At every stage of life, no matter how motivated, successful or evolved you are, you will probably make at least one decision, but more likely a series of decisions, that completely sabotages your intention or goal.
You fail to make the call, get up early, work out, or eat well. You procrastinate at work. You skip the gym. You buy another packet of cigarettes, or sabotage relationships with a behavior you know isn’t healthy.
You desperately want to change. It’s not like you don’t know what you have to do. What’s more, you even set affirmations, goals, block it out in your planner and declare to others you’re going to do it differently this time.
Except that you don’t.
At all stages of self-development, I venture to say that most of us have at least one life area where we make completely goal antagonistic decisions.
No matter how many self-help books you read, there is unfortunately no magic formula that that will turn you into such a spiritual self-development badass that you never get in your own way again.
The reason you make these counterproductive decisions is largely to do with your subconscious. God bless it, it means well. It does. No, really.
It thinks its job is to protect you. It’s sweet, really. A little misguided at times, but sweet.
No matter how hard you try to resist it, you can’t switch it off forever. You can’t ignore it and you can’t try to drown it in a sea of affirmations.
It’s like planting herbs in a garden full of weeds.
Sooner or later, that garden will be choked to death.
Even if you pull the weeds out, guess what happens?
The fecking things come back next day.
(I know this because I started a herb garden recently.)
Before this disheartens you, here’s some good news.
What if I told you that you never have to “fight with” your subconscious again?
You never have to ignore your subconscious when it’s screaming at you in fear. (When you do that, it just keeps getting louder and louder.)
There’s no more exhausting mental battle between what you truly want (to get up early and exercise before work) and what you do instead (sleeping in and grabbing a chocolate croissant on the go).
Instead of constantly battling your subconscious limiting beliefs, if you can instead work with, negotiate with and seek to understand your subconscious, it can become your most powerful ally for manifestation.
I know I seem more like the Liz Lemon type, but I definitely have Jack Donaghy qualities too. (If you don’t know who those people are, you need some 30 Rock in your life stat).
When I saw just how powerfully and persistently my subconscious could thwart me, I didn’t want to destroy it: I wanted to hire it to work for me. My adversary became my biggest asset.
When you do this, establishing consistent habits becomes almost effortless. There is no more “resistance” from your subconscious limiting beliefs – which is important because what you resist persists!
First, Let's Magic School Bus It Into Your Subconscious Mind
If you’re tired of getting in your own way as you’re changing your life, know that more motivation or self-discipline won’t fix the problem.
It’s more complicated. Way more complicated.
You could have Tony Robbins’ motivation and still not follow through, because you’re hitting a brick wall with top acceleration.
Let’s look at things from a neuropsychological perspective, shall we?
All human behavior is driven by two things:
That’s it. That’s all. The two drivers behind our actions come from the thoughts we have and the emotions we link to those thoughts.
This is based on the cognitive model i.e. Situation -> Thought -> Emotion -> Behaviour.
In other words:
You see a beautiful pair of shoes on sale. The sign reads ‘Hurry! Last pair in stock!’
You think I would look hot in those shoes – and they’re the only pair left!
Then, you feel desire for the shoes and panic that if you don’t buy them now, you will miss out forever.
You buy the shoes.
So where do these thoughts and emotions come from? What separates my thought and emotional pattern from, say, Oprah’s or Deepak Chopra’s?
The thoughts and emotions you experience on a consistent basis are determined by your core beliefs, which drive the powerhouse of your subconscious. The road to your subconscious is paved by neural pathways, links in your brain that link each step in the above cognitive model with your beliefs, or your subconscious.
Your subconscious formed these neural pathways as a result of your past conditioning, which happened when you were very small. Your subconscious specifically designed your neural pathways to keep you out of trouble.
But How Did Your Subconscious Form These Pesky Beliefs?
It started during the early, “unconscious” period of your life, roughly between the ages of 0 to 7.
As a tiny baby you were a blank slate. You were utterly unprogrammed, without a memory or an operations manual. You lacked any framework for understanding, processing or safely navigating your environment.
You had to learn EVERYTHING you now know from scratch, until what you now recognize as your “consciousness” fully formed.
During this “unconscious” period, you were a super absorbent sponge. You soaked up absolutely everything to learn how to keep yourself alive and process your environment.
Without your subconscious, you would keep trying to touch hotplates, pull the cat’s tail or say ‘fart’ in front of your grandma.
But based on experiences where you learned that something was unsafe or unacceptable, you don’t do that anymore.
This is because your subconscious stored a close call, or a life lesson that you had in early childhood, kind of like a browser does with cookies, so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every five seconds forever. It’s kind of like a ‘consequence’ command center.
