How many times have you decided to change a behavior, but failed?

Every day you make decisions about changing an aspect of yourself. You want to break a habit that is bad for you, but no matter how hard you try, you always seems to end up back at square one. Why is that?

Most people go about it the wrong way. They do the same actions but expect different results. Little do they know that’s exactly how Einstein defined insanity.

 

You probably searched the web for advice on how to make or break a habit. Don’t worry, there’s no shame in that. But most of that advice is rubbish, because it uses recycled old ideas and generic lists which are supposedly nothing short of magic.

Changing a habit is hard, but the how-to process is very straightforward. However, to adapt a new way of thinking, you first need to realize why your current one is wrong.

 

OLD WAYS OF THINKING

A close friend used to have problems dealing with her emotions. She would overreact to every small challenge or difficulty in her way, even some minor, irrelevant events like an acquaintance canceling their meetup at the last minute. She would often start crying, get overly emotional and throw tantrums.

One time, when she was in a happy mood I brought it up and told her that she should get her emotional reactions under control, because if she can’t even handle small inconveniences without crying, how is she going to handle real problems throughout life?

She replied that she is aware of that and that she is trying to change it by:

1. Avoiding stressful situations

2. Trying to stop crying once she starts

Whatever you’re struggling with, I can assume you probably came to the same conclusion – avoid stress and force yourself to change. And it’s not working.

It’s only normal to want to try to minimize stress in your life but uncomfortable stuff is going to keep on happening to you and there’s no way around it. You can’t avoid it, but you can change how it affects you.

This is nothing new – if you let all the bad stuff get to you, you’re going to have a bad time. On the flip side, if you a keep a positive attitude, you’re not going to become devastated by minor inconveniences.

Her second method is one of the biggest misconceptions about changing your mindset.

It implies that you can suddenly change your way of thinking at the time of trouble.

 

When things go sour, I will simply force myself to think and act differently.

 

This approach will NEVER work. We’re not robots. We can’t simply change our behavior on demand.

For so many years you have been acting a certain way. Humans are creatures of habit, and you have programmed yourself to react a certain way to everything, including stress, problems and danger. Since your actions are so deeply integrated within yourself, when time comes, you will never, ever suddenly react differently.

 

HOW TO CHANGE

In order to react differently when problems arise, you need to train yourself when the is no problem.

You need to face your fears when you don’t need to face them. You have to make yourself uncomfortable when you don’t need to be. You need to forcibly put yourself in a position when you know you’d react a certain way and, then consciously react differently.

The more you train yourself to react differently in same situations, your mind will start forming a new pattern and when an actual problem arises, you will be prepared and won’t have as much trouble changing behavior.

Here is a personal example.

When I was a kid, I was scared of the dark. My imagination was running wild and I would always visualize something scary. Since that fear was so deeply integrated within me, it carried over into my teen years. I wasn’t scared of the dark per se, but since all my life I’ve been reacting to complete darkness a certain way, I’ve built a pattern:

 

Darkness ➙ Scary shades ➙ Uncomfortable ➙ Fear

 

I knew there was nothing there and that there was no real danger. But every time the lights were off, I would suddenly become really uncomfortable. My mind would immediately jump to every horror movie I’ve ever watched, my shirt would remind me of a person and I would suddenly feel like there was a presence in my room and that I was being watched.

This led to countless sleepless nights and nightmares which had a direct effect on my health.

It totally sucked.

I grew tired of being scared of literally nothing and decided to change it. But all my efforts and advice from the almighty internet were useless. I said “next time it gets dark, I won’t be scared”. Of course, it didn’t work.

Then I had an idea.

I realized that I have formed a pattern and a psychological connection (dark = fear) and that in order to change it, I need to consciously create a new pattern.

So, I tried a new approach – whenever I was in a situation where I didn’t need to be in the dark, I still decided to do it. When I was going down the staircase of my building, I didn’t turn on the light. If I could go under the street lights when walking home, I stayed in the dark part.

When I was home and the other room was dark, I would simply stand at the edge of the darkness, staring into it, so that I was surrounded by light from three directions and dark by only one. Next time, I took one step forward. Time after that, two steps. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of a dark room, surrounded by nothing but complete darkness and I was okay with it.

When I first did any of these things, it was very uncomfortable. But the more I did it, the more a new pattern was forming. I’ve stopped associating darkness with fear.

Now, when I go to bed, I’m not uncomfortable. I don’t think of horror movies or look for scary shapes around the room.

My mindset has changed.

 

TRIAL AND ERROR

If you are dedicated to changing the way you react to certain situations, you will succeed.

However, keep in mind that there is no quick fix. Your mindset was developed by doing the same actions over decades and before you can adapt a new way of thinking, you need to undo some principles you already implemented.

I don’t want to discourage you, but I want you to be realistic that like anything worth doing, changing your mindset takes time, patience and dedication. So don’t give up!

What behavior of yours do you want to change? Tell me in the comments.

Photo by Matt under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (contains modifications)