A little bit of active learning today!
All you’ll need is a minute, and a sheet of paper. Fold this paper in half, then half again, and again… and just keep going until you can go no further. Once you’re there, just take a moment to feel how thick that paper is.
This folded paper represents an automatic thought, in a particular situation, that takes hold and becomes further thoughts, behaviours and beliefs. A thought that becomes a hardwired habit.
I use this in various training sessions with children and adults, because it’s such a simple and effective method of really feeling the strength of a thought that becomes a habit.
As an example, I usually discuss a child who shrinks in social situations, thinking that others are laughing at them. With each fold, I add further thoughts such as,”I’m not good enough to speak,” and “everyone is laughing at me!” along with actions such as avoiding eye contact and not putting their hand up. We discuss the effect that this habit might have on this child by the time the paper is folded to its full extent; the impact on the self-esteem and their core beliefs about what kind of person they are and what they can accomplish.
So what do we do here, when we find ourselves in a situation whereby we’ve unwittingly created unhelpful connections in our minds?
Can we rip up the paper? Try it and see. I haven’t managed it yet.
And really, when you feel the thickness of that folder paper, you’ll know that it seems ridiculous to think that we could just stop doing something that we’ve hardwired in this way. Looking back at my own life experiments with changing thoughts and behaviours, I can see that my ‘all or nothing’ approach has had a 100% failure rate.
So what’s the solution?
Holding that paper, feeling the thickness of that habit that you’ve hardwired, we have to gradually unravel each fold. Looking back at the situation I’ve described above, this might be: paying attention to your breath, instead of your thoughts. With the next unraveling, perhaps you pay attention to the sensation of your feet on the floor. Then maybe it’s your hands on the table. Then watching your thoughts from a distance. And so on….
Finally, you’re left with a crumpled piece of paper, back to its original size. This is effectively your clean slate. It’s a place from which you can see the thoughts that come into your head, without immediately reacting to them. It’s a place from which you can decide which thoughts are informative and useful; and which are maybe coming from a place of fear and aren’t either true or helpful, and therefore can be ignored.
Once you’re at this place, you can begin to consciously construct some more useful and empowering thoughts, beliefs and habits.