Our mental programming has a great impact on our lives. That is good news and bad news at the same time. It’s bad news because of the following reasons.
- Our programming is mostly not our conscious choice.
- A significant portion of our programming is not based on facts.
- A chunk of our programming is counterproductive.
- We aren’t aware of a big part of our programming.
The good news is that we can change our lives by updating our programming. Updating our programming is similar to a software update, but not completely the same. It is sufficient to save a software update once. A mental software update requires either a dramatic event or multiple repetitions to save the new program in our hardware.
In order to update our programming, we need to take two steps.
- Become aware of the programs that are neither productive nor fact-based.
- Replace them with productive and fact-based programs.
How to Become Aware of Our Programming?
There are multiple ways of becoming aware of our programming. In this post, I will explain three of them.
- Learn what you don’t know you don’t know
Learn What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know
A good portion of our programming resides on an unconscious level of our psyche. Some of it is inherited via genetic material. Some of it is internalized or concluded at an unconscious level. You will be amazed if you learned what kind of irrational biases are residing in your psyche and affecting your thoughts and actions.
Sometimes, it’s sufficient to learn about a bias to neutralize its effects on our thoughts and actions. Sometimes, it takes more effort to cancel its effects. In either case, the first step is to become aware of those biases. The best way to do that is to read about them. There are two books that I recommend about this subject, Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman and Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.
An affirmation is a goal stated in a positive sentence, using the first person and present tense. If you don’t want to be overweight anymore, you can formulate your goal as “I am fit.” Affirmations are only useful when they are repeated over and over, spoken or written.
Here’s an effective affirmations exercise from the book Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. You need two sheets of paper and a pen for this exercise. Pick an affirmation and write it repeatedly on the first sheet of paper. As you write your affirmation, your psyche will come up with all kinds of reasons why your affirmation will never be true. For example, you will come up with reasons like the following.
- I don’t have the time to exercise.
- My metabolism is slow.
- Eating is the only way for me to deal with stress.
- I have a big appetite.
- My hormones are responsible for my fat storage.
As arguments against your affirmation come up, write them down on the second sheet of paper. As the first sheet of paper is completely filled by your affirmation, your second sheet of paper should include a significant amount of counterarguments. As a result, you become aware of the programs that limit you.
If you feel courageous, you can take direct action instead of writing down your affirmations. If your affirmation is to become good at public speaking, take a public speaking challenge. Just like the writing exercise above, your unconscious programs will come up during the preparation and delivery of your public speech. Write them down as they come up.
How to Replace Your Limiting Programs with Empowering Ones
In some cases, it’s sufficient to become aware of an unproductive program to neutralize its effects. In other cases, it takes more effort than that. Here are three methods to replace your limiting programs.
- Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is the first step to replace your limiting programs. Ask yourself the following questions.
- Is this program fact-based? Or is it fiction?
- Does this program serve me or does it limit me?
- Are there examples against this program?
- Is it possible that the opposite of this program is true?
You can question your limiting programming with further questions that you come up with. For example, you can work on the limiting belief “eating is the only way for me to deal with stress” with the following questions.
- Is eating really the only way for me to deal with stress?
- How does eating every time I feel stressed serve me?
- Which other ways are there to deal with stress that I can use?
- How can I employ another stress management technique instead of eating?
Once you have determined that a program is neither productive nor fact-based, you can come up with an affirmation to replace it. Using the example above, you can formulate your affirmation as the following. “I use deep breathing as an effective stress management technique.” As you keep repeating this affirmation to yourself and actually using the technique every time you feel stressed, you will effectively replace your counterproductive program with a productive one. You can use this affirmation to do the affirmation exercise in the first part to discover even more counterproductive programs and repeat the cycle to go even deeper.
Imagine, you have a strong belief that you can’t lose those extra ten pounds no matter what you do. Nevertheless, you still have a deep desire to lose those extra ten pounds. In this case, you can treat your replacement belief as a hypothesis and try to prove it with an experiment. If you frame this practice as a scientific experiment, you let go of the intense emotions that might hold you back from accomplishing your goal.
Using the example above, you can come up with a precise experimental design.
- Hypothesis: I can lose 10 pounds in six months.
- Restrict my calories to 1800 / day.
- One hour cardio three times a week.
Now, all you have to do is to satisfy the conditions of the experiment for the next six months. Think about yourself as a scientist with a notepad and pen, keeping track of the progress as you go through your days.
Write a little report every day. Did you satisfy the conditions of the experiment today? If not, why didn’t you? What happened? At the end of the six months, make an assessment. Did the experiment prove or disprove the hypothesis? If you could not satisfy the conditions, what kept you from satisfying them? How can you formulate your experimental design next time, so that you can take into account the factors that you didn’t take into account the first time?
You can change your life by changing your mental programming. The first step to changing your mental programming is to become aware of your individual programs. You can do that by reading about them, using affirmations, and by taking action. The second step is to replace them with productive programs. You can adopt productive programs through critical thinking, affirmations, and experimentation.