I came across a wonderfully brain-clumsy post on LinkedIn today. “13 Things You Should Give Up If You Want To Be Successful” it was called. It listed all the things you really should abandon:

1. Give Up On The Unhealthy Lifestyle
2. Give Up The Short-term Mindset
3. Give Up On Playing Small
4. Give Up Your Excuses
5. Give Up The Fixed Mindset
6. Give Up Believing In The “Magic Bullet”
7. Give Up Your Perfectionism
8. Give Up Multi-tasking
9. Give Up Your Need to Control Everything
10. Give Up On Saying YES To Things That Don’t Support Your Goals
11. Give Up The Toxic People
12. Give Up Your Need To Be Liked
13. Give Up Your Dependency on Social Media & Television

It may sound intuitively right: Give up what you don’t want. But from a brain perspective, it is not. Rather it is brain-clumsy to “quit” things. If you want your brain to help you create the change – you need to turn all these 13 things upside down and define which paths you want to strengthen instead (say “Focus” or “Do one thing at a time” rather than “Quit multitasking” etc. etc.). From then on, you need to gently and consistently redirect your attention and behaviour to walk down that path when you are not.

Much self-help advice is futile and counterproductive because this fundamental principle of the brain is unknown to most people. The essence of self-directed neuroplasticity is that we can change the “wiring” of our brains via the way we think and the things we focus on.

Thus, it becomes essential to primarily keep in mind what we want to strengthen (and not what we want to weaken, delete or abandon). The principle of “the ironic boomerang” implies that the brain notices the specific words in a sentence (such as “perfectionism” in “Give up your perfectionism”) and seems to ignore or simply miss the abstract ones (such as “give up”) thereby nurturing the things and habits we really want less of. Also, by staring at (say) perfectionism we miss the chance of identifying and walking down much more useful paths (such as “inner calm”, “flexibility” and “the oh well ability”).

Good intentions do not equal successful implementations. In fact, humans often find that the road towards a change of habit is a lot bumpier and filled with stones than they initially imagined. It is often down to our fundamental misunderstanding that you can “give up”, “quit” and “abandon” and that “stop doing” something will ever be a sufficiently relevant order to give to the brain. It’s not. The brain needs you to paint the picture of where you want it to go.

You can view the blog post that inspired me to write this here.