Updated: May 28
I never really thought about the idea of breaking mental barriers until my wife and I got into a big fight a while back. The argument started because I had a harsh tone when I asked her to do something. Like most arguments, it started small and turned into something neither of us expected. We both said things we didn't mean and even brought up the word divorce. I walked away, thinking about how it even happened.
I got two revelations. The first is that most struggles and conflicts you face start as a mental barrier. If one average person can do something, why couldn't you? Why can one person eat a certain food they don't like and not gag, yet the other will? The second is that my brain isn't in charge of what I say or do; it is merely a tool to use, just like my hands and legs are. I am the one in charge of me, my soul. I know it sounds complicated, but if you think about it, your brain doesn't control you; you control your brain. Or try to control your brain anyway.
If I am in charge, why am I letting myself say and do things that I don't believe are good? It turns out that every time we think and do something, our brain builds a path called a neural network. The more you think and do repetitively, the stronger these paths become. This is how a habit is formed. My wife and I developed strong neural networks of getting angry when we perceived the other one giving attitude or being rude. We would instantly become defensive and most likely end up in an argument.
Our brains are a very complex and powerful tool. If we don't know how to use it, it can cause our loved ones or us great harm. Imagine if all I listened to was music that talked about violence, played violent video games, and watched violent movies or TV shows. Wouldn't this build neural pathways that would cause me to think in violent and angry ways? Would that cause me to have violent tendencies? What about if I thought that people hated me and didn't want to be by me all the time and I believed it? Would I be building neural pathways that would lead me to be social or to be reclusive? Reclusive right! It works whether you think positively or negatively in any way.
Sometimes we allow our brains to think irrational thoughts like this and then believe them. Our brain is connected to our body, so naturally, our body follows what our brain is telling us. Like in my case, when my wife perceives that I have a harsh tone, she gives one back, and then I respond the same way. It's a never-ending cycle, whether we are really talking to each other harshly or not.
What I came up with is that I was mentally weak in this area. I was in the Marine Corps infantry and deployed to Iraq twice, and endured many mentally challenging events. I was mentally tough in some areas but fragile in others. What do we do when we want to get physically stronger? We gradually increase the intensity or resistance level of the activity. In other words, we push ourselves to limits that aren't comfortable to get stronger. I thought, why couldn't we do the same thing with the brain.
This led me to think about all the areas that I was mentally weak and how I could push myself to overcome. I immediately thought about food. Ever since I was a kid, always I wouldn't say I liked mushrooms, onions, and olives. To get rid of these neural pathways that caused me to be angry and say things that I didn't want, I would force my brain to do what I (my soul) wanted. I will eat the food, so my brain and body have to do what I tell them to do. Regardless of any pain or discomfort, I may feel.
So I started eating things that I would normally avoid. I ate onions, mushrooms, olives, fish eggs, sushi, Carolina Reapers, etc. The first few times eating them, I gagged and almost threw up. I did throw up for a few of them. I told myself not to make any faces and not to gag. Some were easier than others. I threw up with the fish eggs and sushi. It took me three different tries to eat the sushi without gagging or throwing up. I made videos to document the battle. Maybe someday I will upload them. Over time, it got easier and easier.
One main issue I found was my pride. This is a huge mental barrier for most people. I never really thought that I had a pride issue until I started doing these exercises. It turns out that wanting to win an argument is pride. Wanting to "prove a point" is pride. Remembering other people's shortcomings is pride. If I truly wanted to control my mind and do what I thought is good, I had to forgive and forget other people's downfalls and purposefully lose arguments. My goal is to love people and live in peace. If I truly wanted to do that, I needed to be a servant. That is to put other people's needs and wants before my own.
I found that these simple exercises helped tremendously. It helped me become more aware of my thoughts and helped to control what came out of my mouth, so no matter what my wife said or how she said it, I was calm and in control. I became a lot more patient, and as a father of 8-year-old twins, I needed it! It made me more confident and gave me more control of my life. It helped me become a better leader for my family and in my business.
I didn't just eat food to break mental barriers. I did whatever made me uncomfortable. If I were feeling tired, I would get up and do something. If I weren't feeling talkative, I would talk to someone. I would even purposely walk outside in just a t-shirt in the middle of Minnesota winter. I wanted to prove that I was in control, not my mind or my body. And it worked.
Until I stopped doing it, that is... It turns out the same principle applies to lifting weights. You get weaker if you stop exercising. I figured I was strong enough, so I stopped doing the exercises. Within a month or so, I found myself thinking and reacting the way I did before I even started the journey. I was a little better, but not by much.
Have you ever heard the term "generational curse?" This is a real thing. We are genetically inclined to be like our parents. Not just in our height, looks, and diseases, but our thinking patterns as well. If your parents were really fearful or negative, you would have that in your genetic makeup. Carolyn Leaf is is a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist that teaches about this. The thinking patterns we develop over the course of our life get passed down to our children whether we like it or not, even if they were taken from birth and lived with another family.
Carolyn teaches that we have the ability to change the wiring (neuropathways) in our brain despite what genetics are meant to be like. The key is actually to try and change. It's easy to sit on the couch and not exercise, just like it's easy not to change your thinking patterns. Our brains can do amazing things, but we are missing out if we don't know how to use them. We are in control (our soul), not our mind and body. We use our minds to tell our bodies what to do. Not the other way around.
When I realized that I went back to my old patterns, I started rechallenging myself. I ate even more Carolina Reaper peppers and did things that I didn't want to do. It didn't take too long, and I was back to where I was before and even better. I believe the key to life is to love others as yourself and not be lazy in anything you do. If you want to get better at anything in your life, you need to start in your mind.
Breaking mental barriers will help you reach your goals. Give it a try!