Habits are interesting things. And good or bad, positive or negative, we are slaves to our habits.
All of us.
It is difficult to change habits, good or bad.
It’s almost impossible for successful people to fall into bad habits that will cause them to fail in the long-term.
Without a well constructed script, it’s darn tough for people who are in the throes of bad habits to get out of them to make room for good habits and behaviors..
Think about this: You still struggle with the things you did five years ago.
You are still good at the things you were good at five years ago.
Change is particularly difficult because you’re changing nonconscious habits.
You can “think” and have “will power” all you want in changing nonconscious behavior but if you fail to do a LOT of things right, you are facing a near impossible task.
You don’t consciously think about braking when you’re driving, you just do it. If you had to think about it, you wouldn’t be alive for long if you drive a car.
Nonconscious habits typically become nonconscious after constant repetition. These behaviors become ingrained and are more difficult to eradicate than when originally planted because they were almost always wired in with strong emotion.
What that means is that fears, bad habits, and most of our weaknesses are drilled in with specific actions and emotions….typically early in life…. and then repeated thousands of times during the course of life.
Maybe you stood in front of a group and were humiliated.
Happens all the time.
Whether it was by a group of kids, teachers or parents, or whoever doesn’t matter. You were humiliated.
The fear of getting back in front of a group and feeling those same feelings again is one that people will do just about anything to avoid.
The first time or two typically happen under duress. By then the habit of feeling humiliated is wired in.
No matter how friendly a future group might be…no matter how much… “positive support and encouragement” you might get, the fact is the feelings of humiliation or the panic or whatever, don’t go away.
And so it goes.
How do we find the solution?
Finding The Real Origin of Failure Is Part of the Solution
Understanding…remembering… where all these bad habits and difficult emotions came from can help you desensitize to them.
That means, the feelings of panic and humiliation CAN be eliminated.
Uncovering the causes of specific behaviors or habits, who we were “trying to be like,” and so forth, can be particularly useful in unhooking these habits decades later…and I’ll show you how you can do all of these things.
And you can forget what the gurus tell you: Change is TOUGH.
It’s hard to lose weight and keep it off. Period.
It’s hard to quit smoking for those who have a physical addiction. Period.
It’s hard for those who procrastinate to develop self-discipline. Period.
Hard…but not impossible.
In fact…just because something is “hard” doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It means it just requires a bit more thought and carefully designed effort.
Knowing HOW and WHY and WHEN these behaviors and habits were “wired in” makes the process of change go more smoothly, and typically a lot more quickly.
But again, it really is challenging to unhook nonconscious thoughts and behaviors.
When we are unaware not only of why we embrace or avoid certain things, but also are unaware of the fact that we are embracing or avoiding them, pinpointing the roots of our actions can be a difficult process.
(Read that again.)
Think back with me…
Childhood lessons don’t always come from our parents, and often not even the messages we received from them were intentionally placed there.
For example, if your parents raised you to be helpful to others, courteous to others, polite to others, and always giving…. you may have learned those lessons so well that the very idea of doing something for yourself makes you cringe – and you can only WONDER WHY….
FAILURE Manifests In Strange Ways!
We often walk through our entire lives wondering why doing simple things, things that might be fun or enjoyable…are so hard to do!!
In other words, you have an opportunity to do something that would be great or exciting, or fun….and you don’t do it… for some weird reason!
Yeah…you know too….
We’ll talk about those things later too….
Most people never consider that when they were kids, outside influences affected the creation of all these attitudes, behaviors, habits and beliefs.
Teachers, daycare workers or babysitters, school friends, even random adults in the grocery store may have had an impact on your behaviors and beliefs, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Though it is impossible to determine all of your childhood influences, you can give yourself a general idea of past events and personalities that shaped your current beliefs and then take real steps to change them.
Today I want to give you one brief exercise that will help you get started thinking about habits and their triggers.
