Change Theory

It is a curious thing, isn’t it, that despite truly compelling reasons to establish a new work habit you often find yourself resisting doing even (seemingly) fairly simple new things which you want to do, have decided to, and are convinced would be good for you? What is that all about and who’s in charge here? Well, your mind is, but unfortunately you are not fully in control of your mind …… yet.

Each element of the system you are about to use has been designed to handle a specific evasion action that the mind typically throws out as a way to resist acquiring new habits. All together and used as a comprehensive system the 12 key tactics in MetaMentor’s change system will enable you to take back conscious control to reliably accomplish your goals. More power to you!

It is not that your mind is working against you; it is just that it has a very big job to do with a lot to keep track of already. And, it has its priorities which are actually quite sensible and truly in your service most of the time. One of its prime directives is to function efficiently so that it will not fail you in the myriad of physical and mental actions required to get through the day. The best way to fulfill this directive is to rely as much as possible on established routines for thinking and acting. Once something has been established as a standard way to move, feel, speak, perceive, or think, then it goes into something equivalent to an autopilot mode which doesn’t require much effort or maintenance for the mind to execute when called upon, and leaving it relatively free to attend to more pressing and important matters, such as, handling new information and challenges. On balance, this makes sense and one wouldn’t want to tamper with these decision rules even if you could which we can’t. We just have to find a way to override this system periodically when we have determined that the establishment of a new work habit is worth temporarily somewhat diminishing the efficiency level of the mind.

Another thing the mind has on ‘its mind,’ which is also counterproductive to any efforts you might wish to make to change your behavior MO, is maintaining the integrity of your sense of who you are —- your identity profile, as it were. So, it is constantly scanning the horizon and making the distinction between what it knows as the self and the non-self, which could be other people or your own attempts to change your identity profile as it knows it. It is keeping track of behavior and thoughts that have been accepted into the profile of “like me” and resisting behavior and thoughts which would jeopardize the integrity of the current sense of “me-ness” and who I am. The mind is pretty fierce about protecting your sense of identity, and in fulfilling this role of protector of the home realm it resists any efforts to change the profile viewing them as hostile incursions by foreign or alien forces trying to take over. So, when you attempt to establish a new habit, in the early days alarms go off in your mind calling it to arms to protect your identity profile which, in this case, is definitely not someone who does these new behaviors or has these kind of new thoughts.

There is a seemingly very simple remedy for overcoming both these blocks to making changes in yourself. It is the execution of a sufficient number of repetitions of a new behavior or thought pattern until the point that the mind accepts it as an established new routine and adjusts your identity profile to accept the new behavior as “like me” and the loss of the old habit which has been replaced by the new one as not a threat to the integrity of the identity profile. I say seemingly simple because while it is just one thing that is required — sufficient repetition, the mind puts up a million sneaky, and generally effective, blocks to your ability to execute a sufficient number of repetitions of the new habit.

So, how many repetitions of a new habit are necessary to overcome the mind’s resistance and make it into the safe zone of accepted routines in one’s identity profile? Generally, 28 practice sessions will do the trick except for really challenging habit change goals which have a strong psychological element associated with them. 40 or more practice sessions may be required in these kinds of cases. But in either case repetition of a new work habit is the bottom line for achieving your professional development goals. In support of this requirement, MetaMentor’s change system has been designed to help you persevere through the 28 practice sessions you need to establish a new habit that should serve you well for as long as you need. That is the first key tactic of MetaMentor’s system: 28 days of practice. 1ST KEY: PRACTICE THE NEW HABIT FOR 28 DAYS.

Now, that seems pretty straightforward — just practice the new habit or skill you want to master for 28 days — but embedded within the first key tactic is another one which is a bit trickier to tease out. Remember that our goal here is to override the mind’s prime directive of rejecting behaviors or thoughts which are not recognized as being “like me” by executing a sufficient number of repetitions of the new habit such that it becomes accepted into your identity profile. The tricky part is to make sure that the new behavior that you practice is something that the mind will recognize as a single or discrete new habit. I would bet that 80% of the reasons why people fail to make the changes they want is because they aren’t carefully managing this aspect of the change process.

