Adopting a new way of handling difficult things is usually not something you bother to do when everything is going great.
Usually you decide you must make a change when there have been tough times.
You are built to be drawn toward what is familiar even when that is not in your best interests and goes against sound logic.
ONE: Human beings have automatic programs that play out every day physically, emotionally, behaviorally, and mentally.
Let’s just get this part out of the way: Your heart beats automatically. Traffic can have a tendency to bother you. The way you drive to the gym is the same. You have usual ways of interpreting people’s behavior (i.e. you assume people are on their phone when they are driving slow vs. looking for an address).
Some of these automatic programs ensure your survival. Others are short cuts to increase efficiency. Some allow you to go on autopilot and have a break.
TWO: You are clinically and scientifically proven to be drawn toward the familiar.
Yes, the familiar. I know, it doesn’t seem sparkly or attractive at all. But it really is. This is a big culprit responsible for keeping you stuck in old patterns.
This is what I want to talk about.
One of the reasons you are drawn to repeat behavior patterns is because there are well established neural pathways guiding you toward those familiar behaviors.
In some ways, this is a blessing because opportunity after opportunity will arise to allow you to see and reflect on what you do. AND for you to practice doing it differently, if that is what you wish.
READ: This is all part of being human. It’s OK.
The thing is, now that you know, what are you going to choose?
Here’s what is needed to really choose a different way:
ONE: Something has to be at stake.
Look at the situation and what is important to you. Is it important for you to be right? Or for you to be more connected with your partner?
What happens if you don’t make a change? Is the trust in your relationship with your teenager on the line? Is your health on the line?
What is at stake for you? Meaning: what might you lose if you don’t make this change? What might you gain if you do commit to making a change?
And, it is a real commitment. Let’s not get that twisted.
TWO: Develop an ability to observe yourself.
This is an aspect of mindfulness. That doesn’t mean that you have to sit in a lotus position and meditate for hours a day.
It means: can you be aware of yourself in the moment when an important interaction is occurring?
If you want to practice awareness, try this: while you are brushing your teeth, notice what you are thinking. If you start going through your to do list, say inside your head “I’m going through my to do list”. Or, if you are scrolling through social media, say inside your head “I’m scrolling through social media”.
I know that sounds pedestrian, but introducing that line of thinking to your brain gives you a better chance of actually noticing that you are engaging or about to engage in old patterns you are trying to undo.
If you are into doing something more structured and specific to increase your ability to observe yourself, try the 10 minutes a day for 10 days intro pack on Headspace. You will get a download of skills for how to meditate and observe yourself. So worth it!!! And, it’s free.
THREE: Choose the new way when you are presented with the opportunity.
Those words make it sound easy. No. It’s sometimes hard to even catch the opportunity, but if you are practicing some self observation, that will increase your odds.
Once you are in that choice moment, it can feel torturous to give up the old way, even if it is destroying your relationships, your health, your career.
If you can withstand that moment of discomfort and choose the new way (because of what you have at stake), the payoff is massive. You can definitely do it.
Consider that until that moment of choosing a new way, you’ve been seduced by familiarity.
But now you know. And you get to choose.