Have you ever tried to break a bad habit or develop a new healthy one? It can be very difficult! The reason for the difficulty is this – we each have an internal set point for our version of normal. Our psyche likes to maintain the set point so much that it initiates an internal self-corrective process if we stray too far from our normal.
This autopilot that we go into to maintain homeostasis in our lives was discovered and coined the “Psycho Cybernetic Mechanism” by Dr. Maxwell Maltz in the 1950s. Dr. Maltz, a plastic surgeon, found that many of his patients didn’t see any changes when they looked at themselves in the mirror after having significant facial reconstruction. They literally could not see the changes in their appearance because it was beyond their “normal.” The brain compensated for what they expected to see.
In our caveman days, this was a great survival mechanism. If our brain noticed something different in our environment, it sent signals to the body to get back to homeostasis. Predator nearby – let’s get to a safe place – back to our area of comfort. Modern day – when changing the number of calories we intake to lose weight or get healthier, we don’t want the brain to go on high alert and self-correct that change, right? Our brain, in trying to help us survive, is getting in the way.
The “normal” set point we’ve created for ourselves may not necessarily be healthy for us, so how do we change it? First step is awareness – understanding that we’ve spent years forging the neural pathways for this behavior in our brain and that it is going to take significant retraining to change that.
The next step is to visualize the new desired behavior with extreme clarity – over and over again. The subconscious mind is the one that is running the show when it comes to your Psycho Cybernetic Mechanism. A cool thing about the subconscious running the show is that it doesn’t know the difference between visualizing the behavior and actually doing it. This is why professional athletes use visualization all the time.
The final step is to do the desired behavior over and over. Combine steps two and three and do them at the same time for maximum effectiveness.
After much patience and perseverance, you create new neural pathways and your desired behavior becomes a habit. How long it takes is up to you and how deeply ingrained the neural pathways related to the behaviors you want to change are. I can guarantee it’s going to take more than 21 days to develop lifetime habits. They’ve conducted research on the “21-day rule” and found that it is largely false for most habits we want to change.
If you haven’t seen the YouTube video The Backwards Bicycle, I recommend you watch it. An engineer did an experiment on what it would take to retrain his brain to ride a bike in which the handlebars had been altered in such a way that one had to turn them to the left to go right and vice versa. It took him eight months to retrain his brain to ride the bike and only 20 minutes to go back into the old way of doing things. Simply type “backwards bicycle” in the search bar and it will pop up.