Usually, once we become convinced that we need to make a change for the better in our lives, we are all in a rush to make a clean sweep of a bunch of related habits. And, we expect to get it all done quickly in one fell swoop. Unfortunately, a grand aspiration to change a great many things all at once in your life, no matter how sincere or high the actual stakes, is a recipe for failure to change anything at all.

First of all, it just isn’t possible to maintain focus and concentration on changing a lot of things about yourself all together in same time period. Honestly, you are asking too much of yourself, and will end up feeling badly that you gave up without accomplishing much, if anything at all.

Do this kind of thing enough times, and your mind will begin to recognize a new pattern of behavior as “like me” which will be truly hard to beat because that new habit is the habit of failing to follow through on plans to change. Whoa! You definitely want to avoid that, and luckily there is a very easy solution, if you can accept the reality that it will likely take you 5 times as long to achieve the changes you want than you originally thought. Five times longer because what you need to do is to break down your Change Goal into a set of bite-sized habits each of which you will master in a succession of five (or however many) separate sets of 28 day practice sessions are necessary.

Too long, you say? Well, far, far better than not at all! And, the pleasure you will get from your sense of mastery after your first go-round of success will carry you easily through the process of mastering the remaining habits that in the end taken as a group will enable you to achieve the happier and more rewarding life you envision for yourself.

When you are breaking down your Change Goal into a set of discrete habits to be mastered it is important to be as precise as possible in the definition of the actions required for each habit. Remember that in order to override the mind’s resistance to your thinking or behaving in a new way it has to experience and recognize that the behavior you are practicing each day is the same one you practiced on the preceding days. If your definition of the habit you want to instill is too broad and covers a wide range of possible actions or thoughts, then your mind won’t recognize that you are, in fact, doing the same thing day after day.

For example, say you define your new habit as “being more efficient all day,” this leaves open far too many variations in behavior for your mind to be able to track repetitions that will lead to the establishment of new routines in eating habits. That definition of a “single” habit of working more efficiently likely masks a multitude of new work habits such as, cutting down on distractions and interruptions, delegating more, planning better, researching before acting, preparing and sticking to agendas, beginning the day with to do lists, and on and on.

If you attempt to practice a whole set of new and difficult work behaviors (let’s call them x, y, and z) under the guise of a single broad Change Goal definition here’s a typical scenario: On day 1 you will do pretty well with all of them throughout the day; on day 2 you’ll do all of them, but at different times of the day; on day 3 you’ll find it harder to do them and notice where you aren’t being consistent throughout the day; on day 4 you’ll do just x and y; on day 5 you’ll do y and z; on day 6 you’ll do just x; and by day 7 you’ll probably give up the ghost. Even if you don’t quit on day 7, but continue on in this fashion over 28 days, still your mind will not have seen enough repetitions day after day of x or y or z habits to register them as a new part of who you are and how you do things. We need to keep it simple, and then stay the course and in the end all will be well.

Timing also plays a role in the definition of a single habit. So, it is not only what you do, but when you do it that together comprises the definition of a discrete habit. The mind recognizes and is comfortable with patterns not only in behavior, but also in the timing of these actions. Again, it is helpful to think of the mind as striving to function in the most efficient manner possible so as to free up mental space to handle new information and challenges. It tracks behavior not only by recognizing familiar patterns, but also by the timing of those actions.

You can increase your ability to master a new habit if you utilize or practice it at a set time each day. Your mind knows what you are up to when you try to change your habits, so if you’ve left the time open for when you are going to write a to do list, for example, your mind is on a sort of low level of alert all day on the lookout for when the new action might occur. This is inefficient for the mind, fatiguing, and can also create a low level of anxiety. If the new behavior is executed willy nilly throughout the day with no set pattern, it makes it harder for the mind to recognize a new way of being even though the same action is actually repeated day after day. Your mind keeps track of what you typically do during different segments of the day and the week, so the more you can practice your new habit at set times, the easier it will be for the mind to recognize the establishment of a new element of your identity profile.

MetaMentor’s change system has been designed to help you to define and then focus on practicing a single, discrete habit or skill for the 28 days. Hence, the 2ND KEY: DEFINE AND FOCUS ON A SINGLE, DISCRETE WORK HABIT.

