Note from Jonathan: Sometimes it seems like your mind just runs wild with abandon. And to make matters worse, it seems like everyone and everything around you is constantly fighting your attention.
So, how do you win the battle for your mind? Enter Tom Morkes, a man that jumps out of helicopters for a living and spends his time geeking out on neuroscience and how it affects human behavior. Tom is a Trailblazer graduate, a PTE lifetime member and an incredibly smart guy with a lot of wisdom to offer in this post (there’s a special call to action you should really pay attention to at the end). But don’t take my word for it.
Read this post thoroughly, bookmark it and read it again. Then use it to win the battle for your mind.
Take it away, Tom…
Did you know there is a battle being waged for your mind? It’s an inner creative war — a war of nerves and neurons — and you’re the leader of the insurgent force trying to create your life’s work.
If you want to win, you’ll need to understand:
- the battlefield on which you fight
- the enemy forces arrayed against you trying to destroy your creative vision
- how to fight an unconventional war against these forces so you can start, finish and ship your great project.
In other words, you must learn to fight like a Brain Map Insurgent.
A warning: This war is a lifetime of creative battles. There are no shortcuts, tricks, or magical genies. Only you can do the hard, creative work, day in and day out, to create your life’s work.
You may (and probably will) experience obstacles, setbacks, and failure.
Good. Let’s get started.
Your brain is composed of billions of neurons.
These neurons form complex networks where they send signals back and forth to communicate important information. They’re responsible for how the brain functions, how we experience touch, taste, and other senses, and — most importantly — how we experience pain and pleasure.
Everything we do affects the brain. Whether we perform physical or mental actions, learn a new movement, or experience anything through our senses, we are literally changing the neural pathways in our brain.
The actions we perform more often, the movements we practice more consistently, and the senses we employ more frequently control more brain map territory.
Since there is only so much territory to go around, our brain is in a perpetual state of conflict.
The Enemy is the Army of Bad Habits you’ve accumulated over the years, building and expanding its empire one brain map territory at a time.
For most people, the Army of Bad Habits controls most of our brain map space.
Instead of losing weight through consistent, healthy eating, we binge on ice cream and give up altogether (I‘ve already broken the diet once, so…); instead of writing every morning, we sleep in (I’ll catch up tonight…); instead of bootstrapping that business to profitability, the first batch of products is imperfect and we scrap the project and move onto something else (that other business idea seems easier and more lucrative anyway…).
If you don’t fight back, the Army of Bad Habits will dominate your life and keep you from creating your life’s work.
If you thought this inner creative war didn’t exist, think again.
The Brain Map Insurgent
The Brain Map Insurgent is the entrepreneur, artist, writer, creator, designer, warrior, or leader who understands success requires discipline; who recognizes that to create your life’s work means forming the right habits; who does the hard, creative work, day after day, because it does matter.
Without good habits, our desires, goals and projects fail before they start. And that is exactly why you must win this war: because your desires, goals and projects do matter.
But you are outnumbered and outgunned.
The only way you can win is to fight unconventionally.
—The Brain That Changes Itself
This is not a conventional war. It’s impossible to define the “frontline” of friendly forces; there are no defined boundaries.
The warzone is one vast battleground of neural trenches, and the Enemy controls just about everything. Each day, with every choice you make, you either claim neural territory, or the Enemy roots itself deeper into its already vast network of neural trenches.
You’re either becoming stronger or weaker; same with the Enemy. There is no neutrality in the brain.
The Battle for Self-Control
This war manifests itself as a battle for self-control.
Every time we repeat a bad habit, it gains more control over brain-map territory. The territory expands and the territorial lines strengthen. Thus, the bad habit is reinforced and becomes stronger.
On the flipside, you have good habits you want to strengthen (workout more, eat healthier, learn a new language, write every day, etc.), but these good habits are fewer and weaker than your bad habits, so it’s impossible to gain brain map territory by force.
If you try to use your willpower to win a battle with the Enemy, you will lose every time.
