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How to transform your experience of life in 15 minutes a day

By Akshay Nanavati
Despite what conventional wisdom states, people do not resist change.

You don’t believe me, do you?

Well, let’s take a look at human behavior:

Today, as you read this, there are 370,000 babies being born all across the globe. With them, hundreds of thousands of new parents are welcomed into the joys of raising a child.

Or at least the anticipated joys.

New parents struggle with sleepless nights, a seemingly endless onslaught of shrill wailing and daily diaper changes, among other things. They have to be at the beck and call of every need of this new life form 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Yet, people readily embrace this change. They welcome it and seek it out.

Like the act of marriage itself, parenthood is a dramatic change people willingly choose despite knowing ahead of time the challenges that accompany it.

Why?

Because people do not resist change. They resist what they believe to be wrong in line with their story of how the world works, what things mean and what their life is “supposed” to look like.

To change your experience of life you can do one of two things: change your behavior or change your story.

But some behaviors are so entrenched into our daily lives that they become near impossible to change. Ever tried getting rid of a bad habit? Not easy, is it?

Perhaps it’s because you didn’t change your story first.

Let me give you a real life example. At the age of 16, I squandered my life with drugs. Almost every day, I smoked marijuana, snorted cocaine or dropped a few hits of acid. My story was that drugs equaled a release from the mundane. They gave me access to a life more exciting than my own and a way to push my limits. I craved a high and drugs were the way to get it.

Until I gained access to a different story.

After watching the movie Black Hawk Down, I wrote a new story in my mind. One that said military life would provide the high I wanted. It would provide the challenge I craved in a more constructive and empowering way. It would make my life meaningful.

The movie helped me change my story, which allowed me to change my behavior. Almost overnight I quit doing drugs, joined the Marines, served 7 months fighting the war in Iraq and since then I have climbed mountains in the Himalayas, skied across the second largest icecap in the world and become a successful entrepreneur.

My intention in sharing this is not to impress you. It is simply to illustrate the ease through which change can take place once we create new stories.

So how do we do that?

You are not your stories

Most of us believe we are the negative stories in our head. Some of the more popular version of these stories are “I am not good enough,” “I am unlovable,” or “I don’t deserve to be happy,” or for me, when I was younger, “I need drugs to be fulfilled.” After years of repetition, we start to define ourselves by these conditioned patterns. They become who we are. But they are not who we are. They are just stories we tell ourselves.

These disempowering stories are created based on the meanings we assign to life experiences. Every time we assign a meaning to an experience, this tells our brain to fire of neurons connecting the meaning with the experience.

For example, if every time you are stressed out, you drink alcohol, your brain forms a pathway connecting the experience of stress with the solution of alcohol, or as Hebb’s Law states “neurons that fire together, wire together.” These neurological pathways become more entrenched every time you reinforce the existing pattern.

Since we are always telling stories about ourselves, the world and our experiences, we might as well tell stories that empower us to create the lifestyle we want to live.

In order to do that, the first step is to separate external events from the meaning we assign to them so we can consciously choose the stories we tell ourselves instead of being at the effect of our preexisting habit patterns.

Separate yourself from your stories and your experiences

The next time you have a strong emotional response to an event or find yourself engaged in a negative story pattern, stop and notice it. Don’t fight it. Let yourself experience it fully, name it and acknowledge it. It exists within you for a reason and whether or not it helps you better your life at that point in time, it has your best interest at heart. Or at least the part of you that began the habit as a means for relief and pleasure in the first place.

In these moments the emotional brain is in control and the emotional brain acts without reason or rationality. It lives in the subconscious.

The simple act of naming your emotions lessens the impact of them because it forces your conscious brain to become involved in the process. Your conscious brain has to dig through its references to find a name for the emotion. This allows reason to come back into the picture. Using the power of our rational brain, ask yourself what are you making the event mean that led to this emotional response? What else can you make it mean?

This will allow you to separate yourself from the experience and the conditioned pattern to choose a new story. It will help you reframe the experience and realize that you are not your thoughts and emotions. You are in control of them and can choose new ones.

To build the awareness muscle, notice your emotions throughout the day and give them a name. Do this regularly and in time you will find yourself developing a Buddha like awareness.

Targeted preemptive strikes

The reason change is so difficult for most of us is that neurological pathways have been conditioned into the brain for a long time. These pathways create habits.

By becoming aware of a disempowering pattern, naming it and separating ourselves from our stories and experiences to consciously choose different stories, we have set ourselves up to mold new pathways, which lead to new habits.

The final action oriented step is a targeted preemptive strike.

Before you experience a trigger, in the form of an emotion or a negative story, which leads to an undesired behavior, shape the environment and prepare a productive activity to engage in when the trigger presents itself.

Putting it all together

Let’s go back to the example of using alcohol to alleviate stress and see how this whole process works.

Imagine that you are someone who knows that after coming home from work, you get stressed and use alcohol to relax. Before you do anything else to change this habit pattern, the first thing you will do is set up the preemptive strike.

To do this you remove all the alcohol from your house, and decide on a course of behavior that would help you relax and is in line with your desired lifestyle. This could be running, meditation, reading a book, spending time with youe family, the choices are unlimited. The key is to choose one and not leave any room for the conscious mind to get stuck in analysis paralysis. This would give power back to the emotional mind.

Let’s say you choose meditation. To further shape the environment and prevent the emotional brain from winning, you could put in a meditation CD before you go to work and ask your partner to turn it on just before you enter the house.

So you come home from work one day and as expected, you are stressed and your conditioned neurological pathways tell you that alcohol is the solution. You stop, notice this thought and acknowledge it. You say to yourself “I am stressed out and I know you want alcohol right now, but I think I can find more a productive way to handle stress. I am going to meditate instead.” You then focus all your attention on meditating and how it will lead to your desired lifestyle. The music is on anyway, so you may as well sit down and meditate.

The key to success is to focus every bit of your attention on a more productive behavior. Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, the author of You are not your brain, says “learning how to focus your attention is so important – it is the one variable you have power over that can change your brain.”

In less than 15 minutes of controlled action a day, you would have started weakening the old neurological pathways, building new ones, and transform your experience of life. In time these will replace the old ones completely and you would have not only changed your behavior, but cultivated an empowering story about stress, relaxation and the use of alcohol.

I would love to hear in the comments below, how have you changed your life? What has worked for you and what hasn’t?

About the author

Akshay Nanavati has devoted his life to discovering the limits of the human potential. Download The Life Mastery Blueprint to help you shatter your limiting beliefs, stop procrastinating and create a clear road map to success.

Image: Man Changing Reality courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com

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About the author

Akshay Nanavati

Akshay Nanavati runs a <a href="http://www.existing2living.com/good-life-zen" target="_blank"personal development blog where he writes about the psychology of risk, mastery, and entrepreneurial success. Be sure to check it out and download “The Life Mastery Blueprint” to help you shatter your limiting beliefs, stop procrastinating and create a clear road map to success.

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