Let’s say you are convinced that 28 days of practice are necessary to achieve your health goals and you’ve done a good job of carefully defining a single, discrete habit to practice. Now, how do we get practicing that habit on the mind’s agenda for each of those 28 days? Every morning when you wake up your mind is set to structure your day according to previously set routines, again in fulfillment of its directive to function in an optimally efficient manner (read familiar routines) and to protect the integrity your identity profile or your sense of yourself. A commitment made some time ago, even just yesterday, to do something different during this day will not hold much water against the nearly immovable force of routine unless it is revisited and brought to the forefront of the mind at the start of each and every day. One of the blocks your mind will put up against disrupting the status quo through the introduction of new routines is to conveniently forget your prior commitment to practice the new behavior. Your mind has other things on its mind, and you have to get its attention in order to inform it of your intention to learn to do something new this day. This, thereby, also alerts it to coming events so that it can notice and recognize the actions you take leading to the establishment of a new habit. In MetaMentor we accomplish this by beginning the day with an AM session where you essentially announce to yourself your intention to practice the new behavior. 3RD KEY: START EACH PRACTICE DAY WITH A COMMITMENT TO FOCUS ON THE NEW BEHAVIOR THROUGHOUT THE DAY

The next set of key tactics in the MetaMentor system are all designed to overcome the mind’s resistance to really committing in the morning of a new practice day to do anything differently that day. The first technique for this purpose is designed to address the most fundamental “rationale” that the mind puts up for why you can’t succeed in becoming the kind of person who does the new behavior you are hoping to establish. Basically, though this may sound silly, while your conscious mind is committed to making a change in your behavior, the routine bound part of your mind “believes” that you just aren’t the kind of person who can do this sort of thing.

The best way to overcome this “viewpoint” is through working with mentor imagery. We learn most things by watching what other people do and modeling our behavior on what we see. In accordance with the mind’s function to protect your identity profile and what is “like me” it more readily accepts changes in behavior when they are introduced by the example and encouragement of people who are recognized as being “like me” such as family members and other people who care about you. In working with an image of a mentor who is good at what you are trying to learn to do and envisioned as feeling connected to and caring about you, we can help the mind to overcome the resistance to behavior that would otherwise be characterized as “not like me” and not what I do. If my uncle (or someone who has been envisioned as having avuncular feelings towards me) has this skill and my uncle believes that I, too, can learn to act this way, then I have more confidence in my ability to ultimately master it because people who are “like me” or who particularly like or care about me have done it and see the capacity to master that same skill in me. So, working with mentor imagery can help persuade your mind that the new habit you want to acquire it isn’t really foreign to you or a threat to your identity profile. Techniques for working with mentor imagery are introduced on the 6th day of the MetaMentor. 4th KEY: ENLIST THE SUPPORT OF AN ENVISIONED MENTOR SKILLED IN YOUR NEW HABIT AND CARING ABOUT HELPING YOU TO SUCCEED IN ACQUIRING IT.

Another pretty effective block the mind can set out as sort of a smokescreen that will end up making it harder for you to practice your new behavior is to get vague about how to actualize what you have decided in theory to do that day. In effect, without a bit more work on your part at the start of the day to be specific about exactly what, when, where and how you are going to practice this new habit throughout the day, your mind will sort of pay lip service to the commitment you have made. For example, if you leave it in the morning just at making the commitment to practice your new habit frequently, then you leave open the possibility of your mind conveniently forgetting your commitment. It sort of says, “Yeah, yeah, sure, I’ll do that a few times during the day when I don’t have other things on my plate. See you later, pal.” The more you can specify at the start of the day exactly how you are going to practice the new habit, when you are going to do it, how long you will do it, where, and so on, the easier it will be for your mind to know what to do. Easier means more efficient, and anything that reduces the inefficiency associated with changing habits reduces the mind’s resistance to cooperating. MetaMentor leads you through the process of getting as specific as possible about the when, where, and how of practicing your new habit at the start of the program and revisits it throughout the 28 days. 5th KEY: GET SPECIFIC ABOUT EXACTLY HOW YOU WILL PRACTICE YOUR NEW HABIT IN THE DAY AHEAD

