Rewire;Change your brain to break bad habits,overcome addictions and conquer self-destructive bahaviour.
Rewire explains why we keep engaging in addictive and self-destructive behavior, how our brains justify it and where you can get started on breaking your bad habits by becoming more mindful and disciplined.
Dr. Richard O’Connor is a psychotherapist, who spent over 20 years working in the fields of addiction, depression and mental illness.
He believes his own struggles with depression, both in his 40s and his 20s – his mother committed suicide when he was 15 – give him a unique and strong perspective on it, which he shares in this book.
Explaining plenty of reasons for why we engage in self-destructive behavior, Rewire also gives you valuable starting points to get better, so if you want to finally stop smoking, quit munching chips in front of the TV and not kick yourself so much if you fail, this is for you.
Here are 3 great lessons from the book:
1. You have two selves that influence your actions – a conscious one and an automatic one.
2. Repressing your emotions can cause you to become self-destructive.
3. You can start breaking your bad habits by faking it and training mindfulness.
Have a bad habit you want to kick? Let’s do it!
LESSON 1 You have two selves that influence your actions – a conscious one and an automatic one.
Which one is it going to be after work – gym or TV?
The moment I ask you that question you know which answer is the right one.
Yet, we’ve all faced this or similar decision countless times, but still ended up on the couch with a bag of chips.
Dr. O’Connor says it’s because we have two selves, a conscious one and an automatic one.
The conscious self relies a lot on rational arguments, it’s when you reason yourself into doing things, for example going to the library early to get a good spot, because it’ll be crowded later on.
The automatic self is in charge when you eat your entire popcorn before the movie starts. Your conscious self isn’t there to think about the consequences and only when it reactivates again later do you regret your actions.
Whenever you perform a bad habit, your automatic self is running the show, after all you’d never choose to do a bad habit consciously.
There are two ways then, to break bad habits:
1. Strengthening your conscious self, so it becomes the dominant force.
2. Training your automatic self to just stop slipping up.
Both work, but in the long run, training your automatic self is a lot less effort, because once the neural pathways have been established, they work on autopilot.
LESSON 2 Repressing your emotions can cause you to become self-destructive.
Have you ever wished to yell at someone at the top of your lungs, because they really pissed you off?
Chances are more often than not, when you wanted to, you didn’t.
Dr. O’Connor says you should have.
Emotions are chemical reactions in your body. They build up over time and eventually break, which is when we have to let them out.
Like water in an overflowing bathtub, they’ll find a way.
You not yelling when someone harasses you in the morning might lead you to eat a whole pie by yourself in the afternoon, just because you bottled up those feelings.
Emotions are never right or wrong, it’s not for you to judge, they’re feelings and therefore not even meant to be based on reason and common sense.
When you’re trying to rationally pick your feelings, you’ll create a communication gap between your conscious and your automatic self.
Your automatic self really tells you to yell at your co-worker for deleting all that data, but your rational you steps in and says you shouldn’t cause a scene in the office.
Eventually, this conflicting advice might lead you to engage in self-destructive behavior, like drinking way too much coffee, so listen to your gut.
LESSON 2 You can start breaking your bad habits by faking it and training mindfulness.
Rewiring your brain is never easy, but it’s easy to get started.
Alcoholics Anonymous use the saying “Fake it till you make it” a lot, and it helps a lot of recovering addicts get started.
It focuses on being dedicated to getting better, and giving it your best, even when you end up caving and having a drink after a week or two.
If you constantly beat yourself up every time you have another drink, you’ll keep sabotaging yourself, because you’re repressing those emotions, remember?
Instead, focus on continuing your efforts and “fake it” until you eventually make not drinking a habit – it’ll get easier to control yourself over time.
Another great starting point is training your mindfulness through meditation.
Just by sitting down for 30 minutes every day and focusing and re-focusing your attention on your breath, you can substantially increase your awareness for when you’re about to do a bad habit.
Don’t worry about being perfect, it’s normal to have other thoughts as you meditate. Gently push them aside and re-focus your attention.
Did you ever feel irritated after doing something unwanted unconsciously? It can be something harmless like a spelling error or something far worse like saying something you shouldn’t have said or smoking that one cigarette for old time’s sake.
In this book we will learn how to overcome these kinds of common mistakes.
OUR TWO “SELVES”
Why do we often choose the wrong one of two choices even if we know that it is the wrong one? That’s because we act on the automatic self not the conscious self.
Automatic self and conscious self is a way to describe our actions based on habits (automatic self) and based on rational thought and reason (conscious self).
When we do something we know is bad, and regret it later, it is because we acted on our automatic self.
So how can we solve these bad behaviors?
Strengthen conscious self or changing automatic self
To fix our bad behaviors we have to either strengthen our conscious self so that we make the right decisions, this is going to use some willpower. Or we can change our automatic self by changing our habits.
It has recently been discovered that learning causes our brains to grow new cells, its called neuroplasticity. We can use this phenomenon to rewire our brains.
