The key to permanently changing our behaviors is to change our internal state. Conceptually, it’s an easy fix. Relatively speaking, it’s probably one of the most difficult things we can do. But stick with me, and by the end of this post I hope to be able to help you make small, permanent changes in your behaviors.
The way in which we react to the circumstances around us is dependent on the beliefs we hold. The explanation and interpretation of the events we experience around us shape the behaviors we exhibit. For example, if I felt someone slightly push me from behind, the way I react will be significantly different if I believe that it was a friend who was playfully saying hi vs. believing that someone I didn’t know was picking a fight with me. Similarly, if we believe that the midnight snacks we’ve been indulging in on a daily basis is harmless, or that it’s much more painful than pleasurable to skip the midnight snack, then we’ll find ourselves effortlessly reaching for the bag of chips and salsa.
What can we do to change our internal states so that we can change our behaviors, once and for all?
- Identify the Behaviors. First, identify what behaviors have been unhelpful for you in your life. Is it the late-night snacking? Is it pushing off exercise for tomorrow (for the past 6 months)? Is it snapping at your kids? Identify the behavior that is unhelpful in bringing you closer to who you want to be on this journey. Write them down. In addition to the behaviors, write down what happens right before the behavior/where and when it occurs (the antecedent) and what happens right after the behavior (the consequence).
- Identify the Beliefs. Next, figure out what beliefs are maintaining that behavior for you. Do you believe that it will be easier to go to the gym tomorrow than it will be in this moment today? Are you feeling overwhelmed with how much work you have to do and can’t figure out why your kids can’t leave you alone for five minutes (i.e., you believe that your kids never seem to give you some space and time)? Identify the beliefs you’ve attached to the behaviors you’re targeting. These beliefs may be around expectations you have of others’ behaviors; they may be beliefs you’ve adopted from other people, such as “you’re not good enough.”; or they may simply stem from current emotional states that constrict your abilities. Find them – like you would go search for the rotting leftover at the back of your refrigerator.
- Replace with New Beliefs. Once you’ve found the source of rotting smell in your fridge, you don’t just leave it there. You get rid of it. Now that you know what’s stinking up your behavior repertoire, extinguish it – and replace it with new beliefs like you would with baking soda to the fridge. What is a more helpful belief that would prompt you to replace your old behaviors with new ones? This is the fun part of this whole exercise, because this step floods your body with feel-good hormones and gratitude. In fact, if you don’t feel empowered during this step, further reflection is absolutely necessary to see what sorts of beliefs you’re replacing the old ones with. Some examples of replacement beliefs include, “How lucky I am to consider exercising today. Going to the gym tomorrow will be just as hard tomorrow as it is today, so if I want to go I might as well start today,” and “I’m so grateful that both of my kids are alive and healthy. How wonderful to be able to hear their voices.”
- Prevent Your Behaviors. Remember identifying the antecedents (i.e., what situations or events trigger your unhelpful behaviors in the first place – being stressed out, being bored, having snacks in the house)? Do what you can to prevent them from happening. For example, if you find that you’re only snapping at your kids when you’re stressed, think of ways to weave in coping patterns to your day so that you don’t come home as stressed. Finding yourself reaching for a bag of chips when you’re bored? Find a new hobby – and introduce those chips to the dumpster outside.
- Reward and Celebrate Your Behaviors. All human behaviors multiply when they’re rewarded. Take a look at what function your old behaviors served for you (the consequences you identified earlier). Identify other ways of getting those same needs met. For example, if snacking helped you avoid boredom rewarding yourself with something else that will remove that boredom will serve the same function. Find meaningful ways to reward yourself and celebrate the small changes you’re making. That is, find the why or your motivation for making that change and include that in your rewards and celebrations.
Was this helpful? Still want more or think individualized work might be helpful? Contact me for individual or group sessions – I’d love to hear from you!