Having read this far, you may have already decided to change some aspects of your life. Sometimes awareness in and of itself can be life changing. However, more often than not creating real change takes more than just knowing what to do. This chapter contains a toolbox of psychological techniques to develop or remove habits, behaviors, beliefs and personality traits.
Do you want to improve your relationships, health and wealth? Self-improvement in all of these areas requires change. Not just new knowledge, but new habit patterns of thought and behavior. To improve your life you have to be willing to change aspects of yourself. If what you are doing right now is not getting you the results you want then something has to change, and nothing will change until you do. Many people hold a strong belief about their “one true self” – which is very limiting, because it allows them to justify their flaws and thereby hold themselves back from growth and development. The truth is that you can change virtually any aspect of yourself instantly with the right techniques. What takes time is getting yourself to the point where you finally decide to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
When we find a behavior that works, we tend to get locked into it and repeat it automatically whenever a similar situation comes up. This is called a habit pattern and it is a series of mental or physical steps that we perform habitually. They simplify our lives immensely, letting us drive cars or perform complex skills without us even having to think about it, but some can also be limiting. Many of us run patterns that are unproductive – for example we may panic when we see a spider, are asked to take a test or make a speech. We may feel embarrassed to death if we make a mistake or if someone laughs at us, or else we can have specific thought patterns we go through whenever we are angry, worried, depressed or afraid, that spiral deeper and deeper into negativity.
To break a limiting or destructive habit pattern, you can use a pattern interrupt. A pattern interrupt is anything sudden and unexpected you do that totally defies the pattern and therefore breaks you out of it. Take a moment right now to think up your own enjoyable ways to break your limiting patterns and write down at least five of them. It can be anything to throw the pattern off. Something physical – such as a gesture, touch or a change in physiology – or something in your mind, such as a phrase in your mind’s ear or a visualization in your mind’s eye. Then, the next time you become aware that you are in or are about to start a limiting pattern, use one of these interrupts to stop it and to give yourself a choice in how to respond, instead of just reacting habitually. Each time you interrupt a pattern, it will become harder to get back into it and if you interrupt it enough times, eventually you will not automatically get into it anymore. What makes pattern interrupts even more powerful is that they themselves become habitual after you have used them for a while, so they will automatically interrupt your unsupportive patterns whenever they occur.
To demonstrate one use for pattern interrupts, find yourself a negative pattern that you do automatically, for example an addiction. Then, for the pattern interrupt take your index and middle fingers and start tapping the back of your hand. While you do this continually imagine yourself running your pattern and concentrate on the feeling you get from doing it. You will notice that the feeling of need grows weaker and becomes increasingly difficult to get back. Keep performing the pattern interrupt for a few minutes or until you are no longer able to get the feeling back even as you try. The pattern will now have been severely weakened. Keep throwing the pattern interrupt anytime the feeling of wanting to do the negative pattern shows up, and it will be broken faster and faster until it disappears completely. You have now got an extremely powerful technique that can give you back control over every aspect of your life – for example by helping you remove cravings, phobias, fears, anger, anxiety and addictions such as smoking or drinking, or anything else you feel out of control around.
Having a set of pattern interrupts is great for stopping unsupportive behaviors, but to create permanent change you have to replace them with new empowering patterns. It also requires you to convince yourself of the importance and urgency of the change, because the reason why you have not made the change already is that you have mixed emotions about it. Your pain and pleasure scale is weighted in the wrong direction. To deal with this let us look at a simple yet powerful 4-step technique for creating lasting change.
- Decide specifically what it is you want to change and write it down on a piece of paper. Whatever it is you want to change about yourself, it always comes down to one of two things: either patterns of mind or patterns of body. Unsupportive patterns of mind include habitual states like excessive worry, attitudes such as pessimism, or limiting beliefs such as “no one likes me”. Unsupportive patterns of body on the other hand are habitual behaviors such as overeating, smoking, gambling, arguing, complaining, making excuses, procrastinating or other bad habits.
- Get extremely motivated to change by associating immense pain to not changing and massive pleasure to changing. Change is always a question of motivation, of pain and pleasure. The only way to change is to get absolutely convinced that it must happen right now. Ask pain inducing questions to link pain to the past, present and future of using this pattern. What has it cost you in the past, what is it costing you currently and what will it ultimately cost you in the future? What does it cost you physically, emotionally, mentally and financially? Vividly imagine the painful consequences, so intensely that you will think twice before ever doing this pattern again. Then, ask pleasure inducing questions. If you do change, how will that make you feel? How will your life improve? How much happier will you be? Try to find at least 10 strong reasons of why you must change and write them down on your paper. The key is to find both important and urgent reasons, so that you reach the threshold needed to make an absolute commitment to making the change right now.
- Create a new empowering alternative and condition it. You cannot just stop a pattern, you have to replace it. All of your patterns are designed to get you out of pain and into pleasure. Once you quit your old pattern you need to come up with something pleasurable to take its place. Find a pattern that does not just empower you, but also enhances your life and write it down on your paper. Then condition it by rehearsing it over and over again to make it habitual. Any pattern of thinking, feeling or behaving that is consistently reinforced will eventually become a habit. A quick way to do this is by visualizing yourself vividly as you are about to begin your old pattern, but then see yourself doing your new empowering behavior instead. You want to condition your brain so that the beginning of the old behavior will trigger the new behavior. Rehearse this new alternative in your mind with emotional intensity at least 20 times, or until you can clearly see that this is how you will respond in future situations. If you are in a peak emotional state the pattern will become habitual with fewer repetitions. We want to establish a new habit pattern in a matter of minutes instead of months.
