Changing my Brain's Habits

Michael Loren

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It all started when I listened to a podcast featuring an interview with Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey said that there was one book and one book only that changed his life — The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino. He said that he read the book every day for ten months and it changed the trajectory of his career.

I was in! I wanted to change my life forever! I ordered the book immediately from Amazon (interestingly enough, it was only $8) and a few days later, a TINY book arrived at my doorstep. Ten months, I thought? He must be a slow reader.

First of all, my life doesn’t suck. But, being the self-improvement nerd that I am, I want to always improve. I want my words to reach and inspire millions if not billions of people and if a tiny old book can get me one inch closer to that goal, then bring it on! By the way, I promise this article isn’t a book review. Just hang in with me and keep reading.

The first seven chapters of the book (only 50 pages) set up a story of a cattle boy in 1st century A.D. who aspires to be the greatest salesman in the world. He is tasked by his boss to read a series of scrolls in order to succeed. In the remaining chapters, each chapter is a “scroll” that the reader is instructed to read three times per day every day for 30 days. Ohhh, that whole nonfiction-within-a-fiction book trick. Why not, I thought. It’s worth a try.

The first “scroll” is about two main ideas — “I will not fail” and “I will create good habits to replace the bad”. Duh, I thought. James Clear, Tony Robbins, Grant Cardone, Tim Ferriss, Charles Duhigg . . . I mean, that’s BASIC advice from practically everyone in the self-help community. Everybody knows that, I thought.

Regardless, I decided to follow the instructions in the book and read this first seven-page scroll chapter a few times per day. Here’s where the interesting transformation began to happen. After a few days, I began to believe the words on these pages.

As cheesy as they were, I would think to myself, I’m going to persevere right now rather than giving up and watching reality television because I am not a person who fails. “Yet, within my allotted time I must practice the art of patience for nature acts never in haste.” I WILL PERSEVERE! Sure, I believed this concept before I got the book, but the repetition of reading it numerous times every day was creating a fantastic new rut in my brain.

Eureka! The magic of the book wasn’t in the words or the thinly veiled construct. The magic was in the repetition.

A study conducted by the University of Warwick says that we can hack our brains simply by repeating the same action or idea. Again, though, duh. Most if not all of us know this fact. We gain habits through repetition.

Here’s the thing that makes my experience with this book interesting (and successful). In reading something that is written in the second person, it’s like hearing someone ELSE telling you the things that you’re reading. I don’t know about you, but I tend to value other people’s advice over my own. (I know, I know — I’m working on that).

There’s a scientific reason for this, though. According to a scientific study detailed in Current Biology, the opinion of others has a huge impact on the valuation we place on things. We listen to other people and (often) we value what they have to say over our own thoughts.

I’ve seen this happen so often in my life. I get a new haircut that’s slightly different from my usual ‘do. I try telling myself over and over that it’s edgy and pretty. This idea doesn’t really stick until a friend or acquaintance tells me the same thing. THEN I believe it. (I’m not saying this is the right way to go, it’s just how I work).

So, if I read a book that tells me (in second person) that I will succeed and I will replace bad habits with good habits over time, I am more likely to believe it than if I just think the same thoughts.

There’s a little bit of magic in there, I think. Perhaps it isn’t a good thing to look outside yourself for inspiration or validation, but if you’re going to do it anyway, you might as well use it to your advantage!

So, if you need me, I’ll be slowly but surely changing my brain’s habits by reading the words of another person because I (like the conformist I am) tend to value the opinions of others over the opinions of myself.

Perhaps that’s something I should change, but until then, I’ll be replacing bad habits with good habits, reading this weird old book every day, and trying to trust myself a little bit more every day.

Is there anyone out there with me? What bad habits are you replacing with good? Also, anybody read this weird book? I wouldn’t say it’s good, but it’s inspirational.

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Professional writer and journalist with concentration in data analysis. I specialize in interpreting data to give you unbiased, understandable information related to the state of California.

Los Angeles, CA
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