cognitive dissonance

Why 99.9% of People Can’t Get Themselves to Change- HOW TO BE THE 0.1%

How often do we as human beings accomplish something and then proceed to just shrug it off like it never happened? We do something good, maybe feel good for a moment, then we just let it drift on by and we forget about it for the rest of eternity. This positive experience and emotion never even imprints in our subconscious memory. Dr. Rick Hanson, one of the world’s renowned expert in mindfulness and neuroplasticity explains it best when he said, “In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but teflon for positive ones”.   Our brains weren’t created to make us happy, they built to keep us alive.  They are constantly on the look out for threats to our survival aka negative experiences.  This is likely the root of this negativity bias that occurs in our cognition and memory.  However, this way of processing the world is also incredibly detrimental to our identities. We are so quick to raise the standard and look onto the next goal or task in sight that we never actually register the task we recently achieved as a “success”. I think this is the most underrated factor in the success equation.  The key difference in changing and enhancing one’s identity is this constant acknowledgement and celebration of even the smallest progress towards one’s goal or destiny. If you are only going to celebrate and acknowledge your success once you achieve your big goal and your ultimate destiny- it will never happen. You will never achieve your big goal because you will have not built that new and improved identity that is required to achieve that goal in the first place. The winning and successful identity must always precede the attainment of the goal- plain and simple. You must become the kind of person (and more importantly see yourself as that kind of person) that can achieve the goal before you actually can attain it. If you do not see yourself as that kind of person with 100% certainty, then good luck- you’ll never get there.  My Dad always said that true greatness comes about when competence meets confidence.  Celebrating the small victories and progress along the way is what builds the confidence.  Think about something in your life that you are 100% certain about. Something that is so tied to your identity that you experience anxiety and cognitive dissonance when you do something in opposition to that. Maybe it’s something as severe and outlandish as thinking of yourself as a murderer.  You probably are thinking, I would NEVER commit murder. Your belief that you would never commit murder is so certain and strong that just the thought of it makes you experience a great deal of unease and cognitive dissonance.  You are without a doubt 100% certain that you are not a murderer. This same level of certainty is what you will need in regards to your future desired outcome.  This confidence and belief is not an intellectual certainty, rather it is a feeling state. Belief is nothing more than a feeling of certainty- not a thought.  And the only way you get that level of certainty at the emotional level is to celebrate each tiny, little step along the way. Acknowledge and “register” even the smallest of successes and the slightest progress. You have to train yourself to be worthy, long before you are worthy.

 This insight really hit me pretty strong tonight. I spent 6 hours working through the entire Tony Robbins’ book Awaken the Giant Within tonight and came up with several exercises which I believe to be the essential building blocks to transformation and personal change.  His book is a great manual and starting point for massively transforming one’s life. One exercise I found particularly insightful and effective was this:

 First, we must understand that the quality of our lives are 100% dependent on the quality of our emotions that we consistently live in (where we live emotionally). Identify your 10 emotions of power- the ten emotions that you need to start living in, in order to become the person must become. Robbins listed his ten emotions in his book and I think they are pretty good, so we’ll use his as a reference. Which 10 emotions- that if you were to live in those states on a day to day basis- would bring you the kind of life you’ve always dreamed of. For me they look like this (these should give you an idea):1. love/warmth

2. gratitude/appreciation/celebration

3. curiosity/constant learning

4. Passion/excitement/enthusiasm

5. Flexibility/patience

6. confidence/internal sense of significance\self worth/CONGRUENCE

7. Determination/Grit/Steadfastness

8. Playfulness/Humor/Cheerfulness

9. Health/vitality/physical energy

10. contribution/giving

 

Now that you have identified the 10 emotions that you must live in to guarantee yourself a great quality of life- start by asking yourself the first question (write down these questions and your responses in your journal):

 1. When have I been loving and warm? Provide 5-6 concrete examples from your life.

-Make 1-2 examples from today or yesterday.

-Make 1-2 examples from sometime in the past month or two.

-Then make 1-2 examples from sometime before last year (somewhere in the fairly distant past).

*Write down these 5-6 examples and replay them in your mind. Get associated to these experiences. Step into these moments and re-live them.  See what you saw, feel what you felt, hear what you heard.  Sit with them for a few minutes. You know how to be warm. You know how to love. It doesn’t have to be purely romantic love, but it’s good to provide examples of both.

 Now continue this exercise for each of the other 9 emotional states. Provide examples from all 3 time frames and really associate to and relive these memories. I know this exercise might take 15-30 minutes, but it will be well worth it.  Here’s why.

 Imagine the power this exercise would have if you did it every night. You reflected on your previous day and looked into the past to celebrate when you experienced these positive and uplifting emotions. Pretty soon after days of this, what do you think your identity will be? You will see yourself and think of yourself as a loving, determined, confident, etc person (or whatever emotions you think would be beneficial for you to live in.) You will also be able to engage in these emotions much more frequently because you are rehearsing them every night with this exercise and ritual. The more you practice living in these states- the more they will become your “default setting” and the more you will believe with 100% certainty that you are a worthy, successful and loving person. This conscious recognition of these “small victories”, like reflecting on times when you were loving or determined, has the power to transform your identity into the person you want to become. Truly you are already that person, but with the ineffective cognitive strategies (negativity bias) that you are currently practicing- you are disowning these positive parts of yourself. Imagine what this exercise repeated day in and day out will do to the beliefs you have about yourself. Your entire identity will expand exponentially. You will walk differently, you will talk differently, you will interact with others differently. The certainty about who you are as a person will be astounding. When you live your life in your ten emotional states of power- the quality of your life will transform. It really gives you the power to achieve anything you want because you are becoming the kind of person with the kind of beliefs and identity who can achieve that very something you desire so dearly.

 We spend so much time as humans performing negative self-talk that no wonder everyone is depressed, divorced, in debt and obese. We do something good, but we instantly brush it under the rug like it never happened. Rather when we do something wrong or make a mistake- we sulk over it for hours like it is an indictment on our character. The only difference between successful and congruent people and those who are unsuccessful are the way they cognitively process and store the events that occur in their respective lives. Here is the difference to sum it up (if you haven’t already gotten it).

Successful people celebrate even the smallest successes and the tiniest progress. Rather when they fail or make a mistake, they don’t take it personally, they don’t throw a pity party or have a major a freak out. They just continue with the process until they finally make another step in the right direction. They are process oriented and have a growth mindset (which is brilliantly discussed in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset).

 Unsuccessful people are so focused on the achieving the end goal, that they brush off every little success or minor step along the way that is truly progress. They literally don’t even consciously see they’re making progress. They believe that they will only celebrate and acknowledge themselves as a success when they get the big goal. However they never get there because it is impossible to develop that championship and successful identity unless you celebrate even the smallest successes along the way. They are purely goal oriented and this tends to persuade them to develop a fixed mindset about their ability.

We ALWAYS operate at the level of our identity. This is why change is so brutally difficult for most people. They want to change the circumstances in their life, but they are not changing their identity and who they are becoming.  What they tend to do is rearrange circumstances- which is nothing more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic…no actual transformation occurs.  Jim Rohn summed it perfectly:

 If you want life to change, you’ve got to change. If you want life to get better, you’ve go to get better. It’s the only way it happens. Luck will show up for people and it will leave them. But if you’re constantly improving who you are and what you give- GAME OVER.

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