Let’s talk about habits. What are habits? I’ve been in the computer industry for nearly twenty years and I’ve written over a million lines of software code in that period of time. I understand how a computer works. I understand software. I know how a program works. A program is simply a set of instructions that tell the computer what to do. The computer can make decisions and perform operations based on those instructions. You can load different programs in a computer and it will follow different instructions depending of what program you have loaded.
Like a Player Piano
I kind of relate it to a player piano when I try to explain software to people. When I was a kid our family had a player piano. We had a lot of fun with it. It wasn’t electric so we had to sit at the piano and pump the pedals with your feet to get the air going which made the piano go. In the piano you would put a roll, a piano roll. It sort of looked like a paper towel roll almost. Actually more like a scroll. In this paper were punched little holes. Depending on where these holes were punched in the paper, that would determine what notes would play and how long the holes were would determine how long the note would play.
So you could take a piano roll and put it in the piano and it would play a song. You could take out that roll and put another one in and it would play a different song because it was a different set of instructions. That is similar to how a computer program works.
Like a Computer Program
You can install a computer program in a computer and it’s a set of instructions and it tells the computer what to do in given situations depending on the inputs that are given. Now a computer is a little more sophisticated than a player piano. A computer can detect mouse movements, it can detect keyboard input and it can detect a number of other things and make decisions based upon those inputs. A computer program can read data from files that are stored on the hard drive and make decisions dependent on the data.
Our brains are much more sophisticated than any player piano or any computer that exists on this earth. But there are some similarities between how computers work and how our minds work.
With a computer you don’t have to tell it every little thing it does. You give it some instructions or commands and it does a whole lot of things under the covers that you never see. It executes millions of instructions that you will never even know about. Our brains are the same way.
We don’t have to tell our brain to move every little muscle in order to walk or in order to pick up a pencil. We just think, “pick up a pencil” and our conscious mind sends a command to our subconscious mind and our subconscious mind takes care of all the nitty-gritty details. I don’t know how many muscles control a hand, but all we have to do is give the command to pick up the pencil and our subconscious mind takes care of all of the little details of picking up a pencil. It’s because we have learned it in the past. There’s a pattern or program in there that says execute “Pick Up Pencil” program and it runs that program and all the little details are taken care of and our hand moves and based on input, our sight, our touch, our hand is able to move towards the pencil, grasp it and pick it up without us even thinking about it – its’ running a program!
We Wrote the Software!
Inside of our minds are millions of programs, millions of programs that we have written ourselves. The software of our brains – We Wrote! These programs are called habits. This is called learning. When you learn something what you have really done is you have created a program in your mind.
When you learn to golf, to hit the ball, to hit that long drive and you practiced over and over again – what you were doing is you were creating a program in your mind so that the next time that you stand up to the tee and you grab that same golf club and you put the same ball down and you get into the exact same situation, then your mind suddenly says, “Ah! Run the program to drive the golf ball.” You have pre-programmed that so you don’t have to think about, “Where do I put my foot? Where do I put my hands? How do I swing?” It’s already there and you just run this program and whammo, you hit the ball and there it goes. You don’t have to re-learn it all again because you have created a program in your mind.
There are millions of programs in your mind that you have created. Some of those are good programs and some are bad. But they all are programs and that is what we call ‘habits.’
Now, a habit is sort of like a flywheel. Once you get the flywheel going it doesn’t take much effort to keep it going. Once you create a habit it doesn’t take much effort to repeat that habit again and again. To stop it is very difficult. To change it is very difficult. We have to erase the pattern, erase the program and create a new one. This is how habits work in our minds and the idea is that we can be the programmer of the software of our minds.
Reprogramming Our Minds
Now a lot of the software or programs in our minds were created without us even thinking about it, without even trying, especially the bad habits, the bad programs. But guess what – we are the programmers and we can reprogram our minds, we can recreate those programs the way we want them to be. We don’t have to let it automatically happen. We don’t have to put up with these programs or habits that are in our minds. We can change the software of our brains.
That is an astounding thing to think about. That is a gift that we have that animals and other creatures don’t have. They follow instinct. They come to this earth with most of their programs pre-written. For example, take a newborn horse or deer. Within a matter of hours after birth they are standing up and walking around. How long does it take for a human to walk? A year? Most everything we do we have to learn and program ourselves or learn from our parents. Most of the animal kingdom comes to this earth with nearly everything pre-programmed into their minds, into their brains. Humans do not.
These programs that we have inside of our minds – how do they run? What makes them run? On a computer you can enter a command. DELETE FILE, COPY FILE, EDIT FILE, etc. Or run a program by typing the name of the program on a command line or by clicking on its icon.
Inside each of us are commands or triggers, however you want to call them – conditions that then set off the programs – a set of conditions that then tells your mind to do a certain thing, to run a certain program.
Friend of Foe?
When we think about these habits that we have, sometimes we tend to think about habits as negative, bad things. We think of them in a way that makes habits seem undesirable. But habits, in and of themselves are not bad. They are neither friend nor foe, they are neither negative nor positive. It’s our use of habits and our control and development of habits that determine whether they will be beneficial or detrimental to us.
We can use habits. They are powerful. We can let habits control us – we can be bound by our habits or we can use habits to benefit us. It’s sort of like fire. Fire can be used for good or evil. Fire of itself is not good or evil. A fire can burn down a home and yet a fire in a fireplace can keep you warm and keep you alive. Just as fire is not evil or good, neither are our habits. Habits are not evil or good. It’s how we use them that make them bad or good.
A very simple example of a program that you have inside of you is this, at least if you are like me and put on pants and a belt every day. I want you to think about how you put on your belt. Usually you just grab your belt and you put it on. You don’t have to think about it. Usually you put it on one certain way-either you start it going through your left belt loop or you start it going through your right belt loop. Whichever way you do it, try doing it the opposite way. Take your belt off and put it on in the opposite direction around your pants and see how that feels.
This new way is something you don’t have programmed into your mind and so you have to think about every little thing. You have to think about which loop to put it through. You have to think about how to do it. When you put your belt on the other way you don’t have to think about anything, you just run the program – it’s already programmed inside. You may not even realize you have put your belt on because it is so automatic. But when you do it the opposite direction it’s difficult, it’s weird, it doesn’t feel natural. But if you did that for thirty days, every day put on your belt the opposite direction, eventually you will have programmed your mind and then you won’t have to think about it any more. You have created a habit in your mind. You have programmed your mind.
What Does it All Mean?
So what does this mean to us? How can we use this information? It is my belief that there are many aspects about our personality that we just accept as just being the way we are, when, in fact, it is simply a program that was created unintentionally long ago. I believe we can change any aspect about ourselves. I believe we can re-program the software of our minds. At a later time I will explore this concept and talk about the methods and processes for doing it. Until then, pay attention to programs you run every day in your mind and know that they can be changed.
Copyright © 2014 Gary N. Larson