If you are finally ready to take a long hard look at yourself and analyze some of your mindless habits, this blog post for you!
I decided after reading Brene Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart, that I am going to make the emotions involved in whatever we are discussing first and primary. Up until this point I have been focusing more on thoughts and managing our minds, because that is what I have been relying on the most myself. But this year, 2022, I decided is the year to learn how to regulate my emotions, hence the Alcohol Experiment I am sharing in The Brain BS™ Group, so my blog posts and podcast episodes might look a little bit different.
So while there are a ton of emotions needed to to make changes that you have been avoiding for a long time, I am going to focus on the three I think are most important just to get the process STARTED.
Courage-To Get Real
Okay, so before we can make any changes, we must increase our awareness around our current behaviors. This means being brutally honest with ourselves about whatever it is we want to change and taking a long, hard look within ourselves. We must first identify the brain filters that have been given to us by our parents, siblings, and the rest of society. The only way to do that is with a therapist or coach because we cannot see our own filters without help. Brain filters are hidden in our subconscious and generally skew the way we perceive the world and respond to pretty much any situation.
Alright, let me review with you my primary filters that have gotten me in trouble over the years. The first one that comes to mind is that I have done something wrong. An example of this would be when somebody does not answer my text message, and I start to wonder if I did something offensive to that person unknowingly. This could happen even if I have not had any interactions with that person for a considerable period of time, and there is not history of conflict or disagreements. My brain filter dictates that when a situation occurs or a person does not behave the way I want them too, I will believe it is because I did something wrong.
Another filter that is similar but not the same, is that I have been wronged. Oh boy, this one puts me in victim mode in a second and is a powerless place to be. I should know, I have spent a great deal of time feeling like a victim to my life because of this subconscious filter I did not even know was there. When this one comes up, I still stay in victim hood, but I also latch onto feelings of self-righteousness and resentment…two of my least favorite emotions! LOL. In this case, I am likely to think they should have gotten back to me, or I would never do that to somebody. Maybe it is I am much more thoughtful and considerate than them.
The third one I want to share, and you have heard it here before, is nobody cares what #9 thinks or has to say (I am #9 out of 10 siblings). Talk about disempowering! This too puts me into victimhood and places responsibility for my mental and emotional state on the way other people perceive or respond to me. When this filter is activated and I am feeling ignored or unheard, I will just look at the lack of response as nothing out of the ordinary. Of course, they did not get back to me, nobody cares what I have to say.
I think I have illustrated my point why it is so important to understand our brain filters and how they skew our perception of the world. Those filters influence how we perceive the behavior we are trying to change so we must be aware of them in order to modify or eliminate said behavior. Once we have those figured out and identified, it opens up our minds in an expansive way so we can see the whole picture, both the good and the bad. For example, alcohol is fun is one side of a coin, where alcohol is deadly is on the other side of it. We must really look within to confront our shadows, those traits we try to hide, and bring them out of the dark and into the light of day…similar to seeing both sides of the same coin. We also need courage to feel uncomfortable feelings and care more about what we think than what other people believe about us. People do not like it when we change, especially those who are closest to us, so we can be sure there will be some form of resistance somewhere.
Committed- To Cultivating Change
When it comes to committing to the new behavior or change we want to make, the first thing to do is eliminate or reduce the cognitive dissonance that is sure to be present in our minds. In order to do that, we must change the way we are thinking about the current behavior if we are not 100% sold on changing it. Otherwise, our conscious mind will want to change, but our stronger subconscious mind will prefer to stay the same and will always win the battle. A good example of this is when we want to stop drinking or reduce our alcohol intake, but we do not follow through with doing that. We think frequently that we are going to do it this weekend, but then put it off for another week. The reason we do that is because there is a part of us who wants to keep drinking. We might have conscious thoughts like I want to be healthy, and I need to stop drinking so much. But we also might have subconscious thoughts that are driving us to repeat the same behaviors; It could be I love drinking, red wine is delicious, or maybe it is life is not as much fun without alcohol. If we do not uncover those thoughts, they will prevent us from changing our behavior because it will feel like we are depriving ourselves and/or missing out somehow. Will-power can only take us so far when cognitive dissonance is at play. If we want to change our lives with any habits, we have to be willing to change ourselves first.
In addition to changing the way we are thinking, we also must be willing to feel urges to continue with the repetitive behavior (whatever it might be) and not respond to them. Notice, I did not say resist because when we resist something, the urge gets stronger and stronger. We must notice the urges, distance ourselves from them, pay attention to how they feel in our body, and not react to them. Just let them be there, don’t make them a problem, and understand that they will dissipate in a few minutes. Now this might require you to get additional support or guidance when trying to make a big change if the urges are strong. This goes for any habit or behavior we want to change. In my case, I bought the book The Alcohol Experiment and joined a membership community to support my efforts at changing my relationship with alcohol. Some might need more 1:1 support that is offered by therapists and coaches. It is up to the individual to set up their environment for success…whatever that might look like. It will be different for everybody. In my case, we still have a full wine cooler, and my husband is not refraining from drinking. While this works for me, it might not work for somebody who is not as committed and maybe more addicted to alcohol. Some people will have to get all the alcohol out of the house and try to avoid certain people and going places where they might be triggered to drink. My point is it is up to you to set yourself up for success.
