Episode 1 – Mental Habits
Beliefs and Cognitive Biases
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Understanding the power of the mind
Great philosophers and scientists of generations gone by have been obsessed with the mind, and with good reason.
“The Mind is a wonderful servant,” said Robin Sharma, “but a terrible master.”
So many of the great thinkers throughout history knew that the mind is a tool for us to master and, if we can accomplish that mastery, we will achieve great things.
The mind is responsible for so much, it’s important to take stock and appreciate just how much power it wields. The mind:
- Processes all bodily functions – our heartbeat, breathing, digestion, healing, immunity, reproduction
- Has an unlimited memory
- Never sleeps or rests – when our bodies rest at night, our mind is hard at work rebuilding, repairing, and reimagining
- Converts inputs like food into energy for our bodies
- Creates actual miracles – the human mind has given us the gift of flight, global connectivity, and space travel
Arootah exists to help people understand and harness the power of their mind, all in an effort to answer to two vital questions:
- Why don’t we do what’s in our best interests all the time?
- How do we do what’s in our best interests all the time?
But knowing the answers is only the first step – we have to know how to apply that knowledge to our lives if we want to enjoy the benefits of a better mindset and harness the remarkable power of the mind.
Survival of the species: the mission of the mind
Every project begins with a mission statement – an answer to a “what” question. So, what is your mind trying to do and what is its mission statement?
Above all else, at the heart of every desire and fear we ever have, is our mind’s prime directive – survival of the species.
If we are trying to work out why we behave in ways that aren’t in our best interest, we need to understand that our mind will always revert to ensure survival above all else.
But how does our prime directive impact our choices and behavior?
If we are to keep our species going, we must first keep ourselves going.
Taking the language of life coaching, there is a process to be found in all things – a mission to complete and goals to accomplish.
If a mission is accomplished through a subset of goals, and if our mind’s mission is to keep our species alive, then the goals that we must accomplish to achieve that are reflected in our choices and behavior.
The main goal to accomplish our mind’s primary directive is to achieve our own survival. If we are not here, then how will we ever help our species survive? Keeping ourselves alive and thriving is the first step to helping our species do the same.
Just look at how we provide for our families and protect them above all else. There are so many stories of parents going hungry so their children can eat or sacrifice themselves so their children (and by extension, our species) can survive.
We need energy to survive
If we have to keep ourselves going for the good of our species, what does that encompass?
There are many complexities to this but, above all else, we have to ensure we have adequate energy. Without adequate energy, we won’t survive. If we don’t survive, we can’t help our species survive. The hierarchy is becoming clearer!
We expend energy through so many processes:
- Mental exertion – the brain uses an enormous amount of energy taking in, processing, and handling the stimulation and information it receives
- Physiological functions – all the processes that our bodies rely on to survive, from breathing to digestion
- Metabolic and synthetic reactions – cell reactions, gene multiplication
- Energy dissipation – maintaining our core temperature by dispelling or producing heat
Energy is our mind and body’s most valuable resource, so we are constantly striving to renew and conserve it.
Renewing our energy is, of course, essential. We renew our energy by refilling our stocks and refreshing ourselves using a variety of processes, but some of the most effective and enjoyable means are:
- Inspiration – doing what inspires us. Doing what we are good at, what we love doing, and doing it for the benefit of others is beneficial as it is acting for the greater good
- Sleep – there is no greater investment you can make than in your sleep. Eight hours of high quality, consistent sleep will send your energy and focus to new levels
- Nutrition – food is fuel! Focusing on avoiding highly-processed, sugary foods and prioritizing organic fruits and vegetables gives your mind the fuel it needs to thrive
- Exercise – expending energy to renew energy, how does that work? Well, exercise improves your cardiovascular health, endurance, energy capacity, and quality of sleep. You spend a little to earn a lot
It would be an inefficient system if we only spent and renewed our energy. Conserving our energy means we spend less time generating it, adding efficiency to an otherwise relentless process.
Looking at the ways we conserve energy allows us to really shine a light on a significant secret of the mind. Once we understand the subconscious programming of energy conservation that sits within us all, we get a better picture of why we do things that are not in our best interests.
Our subconscious mind has developed two key methods for conserving energy: instincts and habits.
Our subconscious mind operates these patterns of behavior so our conscious mind is free to focus on higher-level activities. Just think how much energy you would use up if you had to think about walking with every step you took or how to inhale and exhale with every breath!
Our instincts are pre-programmed, repetitive physical or mental actions that are with us from before we are even born. They are built into our genetic code, pre-wired into the neural network our species has evolved over time.
All our instincts work by following the same process that takes just milliseconds:
- We are faced with a stimulus
- Our subconscious mind begins the retrieval process from our memory bank for a similar experience
- It analyses the actions and choices that resulted in the best outcome
- It executes those actions to achieve that same outcome
- You achieve survival!
To give a real-world example, imagine 50,000 years ago when your great-great-great (etc) grandfather saw a tiger outside his cave.
