Friday, April 8, 2011

The Crunch Point - The One Thing You Must Do to Change Your Behavior

In this post I reprise a 4-minute video I once made about replacing bad behavior patterns with good ones. The video tells an interesting personal story, reveals why bad habits are hard to break, and focuses on the one crucial thing you need to do to successfully break a bad habit.

Most people get discouraged when they try to change a behavior pattern, because they've already done a lot of hard things that didn't seem to get them anywhere. In the first place, they had to find out that what they're doing is working against them. And yes, they had to figure out what they should be doing instead. Plus, they have to want to change badly enough to do the work. And they may have actually tried to implement the new behavior pattern.

This seems like a lot, doesn't it?

Well it's actually nothing compared to what has to happen next. Because when you try to implement the new pattern, most of the time you'll do it awkwardly or ineffectively, or you'll forget to do it altogether. After all, it's not your pattern! Instead, in spite of your best intentions, the old bad habit kicks in.

This is the crunch point.

This is where it gets hard. Because in the beginning you'll fail five or ten times as often as you succeed. And you'll feel bad about it. You may even have a crisis of self-esteem. Even when you keep trying, you won't seem to make much progress. It can be very discouraging.

At this point, most people give up. After everything you've done, you just can't seem to get it going.

Here's the key: First, you have to appreciate that this failure rate is NORMAL. It's what happens with almost everyone. Why? Because behavior patterns are hard-wired in your brain. They're triggered by networks of brain cells that were connected up a long time ago and after years of reinforcement, the circuit became super-insulated with myelin. And the only way to bypass that neural network is to create a new one. And that will take many repetitions of the behavior. That will take time.

So if you quit, the project of rewiring your brain for the new behavior pattern won't have a chance. It will come to a halt.

Second, you have to refuse to give up. Accept the failures as typical and normal and give yourself credit for your successes. Gradually work through the stage of "conscious competence" - knowing what to do - to get to "unconscious competence" - being able to do it automatically, without thinking about it. If you keep after it, your success rate will slowly improve. Notice and appreciate the improvement! Eventually, your new behavior pattern will be fully ingrained.

Oh, yes - the video! Please watch it. The story I tell is an excellent illustration of how this works...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

1 comment:

Councillor Malcolm Kennedy said...

I remember when seat belt laws were first introduced into the UK. There was a social marketing exercise with the phrase that has stuck in my mind ever since, "Clunk, Click Every Trip". I'm going to have to say that to myself every time I get in the car.

Malcolm Kennedy