11 Aug

Changing Your Habits in 3 Steps

Do NOT think of a pink elephant. DO NOT.

Our habits shape us. They’re the actions we repeat, over and over again, that make us who we are.

They come in many forms. Our routes to work. Our patterns of speech. What we eat. Or drink. How we approach a challenge. How we spend our days.

There are times, of course, when we want to change a habit. But we can’t juststop them. Our brains can’t process “stop” without processing “go” first.

(Try NOT thinking of a pink elephant, and you’ll see what I mean.)

When we want to drop a habit, we need to drop something else in its place.We need to replace habits that complicate our goals with habits that contribute to them.


1. Acknowledge

We have to admit we do something before we can change what we do, or how we do it. That may seem obvious, but our habits are often so ingrained in our unconscious that we tend to notice only their (often negative) effects.

So look at those effects. Reverse engineer to find the cause. Find, and own, the pink elephant sitting in the middle of your room.

What are you doing (or not) that’s interfering with your goals?

2. Accept

It’s counterintuitive, but we do even the worst things for a good reason: it makes us feel better. Maybe just for a moment, maybe for a while. Accepting that fact—that there’s positive intention behind even negative behaviors—puts us in a position of power. It lets us move past the questioning, the guilt, the blame and into action. Into change.

But we can’t let ourselves stop there. Why? Because our intentions don’t matter if the results don’t measure up. In addition to accepting why we do what we do, we also have to accept that it’s not working.

What are  you trying to do for yourself?
Why isn’t it working?

3. Act

Most of the time the reason our habits don’t work is that we’ve assigned the wrong solution to our problem. Whatever the habit is, it usually isn’t a habit that actually fixes the problem. The habit hides it. Denies it. Dulls it.

But the problem—the reason we’re indulging in destructive behavior in the first place—is still there. If we really want to change our habits (and that’s something we need to wrestle with, too), we need to work on two levels: we need to work on the underlying issue (resolve the work stress…build our self-esteem…whatever) AND figure out what we can do instead.

But the paradox of choice is real: we can’t just come up with one other thing we can do. The choice between what we’ve always done and some new alternative is no choice at all—our brains are too wired into the habit that’s served us (not so) well for so long. We have to come up with multiple other options that can accomplish the same goal.

So ask yourself, what else could you do to vent your anger? Make you feel relaxed? Give you a sense of control?

What are you willing to do instead?

Acknowledge. Accept. Act.

Can you do it? Will you?

image credit: SooperNoodles