Curiosity-Over Being Judgmental
The last point I want to make regarding the emotions needed to initiate a big change, is that we must tap into our curiosity and refrain from judgment of ourselves, others, or life without a particular habit. (I am going to refer to alcohol here as an example because that is the behavior I am changing). This is going to require a little bit of mindset work because we are used to labeling everything and typically put alcohol in a category of being bad, and people who drink it as weak. Let’s take a look first at how we usually judge ourselves when it comes to alcohol. Many of us determine there is something majorly wrong with us and that we should not want to drink as much as we do. We think we have some sort of faulty gene and that causes us to feel shame and inadequacy. What if instead of feeding into that line of thinking as if it was factual, we opted instead to get curious? What if instead of judging ourselves, we started to notice what makes us want to have a drink? What thoughts are going on in our head that trigger an emotion that gets us to actually pick up the drink? What behavioral patterns and situations seem to go hand in hand with wanting another one? Letting go of the judgment permits us to get curious about why we are doing what we are doing and all the hidden beliefs behind it. THIS is how we create sustainable changes.
In terms of judging others, we only do that if we are one to judge ourselves. We treat other people the same way we treat ourselves. If we can refrain from vilifying or putting ourselves or other people in categories that are good or bad, it gives us permission to be more open and flexible with our thinking. This helps us to get out of that all or nothing mentality that often is the culprit for not being able to sustain behavioral changes. As soon as we have a mishap or give into having a drink or any other habit, we just give up on the entire process and no longer believe it is possible. What if we accepted the path to life without alcohol (or any habit) is going to have twists and turns and we will all get there via the route meant for us? In my case,30-days of not drinking is not negated by one day of having a drink. We need to be aware of all or nothing thinking and how it can sabotage our efforts.
As for judging life without alcohol, how can we really know what it is like until we actually live life without it? I mean anything else is brain BS, right? Well, if you are me that is. I am not totally sold that completely eliminating it is what I want. When I think about life without any alcohol at all, I experience doubt that it could be as much fun as life with alcohol. What if that is not true, though? Many people who have given up alcohol will tell you that it is in fact true and that their lives are better without it. Depending on where you are in the process of developing a new relationship with alcohol, it is probably just best to refrain from judgment, trust the process, and stop anticipating the future. Staying present and receiving the gifts of the present moment is the best approach to this process and life in general.
Another point I want to make in terms of judgment, is we must accept where we are in this process and meet ourselves there. We cannot compare our path in life to somebody else’s and think we should be further along than we are. We cannot try to make changes that our subconscious is not prepared to support, or they will not be sustainable. Getting curious about why we are where we are and why we have the relationship with our habit that we have right now, is how we develop a new one. We must be honest and truthful about all of it if we want to evolve to the next best version of ourselves.
My last point I want to make, is that the best way to achieve what we want in life is if we tap into self-love and surround ourselves with whatever it takes to build us up and empower us. Criticizing ourselves and making judgments about where we are coming up short, is going to do the complete opposite. As I have mentioned many times before, thoughts trigger feelings, those inspire actions, and that is how we get our results. Negative emotions tend to shut us down and keep us stuck, while love and positivity inspire us to take the actions necessary to facilitate emotional maturity and profound personal growth.
Long story short, if you want to initiate sustainable changes, I believe you have to rely on three emotions to get started; courage, committed, and curiosity. We need courage to look within to identify our brain filters and shadows that are holding us back. Committed is the emotion we need to ensure we are set up for success and stay focused on the behavioral change we want to make. Relying on curiosity instead of being judgmental, is how we must look at our brains and the whole process when we are trying to create new habits. We will never be successful when we focus on what is lacking and how we are coming up short. We must tap into our self-love if we want to be successful changing our habits. Whatever it is we are trying to do that is new and unfamiliar, being courageous, committed, and curios is a great way to get the process started. Doesn’t matter if the habit is being a critic, a drinker or a major shopper, the process is the same. Once you learn how to apply it to one area of your life, you will be able to use it in all of them.
Join me in The Brain BS Podcast to discuss this further.
If you have heard enough and are ready to start this process now, go to www.thebrainbs.com and sign up for a free 60-minute consult so we can talk about what this would like for you and make sure we are a good fit. And yes, it most definitely will require courage, commitment and curiosity to change a habit that feels impossible to break, but you will be surprised how good it feels to just get started! Hope you learned something valuable here today, see you next week.