Live As If You Believe

Live as if you believe

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
William James

William James was a psychologist and philosopher, and while many of us may not have read his books, most of us are familiar with his quotes. William came from a wealthy and accomplished family and into his thirties he was considered the unaccomplished one. He wanted to be a painter, then stopped. He enrolled in University to become a doctor, then dropped out. In fact, most things he started he didn’t finish. He regularly criticised himself and when in medical school he sometimes felt that he had more in common with mental health patients than his peers. When he was 28, he hit rock bottom and considered suicide. Two months later he decided to conduct a year long experiment in controlling his thoughts, and made a commitment to live as if he believed that he could change his life.

Over the following 12 months he practised every day. He got married, started teaching at Harvard University and spent time with other great thinkers such as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, who became a Supreme Court Justice and became a part of a group called the Metaphysical Club.

William considered this time in his life as a rebirth. He wrote that the will to believe is the most important ingredient in changing our lives, and that beliefs are formed by the habits we act upon.

How Habits Are Formed

Before you even consider changing a habit you will enhance your chance of success by understanding how habits are formed.

It all begins with a trigger.  You might feel stressed and soothe yourself by eating. You feel depressed so you go shopping and that habit makes you feel good temporarily. You try to do something that you have never done before, and a simple act can trigger a cavalcade of self-doubt and turn on your inner critic which tells you that you aren’t good enough. Habits become automatic responses that are hard wired in our brain and this includes the way we think.

When we set off a trigger, we provoke a response, which means we do something that gives us a reward, such as eating or spending when we feel stressed. While procrastinating may not appear to be a reward, if it keeps you safe from failing, you get a negative kind of benefit.

Alcoholics Anonymous works on the same principles. In interviews undertaken with alcoholics, researchers noticed a recurring theme, recovering alcoholics identified the cues for their drinking and chose new routines. But as we all know alcoholics are prone to relapse and what makes AA work is their belief in God. As this is not a testable theory, scientists looked deeper and felt that AA works because participants believe they can change.

To change any habit you need another habit to put in its place, but not just any habit. Your new habit needs to promise an equal or greater reward than the habit you want to change. Then you need to live as if you believe you can have what you want.

Simple but not easy. It takes time and patience. To change your life you need to act as if you believe, then reinforce that belief by adopting habits that support that belief.

“Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”
William James

This blog was inspired by the book, The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.