Breaking Free From Self-Limiting Habits

‘We need to think differently to shift our paradigms
to a new, deeper, “inside-out” level’; Stephen R. Covey

In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey describes habits as “consistent, often unconscious patterns which constantly, daily express our character and produce our effectiveness, or ineffectiveness”.

Who we are and what we become is a direct result of our habits. It is in the realm of habits that our character is born, nurtured and outwardly expressed. What we see from the outside is a direct reflection of those deeply embedded habits that have gradually, steadily and consistently ingrained themselves into our psyche. Our behavior is therefore informed by these habits, which with time become so deeply ingrained into our minds that changing them is like attempting to break mountains with bare hands.

Breaking free from these deeply-embedded habits is a tall order, especially if they have been acquired over a long period of time. The longer it takes to acquire certain habits, the more difficult it is to break them. And this is not necessarily a bad thing; especially if the habits acquired are positive. Positive habits should be encouraged, even developed where they are lacking.

According Mike Bressica, success comes from behaviors, which start out as thoughts. To change your habits or behaviors, you will need to have different thoughts. What occupies your mind; your thoughts; propels you to behave in a certain way. If you don’t like the results of your behavior, all you need to do is to change your thoughts. The Bible talks of renewing our mind as a way of transforming ourselves into good, acceptable and perfect people that always seek to do the will of God (Rom 12.2).

Renewing or shifting from our current thoughts to those that we desire brings about transformation or change in our lives. This is what is known as having a paradigm shift; adopting a new way of thinking, of doing things, of behavior.

The good thing about habits is that they are acquired over time through learning, nuances, brainwashing and experiences. Since they are acquired, they can be replaced by changing the thought patterns that fostered them in the first place.

To replace negative, self-limiting thought patterns, which Mike Bressica calls “mental patterns of failure”, we must set as a first goal to reduce the impact of these patterns. And this cannot be done overnight. Just as it took time to acquire these mental patterns of failure, it will take time to release them and replace them with ‘mental patterns of success’.

Paul talking to the Church in Rome expressed his frustration with his inability to rein in his patterns of failure. It appeared to him that he was fighting a losing battle with his mind as he found himself doing the very evil that he did not want to do; and not doing the good that he wanted to (Romans 7: 19).

Like so many of us, Paul was at a crossroad. On one side lay the old self-limiting patterns of failure; and on the other, his desire to release these negative patterns, which always led him to do evil, and replace them with those that would propel him into a transformed life of doing good.

Highly successful people are those who rid themselves of their patterns of failure by brushing off distractions. When you have no pattern of failure limiting your progress, you are able to overcome temporary setbacks at the thought level. Since the battle for success is won or lost at the thought level, your success or failure in this arena is what makes you successful or unsuccessful. Success comes naturally when you learn how to control your thought patterns. As Bressica says, if you muster the art of thought control, you will not be ‘tempted to act opposite to what you know is best. You can keep fear at a minimum. Doubt is nowhere to be found.’

But how do you unlearn limiting thought patterns that you have picked up from childhood? How do you break down inscrutable blocks of negative habits that have been distilled and cemented into your psyche since childhood? To merely tell you to change your paradigm would be as vain as telling a hungry person to be filled without giving him food to eat. What we hear, see, experience or sense has a direct bearing on the formation of our habits; which are informed by thoughts, and which are then acted out in the form of behavior.

Thoughts are the foundation on which our habits are formed. These habits, depending on their nature, in turn inform our actions or behavior; and success or lack of it solely depends on the actions we take. To take that crucial first step in starting your own business, you must first of all unlearn the employee mentality and start seeing yourself as a successful entrepreneur.

But to achieve this paradigm shift is no mean fit. What with years of being told to study hard so that, when you grow up, you will get a good job? To break away from this mold of thinking and start seeing or thinking yourself as a successful business person requires much more than positive affirmations such as ‘I can do it’. If ‘I can do it’ is out of tandem with your thought pattern, then, try as much as you will, you can¬ít do it.

I believe with all my heart that if you can think it, you can do it. The writer of the Book of Proverbs (23:7) knew this all too well when he said that ‘as one thinks in his heart, so is he’. Your thoughts define the kind of person you become. Countless times we blame external circumstances while in reality the core cause of our failure can be found in our thought patterns.