I have a WhatsApp group where I send a new thought daily in the hope that it will resonate at least with some of the more than 300 people there and make them think and feel in new, wiser ways. For example, the other day I wrote: ‘The past and the present require acceptance, the future requires hard work, none of them require worry.’
This is something that is easy to say or to write, it is also easy to read, but it is certainly not so easy to live.
What is necessary for it to actually become part of ourselves and not be just something we read or hear, even if we understand it and like it a lot, is practice and repetition. And lots of it. The only way to change our habits is to reprogram our brain, which depends on repetition.
First of all, it is absolutely necessary and fundamental to have a new understanding, to see, to read, to recognize something that we know is important for our lives (for example, that worry is not necessary).
But very rarely does that new understanding go so deep in our hearts that it makes a change in the way we see and do things in the world. Most of the time, I would say 99% of the time, recognizing that something could be important for our lives is not enough to create change.
Every recognition is valuable in itself, no doubt about it, but it also needs practice. The recognition has to be remembered over and over and over until it becomes part of what we are, rather than just something we read or heard or thought about.
We need to bring it to mind, to think about it, to see it, to revive it again and again and again, otherwise, as powerful or as mind-blowing as that truth may have been the moment we first recognized it, the momentum will disappear and our old habits will surely return.
It happened to me several times, as I’m sure it happens to a lot of people, that a good, inspirational movie touched me deeply. For some, the movie can be Forest Gump, Billy Elliot, Dead Poets Society or the Truman Show; for others it can be Into the wild, A Beautiful Mind or A Beautiful Life or many others.
Whatever the movie, the moment we leave the cinema we feel new, rejuvenated, full of energy and ready to start a new life… But one day later, or sometimes even a few hours later, that power and conviction we had is almost totally gone and all that is left are the old habits pushing us again into the same old life.
I was mentioning something like this to a friend of mine that tends to bite her fingers, even if she clearly knows all the problems that this brings. What she can do when she sees her hand coming towards her mouth (and even when she recreates that action intentionally) is not only interrupt the action half way, but also freeze right there for a moment and repeat to herself: „I don’t want to bite my fingers, I don’t want to hurt myself”; and together with that, to visualize her beautiful hands untouched by her biting…
The words and the type of visualization used can be different according to the people and the kind of problem they have, but the important thing is the repetition, is doing it over and over and over again until what they want becomes part of their being.
Basically, just like we can reprogram a computer, we can also reprogram our brain; just like we need to write code for the computer, we need to write new code for our brain. And we can do this by repetition.
It is the same with everything else.
For example, with the thought I mentioned at the beginning of this note: that neither the past, present of future require worry.
The first and essential step is to have a deep, clear, conclusive understanding that this is completely true: worry is not necessary, useful or beneficial in any way at all. If we are not totally clear on this, then there is no way to stop worrying. The logical, intellectual understanding must be there.
But then, as we know, that is not enough. We need a second step. We need to program that understanding into our brain, and this takes time and effort. This is where most people fail.
Because most people are too busy and in a hurry to take time to make the understanding come alive. They want the quick solution, they want to win the lottery, fall completely in love, watch a movie that will change their lives forever or do a one day seminar that will transform them into that new person… but this does not work. When it comes to changing habits, time and effort in the form of repetition is fundamental.
Without repetition, we can talk and even write books about what we know, but our own lives can – and will – remain a mess.
We need to return to our deepest understandings and see them, repeat them and visualize them again and again and again, each time as if they were new, until every cell and atom of our body resounds with them.
It is difficult to change our old habits, our old ways of seeing ourselves and the world, but it is certainly possible.
It is a hard work, but the result – a more beautiful, peaceful, wiser human being – is truly worth all efforts.