At the end of a recent lecture that I was giving in Palm Springs, California, as I was having lunch with several people, a man came up to me and said, “My wife loves your work and will be at your next Week Long Retreat in Cancun.”
“Is that so?” I responded. “Will you be joining her?”
“I can’t,” he replied matter-of-factly. “I have severe ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder] and I could never pay attention that long. I’m a mess.” I couldn’t help but notice the way he accentuated the word ‘severe.’
When he finished speaking, I politely asked him, “Were you at my lecture today?”
I want to draw your attention to this seemingly innocuous exchange because it’s a perfect example of a person placing themselves in an imaginary box of limitation. That box contains an unconscious belief attached to some past experience or event, and its only purpose is to prevent us from truly changing. When such an affirmation is spoken into existence, the correlating emotion conditions a person’s brain and body into that belief. It’s actually a very simple formula: the stronger the emotion the person feels, the more they remember the thought; and the more they remember the thought, the more it becomes an affirmation. This is the process that programs us into subconscious beliefs. When we maintain that state of being over time, the more we do it, the more such thoughts and feelings become automatic and unconscious.
When this process of affirming thoughts happens enough times, the almost Pavlovian response becomes a person’s identity, because now the brain and body have conditioned the response into a seemingly irreversible state of being. The person is essentially declaring to themselves and the world, this is the way I identify as myself. The reality is that they’ve conditioned themselves over and over with a stimulus and response, an image and an emotion, and a thought and a feeling. For this man, the result was that every time he found himself in a public situation where he had to learn, the voice in his head said, I have attention problems and I'm nervous and can't relax. I can't slow my brain down. I can't relax my body because I am so vigilant, nervous, and anxious.
When the man finished listing the reasons why he can’t pay attention, I finally said, “Is that your daily affirmation?” He looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and confusion.
“Is that what you tell your brain and body every day, that the way you function in the world is because you believe you have a condition—a belief based on you identifying with your past experience of you? If that’s the case, then you must believe on some level that the condition is unchangeable.”
I continued. “But what if you actually thought there was a possibility that you could get better, and you really became consciously aware of that thought? If you became aware of how you speak, if you paid more attention to how you act, and if you fully recognized the feeling of desperation that’s associated with how you think, act, and feel [which in my lecture minutes earlier he had just learned comprises his personality, which creates his personal reality]—then maybe you could start thinking that you actually can learn.”
“Tell me more,” he said. Now he was paying attention.
“What if you stopped believing that you have ADD and started dedicating 15 minutes of your morning to learning something new? Once you saw that this was possible, instead of repeating the internal mantra I have severe ADD, you could actually tell yourself that you can learn? And all you would have to do is be present and repeat it enough times. Let’s take it one step further,” I continued.
“What if you started sharing what you learned with your friends, your wife, and your kids? What if you rehearsed it in your mind enough times with the thought that you had to know the information so well that you could teach it to someone? And then what if you started anticipating the way you would feel if you began learning a little bit of new information every day? Would you not then replace that unworthiness or insecurity with the feeling of confidence and self-satisfaction—with trust and a greater level of wholeness?”
It’s a simple formula: A new thought (I can learn) leads to a new choice (I make the time to learn), which endorses a new action (I sit with myself and make the effort to learn something), which will create a new experience (I share the information with my family and friends), which will lead to a new feeling (confidence or satisfaction).
Towards the end of our conversation, I shared with the man that I had friends who had huge global podcasts and who had created enormously successful companies. They too were diagnosed with ADD, but instead of repeating the affirmation I have attention problems or severe ADD, they changed their thought to I can take my time and learn, and I can recall information; I’ll actually learn something new every day and then share it with others, so that I’ll feel good about myself.
The man just nodded as the corners of his mouth turned slightly upwards.
The affirmations we repeat to ourselves on a daily basis are the programs we live by, and they can either aid us or inhibit us from creating, growing, and experiencing new things in our lives. What I want you to take from this and into whatever arenas of your life this applies, is that this person’s boundary or limitation—an unconscious belief continuously affirmed (a thought that you keep thinking over and over again)—was based on a past memory of himself. Once this imaginary box of limitation was placed around the belief, it stunted his growth and limited his opportunities for ever making true change.
So the next time you affirm your state of being by thinking a thought and experiencing a feeling with the intensity of the corresponding emotion, while you pronounce yourself as I am…, I have…, I can’t, just remember: with that belief you will be programming your brain and body into a future (limited or unlimited) and that belief will become your identity.
If you can catch yourself and become conscious of your unconscious self, that’s a victory. It’s you becoming aware of you. When you do that, ask yourself if you still want to believe that thought. If not, think instead about a way to change over time, as well as how you would feel if you were that future person. Do it enough times and you will become someone else.