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  • Writer's pictureJack Paschal

Sit, breathe, and relax. #Firefighters #ChillOut

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

Neuroscience reveals 3 steps to break bad habits for good

Bad habits.

We all have them, and they all suck.

If we could, we would amputate them from our bodies, toss them into a dumpster, and hope we never have to see them again. Why?

Because bad habits can ruin our lives.

They eat up our time, take us away from our more important goals and responsibilities, and can damage other areas of our lives. Whether it’s playing video games, napping, or alcoholism, bad habits can range from the mundane to the fatal.

What many people don’t understand is that for some people, it isn’t just a case of “willing” the bad habits away.

Some don’t have the willpower required to kill a bad habit that has afflicted them for several years; others don’t know how to use their willpower that way.

There’s a truth about the mind that many of us must come to grips with: having bad habits doesn’t make you a weak or lazy person.

In a book called “The Body Keeps the Score”, one MIT scientist argues that there is no “single Self”.

He claims instead that there is “a society of different minds” inside your head, and to achieve the best possible results, you must create an environment where they are all living in harmony.

Much like the Disney movie Inside Out (which is based on real research), the mind exists as a party of different selves with different needs, goals, and ambitions in mind.

Michael Gazzaniga, who conducted pioneering split-brain research, concluded that the mind is composed of semiautonomous functioning modules, each of which has a special role.

Imagining your mind as a singular mind can be detrimental to your growth.

Instead, embrace the others living with you. As detailed by the Internal Family Systems Skills Training Manual, these include:

  • Exiles: The exiles are the voices in your head that hate themselves. The ones who believe that they are failures, that nobody loves them, that they will never accomplish anything. They are the insecure inner children within you that need to be coaxed and satisfied with gentleness and kindness.

  • Managers: The managers are the parents in your head. The naggers, the pushers, the doers. These are the voices that never feel that you have done enough, and that drive you to live up to higher standards and push yourself to greater heights.

  • Firefighters: Firefighters and Managers want the same things—accomplishing goals and becoming a better person—but they get to these goals with different means. Firefighters are emotional and immediate, and do everything they can to solve problems immediately. They have the best intentions in mind, but they don’t make the best decisions.

Ending your bad habits means getting all three of these voices to agree with each other, work together, and calm down.

Your Exiles must feel secure, your Managers must be convinced that you are on the right track, and your Firefighters must remain calm.

So how do you do this?

1) Calm Down Sit, breathe, and relax. Chill out and accept your mind for what it is.

Recapture your “you”, and make sure you are in the driver’s seat.

By calming down in any situation, this takes the Managers and the Firefighters off the wheel.

When you want to handle your bad habit, imagine that you have your Manager helping you to deal with it.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you being pushed too hard?

  • Are you procrastinating too much?

  • Are you being nagged too death?

  • Are you not trusting others?

Find the answer to these questions, and imagine them as a whole person that you can argue with and dismiss.

(If you’re looking for specific actions you can take to stay in the moment and live a happier life, check out our best-selling eBook on how to use Buddhist teachings for a mindful and happy life here.)

2) Talk To Your Voices This may sound weird, but it’s necessary: talk to the other voices inside of yourself.

Research has found that speaking to yourself in the second-person strengthens the message that you are trying to teach yourself, and is more likely to result in successful behavioral changes.

Why is this important?

Because you need to kill your ego if you want to kill your bad habits.

Your habits are attached to your ego, and by reducing your ego and turning your self into just one of many, it is easier to diminish the importance of your bad habits and see them as deadweight you don’t need in your life.

When you talk to these voices, ask them certain questions, like:

  • How do you contribute to my growth?

  • What do you do to protect me?

  • What would you be if you weren’t protecting me?

These are tough questions that will take a lot of reflection to truly find the answers.

But once you do, you will see yourself in a way you have never seen yourself before.

3) Confront the Exile And finally, you must confront the Exile.

You will ask your questions to the Managers and the Firefighters, but the Exiles will be waiting in the corner, searching for your approval.

It’s your job to grant it that approval, and that means coming to terms with your weaknesses, flaws, and insecurities.

Approach your Exile and tell them that you accept them for whom they are, because you are secure enough to know that you will work towards fixing your flaws.

Be gentle to yourself, and to your Exiles.

Don’t let your Exiles get worked up and worried, only to have your Firefighters ruin the entire situation.

And finally—don’t convince yourself these techniques are too ridiculous to work.

Embrace the other voices in your head, and find peace with them instead of running from them.

Fixing your life and cutting out bad habits isn’t simply about maximizing your willpower, discipline, and self-control. It’s about understanding yourself, and getting to a point where you know that you no longer need those bad habits.

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