A Simple Mind Programming Exercise to Break Bad Habits

When we think about motivation, what comes up in our minds is positivity, energy, and feeling good. Think about a mascot and cheerleaders cheering up a whole stadium of sports fans.

There’s also a dark side of the motivation, which involves all kinds of negative emotions such as fear, anger, and disgust to encourage high performance or to discourage unwanted behavior. Think about a sports coach screaming at their team to fire them up with anger.

The dark side of motivation can be a useful tool to quit unwanted behavior. The feelings of fear and disgust are powerful motivators.

I used the dark side of motivation to quit occasional smoking. To do that I used the dreadful imagery of cancerous organs on cigarette packages and on the Internet. Today, I will go deeper into this topic and share another powerful exercise.

A Simple Model of Our Minds

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that your mind consists of two parts, conscious and unconscious. In this model, you can think about your unconscious mind as a powerful, active, but dumb person. Contrary to that, your conscious mind is weak, lazy, but intelligent.

The properties of our conscious and unconscious minds remind me of David and Goliath. In this model, our conscious mind is David, and the unconscious mind, Goliath.

Unconscious Mind / Goliath

  • Powerful
  • Active
  • Dumb

Conscious Mind / David

  • Weak
  • Lazy
  • Intelligent

The Relationships between Our Minds and Behaviors

Due to its powerful and active nature, our unconscious mind determines our behavior most of the time. The unconscious mind is also where our habits reside.

Our conscious mind has limited direct control over our behavior. However, we can use that limited control to program our unconscious mind.

Our unconscious mind works with associations and motivated by emotions. Pleasure is a strong motivator for our unconscious mind.

Quitting Strategies That Fail

Imagine your unconscious mind associated your Internet addiction with pleasure. Your conscious mind is fully aware of the negative consequences of Internet addiction. So, there’s a battle between your David and Goliath.

If the battle is based on power, who would win in the end? Goliath, of course. This is how we are approaching our bad habits and addictions most of the time. This is the reason we are failing at eliminating them.

However, David has an advantage, intelligence. We can use the intelligence of our conscious mind to reprogram our unconscious mind to break unwanted habits and addictions. Let’s see how we can do that.

A Strategy That Works

Why does our unconscious mind engage in bad habits and addictions? Because it associates them with good feelings. This is the psychology of addictions. How can we change that behavior? By replacing those positive associations with negative associations.

An example of this method is associating smoking with the images of cancerous organs. Now, let’s learn another method that uses the principle of pain and pleasure.

An Effective Method to Eliminate Bad Habits

Take a sheet of paper. Turn it sideways so that you have it in landscape mode and divide it into two parts vertically.

On the right-hand side, write the addiction that you want to quit at the top. Then write down different manifestations of that addiction underneath it in bullet points.

Don’t write in long sentences and paragraphs, just a few words for each bullet point. In this exercise, we want to keep things as simple as possible, because it’s designed for our unconscious mind. Remember, Goliath isn’t that bright.

On the left-hand side, write the consequences of your addictions in bullet points. Again, keep things simple. These consequences can be the ones that you have already experienced or the ones that you’re afraid of. Ideally, both.

Get into the Negative Feelings

Once you prepared your paper, it’s time to reflect on it. Look at the left-hand side and get into the feeling of psychological pain. That might be fear, anger, disgust, or any other negative feeling for you.

Once you feel the pain intensely, look at the right-hand side, feeling the intense pain until it subsides. Then, repeat it again. Spend as much time as you want doing this exercise.

Repeat the exercise at least once a day, at least for 30 days. During the transition phase, if the urge comes up, remind yourself of the consequences.

If you do this correctly, the next time you think about indulging in your addiction, you’ll feel such an intense pain that you’d rather skip it. It’s an intense, unpleasant, but a powerful and effective exercise.

Summary

Our habits and addictions reside in our unconscious mind which is powerful, active, and dumb. Our conscious mind can’t overpower our unconscious mind due to its weak nature.

Our unconscious mind works with associations. It associates habits and addictions with good feelings. We can use our conscious mind to break those positive associations and replace them with negative ones.

To do that, we need to prepare a paper with our addiction in detail on the right-hand side and the consequences of our addiction on the left-hand side.

The exercise involves feeling the pain of consequences and then reading the details of our addiction when feeling those negative emotions.

If you keep doing this exercise daily for at least 30 days, your unconscious mind will start to associate your addiction with pain and won’t be as motivated as before to indulge in it.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly roundup of my latest posts.

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