Introduction: The only reason we struggle with habit change

The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings. – Okakura Kakuzo

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 from making habit changes. The mind is making this fantasy, and as well-intentioned as the mind is, it’s also causing us frustration, struggle, feeling bad 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, for example, should be a pretty simple task. In theory. It’s simply 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 for several months, and it’ll be pretty ingrained in your life.

So if it’s so simple, why do we struggle to create new habits and drop old bad habits? 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 things, 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.

Interestingly, this Mind Movie and the rebellion of the Childish Mind is not just at the heart of our struggles with habit change … it’s at the heart of all 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.

How I changed my life

I struggled for many years with health problems, procrastination, debt, being stuck in jobs I didn’t like, never pursuing my dreams, being overweight, not being able to quit smoking or junk food. I struggled with the Childish Mind and the Mind Movie, and didn’t realize why I was struggle. What was wrong with me?

I tried many times to change all my habits, sometimes succeeding for a week or two, but always ending in failure and guilt. I’d end up just feeling worse about myself.

I finally overcame this cycle of failure and guilt by really focusing myself on one habit change (quitting smoking), and not letting my Childish Mind run away from the discomfort. It was a massive struggle, but I learned that I didn’t need to listen to this Childish Mind, that it would raise hell but ultimately all the complaining was just noise.

I proved to myself that I could overcome the Childish Mind, and I learned to turn from the Mind Movie to the reality in front of me. And that reality was awesome.

I also learned to change habits in tiny steps, gradually, so that the Childish Mind wouldn’t rebel so violently. One at a time, I changed my eating habits slowly over long periods of time. One at a time, I was able to start running, start writing in the morning, start a business, start paying off my debt and saving and investing, start getting rid of clutter. I became a minimalist, a published author, a vegan, a marathoner, and more.

All from learning to deal with the Childish Mind.

I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you, in this small volume of distilled methods. I challenge you to work with me to overcome your Childish Mind over the next 6 weeks.