Changing our behavior is often a difficult proposition. We vow to undertake some major behavioral change, such as losing weight, stopping an addiction, or becoming organized, only to fail, sometimes in a relatively short period of time. So what went wrong? Are we defective? Should we just give up?

Not succeeding at change often occurs because we have not thought enough about how to make it happen. Changing ourselves is just like any other large project: it requires calmness, objectivity, and understanding, planning, seeing all the component tasks, breaking the components into tiny pieces, and maintaining the necessary patience, fortitude, consistency and self-discipline to see it through.
(You notice? Most of these attributes are about emotional control.)

Resistance arises whenever we try to change…

First, you need to understand why you do what you do. For example, if you are a compulsive overeater or shopper or chronically disorganized, what environmental, sensory, emotional, or other cues trigger that behavior? There are usually multiple cues for any habit that must be identified (not necessarily all at once or before embarking on a change) to make change more possible. To find these cues, notice what was going on immediately before the undesired behavior began. Habits are often linked to some other behavior or an environmental trigger that sets them off.

Next, determine whether the cue or trigger can be changed. This is often the easiest place to begin. Perhaps the cue for the behavior is sitting in a particular chair, passing a hard-to-resist shop, seeing desserts in the window, or having a particular kind of interaction with others. For each situation, a simple change such as sitting in a different chair, walking a different route, refusing to look in overly tempting windows or catalogs, or finding a different way to handle a distressing interaction may be a good beginning for larger change. Sometimes overcoming resistance is a matter of shifting some small, perhaps unnoticed stimulus or reaction that triggers undesired behavior. Many times the cue is our self-talk that sabotages intentions.

Changing any behavior is just like trying to accomplish any other major project. Identifying all components of the task/project is essential to success. Using the examples of compulsive overeating or shopping or getting organized our component tasks might look like this:

Efforts to make sweeping changes all at once usually set off resistance that makes change at least temporarily impossible, leading us to despair of improvement. Meaningful change usually only happens by taking small steps.

© Gloria Valoris 2012

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