You are you who want to become is the highway we all take, the correct route to our final destination. So what is up with the remark suggesting that one has lost their way or furthermore, the trick question: would you rather take the quick and easy way or the long and difficult one? Finally we have all heard of the expression: there is light at the end of the tunnel. While there is no mystery behind the meaning of each of these phrases especially because we all came across challenging situations, we wouldn’t ask ourselves such questions if we were conscious of our actions 100% of the time.
No human being is endowed with complete consciousness as consciousness is a skill that is trained rather than a genetically pre-determined asset. What is more, training consciousness is an incredibly arduous task as our brain saves effort by developing habits that replace consciousness. For example, during your waking hours in the morning, as your brain takes time to regain full consciousness you still manage to execute your routine tasks such as brushing your teeth, combing your hair or preparing your breakfast with no mental effort whatsoever. It turns out that this is the norm to our every day functioning rather than the exception. Eating a snack at 4 pm, drinking beer with your friends after work and even the use of certain phrases and body language with certain people are habitual byproducts.
We are only truly conscious once we find ourselves in novel situations. In a new situation the brain is forced to develop a unique response. Once the same situation is experienced a couple of times the brain develops a learned behavior that it then follows faithfully once the situation is experienced repeatedly. Hence just like the mind controls the heartbeat unconsciously, it starts to behave in the same way with thoughts, emotions and external objects/people/situations.
Despite the evident limitation, change is entirely possible. Contrary to traditional belief, the evolution of our brain transcends age enabling us to take action at any stage of our lives. Our brain’s adaptive nature makes change possible once we consciously decide to challenge routine behaviors. The key word here is consciousness or awareness. The most difficult aspect of change is to regain consciousness in our unconscious actions. This is the only way we can capture the patterns of our behavior, enabling us to regain control and construct an action plan to change them.
Action plans necessitate a certain degree of creativity; once we regain consciousness of an unconscious action the path to change is formulated through trial and error. The key here is patience, because as you can imagine making unsuccessful attempts to change a destructive routine can be quite frustrating. Perhaps the best way is writing solutions down, testing them and crossing out ones that didn’t work out. How do you know if a solution was ineffective? That is at least simple: the old habit is still there. How do you know if a solution is effective? You have generated a positive change that spills over in other areas of your life.
Finally to make change possible you need to believe in it and make the commitment to execute it from your waking hour till bed-time. To engender change you need to make the effort to become introspective, inquisitive and detached. Challenge the routines that you find limiting and sacrifice short term rewards for long term wins. A straightforward fourstep framework that instigates change is one from Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, whereby you:
- Identify a routine (you need to be aware first to identify it)
- Experiment with rewards (look for alternatives that give you the same satisfaction)
- Isolate the cue (what is the trigger causing you to fall into your routine- is it a location, a particular time of the day, an emotion, a person or a preceding action?)
- Make an action plan
It is a wonderful and straightforward framework to use for making change happen. Once you become more advanced you will invent your own methods on how to maintain control over your habits. Good luck!