Don’t be surprised if this exercise brings up some emotions. That’s to be expected…
Exercise: Connecting Your Influences
1. Starting with your parents, list the names of every person you can recall that you associated with during childhood in a single column down the left-hand side of a sheet of paper.
If you don’t know the name of a person, use a brief description such as “the lady at the end of the street with the loud little dog.” Include family, friends, teachers, caregivers, neighbors, and anyone else you remember. If you run out of room, tape another piece of paper to the bottom of the first one and keep going down the left-hand side.
2. On the right-hand side of the paper, list all the habits and traits you possess, both good and bad. If you’re feeling brave, ask a friend to help you come up with some of the traits you possess that you might not be aware of. You don’t even have to show anyone your list; you can call them up and tell them you’re getting a head start on your New Year’s resolutions for 2008.
3. Now comes the fun part. Try to match each habit or trait with one of the people from the left-hand column, and draw a line to connect them. You may find that some people have several connecting lines, while others have none.
Pay close attention to the people who seem to have appeared on your list for no particular reason. If you remember them clearly, they probably influenced your life in some small way.
KEYPOINT: This exercise is not meant to lay blame on the people in your past for ruining your life. Rather, it is to illustrate that many of your flaws and negative qualities are a result of things you learned as a truly impressionable child, and therefore can be let go of without guilt.
Children see things through a different lens than adults do, and what we learn at an early age can often end up coloring everything we think, feel and do as adults.
Fortunately, we can learn to let go of those negative tendencies once we view them with the wisdom and rationality we have developed along the way.
“If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.” – Mary Pickford
Beyond childhood, you may have experienced setbacks or letdowns for which you might clearly recall the reasoning.
Often, people are so opposed to change that the slightest sign of doing something a new way and having it not work…. becomes the signal to stop trying.
We truly are creatures of habit, and breaking the mold we’ve created for ourselves is a challenge few make the energy to face.
Fortunately, we can chip away at that mold until the cracks become wide enough to break free.
Some gurus say it takes 21 days to break a habit. Fact is, it takes about FIVE.
BUT, to REPLACE that habit with a new “default behavior” can take several weeks…thus look at 21 days as a MINIMUM.
The actions and reactions you develop in response to letdowns are nothing more than habits that you can rid yourself of with effort and a specific workable “plan.”
KEYPOINT: Want to know if it’s about you and your nonconscious mind? If you find yourself saying, “This might work,” or “All we can do is try,” or something like that…it’s your will, which is weak, coming up against decades of ingrained habits, which are very strong.
And…most of the time, without a workable plan and significant effort, failure is indeed the result.
Your own thinking and/or nonconscious mind is literally “fencing you in”!
Ready for another exercise?
Exercise 2: Connecting Your Habits
1. Make a list of all the things you’ve tried and stopped doing before completing (remember, you haven’t failed at them – you have simply made a temporary pit stop on the path to success). This list might include diets, resolutions, exercise habits, quitting smoking, or whatever.
Leave yourself some space to write notes after each item.
2. When you get to the end of the list, go back and fill in those habits you have developed as a consequence of waiting to follow through. For example, if you listed “The Atkins Diet,” your habit might be “overindulging on pasta because I didn’t eat any for six months.”
Some of your habits may be simple to change; others may require deviation from your intended course. In the pasta example, you might realize you can still eat pasta, just not as often as you have been while making up for the loss.
3. Come up with an alternative for each habit that you can live with, so you don’t short yourself before you get started.
You might decide to have pasta twice a week instead of every other night.
Now that you have a “rough draft list”, you can start implementing successful changes one step at a time.
4. Choose one or two habits you’d like to change, and be sure to implement the changes daily for 30 days in a row.
It’s very helpful to keep a journal or a chart to remind yourself what you’re working on and WHY.
Remember, your habits, behaviors and attitudes don’t have a present-time “why.” That was taken care of 20 years ago.
You can also treat yourself to a reward after the successful completion of each habit-breaking cycle. Turns out reward is pretty important…I’ll save the neuroscience for another day… just know that it is!
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