Of all the questions I am asked in my seminars and classes, this question is asked the most, especially by people with longer life experiences. (also called “Seniors” – a name I HATE. I like to refer to us as “Seasoned Adults!”)
To understand why it is so hard to change, we need to look at an element of the mind which I like to call the “creative subconscious,” for it is the main culprit that keeps us from changing and learning and growing. We are going to expose just one of its crafty ways today and we’ll see others in future columns. By doing so, we can begin a foundation for learning how to take back more control of where we want our lives to go.
Its first job is to maintain sanity
We now know that your brain will not let you be unlike yourself. Cognitive psychology calls this “maintaining sanity.” For instance, for many years I would look in the mirror and proclaim, “You are a 230-pound man who has got to lose 30 pounds!” My own self image was therefore that of a 230-pound man, and to maintain sanity,” my creative subconscious made sure I ate like a 230-pound man. Even after running and swimming throughout the week, a pecan pie looked absolutely wonderful to eat on a Saturday. “After all.” I would reason, “I had nothing but carrot juice for lunch all week! I owe it to myself as a reward for being so disciplined!” And back came the pounds. This continued for 25 years!
Even more revealing is when a person is under hypnosis.
The creative subconscious under hypnosis
A trained hypnotist is able to bypass the person’s conscious and embed a temporary suggestion in his subconscious.
Imagine that after putting you under hypnosis, I tell you that the stapler on the table in front of you weighs 500 pounds, and that I will give you $1,000 if you lift it off the table. Now, one of the thousands of self-images you have is that you cannot lift 500 pounds. However, you could really use the money. You therefore try with all your might to lift the stapler. However, it does not move…try as you might.
Now…just to make sure you really are trying, I attach electrodes to your biceps, the muscles in your arms that are used for lifting. I then connect the electrodes to an electronic measuring device, and it shows that you really are lifting with about 75 pounds of upward force. Still the stapler does not budge.
Now, the stapler should be moving! It only weighs a few ounces, and with your 75 pounds of upward thrust, it should be flying off the table. And yet it doesn’t move, no matter how strenuously you try to pick it up.
What is happening? According to the measuring device attached to your biceps, you really are lifting with enough force and yet the stapler stays still.
This is an interesting exercise, because most of my students cannot determine why the stapler is not moving.
Until I tell them that I will now attach electrodes to your triceps – the muscles which are in opposition to your biceps – the muscles in your arms which push down.
Can you now guess why the stapler isn’t moving? If not, remember the next sentence forever, for it will give you a tremendous insight on how you think. For even though you are lifting up with 75 pounds of force for the $1,000, you are pushing down with 75 pounds of force to make sure you can’t.
Why? Because your self-image “knows” that you cannot lift 500 pounds, so your creative subconscious makes you unconsciously push down on a stapler of only a few ounces to make sure you don’t.
In other words, your creative subconscious counts it as a “mistake” to allow you to lift something as light as a small stapler if your self-image says you cannot, even though you have the physical ability to pick up the stapler with one hand and throw it across the room.
Can you then imagine how much power the creative subconscious must have, and how limiting it can be to us in our lives?
Shooting ourselves in the foot
This is the reason that all of us seem to periodically shoot ourselves in the foot, sometimes consciously, sometimes not.
A student once shared with me the story of a friend of hers who had been an alcoholic for many years. After remaining 7-months clean, he again began to drink because, “My life was too good and I could not handle it.”
I think of politicians who are riding at the top of the world, only to be toppled by a sexual indiscretion. When John Edwards was forced to confess his infidelity in 2008, he said, “I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly ego-centric.” I also think of Tiger Woods, or Mel Gibson, or Richard Nixon.
This then leads to one of the most important Brain Principles that I teach in my workshops.
We will not allow ourselves to be unlike ourselves.
All of us have a potential to be better. However, when you see yourself as only so good, even though you have the potential to be much better, it is the job of the creative subconscious to always bring you back to the level of where you believe yourself to be. If you are absolutely certain that something is going to be really hard, your brain will actually make it hard. When you say, “NO WAY!” the brain simply agrees. “Ok…if you say so. You’re right…there is no way.” However, when you exclaim, “ABSOLUTELY…OF COURSE I CAN DO THAT”…the brain not only agrees with you, but ACTUALLY ENDEAVORS TO FIND A WAY for you to accomplish what you want to accomplish.
It is up to what you tell yourself. That alone is so empowering!
Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent.” His seminar “Taming Your Mind, Unleashing Your Life” is now available online at stevenrcampbell.teachable.com. For more information, call Steven Campbell at 707-480-5007.