- When you have the new pattern conditioned, be sure to test it out in a situation that would previously have triggered your old pattern. To keep the pattern conditioned you may need to continue linking pleasure to the new behavior over time. You can for example set up a series of short-term goals with rewards as you reach each goal. It is also important to change your environment to support your new pattern and hinder the temptation to slip back into the old pattern, especially if that environment contains people that continually reinforce your negative habit. If you for any reason get back into the old pattern you can always cancel it by throwing a pattern interrupt. To automatically reinforce your commitment you can place your paper – which contains the old pattern, the new pattern and your reasons for changing – somewhere where you can see it every day, until you have successfully completed the change.
The ability to form precise and vivid mental pictures of the things we want to be, have or do, and to hold those pictures clearly in our mind’s eye, is a very powerful tool for improving our lives. With it we can motivate ourselves towards our goals, change our state, restore our energy, improve our performance, develop new skills and form new habits.
The four keys to visualization are: frequency, intensity, vividness and duration. The more often you visualize, the more emotions you attach, the clearer you can see the picture and the longer you can hold it in your mind’s eye, the faster and deeper it becomes embedded into your subconscious. It is important to know that our subconscious mind does not know the difference between a real and a vividly imagined event, and if you imagine anything enough times your subconscious mind will accept it as being true. Visualization can help us in many areas of our lives and we have already discussed some of its uses. To clarify, here is a list of its most key areas:
- Self-image – To enhance your self-image, imagine yourself as the person you would like to be with the qualities and characteristics that you desire.
- Motivation – To motivate yourself into action, imagine yourself already enjoying the rewards of having achieved the task and how your life has improved as a result of it. Just as importantly, imagine how you would be worse off if you did not take any action.
- Goals – If you visualize a goal that you desire with feeling, your subconscious mind will begin working to bring it into your reality. It will filter your perception to look for opportunities, give you ideas to reach the goal faster and guide your actions to move towards it.
- Mental rehearsal – Prior to every important event, mentally rehearse and see yourself performing at your very best and achieving the ideal results. Either recall a similar experience of excellence or imagine what excellent performance would be like. You can use this to rehearse being successful in any important area of your life, until it is so real for you that your mind begins to believe it and will perform accordingly.
- Skills – To learn or improve a skill you must first see a demonstration of it so you know what perfect performance looks like. You can then practice it in your mind by going through the entire skill over and over again in just the same way as you would like to do it in reality. By training a skill in your mind, you are creating pathways in your brain just as if you were actually doing the action, and each time you do it will become easier to perform the skill in reality.
- Sleep – Before falling asleep it is a good idea to go through your major goals and daily list of tomorrows activities, because your mind will problem solve and prepare for them during the night. You will wake up with increased motivation and new ideas of how to reach your goals and complete your tasks faster and better. Another good idea is to do your daily reviewing right before going to sleep, because whatever you go over during the last 45 minutes before sleep will be replayed in your subconscious mind more times than other new information and will therefore be better learned.
- State – To create a positive state, think of a time when you had the desired feeling in vivid detail, or imagine what it would feel like. Make it bigger, brighter, more colorful and bring the image closer. Represent it even better than it was and then visualize yourself stepping into that picture, so that you can feel the emotion strongly.
- Learning – Whenever you learn something useful that you cannot immediately try out, you should visualize yourself applying it in real life situations. This way you are much more likely to actually use the information and you will also learn it faster.
The most powerful words in the world are the words you say to yourself. Affirmations are commands that you say out loud or to yourself with emotion, that are driven into your subconscious mind. These commands will eventually be accepted by your subconscious mind and it will make your thoughts and behaviors consistent with them. You can create affirmations for any goal or belief you want. The only rules are that they have to be positive, personal and in present tense. Some short examples would be: I am disciplined, I like myself, I love my life, I am responsible, I am healthy, I feel terrific, I am a genius, I am happy, I am the best, I am confident, I smile a lot, I can handle anything, I am glad to be alive, I use my time well, I exercise daily, I earn x dollars per year or I weigh x kilos.
You can either create your own affirmations, or select a few of these that you would want to become true, and then write them down. Affirm them 10 or more times in a row to yourself, three times per day, until you become absolutely convinced that they are true and you have begun acting accordingly. As you affirm them to yourself, pay careful attention to the images they bring up in your mind. Especially, visualize yourself in your mind as the person you are describing – as if the affirmation had already become true. At first your subconscious may reject your statements, because they conflict with your current self-image, but with enough consistency and dedication your beliefs will eventually change and your behavior with them. You can make the affirmations habitual by visualizing yourself affirming them at daily occurrences, for example after waking up, before lunch and before going to sleep. To increase their impact you can affirm them out loud.
This technique can be used to induce any empowering state or personality trait you want. You simply act as if you had the characteristic you would like to have, and you will then gain the feelings and thinking that are consistent with it. By acting the same way as happy, self-confident and successful people do, you will start to experience those same states. Eventually, your self-image will improve and the positive behaviors will become habitual and natural. In simple terms, you fake it until you make it. You can overcome fears by acting courageously. You can gain leadership abilities by acting like a leader. In time it will stop being an act and become who you really are.
- The key programs of human behavior are habit patterns of mind and body.
- You can change yourself using pattern interrupts, conditioning, visualization and affirmations, or by acting as if the change has already occurred.
Anthony Robbins - Unlimited Power (book)
Anthony Robbins - Unlimited Power (audio)
Handbook of Success