Seeing is believing for the mind’s eye. Oddly enough, words and thoughts are not enough to convince your mind that you can and will behave in a new way. When push comes to shove, if you can’t see yourself doing the things as you have described them to yourself, then there is little hope that when the time comes to act that you will actually step up to the plate. Conversely, you can make the new behavior less foreign to your mind and therefore reduce its resistance to allowing you to perform the action in reality if you have a little dress rehearsal in your mind earlier in the day. So, if you start the day by envisioning yourself doing the things later in the day that you plan to practice, you will have made some inroads in establishing these behaviors as “like me” and part of your identity profile, and therefore reduce the mind’s anxiety about experiencing this new way of being and acting. Visualization techniques are introduced on Day 5 of MetaMentor and utilized throughout the remainder of the program in a variety of ways. 6th KEY: ENVISION YOURSELF PRACTICING YOUR NEW HABIT

When we are first inspired to change our habits the benefits of doing so are really vivid in our minds. We want to feel more successful, in charge, productive, valued, energetic, confidant, or whatever. It is exciting to imagine that we will be able to experience all these good things if we establish a new work habit. Conversely, initially it is also vividly disturbing to contemplate the bad things that threaten to happen or that won’t stop happening or at least diminish if we don’t change in the way we want to. This is in the beginning. Sadly, regardless of how high the stakes are or how attractive the outcome, after a few days of practicing a new habit, your mind will succeed in dimming your awareness of the true consequences of failing to establish the new habit that you were so seemingly powerfully motivated to gain just a short while ago. It is kind of amazing how quickly the lights dim, and in the dimness how hard it is to still make out the original reasons for making the effort to stay the course in practicing this new behavior.

What is this all about? Same old, same old. Just another trick of the mind to resist anything you might do to change the status quo. In this case, your mind withdraws the power underlying your motivation to change by diminishing your awareness of the true consequences of making the change you desire. The counterpoint to this strategy is to keep the positive and negative consequences in the forefront of your consciousness by revisiting them daily. In MetaMentor you will articulate the positive and negative consequences related to your new habit beginning on the second day of the program and work with them daily throughout. 7th KEY: REVISIT THE CONSEQUENCES OF ESTABLISHING YOUR NEW HABIT EVERY DAY

Anything new throws the mind for a loop and poses the very real risk that less energy and focus will be available to handle something that could be critically important. So, the more we can anticipate disruptions to our ability to stay the course with practicing a new habit, the less resistance the mind will have to this plan of action. In this case the new element that could throw the mind off course is not the behavior you are trying to practice, but how to handle the sort of things that might happen during the course of the day that could disrupt your ability to practice the habit as you had planned. The key to increasing your ability to overcome these obstacles is also the key to reducing your mind’s resistance to change. Basically, the key is to anticipate, or identify after the fact, things that could prevent or make it difficult for you to practice the new habit as planned and to develop tactics to avoid or overcome these obstacles. MetaMentor leads you through this process of tactical planning on the third day of the program and revisits this process periodically throughout the course of the 28 days. 8th KEY: ANTICIPATE AND IDENTIFY OBSTACLES TO PRACTICING YOUR NEW HABIT AND CREATE TACTICS TO AVOID OR OVERCOME THEM

Here’s a curious thing: We are definitely right there with ourselves all day, every single second of the day, yet we might not accurately register and acknowledge what we did that day or how well we did it. We can be sort of on autopilot, even while practicing new habits. If a tree falls and no one is there, does it make a sound? Similarly, if you do something, but you don’t notice it at the time or remember it later, will it make a difference in your perception of who you are? The answer is no, it won’t. So, here’s yet another way the mind attempts to fend off changes in your identity profile. It just doesn’t recognize that they happened. It pays no attention. The way around this is to take some time at the end of the day before the memory has faded to review how things went as you attempted to practice your new habit. The mind tries to diminish the transformational force of acting in a new way by erasing or dimming the memory of that action. Pretty tricky and all in a good cause (efficiency of mental processes by protecting routine patterns of behavior), but it can be easily overcome with a little mindfulness at the end of the day. Knowing that you are going to revisit and record the day’s experience with practicing the behavior seems to also increase self-awareness of changes in the making throughout the day, hence increasing their power to effect a lasting change. Hence, MetaMentor is bifurcated with an AM session in the morning to gfocus on the day ahead and a PM session at the end of the day for reflection. 9th KEY: REVIEW AND REFLECT ON THE DAY’S EXPERIENCE OF PRACTICING YOUR NEW HABIT

