Inner Demons and Mental Habits

I’ve been buried in a couple of big projects the past few months, developing and/or learning new presentations for tough audiences with rigorous standards. I needed a particularly strong and simple way to deal with the demons that drag me off task and threaten to sink my confidence.

Inspired by the book You Are Not Your Brain, about how to separate impulse from action, I’ve been experimenting with labeling my doubts and stumbling blocks as “mental habits”—noting them as habits when they rear their ugly heads.

In contrast to the split-screen strategy (which I still endorse!), this technique isn’t concerned with the content of the thoughts. I simply acknowledge them as habits. Labeling creates distance; distance breaks the downward spiral.

Hm, just spent 20 minutes massaging one phrase…Habit! Imagining myself failing publicly…Habit! Heart racing, skin prickling, as I try to focus…Habit!

I remembered to identify habits as habits some of the time. Although I’d have worked more efficiently if I’d noticed habits more often, remembering some of the time is real progress. I moved forward and met my deadlines without sacrificing too much sleep.

And the projects, um, succeeded beyond my wildest imaginings. Being afraid to trust past success? Worried that confidence will jinx future success? Habit!



  1. Eugene Chan says:

    Janet, would you recommend the book?

  2. Janet Bailey says:

    @Eugene – Yes, definitely. It’s easily digestible and has good insights on mindfulness and habit change. I don’t think the book uses the term “mental habits,” but it’s where I got the idea.

Leave a Reply