Essential Zen Habits shares a method and a six-week program for changing a habit, and outlines steps needed to quit bad habits, deal with life struggles, and find mindfulness. All in a very brief format of “just do this” instructions, no fluff whatsoever.
The Mind Movie
[bluebox] The Mind Movie: The fantasy your mind plays in its head about how things should be. This fantasy might be about how nice your life would be if you had a meditation habit, or ate healthily, or got fit with Crossfit. The fantasy might be about how disciplined or productive or mindful your should be. It might be about how considerate other people should ideally behave, or how great your life should be. These fantasies aren’t true, but your mind believes them anyway, because it really wants them to be true. It feels like they should be real. Unfortunately, these Mind Movies get in our way of appreciating life and making healthy changes, and they create struggle for us.[/bluebox]
There’s a projector in our minds, and it’s constantly playing a movie about how we’d like things to be, our ideals about the world, our expectations of how things will turn out, how others should be, how we should be.
These images aren’t based on reality, but are just a fantasy this film projector has created from nothing.
It turns out that this fantasy, which I call the Mind Movie, is what stands in our way of making habit changes. As well-intentioned as the mind is when it creates this fantasy, it’s also causing us frustration, struggle, bad feelings about ourselves, procrastination, distraction, and more. In other words, this Mind Movie is at the heart of all of our problems.
Creating a new habit
Creating a new habit, for example, should be a pretty simple task.
In theory. It’s simple repeating an action after a trigger (say, the habit of writing after the trigger of your morning coffee) over and over until it becomes more and more automatic.
If you do the action after the trigger every day for about six weeks, you should have a fairly automatic habit. Do it several months, and it’ll be pretty ingrained in your life.
So it it’s so simple, why do we struggle to create new habits and drop old bad habits?
[bluebox] Childish Mind: The part of our mind that complains about how things are, that fears discomfort, that just wants pleasure and comfort, that doesn’t want things to be difficult. This is like a little child who throws a tantrum every time he doesn’t get his way. We all have this Childish Mind.[/bluebox]
Because the mind is like a little child–constantly seeking comfort and pleasure and control.
This Childish Mind is playing a Mind Movie all the time, about how our lives should be so comfortable and pleasurable and orderly. The mind then runs from discomfort and fear and change and confusion, which aren’t at all the fantasy playing in the Mind Movie.
Unfortunately, creating a new habit or dropping an old habit can’t be done without discomfort. When we change our usual way of doing this, this becomes uncomfortable–sometimes to a really strong degree. The Mind Movie tells us that changing a habit should be easy and fun, but the reality is that we must wander outside our comfort zone. And so the Childish Mind rebels. It throws a tantrum.
This Mind Movie and the rebellion of the Childish Mind is not just at the heart of our struggles. When we procrastinate on the important work we want to do, when we avoid pursuing our creative dreams because of fear of failure, when we struggle with healthy eating and exercise, when we are frustrated with other people or ourselves or our life situation …these struggles are a result of the Childish Mind and the Mind Movie.