Living. Unlearning. Relearning. Empowering

Category: Attitudes

21 days as the Beginning of New Beginnings

Have you ever heard that it takes 21 days to change or set a habit? Have you tried it and has it worked?

It is a lie. The lie started in 1960 when the Dr. Maltz published his thoughts on behavior change in a book called Psycho-Cybernetics (audiobook). Dr. Maltz observed his patients and how long it took them to adjust to their new lives after an operation. He found that after a face altering operation, such as nose jobs, or scar-correcting surgery, it took patients about 21 days to see their new faces as part of their identity. Similarly, when a patient had an arm or a leg amputated, Dr. Maltz noticed that the patient would sense and react to a phantom limb for about 21 days. After 21 days, the patient adjusted to the new situation – still sensing the fantom limb, but not reacting to its existence.

Maltz wrote about these experiences – “these, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”

In later years, true to human nature, we removed the part that says “it requires a minimum of 21days…” and just started preaching that “it takes 21 days…”

We really do want to have easy answers.

“How many days does it take?” we ask.

We don’t want to hear: “I don’t know.” We cannot admit that we don’t know. That is why we love a God we haven’t seen and entrust our entire existence to him. The answer to HOW did we start to exist and WHY did we start to exist is:

“I don’t know.”

The answer to HOW do we solve our political problems and create development that includes all is:

“I don’t know.”

That is not acceptable for majority of us.

I still like the 3 weeks mark for changing or introducing a new habit. When I was learning to drive, I found a video clip encouraging me to drive daily for 3 weeks. This video also encouraged reading driving literature and listen to driving courses daily.

The idea is to repeat an act or behavior daily, and flood the entire brain and existence with whatever you are learning or unlearning.

What this does is that we start to see patterns in the nature of whatever we are trying to learn. Things that didn’t make sense before connect to something else and it all starts to make sense.

It can a long time to break a habit or learn a new habit because sometimes, we are not ready. Therefore, we are fighting the change. Have you ever felt the interconnection between your identity and your habits/action in the moment? Often, we are afraid that if we change, we don’t know who we become. When I moved to a new country, it took me 3 years to feel that I could make a new home in the new country. In these 3 years, I lived as if this move it was a temporary state. My friends and I spoke about “when I came back…”

Once I detached my identity from the past, I started to feel a change happening. Suddenly, I was just a student in a foreign country. I was a heartbroken girl trying to get over a love. Because my heart-breaker was in Nairobi, I was no longer going back to Nairobi. What if I was taking a walk and I met him in the streets with someone else? That wouldn’t do. My future was not going to involve friends who were on his side and because we had so many mutual friends, suddenly I was almost friendless. Which was god-sent because daily conversation with others and with myself changed. I started to recruit, vet and admit new friends and I removed my past from my future plans.

From that day forward, my 21 days towards a new life began.

Within 21 days, I had made the decision to make new friends. To block telephone numbers and to travel to a new destination that year. Once I made up my mind, 21 days became days of setting the plan into action. After 21 days, life became all about repeating my resolve, setting new goals and strengthening new friendships.

That is how I believe 21 days works. Not to make a complete change, but to start the process of change and to start practicing the change on a daily basis.

Awareness – the simplicities and complexities

In previous posts, we have written about Shame and we have written about Harmony. This week, we move on to nr. 3 of the SHAMAR wheel of mental health (Shameless, Harmonious, Aware/Attitude, Motivated, Accountable, Resourceful).

Awareness is one of the building stones to good mental health and in this context, awareness comes in 2 different packages:

  1. Self-awareness –  involves being mindful of your thoughts and feelings, your coping mechanisms, your strengths and vulnerabilities, and most importantly the values that motivate your goals and actions.
  2. Surroundings awareness – is the state or ability to perceive, feel, or be conscious of what is going on around you, the objects near you or the feelings, often referred to as ‘sensing’ you are experiencing.

1. Self Awareness

There are 2 sides to self-awareness

a) Thoughts & emotions

b) beliefs & attitudes

a) Thoughts & emotions

The best advice I ever received about self awareness was: give a name to your thoughts and emotions. If well-learnt, this identifying of thoughts and emotions allows you to observe thoughts and feelings as they occur. Which in turn means that you do not react to thoughts or emotions, you let them pass, you reflect afterwards, and then you react if you need to.  This was so good because as soon as I started, I had control over whatever it was that was affecting me. If I was angry, I could just say to the other person and to myself “I am angry at the moment, I need a minute to calm down.” This decreased the conflict inside me, and reduced the conflict with other people.

This is also a good way to meet other people’s definitions of your emotions. When somebody asks: “why are you so angry?

You are already aware that you are not angry, you are just sad. So you can reply calmly: “I am not angry. I am sad because xyz.”

To learn to understand and control your thoughts and emotions, train yourself to keep asking yourself

  • what you are thinking? and
  • what you are feeling?

If you wish to go further, you can ask yourself why 3 times.

  • Why am I thinking this? Why? Why?
  • Why am I feeling this? Why? why?

b) Beliefs & attitudes

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This is about knowing who you are as a person and what traits define your character.

Beliefs – are ideas that a person holds as being true. A potential belief sits with the person until they accept it as truth, and adopt it as part of their individual belief system. A belief can come from different sources, including:

  • a person’s own experiences or experiments
  • the acceptance of cultural and societal norms (e.g. religion)
  • what other people say (e.g. education, conditioning or mentoring).

Attitudes – are the mental dispositions people have towards others people and the current circumstances before making decisions that result in behaviour. People primarily form their attitudes from underlying values and beliefs. However, factors which may not have been internalised as beliefs and values can still influence a person’s attitudes at the point of decision-making. Typical influences include the desire to please, political correctness, convenience, peer pressure, and or psychological stressors

2. Surroundings awareness

You know how something happens to you and you later say “I sensed it!” meaning that you sensed it even before it happened. Or how you dream about something and it happens? This is part of Surroundings awareness. Your mind and inner eye caught something, and stored it, but you did not digest it and understand it. So the event is not surprising, you had expected it, although you do not know why. The best surroundings-awareness is the one where you:

  • are conscious of the things you see/feel/sense around you
  • you trust your feelings about things and people
  • you understand the things you see/feel/sense
  • you can act (make a decision) on the things you see/feel/sense

This is the true meaning of being woke. Or as we say in sheng kaa riitho. This helps you to almost predict things and therefore avoid the things you do not want to participate in.

For example you know that a certain friend is behaving strangely and it is hurting you. If you are aware of the things this person is doing that are hurting you, you can avoid situations where this person acts in certain ways. It saves you from anger, frustration, petty fights etc which are not good for you in the long run.

Any thoughts or emotions on this post?

Please comment below!

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