Breaking out of the old you

Who we are

Who we are is a combination of the way we think, the actions we take, and the things we believe. 

Who you were is who you’ve been, and who you are is who you will be.

The most important thing in making lasting changes is to make a concerted effort to catch yourself and adjust when you find yourself taking actions that contradict your dreams.

Auto-pilot

Having an auto-pilot function in life is huge. To me, this is a state of mind where we don’t need to use our full brain power, so we don’t. The times where we’re simply performing actions without having to think about them. The most classic example for me would be driving. Have you ever “zoned out” while driving only to snap out of it and realize you hadn’t really been paying attention? That’s what I’m describing.

In the past, I’ve struggled with anxiety. I would get invited to go places and even though a part of me wanted to go, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. One of the best ways I’ve found to deal with this is to remind myself that the resistance I’m feeling in that moment of having to decide, is the peak. I’ve gone through this enough times to know that to be true. If I just bite the bullet and force myself to go, I almost always have a good time and never regret doing it. 

So for me, the trick is to be able to override the auto-pilot – which is easier said than done. 

Auto-pilot override 

Sometimes my brother Alex will ask if I want to go do something and I’ll instinctively decline. I won’t even really consider it and I think this was part of the anxiety and avoidance. What I’ve found is that if I take the time to really think about it and address any concerns I might have, I normally find that I don’t have a good reason not to. The problem is when we have a bunch of potential issues or unknowns that we don’t want to think through, it can seem overwhelming and deter us from evening trying.

Another problem for me is that I’m still at a point where if I don’t actively decide to go, my default is to avoid. Unfortunately, if you catch me on auto-pilot and invite me to do something, there’s still a good chance I’ll still auto-decline. It’s just funny because when I catch it in the act, I generally rethink the situation and come to a new decision. I’ve gotten much better about this over the years and I’m sure to keep improving.

I just need to ask myself: did I actually listen to the question? Do I really not want to go? What are the reasons I shouldn’t? What caused the auto-pilot response? Or was it deep focus? 

Which brings me to my next point.

Deep focus or flow state

I find that a lot of my auto-pilot responses come from being interrupted from a deep focus or flow state. 

This can be writing, video games, climbing, running, music, videos, anything that fully captivates my attention.

When you’re a beginner, everything is new. You’re trying to learn and hold on to basic ideas and techniques. It requires a significant amount of focus to not look completely clueless. This is an example of what I call deep focus – when you’re using the majority of your brain power and concentration in the moment. Flow state is similar but slightly different. Being in a state of flow is to be so wrapped up in what you’re doing that you lose all sense of time. 

I see deep focus more as specific activity and flow state more as a holistic state of being. 

However, as you improve and progress, the amount of focus required for these basic skills decreases and additional brain-power is freed up. 

There’s a book called The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. He’s a chess grandmaster and Tai Chi world champion. In his book, he discusses how he got to the top of two highly competitive disciplines and explains some of the concepts that helped him to do so. One of the concepts that I’ve noticed most in my own competitive pursuits is something he calls “making smaller circles.” 

Making smaller circles

The main idea of making smaller circles is the more repetitions you do of something, the more comfortable you become, and the less you have to think about it. 

Once you’ve done something a thousand times, you know it inside and out – at least the fundamentals. If you understand the basic mechanics and the fundamentals, that means it’s time to go deeper. Because once you develop this level of comprehension, the basics require less brain-power, which allows you to focus on the more advanced stuff. 

Take dribbling a basketball as an example. When you’re first learning, you need to pay full attention. You have to go through and master the basics of how to bounce the ball, footwork, learn to do it while moving, etc., before you can move on to between the legs or behind the back. We can all appreciate this idea that once you’ve mastered the basics, you gain a feel for it. You no longer have to think about them, because you can feel them. This is how you know it’s time to move on.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” -Bruce Lee

This is the road to mastery. 

We can use this newfound brain-power to break actions down into micro-movements – to see and make slight adjustments invisible to the untrained eye. 

Making smaller circles.

You can picture it as added layers of complexity. You must be able to synthesize the last layer’s complexity into your abilities before you can move onto the next. Some top performers can tell you in exact detail what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they’re adjusting. Others aren’t able to verbalize it quite as well, but you can see that they understand it intuitively and adjust appropriately. These are the types of leveling wars going on at the pinnacle of high-level competition.

All together now

Making smaller circles, changing who you are, becoming who you want to be. There’s a central theme to all of these concepts. 

They all take time

And they’re slow-moving. In the beginning, not only will you have to think about it, but you’ll probably have to force yourself to do it. One foot in front of the other, day after day. Until eventually when things click.

I think Jim Collins’ concept of the flywheel effect illustrates my beliefs about making long-lasting and deeply formed changes.

“Picture a huge, heavy flywheel—a massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, 2 feet thick, and weighing about 5,000 pounds. Now imagine that your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible. Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first. You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster, and with continued great effort, you move it around a second rotation. You keep pushing in a consistent direction. Three turns … four … five … six … the flywheel builds up speed … seven … eight … you keep pushing … nine … ten … it builds momentum … eleven … twelve … moving faster with each turn … twenty … thirty … fifty … a hundred. Then, at some point—breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in in your favor, hurling the flywheel forward, turn after turn … whoosh! … its own heavy weight working for you. You’re pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster. Each turn of the flywheel builds upon work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort. A thousand times faster, then ten thousand, then a hundred thousand. The huge heavy disk flies forward, with almost unstoppable momentum.” – Jim Collins

Full article: https://www.jimcollins.com/concepts/the-flywheel.html

To me, this illustrates the struggle, adversity, and consistent effort involved in making real change. The momentum signifies the new default. The breakthrough where you stop having to work against something, and you start getting to work with it.

This is what it looks like after breaking out of the old you. 

I imagine, anyway.

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