Beliefs – cherish or chuck?

How is it possible that we all have such great potential yet so few of us end up living our dream lives?

As a child, I wanted to be an actress. I was going to win my first Academy Award in the year 2000 and it would be presented to me by Sylvester Stallone (Don’t ask. I have no idea!). I was 7 years old when I first vocalised this aspiration.

My parents felt that acting was a risky profession – too risky to warrant missing school to pursue – so on I went with my education until I was 18. Drama school followed, where I gained a qualification that would allow me to become a drama teacher – because acting is a risky profession – too risky to put all your efforts into it; better to hedge your bets.

I arrived in London, aged 21, with dreams of becoming a West End (I no longer wanted to work in film. I believed I was too fat.) I didn’t attend a single audition. Not one.  I became a waitress.

Yes, the odds were against me but it was my beliefs that ultimately killed my chances. Every time I had a choice, what did I pick? The safe option. Every time I had an opportunity, what did I think? ‘It probably won’t pan out. Is it even worth bothering?’ Soon enough, acting disappeared as an ambition and off I went to build another sort of life for myself.

Fortunately, I am now of the belief that we can have more than one dream life and I’m currently in pursuit of my dream life 2.0.  Again with the odds stacked against me. This time, however, when I have a choice I’ll take a risk if it means I might get a step closer to that dream. Where opportunities present, I will be bothered. This time, I choose to chuck the beliefs that hold me back. I choose to cherish just one overriding belief; the belief that I have what it takes to beat the odds.

What beliefs should you chuck or cherish?

 

What’s really stopping you making the change?

Changing behaviour is HARD! Most of us know what to do but knowing it and doing it are not the same thing. Why?

In last week’s podcast, I spoke about the metaphor of the Rider and the Elephant. The rider represents the conscious, logical processes in the mind – the ones we know are happening – while the elephant represents the subconscious, emotional, instinctive processes – the ones we remain largely unaware of.

Often it’s the rider who wants to make the shift.  We’re conscious of our desire to eat less sugar, drink less alcohol, exercise more or whatever goal we’ve set ourselves. We know the goal is good for us. We know it’s in our best interests to achieve it but something stops us. That something? The Elephant.

Are you failing to achieve your goal or succeeding in achieving a different goal?

When we fail to achieve the goals we set ourselves, we often put it down to a failure of willpower but that’s rarely the case. The elephant has goals too – and they’re far more powerful and deep rooted than goals based on things we think we should do for whatever reason. (More on this in next week’s podcast). When we fail to achieve our conscious goals, it’s often because we’re succeeding in achieving our subconscious goals – the elephant’s goals.

How do we find out what the elephant’s goals are?

This is difficult to do. To find out how this might be possible, I enlisted the help of Counselling Psychologist, Dr Despina Learmonth.

Despina Profile Card

Here is what she shared:

1. Start with a Question

What is this behaviour giving me?

If you end up with answers that don’t surprise you or enlighten you, you’re probably still getting information from the rider – information you’re already aware of. This information is unlikely to help you uncover the best route to help you make the change you’d like to make.

2. Free Associate*

Dr Learmonth shared a technique she uses with her clients, called Free Association. It works by starting with the behaviour you’re focused on – in the podcast, we use the example of giving up coffee so the central concept is coffee.

In this case, we would start by writing down “coffee” or drawing a picture of a cup of coffee. Then we would write words or draw pictures of anything that comes to mind when we think of coffee. The idea is to do this quickly and include everything that comes to mind, no matter how random.

Put a time limit on this exercise – maybe 60 – 90 seconds to start with but if you’re still going strong after that time, keep going for a little longer but don’t think hard on it – you’ll be getting information from the rider if you mull it over.

Once you’re finished, review what you have and examine what it tells you about some of your hidden motivations.

3. Think about how you felt and what you didn’t write down

There may be some words or phrases that resonate with you more than others. Those are worth paying attention to.

It’s also worth thinking about the words or phrases that crossed your mind but that you didn’t write down. What stopped you?

New Insights

Following these three steps can offer new insights into your behaviour and motivations. With that information, you stand a better chance of working out strategies to help you achieve your goal.

Next week, I’ll look at the role of beliefs in behaviour and how these can affect happiness.

*NOTE:

Free association is typically not used for people who are in any kind of mental health crisis. For those who are having self harming, suicidal or homicidal thoughts and plans, the problem needs to be dealt with much more quickly and directly.

Do not engage in free association exercises without a therapist to support you if you are currently taking psychotropic medication or are in psychological crisis (as described above).

We know what to do so why don’t we do it?

Listen to Podcast

This week’s podcast is all about the difference between knowing what to do and doing it.

I am well versed in the psychology of behaviour. I understand the theory. Yet I often find myself unable to put it into practice when I need it most. Why is that?

In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt uses a metaphor to describe the mind in two parts – the rider and the elephant.

The Rider and the Elephant

The rider is the logical, conscious part of the mind. It’s the part we can ‘hear’. We know it’s there and we feel in control of it. For most of us, it’s the part we think is in charge of our decision making and behaviour.

The elephant represents the unconscious, emotional and instinctive processes of the brain. Most of us believe ourselves to be logical and rational yet most of our decisions are already made by the time we become aware of making the choice. The elephant is faster and more powerful than the rider.

*Side note – If you’d read Daniel Kahneman’s wonderful book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow“, you’ll know the Rider and the Elephant as System 1 and System 2.

The Problem

We can communicate well with the rider. The rider uses language, appears logical and has clear, accessible thought patterns. The elephant has none of these things, yet many of us – myself included – insist on trying to reach it the same way as we do the rider. We read, listen to podcasts, learn the theory and try to use our knowledge to force the will of the elephant.

It doesn’t work.

The language of the Elephant

The language of the elephant is physiological – it comes from the body. In times of anxiety, we have to calm the elephant and the best way to do that is to use the body to calm the mind.

Practices like meditation and mindfulness promote this body-mind calming.

If you’re like me, you’re not great at these practices. You sit down to meditate and it’s tantamount to the rider attempting to hold the elephant in a head lock. It’s pitiful and painful.

66 Days of Meditation

In an effort to improve these skills, I’m doing 66 days of daily Kirtan Kriya meditation. (This is Day 6 and so far I still suck at it)

Future Podcasts

Over the next 6 weeks, I’ll invite people far more proficient than me at talking to the elephant to join me on my podcast and share their wisdom and practices.

If you have questions you’d like me to ask them, please comment below.

66 Days of Meditation – Day 1.

Every road I go down in search of peace of mind leads me to mindfulness and meditation. As someone with a whirring mind, I find the practice difficult to say the least, so despite seeing benefits from daily meditation, I dropped it as soon as life got busy again, in favour of having more time to exercise, write, build my website or whatever other pursuit seemed more interesting.

Now I’ve reached the point where the cacophony of characters in my mind regularly run around up there, creating havoc, knocking things over, breaking valuables and keeping me awake – usually between 1am and 4am. It’s time to take charge.

I have chosen to do a Kirtan Kriya meditation. Since I’ve decided to keep a video diary each day, I’ll save the explanation about why that specific meditation for another day.

Day 1 is off to a great start though. I did my meditation, headed to the gym to do a HIIT workout (I’m in a hotel so it made sense to go to the gym despite only exercising for 20 minutes), recorded my video diary, wrote in my journal, wrote this blog and still have an hour left before my work day is due to start.

If every day is like this, it’ll be a total pleasure!