During this highly impressionable stage, as well as learning important things for keeping yourself out of danger, you also absorbed beliefs as a result of your environment which your easily influenced little mind took as gospel.
From there, you created very strong “rules”, or beliefs, about life. These were entrenched so emphatically that they created strong neural pathways in your brain.
Over time, these persistent trains of thought became your “subconscious mind”. These neural pathways are mostly very helpful.
Sometimes, however, they are troublesome, particularly when they involve thought patterns or behaviors that don’t serve you.
Why Is It So Hard to Make Changes That Stick?
The neural pathways that get created in your mind are a real thing. They are actual electrical impulses in the brain – information superhighways, or shortcuts, which link a situation to a reaction at extraordinarily rapid speed.
Like an old obsolete highway that doesn’t get used anymore, eventually, a neural pathway that doesn’t fire anymore falls into disrepair. However, this can take months to achieve.
This is why it can be tricky to create instant change around a limiting belief. You might take in information and get it instantly on a conscious level – after reading a self-help book, for example.
You’ll feel like you’ve had a breakthrough, and excited about all the changes you’re going to make.
However, the subconscious mind is trickier to convince. Before long, despite your intentions and knowledge to the contrary, you’ve slipped back into your old patterns.
Your subconscious: Oh sure, you read that book about manifesting abundance 10 minutes ago, and it’s great and all, but remember in church when you were five and the minister’s favorite sermon was “Money is the root of all evil”? (You probably don’t, but your subconscious does.) You don’t want to be evil, do you? You’re not an evil person. You’re a good person.
This is how your subconscious works. Without understanding this, it is easy to feel frustrated or self critical, or slide back into ineffective patterns despite your best efforts.
Unfortunately, this just reinforces the cycle as your subconscious is always collecting evidence to support its belief system.
There are two keys to working with the resistance from your subconscious mind:
There is always a positive intention motivating ALL behavior: The intention of your subconscious is a favorable outcome (whether it’s favorable for us consciously or unconsciously). In other words, you gain something when you act out a particular pattern or behavior. You might not think this behavior serves you but deep down, on a subconscious level, it does.
The subconscious mind goes to any lengths necessary to protect you and the beliefs or “rules” it has formed to keep you safe: Think of your subconscious like an overprotective helicopter mother that views you as a toddler wobbling around in a room of sharp corners. It is always on the lookout for information to support your current beliefs, so that you will always stay stuck in your old behaviors.
Now that you know your reason for self-sabotaging is because you are taking care of yourself (in a weird sort of way), removing the subconscious resistance becomes easier.
You are now able to flow with it and gently guide it where you want it to go, rather than trying to swim upstream.
1. Recognize Where You're Self Sabotaging
Awareness is the first and most important part of the journey.
When you catch yourself sabotaging, second-guessing, procrastinating and blocking, stop. Bring awareness to that resistance.
Where such patterns of resistance exist, your subconscious mind is probably the puppet master behind the scenes pulling strings. It has the advantage of subterfuge to sneak past your conscious understanding.
However, when you can identify that there is resistance or a limiting pattern, you bring your subconscious into the conscious mind. There, it is far easier to deal with.
2. Understand why you're self sabotaging
Whenever you feel resistance, are sabotaging or blocking, or looping a negative pattern, remember this.
Your subconscious is trying to tell you something. It is trying to keep you safe.
There is potent wisdom here: a lesson that keeps being drawn to you.
Approach the resistance you’re coming up against with curiosity.
Let your subconscious mind make its point. Hear it out patiently and compassionately, as if trying to hear someone’s side of an argument with understanding intent. Ask yourself:
I’m curious … what it is about this situation that is triggering me?
What am I afraid of?
Where else do I notice this pattern in my life?
What purpose did this resistance once have? How did it solve a problem?
What do I gain by self-sabotaging? How is it serving me?
Approach this step with curiosity, wonder, and non-judgment.
It might be helpful to use a pen and paper and write out your responses or type them into a Word document you can read through. Brain dump and don’t edit or censor your authentic subconscious voice.
3. Fully feel the surfacing emotions as you bring the limiting beliefs to light
This process of bringing your subconscious to the fore often brings up a lot of stored up emotion, even emotion you thought you had dealt with. You may start to cry, shake with anger, or even want to scream. This is normal.
Honor the emotion. Hold space for it. Moving through the emotion with integrity is an important step in working with your subconscious.
4. Drop the Self Judgement
When we procrastinate or antagonize our own goals we can get caught in a cycle of self-criticism and beating ourselves up.
Let yourself off the hook a little bit. Release yourself from the bondage of that torment.
