How Habits Work

Making a decision is pretty easy. Sticking with it is the hard part, mainly because if a habit is already formed, it is difficult to change. For example, I often roll up my shirtsleeves. When it comes time to take off the shirt, I used to just take it off and throw it in the laundry basket.

But I decided to unroll the sleeves first. It makes washing a little easier. It was a small thing, but difficult because I was already in the habit of taking off my shirt and throwing it in the basket without unrolling the sleeves. I had made the same movements in the same sequence hundreds of times. It was so automatic and habitual, I didn’t really pay attention while I was doing it. And that’s the main reason it was so hard to remember.

Changing the way you think or behave isn’t easy. Maybe you’ve noticed that already. But the reason it is difficult is not that your mind is pigheaded. It is because you’re not in the habit of thinking certain things at certain times.

Let me be extra clear on this. And please be aware this is a very important point. Change is not difficult because you “subconsciously resist” or because you “really” don’t want to change, or because you’re lazy, or because you’re stubborn. There is a very simple and quite benign reason change is difficult:

You’re not in the habit of thinking certain things at certain times.

Habits are very powerful. And they can work for you or against you. For example, a man named Jimmy Jones was in jail in Florida and wanted to escape. This is a true story. He put himself in a trash bag and might have gotten away with it but when they called his name during roll call, habit took over and he answered, “Here,” from inside the bag!

Habit is powerful. And mental habits are as firmly rooted as any physical habit like responding to role call.

How can you harness the incredible power of habit? Specifically, how can you form the habit of thinking certain things at certain times? How can you make sure you’ll remember at the right time?

Answer: Make a slotra and repeat it. That’s such a direct solution, I know you might dismiss it as impossibly easy. But it works beautifully.

If you want to remember to listen well to your spouse, make a slotra such as: Listen well or live in hell. Repeat that slotra to yourself. Make a goal of repeating it, say, ten times a day. Do that for a few weeks and you will form a new habit. Your brain will become accustomed to thinking that thought. The thought will become something you naturally think when you need to. The thought will come to mind easily.

I’m making this sound very easy, and truly it is. But there is a catch: You will get bored and want to move on. When that happens, start thinking of the reasons you really want to do this. Then get back to repeating your slotra.

By repeating the slotra over and over — by repeating the exact words you want to think over and over — the thought gets fixed in your mind and highly available. It’s not in the back of your mind. It’s right up front and easy to access. So you’ll remember it more in those key moments, and that will cause your habits to change.

I once had the habit of not sticking with things. I tried to change that habit many times, but never stuck with it long enough to get rid of the habit!

After learning how thinking patterns can be changed, I chose stay on track as my slotra. After repeating that phrase to myself many times a day for only a couple of days, whenever I found myself about to give up on something or go off on a tangent that caught my interest, the thought would pop into my mind: Stay on track.

It was so handy to have the slotra come into my mind when I needed it. And every time it came to mind, I heeded it. I got back on track.

Of course, when the thought appeared my mind, I could have ignored it. But I didn’t want to ignore it. And you won’t either, for the same reason: This is a change you have deliberately chosen. It’s something you want, and the slotra has come into your mind at the perfect moment.

This isn’t unpleasant. This isn’t “forcing” yourself to change. I didn’t feel at all bothered when the slotra popped up in my thoughts. My feeling was similar to wanting to remember to buy milk at the store, but forgetting. Then a friend who came to the store with me says, “Remember, you wanted to get some milk.” I don’t feel harassed. Just the opposite. My response is: “Oh yeah! Thanks for reminding me!”

To make a good slotra, decide what you’d like to go through your head at certain key times. For example, I was about to walk into a radio station to ask if they would interview me. I thought to myself, “This is going to be fun!” That was my slotra. I had already repeated it to myself many times and it came to mind naturally as I walked up to the door. It relaxed me and made me more effective.

I came up with that slotra by asking myself, “What would I like to go through my mind as I walk into radio stations (or call them)?” I made a list of possible phrases and chose the best one. Then I practiced thinking that phrase — saying it to myself many times a day until it was a natural, comfortable thought that came to mind automatically in those circumstances. This is fairly easy to do.

Some people get lucky and someone does it for them (a parent or a drill sergeant). If you weren’t that lucky, you can do it for yourself and design thoughts more closely tailored to what you want.

A slotra is not an affirmation. It’s a statement of fact or purpose, or it’s a rule you want to follow. Make it short, tight, and memorable because most of the time you’re doing something. You're attention is already occupied with what you're doing. You don't want a slotra so long you have to stop and think about it.

Only have one or two slotras you’re concentrating on. Create and mold your phrases until they exactly suit you, feel right, and fit you. Write them on cards, have them professionally imprinted or engraved, and post them somewhere. Repeat them to yourself, forging them into powerful tools.

Read the next chapter: How To Form New Habits Of Thought

This article was excerpted from the book, Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought.

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