Habits – The Software of Your Mind

MindsoftwareLet’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.’

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.

Triggers

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.

Daily Routines

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

Kill the Monster When It’s a Baby

Kill the monster when it's a baby.

I’m going to teach you about killing babies – monster babies that is. Let me explain. I was thinking about the idea that we don’t perform any act or do anything without thinking about it first. A thought has to enter our mind before we ever do anything. Sometimes we purposely think thoughts and other times we could be minding our own business and a thought will just pop into our head without our invitation. But the point being that you don’t act without first thinking about it. So if we can eliminate the thought in the first place then we will never perform the action.

Our negative or bad thoughts are like monsters. They begin small but tend to grow until they can nearly destroy us. It’s much easier to kill these monsters when they are babies than when they are fully grown.

The Plan

So here’s the plan. Think about the negative action or habit you want to get rid of. Then determine what negative thought or thoughts precede that action or habit. Then you take some money, say $50 or $100 and you go to the bank and you exchange it for one-dollar bills. Every day that you go the entire day without dwelling upon the negative thought – meaning every time the thought comes to you, and you immediately get rid of it, you take one dollar and put it into a jar or a bank or envelope. So, you have a stack of $1 bills and every day that you are successful you take one dollar and put it in your jar. The idea is that after five days of not dwelling on the chosen negative or bad thought then you should have five one-dollar bills in your jar.

Now, if you mess up one day and actually dwell upon the thought then you must give the money away. I’m not even talking about performing the negative act itself. I’m just talking about dwelling upon the thought. If you do that then you have failed for that day and then all the money you have in the jar you have to give away – either to charity or the beggar on the street or anybody – you must give it away.

Set a Goal

So you set yourself a goal, a small goal at first, say thirty days. You want to go thirty days and every time that you complete a day without dwelling on the negative thought then you add a dollar to your jar. Then after thirty days you can take that money and reward yourself and splurge and buy yourself anything you want. Now that’s not a lot of money but then the next goal will be sixty days. So you keep increasing your goal like that. The idea is to train your mind so that whenever the bad thoughts come into your mind, from whatever source, you immediately remove it, get rid of it.

The beauty of all of this is this: most people decide to stop a certain negative behavior or action when they’re almost in the middle of it and at that point it’s usually too late. It’s like you’ve slid down a slippery slope and your are sliding so fast and the slope is getting steeper that it’s almost impossible to stop and turn and climb back up. The idea is to stop yourself before you even get close to the edge of that slope – to deal with the problem when it’s easy. So the beauty of all this is that you never have to deal with this great and terrible temptation because you never even get to that point. I have seen this work with myself and it’s almost like magic.

You might say to yourself, “This could cost me a lot of money!” Yes, it could. But its much cheaper than going to counseling. Ask yourself how much its worth to you to be rid of this habit. I guarantee that if you put this plan in place you will be amazed at the results. It really does train your brain. So, go out and kill some babies – monster babies.

Copyright © 2014 Gary N. Larson

What Are You Focusing On?

subconsciousI talked earlier about the concept of Threshold, of reaching a boiling point in your life, of hitting rock bottom and realizing you need to change. But after that, then what? Where do you go from there? Many people have reached that point and they say, “I’m going to make a change, I’m going to turn over a new leaf.” But, you know, they go to bed, they get up the next day, and life goes on and nothing really changes. Well, that’s a good point. Where do you go from there?

Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want

I think many times we focus on the bad habit or behavior that we want to change and that’s where our mind is, that’s where our attention is, that’s where the vision is, the pictures that we have in our mind. Now I’ll go back to the example of the person who overeats. You know they say, “I’ve got to change, I’ve got to go on a diet, I’ve got to quit eating the food.” They put all of their focus on not eating and they are constantly thinking about food, saying things to themselves like; “I can’t eat the chips and salsa. I can’t eat the chocolate cake in the fridge. I’ve got to count calories.” Their whole focus is all on food, and not eating the food.

Dominant thoughts

The problem is, the picture that you have in your mind when you’re in this mode is of food and your mind draws toward what you have pictures of in your head. Let me rephrase that, not your mind, but whatever pictures you have in your mind; that’s what you’re drawn towards. The person who wants to quit swearing for example, if he’s just constantly telling himself, “I’m not going to swear, I’m not going to swear.” The thoughts in his mind are all about swearing.
The focus can’t be on what it is your trying to stop. It’s got to be on the behavior you’re going to replace it with. So for the person who wants to change the way they look, their physical appearance, their health, they shouldn’t be focusing on not eating food. They should be focusing on what they’re going to look like in six months or a year down the road-what kind of lifestyle are they going to have? It’s got to be a lifestyle change.