For example if the nerve cells “go to the gym” connect with the cells “stay in the until my workout is done” due to our repeated action, then those two areas will be increasingly bond together.
The solution then is, to replace bad habits with good habits. Read this summary for more on habits.
Some habits are clearly good, for example brushing our teeth, and others are clearly bad, like smoking.
But there are other habits which we may think are good, but are actually bad.
Self-serving biases affect the way we see ourselves and the world
Self-serving biases lead to destructive habits and auto-deception.
One classical example is that we tend to blame our faults on the outside world, but praise ourselves for our good characteristics.
Example: Imagine a man who checks tactlessly every woman he meets. He might justify his behavior by claiming “I’m just a man with human desires”. That makes it seem like it’s not his fault.
But when he possesses a positive trait, for example when he does well at work, he claims that it’s because of his dedication and perseverance, not because he is fortunate to be in a supportive work environment and has had all the help and conditions to grow.
Most confident and successful people benefit from their self-serving bias by believing they earned their success.
But that kind of overconfidence can be detrimental if it distorts reality. If we become too confident in our abilities we might stop trying.
Beliefs keep reinforcing themselves
Example: If we hear that a person is intelligent before we meet him, we’re more likely to interpret him in that way when we meet him. The same is true when we hear something negative about a person before we meet him.
Those types of biases operate unconsciously, so they are very difficult to be corrected by the conscious self. We repeat those mistakes over and over without having chosen to do so.
Emotions are not bad, but if we make ourselves think so it can lead to self-destructive behavior.
Self-destructive behavior occurs when our two minds don’t communicate effectively. Our conscious mind may want to suppress our emotions. But trying to suppress our emotions does not work in the long term.
Example: Closing a boiling tea kettle does not work out well for long. Vapor builds up pressure and sooner or later creates an explosion.
The same is true with emotions in our brains, chemical reactions build up and they have breaking points. For example if we constantly suppress our anger, there will be a point where we burst out in anger and make rash decisions or hurting someone you love.
Anger and emotions in general are not inherently bad, they serve their purpose.
Example: If someone breaks into your house, anger may give you the courage to defend yourself and your family.
The trick is to not let emotions build up internally.
Sometimes the unconscious mind causes trouble as a form of crying for help. Trying to get attention. But often we don’t want to ask for help because we fear rejection.
Example: Richard O’Connor, the author of this book encountered a 16 year old boy who had problems with drugs. He dropped his stash in front of his mother intentionally as O’Connor learned after pressing him about it. The boy told him in tears that he just wanted a caring mother. If is mother reprimanded him it would mean she cared.
As we’ve seen strong emotions find ways to express themselves in potentially destructive behaviors if we don’t address them.
But there are also other types of self-destructive tendencies.
There are two kinds of self defeated tendencies.
Those who surrendered to their harmful behavior thinking it is just part of life and accepting it. They just don’t care to put in the effort.
Then there are those who tried often to fix themselves but failed. They’ve disappointed themselves and others so often that they stopped trying.
If you are in the first category there is not much others can do to help you, if you’re in the second, try to set more realistic expectations. Set little goals which are easy to achieve, that way you will not feel disappointed because you will accomplish them.
Undertow is what happens when we nearly reach success but then experience a relapse.
Example: Let’s say you are an alcoholic and grab a glass of alcoholic beverage by mistake at a party. You fall back into the old pattern and go on a drinking binge. You will probably feel very guilty the next day.
The solution is to rewire our brains to avoid getting swept up by the undertow. One solution may be to associate that relapse with something disgusting so that next time you grab it by accident you just spit it out instinctively.
Mindfulness and self-control, the best way to overcome bad habits
Mindfulness means to observe ourselves and be present in a conscious, non-judgemental and compassionate way.
It can either be practiced through just 30 minutes of meditation per day. Sit down on a quiet place, close your eyes and let your thoughts come and go, without forcing anything. Whenever a thought comes up just observe it and let it go.
Your ultimate goal is to strengthen your willpower and increase self-control.
One way to rewire your brain is to “Fake it till you make it”
Initially it is hard to break an addiction or form a new habit, but gradually it takes less effort. Self-control is like a habit too, if you practice it becomes easier.
Example of using the principle of “fake it till you make it”. Pretend to be kinder. Even if you feel like you fake it, you’ll feel good about yourself and the reactions you get from other people. This will further motivate you to keep doing kind things until it becomes a habit.
You can increase your willpower by being healthier. Eat healthier foods and exercise so your brain will function better.
Parent yourself, you can even slightly punish yourself if necessary. If your brain associates negative stimulus with your temptation, that temptation will loose strength.
Surround yourself with positive people
Once you’ve gained more self-control and mindfulness, you can build stronger relationships with positive people. Being surrounded by successful people will influence you and help you get more success too.
Look at yourself like an outsider and figure out anything you need or want to improve on yourself. Then meditate, understand your feelings and thoughts, correct self-destructive behavior and become the person you want to be.