The Key To Breaking A Habit Is To Stop Trying

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I’ve been in Fort Worth this week. Over the past couple of days I’ve participated in a leadership retreat. We were privileged to have a neurologist lead one of the workshops related to brain development, processing information and the need to do things differently if we’re not getting needs met or accomplishing what we hope to accomplish. We’ve all heard the expression, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Isn’t it true that the definition of insanity is: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?” Obviously, there has to be a willingness on our part to take a different approach if we desire to achieve a different outcome.

The speaker caught my attention right away. He made repeated references to the gentle redirection or banter he receives from his wife. He obviously is a man after my own heart. I couldn’t help but identify with his stories. His stories are actually better than mine. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Most people have better stories than those I share.”

Actually, I think his stories are better because he’s braver than I am. At times he opts to “fight city hall” and orchestrate an outcome he wants even if it isn’t shared by his wife. Like I said, “He is a brave man!” Honestly, he didn’t talk long before I knew exactly the prototype he was talking about. The poor man said that in twenty years of marriage, he had only gotten it right twice. Of course, his getting it right meant that his wife had gotten it wrong.

The first example he shared related to how the brain processes information. He had been to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. He was standing near an exhibit that featured a waterfall. As the water was cascading down a rock wall, there was the subtle but clear letters “J” “E” “E” “P” in a vertical line cascading with the water down the wall. Later as he reflected on the visual messaging, he realized he had to have a jeep. The dye was cast. It really was an insatiable obsession. He had to have one.   Being the thoughtful husband, he ran the need for a jeep past his wife. She didn’t think much of the idea. She said he’d get hurt. He set her objections aside by saying, “I’m only going to do some off –road rock climbing with the jeep and some off-road mudding. I’m not going to get hurt.”

He then showed us a video of the jeep climbing up the rock incline. In almost slow motion, the jeep is at a stand-still one moment and then topples over backwards. The pull of gravity causes the jeep to tumble over and over. I actually watched the video clip with a sense of panic. By the time the jeep was resting upside down at the bottom of the hill, it looked like a very serious accident.

The neurologist said, “This is one of two times in twenty years that I was right. She was wrong. She said, “I would get hurt, but I didn’t”. He smiled. The question was then asked of the doctor, “Was the jeep repaired or totaled and do you still have it?” The doctor looked a little sheepish. He smiled and said, “I no longer have the jeep and my wife won’t let me get another one.

Perhaps the most thought provoking thing that the doctor shared was a formula or plan for breaking a habit. He said that the key is to stop trying. People try to change all kind of habits, but have difficulty doing so because the brain is already wired to want certain things based on our repetitive pattern of behavior. For example, a lot of people “try” to stop smoking. He said, “You’ll never accomplish your goal by trying”. He suggested that you evaluate when you want to smoke and what the triggers are for prompting the impulse and then purposefully steer away from those activities.

He recommended exercise, doing something, focusing on positive things and purposefully embracing activities that we find are in our best interest. He suggested that one of the keys is to stop watching television. His suggestion wasn’t entirely based on the downside of being a couch potato and leading a sedentary existence, though that too is a factor. It also has a lot to do with our propensity to be influenced by the visual and audible messaging of advertisements, the portrayal of values or lack thereof in what we’re seeing on television. I guess his challenge was associated with our need to live life in person rather than attempting to live vicariously through what we’re seeing related to circumstances and situations depicted on television.

Habits are things one does without having to think about it. Take for example, driving a car with a five-speed transmission. It takes some effort to learn how to do it, but once you’ve got it down, you shift the gears without even having to think about it. It becomes repetitive patterned behavior (habit) and you don’t have to think about it.

Yet, the reality is that most of us are aware of things we’d like to change about who we are. Whenever we try to make those changes, we generally fail miserably. We need to stop trying. We can move beyond the things that limit us by focusing on the positive. In fact, there is a Biblical principal that enforces the concept: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things”.

Be care of the subtle visual messages you allow to control your thought processes. The letters “J” “E” “E” “P” in a vertical line don’t necessary spell adventure without harm.

All My Best!

Don

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