A different form of enhanced self-awareness can aid in countering another tactic the mind typically throws out as a means to resist change. In this second case, it is not a qualitative type of self-awareness that is used for reflection, but a quantitative assessment of the effort made that day to practice the new habit and the progress in establishing a new habit. Change is hard and we have to work hard at it day after day to succeed in the end, but typically, despite their best intentions, people start to slack off after a few days. One way the mind can undermine your ability to stay the course at a high level is by turning a blind eye to this lessening of effort and subsequent failure to progress at a desirable rate in establishing a reliable habit. Again, it is this smokescreen tactic it has available and can use to amazingly powerful effect. But we have mindfulness at our fingertips (just to throw out a metaphor to keep you on your toes, Ha Ha!). If we assess and measure our effort at trying to make a change at the end of every day, then it makes it harder for your mind to let you off the hook. Similarly, if every few days we take a good hard look at whether or not the behavior we are practicing is becoming more reliable and automatic, we can accurately calibrate our efforts to change so as to achieve our goal by the end of the 28 days of practice. On the 4th day of MetaMentor you will learn how to grade your daily performance and on the 7th day habit reliability rating will be introduced. 10th KEY: ASSESS YOUR LEVEL OF EFFORT IN PRACTICING YOUR NEW HABIT DAILY AND YOUR PROGRESS IN ESTABLISHING A RELIABLE HABIT EVERY FOUR DAYS

Oh, your poor, poor mind! While you are engaged in a structured, relentless pursuit of establishing a new way to think and act, your mind can get really unnerved, worried, and anxious. Even when you are not actively engaged in practicing this new way of being, it is often anticipating with dread the time when you will expose it to what it perceives as the danger of the unknown and the “not me” experience. You could be doing something quite simple, such as taking time before each meeting to review your notes, yet for hours in advance of this action your mind may be on high alert or vaguely alarmed or uneasy about the upcoming change in routine. This can cause a lot of mental wear and tear, and is one of the main reasons why we often “conclude” it just isn’t worth it to stick with a program to change something about ourselves.

MetaMentor introduces a technique on the tenth day that is designed to give your poor mind a break by replacing its experience of anxiety with a good feeling and by shifting focus from defense of the home front to an awareness of and generosity to the outside world of all others. Using this technique, whenever anxiety is triggered by actual or anticipated change, we direct our minds to drop that feeling for a hot second and instead contemplate a spreading feeling of love, well-being, peace, and happiness. We also shift focus from self (and the fear of damage to our identity profile through change) to others by imagining that this good feeling is spreading to all others in a geometric fashion and finally dissolving ourselves into the expansive awareness of spreading well-being. In this way, we can help train the mind in a new habit of associating change with well-being, connection with others, and peace of mind rather than with threat and danger. In the end this might turn out to be more beneficial to you than achieving any particular work habit you may pursue through your MetaMentor program. 11th KEY: REPLACE ANXIETY ABOUT PERSONAL CHANGE WITH A FEELING OF EXPANSIVE HAPPINESS FOR SELF AND ALL OTHERS.

Lastly, and quite simply, as in all matters in life, a light touch and sense of humor can make the medicine of the hard work and repetition required to master a new work habit go down more easily than it would otherwise. As your virtual coach in this program, I try to provide the kind of emotional lift that I would were I with you in person to entertain and motivate you to return to the task at hand until you are triumphant in establishing a reliable new work habit through 28 days of focus, effort, and application. 12TH KEY: INSERT HUMOR AND A LIGHT TOUCH TO ENCOURAGE PERSEVERANCE TO COMPLETE THE COURSE OF 28 DAYS OF FOCUS, EFFORT, AND APPLICATION.


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