Old Habits Die Hard

In this second post, I want to start to explore the nature of the subconscious mind, which is the core of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Most people have daily routines, which is to say they have regular patterns of behavior that require little effort to accomplish. Can you imagine waking up every day not having any idea what to do? For example, you know you have to go to work. Should you take a shower first, what should you have for breakfast, what should you wear, how will you get to work, when should you leave? If you had to answer these same questions everyday your life would be extremely stressful.

A very useful coping mechanism, then, is the idea of routines, or habits. When we discuss habits, we are talking about a behavior that is well established and requires little conscious effort to accomplish. It is ingrained behavior, ingrained in the subconscious mind. If you think about it, the majority of your life is spent in routines. This is not a value judgement; it is an observation of human behavior. In fact, part of the socialization process of children is introducing them to the notion of discipline, self control and responsibility. Put another way, child raising is the process of channeling behavior into predictable and rational responses.

Once we become adults, the behaviors which may have served us well in the past may no longer be appropriate. Many times, the behaviors we learned at an early age were never appropriate, and when they get carried into adulthood, we experience negative consequences. For example, if a child was never taught the value of being on time, then you would not be surprised if that person has trouble holding down a job. Or a person who was not taught about the importance of grooming and hygiene may have issues socializing with others.

The subconscious mind does not know if a habit is good or bad. It only knows that it exists. The person possessing the habit must be the one to decide if they are well served by the habit. The subconscious mind derives a benefit from every habit, whether or not it is judged good or bad. The subconscious mind does not have the ability to judge. For example, every smoker knows that smoking is bad, yet still it is a difficult habit to break. The benefit to the subconscious is the physical pleasure received from the ritual act of smoking, and the chemical stimulation from the tobacco. Your conscious mind may object ( I want to quit), but your subconscious mind is like the judge in a courtroom, and overrules your objection.

Another example is a person who maintains poor health habits and is constantly sick. Why would anyone choose to be sickly? Again, there are benefits to the subconscious mind. For example, a sick person is not held responsible for going to work or fulfilling tasks, and often this person receives sympathy and support from others who would not normally pay them any attention.

On a more personal level, my daughter got into the habit ( subconsciously) of procrastination at school. I recall nights where she would be working into the early hours on a project that was due the next day. I asked her why she waited until the last minute to get started. She answered “Because I can.” And indeed, she would invariably get good grades. This did not serve her well in her life after school, where last minute brinksmanship does not go down well with employers. Her struggle now is to adapt to changing circumstances, where earlier ingrained habits are no longer suited to a new environment. Because she was able to do well in school despite her procrastination, her subconscious mind learned that she had no need for proper preparation for upcoming events. But the ground moved under her feet, and those earlier habits must now be unlearned, or to put it another way, her subconscious belief must be changed.

Old habits die hard, goes the saying. More accurately, we should say that earlier experiences that have imprinted on our subconscious mind are resistant to new ideas that have not been lived, experienced and absorbed by the subconscious mind. So it’s easy to say we want to make a change, but if our subconscious mind doesn’t buy into it, chances are it will be difficult to make the change.

In this series of blog posts, I will continue to examine this dichotomy between what we think we want, and what we actually end up doing. Why are we seemingly unable to do what we know is best, whether we are talking about diet, exercise, work habits, or any other activity we engage in every day? A better way to frame the question is, Are we in charge of ourselves?

I have touched on a few factors that influence why you became the person you are. I have referred to how childhood experiences affect you, and why bad behaviors can be seen as positive and desirable to your subconscious mind. I will delve into why the subconscious mind is really the most powerful part of your brain, and how it is possible to change these deeply held, invisible beliefs so that you can stop fighting against yourself and bring your conscious and subconscious beliefs into alignment. This is more than an academic discussion; it is a reality, one that I use every day to help people accomplish their goals.

Next up- My own personal journey that led me to seek help with hypnotherapy.

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