“See” what you want

They can’t say, “I’m going to stop eating food for the next ten days” or “I’m going to stop eating until I’m down to a certain weight and then resume my regular lifestyle.” That’s not going to work. You’ve got to see in your mind who you’re going to become. And then once you decide what kind of life you’re going to lead, are you going to be a biker, a runner, are you going to get up and do aerobics, kick boxing, whatever it is, you need to see pictures of yourself in good health, pictures of yourself in your mind having the body, the physique that you want, looking the way you want and then move towards that picture.

Suddenly you start to make changes in your life because your current behavior is incompatible with the way you see yourself. You need to start looking, acting, walking, and talking like that person.

Now that is focusing on a small part of your entire self, your physical body. You can bring this up to even a higher level and see yourself as a completely different person, a person you have described and envisioned in every detail, the real “you” deep inside of you. You begin to change every aspect of your life. It all begins with what you are focusing your mind on on a regular basis. So be aware of your thoughts, be aware of the images and pictures you have in your mind because whatever your dominant thought is, that is what you will create in your life.

Copyright © 2014 Gary N. Larson

We Hear What We Listen For

Alarm ClockGood morning! Today I want to talk about an interesting phenomenon that actually happened this morning. It has to do with your mind’s ability to block out what it’s not interested in and only let in what it is trained to let in.

What brought this up was what happened this morning when my alarm went off. I have to admit that I hit the snooze button and jumped back in bed to sleep for 10 more minutes. I actually set my alarm 10 minutes earlier than when I plan to get up. So I lay back in bed and slept a little longer. When my alarm went off again and when I woke up I noticed that my wife was already out of bed. She wasn’t there. She had already gotten up to go wake the boys so they could do their paper route.

I thought it was interesting that I didn’t hear her alarm at all. We both have alarm clocks. They are very similar. They each have a red digital readout and their alarms sound very similar. It’s that annoying beep beep beep sound that today’s alarm clocks typically make. The sounds of the two alarm clocks aren’t that different really. They aren’t exactly the same but very similar. I thought it was interesting that my mind, my brain, is trained to hear my alarm clock and not hers. Her alarm didn’t wake me up but mine did. I thought it was interesting that I hear mine but I don’t hear hers. How can that be?

It makes you wonder about what else in life we don’t see or hear because of what our minds have been trained to see or hear. There is a story I once heard that helps us understand this phenomenon.

WE HEAR WHAT WE LISTEN FOR

Two men were walking along a crowded sidewalk in a downtown business area. Suddenly one exclaimed: ‘Listen to the lovely sound of that cricket.’ But the other could not hear. He asked his companion how he could detect the sound of a cricket amid the din of people and traffic. The first man, who was a zoologist, had trained himself to listen to the voices of nature. But he didn’t explain. He simply took a coin out of his pocket and dropped it to the sidewalk, whereupon a dozen people began to look about them. ‘We hear,’ he said, ‘what we listen for.’ –Kermit L. Long, taken from ‘The Three Boxes of Life,’ by Richard Bolles

We hear what we listen for. What are our minds trained to hear? What are out eyes trained to see? What are we conscious of and what are we unconscious of? What are we paying attention to and what are we not paying attention to?

I have read many times about a function of the brain called the RAS. It stands for the Reticular Activating System. Basically it’s what filters things in our brain. It’s what determines what you notice and what you don’t notice. The example that’s usually given, and it’s a great example because many of us have experienced it, is when you purchase a new car. Suddenly you begin to see that car all around you. You never noticed those cars before but now that you own one it’s on your mind, it’s what’s important to you. It’s not that these cars didn’t exist before, it’s just that you didn’t notice them.

I remember years ago I re-roofed my house. I did it myself and it was a huge project for me to do. It was interesting that during the weeks I was involved in that project, everywhere I drove, I noticed roofs. I never noticed roofs before. But since I was heavily involved in it that’s what I noticed. I think I knew everybody’s roof in the neighborhood, what condition it was in and what color it was, because that’s what I paid attention to. To me that was very interesting that suddenly I paid attention to everybody’s roof.

The down side to this is that by focusing your attention on one thing, in reality you are deleting everything else that your mind and body it receiving inputs from – sights, smells, sounds. So what are you deleting in your life? Is it good or is it bad? I think it can be both ways. If your mind let everything in you would be overwhelmed by the amount of information that would be flowing into your brain. You have to have a way of filtering it so that only those things that are important to you really register and make a difference. But we have to be careful not to be so focused on things that other important things get deleted out of our awareness and out of our lives.

So my message for today is to be aware of what you’re not being aware of, pay attention to what you’re not paying attention to. Make sure that we’re not leaving out the important things in life that we should be paying attention to.

Thank you.

Copyright © 2014 Gary N. Larson