Fighting Like a Brain Map Insurgent
Most of us want desperately to build good habits, but we’re fighting decades of bad habit.
By now, our maps are almost entirely controlled by our bad habits. Trying to re-conquer the territory is a serious undertaking, something that takes more than a day and more than good intentions.
To take back territory, you need to play by the rules of the Brain Map Insurgent:
1) Start small and “prep the battlefield”
Don’t try to regain control over every territory at once. It won’t happen. You’ll lose focus and your bad habits will crush you.
Instead, focus on one specific area you want to improve. Use the power of concentrated effort to break through enemy lines in order to gain a foothold before you move onto something else.
Once you decide to focus on one habit, make sure you “prep the battlefield” (as in, setup your environment so it’s easy to do the good habit and hard to do the bad habit).
For example, if you want to eat healthier, start by getting rid of junk food in your house. That includes ALL the junk food in your house (sorry, no hiding snacks). Next, go shopping for healthy food and only buy what you want to put in your body.
When you’ve prepped the battlefield like this, you’ve made it easy to eat healthy (the healthy food is right there in your kitchen), and hard to eat unhealthy (you have to go out of your way to find unhealthy food).
For the first few weeks, focus all your effort on gaining control of this territory before moving on to something else.
2) Be consistent
The only way to break through Enemy lines and expand friendly territory is through consistent, daily action for a minimum of three weeks. A minimum of 21 days is the amount of time it takes for the neural pathways to strengthen and for the action to become muscle memory.
Creating good habits requires a minimum of 21 consistent days of positive action.
After three weeks, it doesn’t mean the new muscle memory becomes effortless habit. It simply means you’ve developed strong synapse connections, allowing you to more easily repeat the activity without expending conscious energy (think autopilot).
Because this action is easier to do automatically, you allow yourself more emotional energy to devote to creating other good habits.
A habit never becomes fully automatic. If not practiced, it will degrade. So make sure to keep performing the new habit you just created. Be consciously aware of your choices for as long as you care to grow in a positive way.
3) Expand topographically
Brain maps are topographical, meaning the portions of the body’s surface that are close together are mapped close together in the brain.
When we perform an action that requires multiple motor movements (or multiple sensory inputs), the brain maps these neural pathways close together. Running, for example, requires multiple inputs from various body parts, but the composite action is mapped locally on the brain.
You can apply this knowledge by leveraging actions to create habit.
Have you created a habit of waking up early? Expand on this good habit by sitting down for 10 minutes to write before work. Your brain will associate early rising with writing, making the action into a habit easier than if you tried it from scratch.
After 21 days, expand topographically again: Wake up a bit earlier, or write a bit longer.
The key is consistent, small change that builds on itself.
By expanding topographically, you harness the power of your brain’s plasticity and use it to your benefit.
The Habit of Starting and the Art of Instigating
Understanding the brain, how neural pathways strengthen and weaken, and how focus and repetition expand brain map territory is the science behind The Art of Instigating and its principle habit: starting.
Starting is the quintessential success habit.
There are very real neural pathways that develop your brain map territory and the habit of starting (like the habit of working out or eating healthy) requires that we practice every day to maintain and expand that territory.
Every successful person in history developed the habit of starting; they made instigating a way of life.
If you don’t develop the habit of starting (beginning before you’re ready, trying again even after a setback, starting even when you’re scared) you won’t be successful — period.
The habit of starting is the key attribute to fighting like a Brain Map Insurgent, winning your inner creative battles, and creating your life’s work.
Your life’s work isn’t built in a day. You create your life’s work one day at a time, one habit at a time, one choice at a time. Click to tweet.
About the Author: Tom writes about instigating, jumping out of helicopters, and creating your life’s work at tommorkes.com. And just for Paid to Exist readers, Tom is giving away an exclusive compilation of books and guides for free (access the private link here). Tom is a West Point graduate, Iraq War veteran, and has lead troops in combat. Every team is waiting for someone to take point, to lead, to be the first to jump out of the helicopter. They’re waiting. Are you ready?