How do we change our ingrained beliefs and habits?

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My personal journey of profound change was kickstarted on September 11 2001 as I saw from my office window the first explosion and then watched as the second airplane flew into the south tower. It had been simmering along before that, but the events of that day changed the curb of my own history and gave an electroshock that continues to reverberate with me every day.

Maybe it’s because my radar is on high alert or that I’ve hit a certain age, but I keep reading about illuminated people making a switch from doing the mundane to that which matters. Mostly, though, I continue to observe people running after the glitz, hanging on to outdated beliefs and doggedly reinforcing our dyed-in-the-wool habits. The hamster running in the wheel comes to mind. And that gets tiring after a while; to wit the number of fatigued, burned out and lonely people. It seems that for the “illuminated,” the wake-up call or spark systematically came from a serious or life-changing event, such as an illness, a brush with death, a massive natural disaster, the death of someone close or a perceived major injustice. At that point, the individual takes stock of what he/she is doing and sees everything in a different light. The narrative in the mind goes something like: “Life does seem shorter. It’d be better to do things that are worthwhile rather than just doing what I thought I had to do or that doesn’t bring me a deeper sense of fulfilment. Woah, at the end of my life, I’d rather not feel like I frittered it away.”

The tragic element is that we don’t actually need to wait for a serious wake-up call to change perspectives and to make the switch. Maybe the Coronavirus will be the impetus for some? It’s not that we need to swap lenses overnight nor make wholesale changes that could leave us ruined or lost. It’s just that, the longer you wait, the bigger the risk you run that you’ll will wake up one day and deeply understand the shallowness of what you’ve been doing. You’ll see the titles, rewards and material possessions for which you’ve worked so hard and which you’ve long sought are less meaningful. It becomes all the more painful when at retirement the titles and trappings disappear, and many of your “great” friends evaporate, too.

How to kickstart your change?

So, in the absence of an electro-shock, what will help you change your mind, undo those long-held beliefs and unlearn those ingrained habits?

  • Consider deeply what and who is important for you? Write it down. This is the important part: explain why they’re important to you.
  • Read books about how others have come to the conclusion that life’s more than just about winning the rat race. I can recommend a couple immediately: Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and Bill George’s Discover Your True North.
  • Meditate daily. In those repeated quiet moments, you’ll find a peace to listen to your body, be in touch with those around you and figure out what matters most. I like the guided meditation of The Ten Minute Mind. Find one you like and give yourself a ten-minute present every day.
  • Identify your regular habits and, one at a time, consciously think of ways to do them differently. Consider what it made you feel when you changed your routine?
  • Practice self-empathy and then listen to others, especially those most close to you and perfect strangers.
  • How will you make the world better off than when you arrived?

Don’t expect to start a massive revolution. But, don’t wait either! Set a realistic target and get started on your path now, rather than wait for that painful electroshock! Break down your actions into small steps and get cracking.

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