- Stimulus – he sees the tiger
- Retrieval process – he remembers the other times he’s seen a tiger
- Best outcome analysis – stroking the tiger doesn’t end well and running doesn’t work, but grabbing a log from the fire and waving it around scares the tiger off!
- Execution – log in hand, he charges at the tiger and sends it running
- Survival – here you are, 50,000 years later, reading his story
Habits are similar to instincts, however we learn them in our own lifetime, rather than having them passed to down to us from our ancestors. The habits we form now could become our descendants’ instincts. We are constantly learning and improving our survival model over time.
We form habits using a three-step process that ingrains any repetitive action into our subconscious mind so that the action becomes automatic and even unconscious whenever that trigger fires:
- Trigger – reminder to the subconscious about a particular behavior
- Behavior – the action you take as a result of the trigger
- Reward – the perceived benefit you get from the behavior that reinforces it
Habits can be beneficial or harmful, big or small. An example of one that many of us can relate to is:
- Trigger – you walk past a bakery every morning and smell delicious pastries, but tell yourself you won’t get in
- Behavior – you smell the pastries and decide to go in and buy one anyway!
- Reward – a tasty pastry, a healthy dose of dopamine, and instant gratification
Our mindset is made up of habitual thought patterns. We construct our reality with the stories we tell ourselves – good and bad!
Things we tell ourselves and believe shape our reality. So many of the barriers we think are around us are self-imposed and if we can master our mindset, we can break down those barriers and break through to new levels of achievement, satisfaction, and fulfillment.
Beliefs and biases: reconstructing reality
Now that we understand the power of our mind, the subconscious processes that dominate its activity and the reason they exist, we can turn to rewiring and reshaping some the beliefs and biases upon which our subconscious mind operates.
Beliefs are ideas or thoughts that we repeat and share with others. They influence our behavior by shaping and controlling our decisions and perceptions. This means we see what we believe rather than believing what we see.
In other words, our beliefs become our reality.
Beliefs come in two different forms: limiting and empowering.
- Hold us back from our goals
- Exist when we believe we are limited in some way
- Might be true or false (but are usually the latter)
- For example, believing that you could never speak in public. You can be in public settings and you can speak, so it’s your belief that stops you, not the reality of the situation
- Give us confidence and conviction that we can and will accomplish our goals
- Encourage us to take risks
- Might be true or false
- For example, you could be a terrible public speaker, but you won’t know unless you have the belief that you can do it in the first place
Beliefs are formed on indirect experience (things you read, things you are told, things you presume), whereas “knowings” come from direct experience (things you have seen, done, or achieved).
We can’t change what we know, nor should we try to, but we can change our beliefs. If we can do that, we can achieve things we previously thought impossible.
Empowering beliefs in action
Roger Bannister ran a 4 minute mile in 1954. Before that, doctors and athletes thought it was impossible. But Roger Bannister had an empowering belief – he knew he could do it, he told himself he would do it, and he did it.
Once the world knew that a 4 minute mile was possible, it became a “knowing”. 40 days later, another person ran a sub-4-minute mile.
The barrier was not physiological, but mental.
Know your cognitive biases
Our beliefs, and consequently our mindset, can be impacted by cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are programmed erroneous thought patterns that impact our judgments and, resultantly, our decisions.
Cognitive biases influence our behavior every day and, given that they are based on incorrect or incomplete information, often result in poor decisions.
Our cognitive biases often sway towards the negative, which is all thanks to that prime directive of survival. We need to be on the lookout for danger and problems, or otherwise risk being eaten by that tiger from earlier!
A few of the most common cognitive biases include:
- Recency bias – when we give greater credence and preference to something that has happened recently (e.g. hiring the last person we interviewed)
- Anchoring bias – when we rely upon an initial piece of information (e.g. trusting our first impression even further experiences are different)
- Stereotypes – an overgeneralized belief and expectation about a particular group (e.g. treating someone differently based on their age, race, or gender)
Knowledge is important, but application is key
We’ve covered a lot in this article, so let’s recap the key learning points:
- The mind is an incredibly powerful tool that we can control to achieve our goals, but we need to understand its purpose in order to use it
- Its purpose is survival – of our species and ourselves!
- We achieve our own survival by conserving and renewing our energy
- We renew our energy through inspiration, sleep, nutrition, and exercise
- We conserve our energy through our instincts and habits
- Our instincts are genetic, hardcoded into our neural networks through years of evolution
- Our mental habits come in many forms, including beliefs and biases
- If we are aware of our beliefs and biases, we can adjust them and improve them for the benefit of our decisions and lives
As we go further into the incredible power of our mind, we’re going to look at ways we can reframe and rewire our mindset to work in our favor.
Together, we can harness our minds to create a lifestyle that is healthier, happier, and more humane.
If you want to get ahead of the game, then grab your free copy of Crisitunity for more advice on how to unlock your mind’s potential, create great new opportunities for yourself, and live the life you’ve always wanted.