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Staying locked in mental prison

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.  

Staying locked in mental prison

Scott Miker

We all feel trapped at times.  Maybe something happened to us at work that was beyond our control but impacts us greatly.  Maybe a friend said or did something hurtful to us.  Maybe our health took a negative turn without any warning.

It is natural to feel as though we are shackled in our own mind.  We feel like the victim and might even have proof to show that we weren’t responsible at all.  We were just minding our own business when, all-of-a-sudden we are victimized.

But how many times do you feel this way, when you were part of the process that lead to your situation?  Most people never even realize that they are often responsible for the outcome. 

In other words, we create the mental prison that we feel locked in.  We are the ones that have the key, and yet, we have no idea that we possess that key, so we just keep going around blaming outside forces and feeling powerless. 

If you want to change this, then you have to start by realizing that these mental thought patterns have formed habits.  These habits start to drive our thoughts and behaviors automatically.  So if these habits create a negative situation, we don’t even realize that we were the ones to create those habits in the first place.

In Prisoners of our Thoughts, by Alex Pattakos, PH.D, the author says, “We are, by nature, creatures of habit.  Searching for a life that is both predictable and within our ‘comfort zone,’ we rely on routine and, for the most part, learned thinking patterns.  In effect, we create pathways in our minds in much the same way that a path is beaten through a grass field from repeated use.  And because these patterns are automatic, we may believe these habitual ways of thinking and behaving to be ‘beyond our control.’  Life, it seems, just happens to us.  Not only do we rationalize our responses to life but we also fall prey to forces that work to limit our potential as human beings.  By viewing ourselves as relatively powerless and driven by our instincts, the possibility that we create, or at least co-create, our own reality becomes difficult to grasp.  Instead, we lock ourselves inside our own mental prisons.  We lose sight of our own natural potential, as well as that of others.” 

This is a powerful statement.  To think that we are the ones that create the discomfort we often feel in life may be difficult to grasp.  But when we examine our life and see the habits that we create, we can start to see just how much we control our life.  Yes things will still happen, but it is us that ultimately drives our life.

The patterns of thought create patterns of behavior.  The behavior creates outcomes (either positive or negative ones).  Then those we experience those outcomes and form new thoughts.  But those new thoughts are likely to be similar to our old thoughts.  This creates a loop that just keeps reinforcing our thoughts and behaviors, solidifying them. 

If we have negative thoughts, such as saying that we don’t have any control so why try, then the behavior exhibited will be a reflection of those thoughts.  We will barely give any effort and won’t try.  Then the outcomes will be negative.  Why would we be rewarded for half-ass work?

Those negative outcomes (or consequences) will be viewed as proof that we don’t have any control and bad things always happen to us.  So our behavior will be more of the same, half-hearted attempts with little effort.  The outcomes that will follow will be more consequences.   

But if we can change this loop, we can start to change how we go through life.  If we have positive thoughts about our own efforts and ability to create the life we desire, then our behavior will be a reflection of those thoughts.  We will give more and more effort and continue to work harder and harder towards what we want in life.  The outcomes will be positive.  We will start to get recognized for our hard work and positive attitude.  This will reinforce our original thinking.  The loop will travel in the opposite direction than the other example. 

Now some people will say, “yeah but even when I try bad things happen to me.”

True - bad things will always be around.  But so will good things.  Once the loop gets build up and reinforced over and over, those outliers will be ignored as luck or coincidence.  We will go back to focusing just as we always did. 

The other thing I have seen is that our expectations of the rewards of hard work are almost always exaggerated.  Everyone does this.  We see the hard work we put towards a project at work but someone else gets recognized. 

But we are incredibly biased.  We only see it from our perspective.

I have worked with people who felt disrespected from their boss because they didn’t get a promotion.  When I look at their work, I see them barely doing enough to keep their job.  They call off.  They fight with everyone.  They always feel they are right and feel entitled due to something (e.g. like their education, experience, intelligence etc.).

Sure there are a few positives but nothing compared to what a boss would want to see in order to give them a promotion.  But they only see the positives and don’t see a single negative.  They are biased.   

So if you feel that even though you worked hard and did everything possible to succeed and still got a negative outcome, then start to realize that there is always more to the story than your perspective.  Keep working to improve. Uncover weaknesses and then change them to strengths. 

Doing this over and over will start to change your behavior and will change the outcomes.  As the outcomes change, it will give you more reason to keep at it. 

So don’t start or keep perpetuating a negative feedback loop that will create a mental prison that you won’t realize you can escape from.  Realize you are holding the key but that you can’t keep following the same path or you will keep getting to the same location.