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Improving through the subconscious

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Improving through the subconscious

Scott Miker

In the last article, I discussed the subconscious mind and explained that there is enormous opportunity for improvement.  The best way to access this unaware part of our minds is by focusing on improving the systems and habits in our lives.  But the reality is that this is just one small part of it.  There are actually several keys to improving the unaware part of our mind.

The first thing to do may sound obvious but most people miss it.  The first step is to become aware of what is happening.  This doesn’t necessarily mean to obtain a PhD in psychology and understand the intricacies of our mind.  It does mean that we need to approach it from an improvement mindset.

There are numerous tests and quizzes out there to tell you more about you.  Getting feedback can be an important first step but you have to be aware of the defensiveness of our minds. 

One of the best examples of this is the public speaking group Toastmasters.  Toastmasters has been around since 1924 and has chapters set up all around the world.  During my first meeting I remember hearing the dinging of a bell quite often.  In Toastmasters meetings, the bell is rung every time someone uses an “ah” or an “um.”  This alerts the person to the usage of a “filler word” which is unnecessary.  These words are commonly used but give off a sense of nervousness.  They also make the speaker sound less trustworthy. 

Yet nowhere else in my life have I ever focused on such a subtle habit.  It could have been easy to be defensive and say it doesn’t matter.  There are numerous speakers who have reached high levels of success despite their overuse of “ah” and “um.”  But in order to improve, we have to put aside this defensiveness and find ways to get better. 

The next step is to find a way to improve an area that we wish to grow.  In Toastmasters the framework is already set to help eliminate filler words and improve public speaking.  They have a structured approach that has been used for decades and by some very notable members. 

In a previous article I discussed a seminar that I attended.  The presenter made it a point to emphasize the importance of how we respond to others.  He talked about the facial expressions we make.  Some of us smile when someone passes us in the hallway and others look away.  Some have a scowl on their face and others always seem to look concerned. 

But do you know for sure what your facial expressions are telling others?  Most of us don’t really know.  We may assume we are smiling or at least pleasant.  But time after time I talk to someone that has no idea that they give off a very negative vibe and always seem angry. 

Once you understand that this is an area that you want to improve on, how can you change your habits?  How can you modify the “natural” way to react to situations or to people?

I remember working in a retail shoe store when I was in high school and college.  One day the manager called a meeting and said that the new district manager wants us all to greet every person that walks through the door with a smile and a polite hello. 

We spent time practicing with each other and explaining the importance of this new routine.  But as soon as work started, most of us immediately went back to our old routine.  It took time.  Our manager would constantly remind us to greet each customer and make sure we were friendly.  But because this new habit was driven into me, I still find myself walking into a store and immediately looking for someone to say hello.  If I pass an associate at the door and they ignore me I always find it a little awkward that they didn’t even say hello. 

But we don’t always have someone holding us accountable and threatening our jobs if we don’t work on changing our routine.  In these instances we have to focus on changing the systems and habits in our lives.  They key is to focus on three areas

First we have to make sure we create simple adjustments; the simpler the better.  Starting with small, simple steps is the key to being able to do this continuously. 

Second we have to make sure the new habit is sticky.  This is probably the most difficult of the three but is also the most crucial.  If you do something once or twice and never do it again it won’t become a habit.  But if you find a way to keep doing something over and over again it will help assure that this new behavior becomes a habit. 

Third we have to find a way to monitor the habits so they are self regulating.  If we slip and stop doing the new behavior how will we know that we stopped?  How can we make sure we are aware when we get off track and then can work to make sure we continue to solidify the habit?

The systems and habits approach to improvement is very powerful.  It helps us adjust our routines and starts to impact our subconscious mind.  While most people feel that this cannot be controlled and is only addressed when there is a problem, you can unlock this part of the brain to help you move closer to achieving your goals.