How do you change behavior patterns to be more effective?

How do you even figure out your behavior patterns?!

We have all been there, done that - figured out the issues we have (at least, partly!), decided to change them, & begun our journey on the long dry lonely road to self-improvement, only to land on our asses with a loud thud!

Why is it so difficult to change our ways once we’ve figured out they need to be changed?! Well, the prerequisite to changing something is to know what it is that really needs to be changed! Let’s say, every day when I get to work in the morning, the first two hours are terrible. I’m restless, frustrated, & operate on dangerously low levels of tolerance! My colleagues have told me about this, and I too realize it. I want to change this as it is not one of the most pleasant experiences to go through, especially first thing in the morning. But I don’t know how to! I don’t know what to change so that I stop having such an unwanted experience every morning!

I can be in one of these two categories of people:

  1. The ones who keep saying they want to change, but do zilch about it.
  2. The ones who figure out what to change & then begin working on it.

(There’s also a third category — the ones who have not yet acknowledged that there’s an issue that needs their attention!)

If I’m in the second category where I’ve decided to change, then I could be in one of these three situations:

A. Ape It: I want to change something in myself because I see someone else (may be someone I admire) do it & I feel I should do it too.

B. Feel It: I feel I’ve figured out what I need to change & why.

C. Know It: I have actually gotten to root of the issue & know what it is that really needs to change & why.

If I’m in situation A of Ape It, one of the two things can happen for me:

(i) I happen to be very similar to the person I’m trying to ape & so what works for her, works me! Voila! Brilliant! This will probably work if I ape to the T, that is, do everything exactly the way the person I’m trying to ape does it.

(ii) I try my level best aping, but just can’t! And then I end up feeling miserable & good for nothing! In reality, this person was never for me to ape! We were just extremely different people with different styles of operating & different value systems.

There’s nothing wrong with aping someone. In fact, it’s one of the quickest ways to learn a new skill. However, one needs to be mindful of the fact that what works for one person may not work for someone else, if just copy-pasted!

Now, if I’m in situation B of Feel It, I will begin working on something that feels like it’s the behavior to be changed. However, no matter how hard I work on it, I will never see the results I want to see because it was never really the real issue to begin with! For instance, I want to lose weight. I figure that I don’t work out & thus I’m unable to lose weight. So I start on this whole regimen of exercise. One month down the line, I’m still around the same weight! Now I get demotivated because all hard work has resulted in nothing! All this while, I never realized that working out was not the issue — I did get enough exercise in the day by way of walking to & from my work place. What I actually needed to do was to see a dietitian & monitor my food intake. But since I’m already demotivated, I won’t pick up this weight issue for a long time now!

In situations A & B it’s understandable why it was difficult to change. What about situation C, Know It? Here, I am at the root of the issue & know what it is that really needs to change & why. So what happens here? Well, one of the two things — either you actually change (yay!) or you get stuck at one of the following:

a. Inconsistency: You’ve been the way you are for a pretty long time (in some cases, for over 20–30 years or more) You gave yourself those many years to become who you are today, so then give yourself at least a while to build up a new habit &/ delete an existing one! Just be consistent! I can’t stress enough on this one. This is the difference between those who make it & those who we never see again!

b. Dying too soon: Be sure to fail. In the beginning when trying to change a behavior you’ll find yourself going back to the earlier behavior pattern very often. That’s completely normal. Do NOT beat yourself about it! If you do, you risk getting into the guilt cycle. And once that happens, you’re back to square one with the old pattern back in the game! So don’t lose hope if on day 5 you find yourself unable to keep the new behavior. Start day 6 afresh with the new behavior intact. Just, never say die!

c. Intellectualizing: Some people are unable to understand when their mind starts playing games of intellectualizing with them! Let’s say, I realized that in order to lose weight I need to monitor my diet & eat right. I do it for a few days, and then I tell myself, “Hey, you know what, all of this diet monitoring is nothing but some research on some people. That doesn’t mean it’ll work for me. So then why unnecessarily do it? May be I should do something else!” Watch out for the mind games your mind plays with you!

d. Environment: You’ve decided that you’re going to change your spending habits & save more. However, you’re always surrounded by spendthrifts. Well, good luck to you, mate! When deciding on a change, ensure you create the right environment to nurture it. Otherwise it’s going to feel like you’re swimming against the tide, & you’ll always end up working hard, being exhausted, with nothing much accomplished!

In conclusion

If you want to change (or build) a behavior pattern:

  1. Find out the root need — in case you want to change an old behavior, find out what is really causing it & why. If you instead want to add a new behavior, find out what need will this new behavior meet & why.
  2. Once you’ve found the root, then create a plan that will enable you to subtract/ add this behavior from your life on a daily basis.
  3. Be consistent & never say die! No matter how many times you fall off the wagon, remember every day is a new day! Just BE AT IT.
  4. Create your very own support structure! Reach out to close friends & family & declare to them the change you are committing to. Seek their help in keeping you on track. By declaring your commitment you are activating your cells for success!

Remember, any change is a slow process. Be saintly patient with yourself, but also be ruthlessly persistent.