It’s been said that for his book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill interviewed over 500 millionaires in an attempt to discern the secret to success. For his second book, he interviewed Satan (a hilarious book, and the superior of the two, but completely fictitious).
Hill was the father of the self-help movement, and his first book was a tour de force that still inspires imitators today. He wrote at length about ideas and techniques designed to help you take whatever idea you hold in your mind, and bring it into reality – typically riches and success. His philosophy can essentially be boiled down to this:
‘Whatever your mind can conceive and believe it can achieve.’
Aside from riding on the power of strong writing, it’s a fine statement, and true. Bio-mathematicians have postulated that there are more possible connections in the human brain than there are known particles in the universe. Or more simply, it’s far more likely that you can than you cannot.
Despite the strength of this knowledge however, it sits on the side of vague blanket advice rather than practical solutions. I don’t think many people struggle with conceiving of dreams and goals. We all have something we want to attempt. I’m sure you can think of a few right now. Running our own business, pursuing a career in the performing arts, getting good with women – we all have something we’re pursuing. What I think people struggle with is the latter parts – the believing and achieving. I think for most people the goal sits in their head, never to be achieved, waiting to transmute from dream into regret.
That’s the part I always struggled with, the believing and achieving. I never knew at the time that’s what I was struggling with, but hindsight is 20/20, and now it’s blatantly obvious. I’d ingest self-help book after self-help book, read biographies of successful people, I would search endlessly for morning routines that guaranteed success and I would meditate every day in the belief that supreme presence of mind would clear the way for my incredible rebirth (still waiting on that one).
Needless to say…
It didn’t work.
I didn’t understand the human brain at the time but since researching into psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience (specifically neuroplasticity) I learned that the brain allocates space for whatever it is you consistently do, whether that is positive or negative. Not only that, but it only gets better at what you consistently do (sometimes you don’t even get better). Repetition of these things only made me good at those particular things. Practicing meditation made me good at meditation, repeating a particular morning routine made me good at practicing that particular morning routine. Reading a lot made me good at reading a lot (actually worth it).
What I realised was that if I was going to achieve what I wanted to do; there was literally only one option.
I was going to have to just do it.
Procrastination and Limiting beliefs
Trimming through the fat of habit and cutting down to the essential action of ‘just doing it’ will always be a catalyst for dredging up the two obstacles you’ll face when attempting pretty much anything – Procrastination and limiting beliefs.
There are many theories on how to battle both – some theories even victimising you for even having either of them. You can learn a lot about people to how they respond to these – they get beaten back by it, overcompensate or deal with it.
From a perspective of neuroplasticity you want to aim for the last one, with sprinkles of the second. If you’re reading this I’d wager you already struggle with the first one (getting beaten by it). And guess what? That’s completely normal and so does basically everyone else on planet Earth. Nobody’s alone in this and nobody’s special. We all equally blow ass when it comes to achieving our goals. Even that asshole, Will Smith.
The funny thing about the brain is that it allocates space to whatever you do – without judgement as to whether this is particularly beneficial or not. In ‘The Brain that Changes itself’ by Norman Doidge, he uses the terms ‘neurons that fire together wire together’ and ‘neurons that fire apart wire apart’ (these terms in fact originate from Donald Hebb, a Canadian Neuropsychologist). Essentially you are what you do, and you are what you don’t do. It’s a double edged sword where you’re literally in charge of what it is your brain does, gets better at and gets better at not doing. If that sounds like a headache it’s because it is. Your heart pumps blood, your lungs filter oxygen and your brain screws you or saves you.
We all are literally our own worst enemies.
An extreme (or not so extreme) example of this would be a person who meets their needs for sex and intimacy by watching pornography, specifically amateur pornography made by people in relationships. That’s how they’re training their brain – literally constructing new pathways and brain maps, which actively reinforce themselves – to get those needs met. As opposed to going out and meeting members of the opposite sex.
The core need is always to have sex and intimacy with real human beings, but it is diverted and (arguably) satiated in a non-threatening, uncomplicated way. Despite this satiation however, the need remains unchanged. Because you always know when you’re cheating yourself.
Now getting into human needs and how we meet them is a topic for another time, but the key thing is that we all have them. We all have needs that we go about meeting in our own unique ways, through our dreams and goals, and however we go about meeting those trains our brain to continually follow that pathway – like a track in the woods that eventually becomes a path, and then a road through continual use. When in reality you always have a choice as to which pathways you encourage.
How this relates to procrastination and limiting beliefs is that they’re just patterns of thinking and behavior in the brain. They’re ways we interfere with getting our needs met. That’s it. And there’s an incredibly simple trick that I use for beating both, and here it is:
Don’t focus on the content, focus on the habit.
An example: A while back I knew a girl who suffered from a mild obsessive behavior. When she was just about to go to bed she would have to check all the kitchen appliances and hobs were off before she went to sleep. Normal right? Yeah, except she had to do it ten times each.
Every. Single. Time.
It was a drag. And it wasn’t normal. Every time she tried to stop it there would be a voice of doubt in her head, along with a visualization of her house overflowed with water, appliances on fire and a thief strolling through unlocked doors (quite a brazen guy).
It wasn’t until we dug our way through old cognitive behavioural therapy techniques that she started making a difference. That she started focusing on the habit, the action itself, not the content.
The content was her bizarre visualizations and self-doubt, the habit was turning off the appliances and locking the doors.
The solution, which fixed the problem in about a week, was to complete the action once, with focused attention, then leave. That’s it.
I would think ‘If go up and talk to her, she’ll yell/scream/tell me to fuck off’. The only way around it was to focus on the action itself (walking up talking to the girl) rather than the ridiculous thoughts I had about her reaction.
Over a thousand approaches later and guess what? They all screamed and told me to fuck off.
Not really – that’s never even happened once.
But that girl did watch her house burn down as a thief strolled out the back door.
Kidding, that didn’t happen either.
Nothing bad ever did.
If you focus on the action rather than the content – you’ll soon learn that insane stuff your brain comes up with is actually pretty funny when compared to reality.
It’s a frame work that can be applied to countless situations. A Swiss army knife of psychological practicality.
You spot the negative thought/behaviour/doubt/habit, you ignore the associated content (visualisation, narrative, superstition), and you focus on either completing or not completing the action.
It’s essential for breaking or forging new habits, pathways of thought and unlocking new potential.
A great way to become efficient at the spotting stage is to meditate. As often as you like – it’ll build the necessary skill and is a great stress relief.
It takes as little as 48 hours to learn
So after that you’re ready to start right?
Well not quite…
Continue to Part 2…