I saw a video on Instagram recently talking about one of the main reasons we self-sabotage is that our brain seeks out the familiar.
If you want to change, make progress, or move forward in a direction that is different from your norm, you have to interrupt the habit of seeking comfort and instead figure out how to overwrite the conditioning of who you’ve been so you can focus on who you’re becoming.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it, when it’s stated in seven simple words: Overwrite the conditioning of who you’ve been.
But, of course, it’s not easy.
It’s really fucking hard.
It’s hard because the conditioning of who we have been causes us to act without thinking. We are on autopilot. We know what feels good. We know what’s easy. We know when we are comfortable.
Not only do we know what feels good, what’s easy, what’s comfortable, but WE LIKE IT.
Why would we willingly do something that doesn’t feel good? That’s hard? That’s uncomfortable?
Well, as we know, that is where growth comes from. That is where we become the best version of ourselves. That is where progress happens.
But here’s the thing—and this is the best part, if you ask me—we can RE-condition ourselves. Yep. That’s right. We can overwrite the conditioning of our past selves by reconditioning ourselves.
It’s not, I promise.
Just think about it. Pretty much ALL of our conditioning just happens.
We associate certain smells and sounds with a person or place or time in our life. That’s why homemade spaghetti sauce always takes you back to your grandma’s kitchen, because she would make it every time you visited. That’s why that one brand of chapstick ports you right back to highschool, because you always had a tube of it in your pocket and reapplied it countless times every day during your four-year tenure. That’s why that one Elton John song always reminds you of the way your dad sang at the top of his lungs on road trips, all while using the dashboard as his personal drum kit.
You have this conditioning simply by way of living your life.
But what if you curated your conditioning?
You can decide to create associations between something you want to do or accomplish and sounds, smells, or sensations.
This is one of the big reasons that I focus on incorporating ritual into a writing (or any creative) practice: because we can intentionally condition ourselves.
Want something to help you get out of funk? Play a song that makes you feel good over and over for a month while you think about—or, better yet, engage in—an activity that brings you extreme joy. Before long, all you have to do is play that song to put yourself in the same mood as if you were doing that activity. You can do the same thing with music as the trigger for “being in the mood” to write.
Want to look forward to your writing (or creative) practice? Start associating it with a smell or sensation that makes you feel good. Light a candle, burn some incense, run a diffuser with your favorite essential oil. Sit and breathe for one minute or longer. Do these things as the first task of your creative session and over time they become the signal to your mind and body: it’s time to write.
Listen, the first time I heard of this concept—of conditioning myself—I thought it was a bunch of bullshit. Seriously. That’s why it’s called “conditioning,” right? Because we are influenced by external forces that are beyond our control.
But then I tried it. I started conditioning myself with smells (essential oils), sensations (body movement, like yoga), and sound (music—just ask my husband Jeremy, who gets sick of hearing the same song I’m playing over and over again).
And I’m here to tell you: it works.
I only need to hear the first few bars of the song “Good Life” by One Republic and I can’t help but smile. I sit with my eyes closed and breathe for three to five minutes before I start writing, and immediately my mind is calm and ready to focus. I turn on my diffuser with one of my favorite essential oils, and, no matter where I am, I feel as safe as I do in my own home.
If you are struggling with your writing, your book, or any other creative project, I invite you to try incorporating ritual into your practice as a way to overwrite the conditioning of your past self.