Do you remember that scene from Titanic where they first spot the iceberg in their path? They call down to the Captain of the ship to let him know and he calls over to the crewman to turn the wheel all the way to the side. “Is it all the way over?” he yells. “Yes sir, hard over!” comes the reply. The ship slowly starts to turn but because of it’s enormous size it takes a while for the ship to come around. In the end, the effort was too late as the Titanic scraped along the side of the iceberg, punching holes in the ship, leading to the sinking of the greatest ship ever built.
You are currently the captain of an equally enormous and incredible ship. But this ship’s grandeur isn’t due to it’s size as it is to it’s complexity. The ship you are trying to captain is your brain. Now you may be thinking, “Hold on. I don’t see how the 3 pounds of grey jello between my ears relates to the Titanic.” Let me explain by giving you an idea of the immensity of the human brain.
The human brain is one of the most complex materials we’ve ever discovered in the universe. The brain is built of hundreds of billions of cells called neurons and glia. Each one of these cells is as complicated as an entire city! Each cell contains the entire human genome and processes billions of molecules through them. These cells are all connected to each other in a network so complex that they have had to develop new kinds of mathematics to even try and quantify them. Just one of these cells makes about 10,000 connections. Given that there re billions of neurons, this means there are as many connections in a single cubic centimeter of brain tissue as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy!
Our brain produces two kinds of thought: conscious and subconscious. Our conscious thought is everything that we actively think about doing. Reaching down to pick up a pen, reading a book, answering a math question, or paying bills. The subconscious does all the rest: breathing, moving our muscles, making our heart beat. The subconscious also contains our emotions, beliefs and memories. The subconscious is 99.9999% of all our brain activity. That last 0.00001% is our conscious thought. Yet we try to control and maneuver our lives using this small bit of brain power.
Our conscious is like a tiny captain trying to steer an enormous ship (our subconscious).
Can our conscious thought successfully control our subconscious thought? Only for a short period of time. This is the main reason why people fail to drop addictive habits and behaviors. We can consciously decide to stop doing something for a period of time but eventually our conscious brain gets tired and the enormous subconscious returns to it’s path.
Luckily, we can change our subconscious. It doesn’t happen all at once but if we work at it, we can make sure our subconscious is working in our favor and pushing us towards success and happiness. When we work at a new behavior every day, we are slowly making new connections in our brain. We are paving new roads and pathways for our subconscious thoughts. Once those pathways are created, we will start to perform the new behavior without even thinking about it. At that point, it is called a habit. And that’s what we really are, a big bundle of habits.
Let me tie this all back together. Pretend you are the captain of the enormous ship. You look up and realize that your life is heading towards danger but it is still quite a ways away. You have the choice to start turning the wheel now or waiting until you get closer, trusting on the ability of the ship to turn quickly and avoid the obstacle. As we remember from the movie, you can’t wait until the last minute and then call for your conscious brain to change the momentum of the enormous subconscious. In the end, the giant ship will be slow to react and you will perilously hit the obstacle, leaving your boat in ruins. But if you can look on the horizon and decide you want to change your course of action, you can start earlier. By forming positive habits and actions you can gradually turn the wheel and guide the ship safely to a better course.
Today is a great day to look at your current course and find some things you’d like to improve upon. When you discover what they are, write down a goal to work on those things every day. As you do, your brain will start to build those connections that will allow you to continue on the path you want to be on. Before long, you won’t have to even think about it any more because your subconscious will be programmed for success.
See you at the helm!
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Dr. Kris Heap is a professional speaker teaching both companies and individuals how to form effective habits leading to greater success