Have you ever got home from work and realised that you don’t remember how you got there? We do more things with our brains on autopilot mode than we think.
Imagine having to be focused each time you get dressed, make dinner or wash the dishes. You would get exhausted very quickly and have no energy for other complex tasks. This is why your mind automates much of what you do. The automatic system of the mind helps us avoid information overload and serves as a brain energy saver.
Nobelist Daniel Kahneman was the one who introduced and developed the idea of the two systems of cognitive processes or simply put, the two systems of the mind: the automatic and the deliberate system.
Simple, familiar tasks are easily handled by the automatic mind, as solutions are already stocked in your memory. But complex tasks cannot be completed without the deliberated thought process, as solutions for these tasks require creativity and focus.
Both these systems are necessary for a proper functioning of the mind, but sometimes the automatic system interferes with areas of your life that require more forethought, stopping you from making the right decisions for your personal growth and happiness.
Have you ever asked yourself why does routine feel so comfortable?
Neuropsychology explains that every time you experience something new, your brain creates new neural pathways. The more you practice an activity, the stronger the neural pathway gets, this is why creating a new stable one is harder that accessing the already created one. Your brain gets used to activating the same pathways day by day, this is why you may experience anxiety, stress or fear engaging in new activities.
Certain unhappy events or problems in your relationships keep recurring to you only because your automatic mind guides your decisions and reactions without you even noticing it.
How do you change your habits and automatic thoughts?
You probably have some thought patterns or habits that you want to break but all the effort you’re putting in is useless. This happens because your habits are stronger than your capacity to stay focused in the moment and they guide you to make the same familiar decisions. Breaking a habit is possible only by changing the thought pattern that led to it or by building a new habit to substitute the old one.
You may try to convince yourself that acting a certain way is not favorable to you, but as long as you don’t substitute your toxic behavior with a new one, your automatic mind will continue to follow the same toxic patterns.
This is the automatic cycle that occurs in response to a trigger ( an event or an action). This automatic cycle is activated each time you don’t pay attention to the trigger or struggle to stay present.
The first step into breaking the cycle of automatic thoughts that consolidates our bad habits is recognizing the patterns of our own thoughts.
1. Make a list of triggering situations and be aware of your thoughts each time you interact with the trigger. Ask yourself where do your thoughts come from and why you tend to think in a certain manner. Challenge your own thoughts and beliefs, get to the root of your thinking.
2. Notice when the cycle of automatic thoughts starts and substitute your toxic/negative thoughts with positive ones. Force yourself into changing your thoughts and perspective.
3. Keep your brain healthy and your mind focused. Either you do some memory exercises , build your vocabulary or learn a new skill, you challenge your brain and body to engage into a new experience, breaking your cognitive routine. Also, a healthy diet is necessary for the brain’s good functioning.
4. Meditation is great for breaking the negative and toxic habits if practiced properly. By meditating, you interrupt the automatic mind activity and use the deliberated system to direct your thoughts in any wanted direction. It allows your mind and body to relax and stay in the present moment.
5. Practice gratitude. Notice the good and positive in your life and absorb it. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss a lot of wonderful things. Life is too short to constantly look for what is missing. Focus on what you already have instead.
6. Learn to stay in the moment. Your automatic system takes control of your thoughts when your mind is wandering. Learning to focus on the present moment will let your mind to be fully involved in that activity, which will increase your productivity and work efficiency. Keep reminding yourself to pay attention to what is happening now.
Your life is controlled by your mental attitude. Every thought that comes into your mind influences the way you perceive things, learn to control your automatic irrational thoughts and the whole perspective on life is going to change.