Try using releasing statements such as “I forgive myself for procrastinating” or “I missed my workout today and that’s okay”. It may seem counterintuitive, but this stops the self-judgement in its tracks.
You won’t waste energy, thoughts and emotional resources in a cycle of self-criticism that is only gasoline on the flame of your limiting belief. That energy can be directed instead toward moving forward.
5. Make Your Subconscious A Promise
Make a commitment to your subconscious that you are going to work with it on this.
You could write it down in your notebook or in your Word document. Put forward a proposal.
“Subconscious/Ego/inner me/whatever, I know you and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye in the past, but I’d like to work with you on this. I think with our powers combined we can come up with a way forward which meets both our needs. I promise you that if we work together, I will make sure to honor your positive intention.”
It’s a powerful mind hack! Declaring your intention sets powerful things in motion. The subconscious loves it, trust me!
Now brainstorm alternate ways to meet the positive intention that your limiting belief once served. These ways should not be destructive, self-limiting or sabotaging.
6. Address Objections
Your subconscious will likely have some concerns about working with you. This is normal and natural. After all, it thinks it knows better.
These concerns usually come in the form of “What if” questions.
But what if…
… I make a fool of myself?
… People get upset with me?
… I get hurt?
… I fail?
… Something goes wrong?
Write these questions down, uncensored. If you’re writing in a notebook, add a lot of space underneath each question.
Now challenge them.
This is a powerful step. I used it a lot when I was overcoming anxiety, which is basically the Ego out of control.
Challenge each subconscious objection with logic, or rationality, as if you’re the opposing side of a debate team, or cross-examining a witness on trial.
What is the likelihood that this really will go wrong? Is this a realistic fear?
If it did go wrong, what would the consequences be? How would I handle them?
Sometimes the subconscious puts forward self-defeating negative statements, such as ‘I’m too lazy to do what it takes’. Challenge these too.
Are you too lazy? Really? Transform the statement into a question, so that ‘I’m too lazy’ becomes ‘Am I too lazy?’ It’s easier to challenge.
Finally, the last technique I use to challenge subconscious objections is the ‘positive’ what if reframe. So, when my subconscious asks:
What if it goes wrong? I counter with: What if it goes well?
Or What if I don’t win? To What if I do win?
These reframes instantly empower me. I’ve taken my subconscious out of finding fault, focusing on the worst case scenario and stress, into getting excited about what would happen if I followed through and it turned out for the best.
7. Find Positive Examples
Find positive examples of people who have already “done the thing” of which your subconscious is fearful.
Let’s say you want to start a family. But your subconscious block around starting a family is that you can’t still travel or have a fulfilling career with young kids.
Luckily, the internet has myriad examples of women who are successfully balancing motherhood and career, or families with small kids who travel the globe full time.
Show your subconscious that even though it is new to YOU, there are plenty of times it’s worked out for someone else.
8. Create Affirmations to Solidify New Neural Pathways
The final things to write in your notebook are new affirmations, which solidify your newfound alliance with your subconscious and create new neural pathways in your mind, diverting it from the old pathways that triggered unresourceful behavior.
I love affirmations, but I believe they have to be used correctly. I don’t believe in stacking affirmations on shitty foundations without doing any groundwork on the subconscious first.
Remember when I was talking about planting seeds before weeding the garden? Well, we’ve cleared the weeds and turned over the soil – so we can grow new seeds. In this case, affirmations.
Go about introducing affirmations slowly. Remember, it takes time for your brain to create new neural pathways.
Use an affirmation that you can get behind as you build confidence. There’s little power in saying, ‘I am abundantly wealthy’ when you’re scraping by on a baked beans diet and are changing your money mindset.
However, if you can turn that into ‘Every day, I am taking steps to heal my relationship with money’, or ‘Every day, I am building wealth’, your daily affirmations are easier to believe.
When you say your affirmation with conviction and enthusiasm, it puts emotion into your subconscious, strengthening the vibration around it and solidifying it as a neural pathway. The more ingrained it becomes, the more likely it is that your subconscious will actually start helping you. It starts looking for evidence to support your new mindset.
Like a fledgling garden, you can’t just plant new seeds and walk away. You must nurture these new subconscious pathways with love and tender care, and remember to pull out any new weeds.
This ought to be a daily practice, especially at first. I recommend repeating your affirmations, with feeling, just before you fall asleep, while you are waiting for something (such as at traffic lights or waiting for the kettle to boil), or during your meditation practice.
And that’s all there is to it. Now, instead of being opponents on the battlefield, you and your subconscious are allies. You know how to speak to it, negotiate with it, and get it on side. Together, the two of you will be unstoppable.
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