develop the habit of adding those words to begin the process of hard-wiring your brain to overcome any thought system that is not beneficial to you.
2_You can break the detrimental nature of certain auto-pilot modes—like turning eastbound instead of westbound—by changing the routine of something that you have to do every day anyway. I shared this trick with a friend who tried it immediately. Instead of getting out of bed and heading straight to the coffeemaker, she began to make up her bed before going downstairs. Making the bed was a task that she does every day anyway. This eventually led to gearing up for a run after the bed was made and before she brewed her coffee, which led to clearer thinking and more productivity, which led to a better experience at work and in her interactions… and the cycle of change continued. By changing one simple thing that was done in her routine, she created positive change throughout her day.
While a 15-minute addition to a commute home because of a decades-old routine was not life-altering, I created a new step that followed getting into my car at the end of the work-day—a simple step. I changed the radio station from news to music on the way home. My brain became hard-wired to use this cue to remember to turn right toward the westbound lanes instead of left toward the eastbound lanes. It happens somewhere in those 100 trillion messages your brain is sending. It sounds simple, but it was effective and it will work on those bad habits that ARE life-altering.
We can strive to become more intentional in our thinking. We should be striving to become more cognizant of the thoughts we have that place limitations on us and replace them with positive intent. The thoughts we choose in our day are entirely ours to own and they become who we are. Begin to choose thoughts that will create a better you. Start by the two simple exercises I shared that will help you create a new mindset.
Like my friend who changed her morning routine, see where the cycle of positive change will lead you. I believe you have everything you need to achieve this already inside of you! I look forward to hearing your stories.
Keryl Oliver guides individuals and organizations on creating the culture and mindset necessary to navigate obstacles that impede their goals. She has worked for more than 25 years with clients to help them define their vision, their message, reach their intended audience, and achieve successful progression toward personal and professional goals.
She is in the process of becoming certified as a personal and executive coach and is accepting clients during the certification period at a reduced fee. This offer ends January 2018.
On the side, Keryl is relaunching a nonprofit that focuses on personal empowerment and the restoration of spirit within marginalized communities. She will soon be launching a speaker series that shares the stories of individuals who have overcome seemingly impossible obstacles and will bring these to those who are struggling with lack of self-worth and support.
Keryl may be reached at email@example.com
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Keryl Oliver photo credit: Cathy Hickis Photography