Change is hard. So many believe that it’s easier to stay the same – safer. And yet most people I know are striving to evolve. We want to do better, be better. And what I have learned over the years – from clients and my own experience – is that to truly embrace change, one must consider building new habits.
So what is a habit? Many people think of habits as behaviors adopted by repeating them over and over again. Brushing your teeth, balancing your checkbook, etc. What most of us don’t consider, however, is the how of it. How are we supposed to build these patterns and acquire new behaviors?
I believe the first step is concentrated inquiry. We need to ask ourselves, “Who am I?” and “WHY do I want to change (aka adopt this new habit)?” In order to truly change – which requires consistent, dedicated effort – we must re-identify who we are.
I say all of this at the risk of sounding like I believe everyone needs to change – and this is the furthest from the truth. I don’t believe anyone needs to be better or different. I applaud those of us who embrace who we are.
However, if you feel the need to change something – whether it’s improving your health, evolving relationships, or excelling in a chosen field – I believe building habits that are based on your identity and your true desires is critical to success. The more you can connect with the “why” – the more likely you are to break through the tedium and challenges that can accompany habit-building. When you hit the inevitable wall – perhaps an urge arises to just give up – you must remember who it is you want to be and prioritize this identity that you are trying to embrace.
Take, for instance, a desire for connection. A woman I know has been struggling with intimacy and being close with others. Especially with her father. He’s old school. Not much of a talker. Certainly not about emotions. So for most of her life, she has subscribed to his rules – discuss the weather, the 49ers, what’s for dinner. But my friend has been working on herself, trying to get closer to people in her life, especially her dad as he nears 90. And she wrote to me recently – telling the story of her attempts to try to talk about her feelings, crying, even raging at him. And he just SHUT DOWN. Grabbing the computer mouse and turning his attention to his screen.
She wrote to me of wanting to just throw in the proverbial towel. Ruminating that it’s a lost cause – perhaps it’s just easier to maintain the status quo. And I reminded her of her purpose: connection. And gently suggested that if she continues to turn away from tough conversations, she is maintaining her habit of avoidance and detachment. I reminded her that there are consequences to not following through on a habit we want to build. In this case, we both know that she might never change her father and his ability to communicate. But if she turns away from him or challenging conversations with those she loves, she will be disrespecting the very identity she’s trying to build.
As I said in the beginning, change is not easy. I’ll try to help by sharing some of my own experience with habit-building – both my successes and my challenges – in the next post. Until then, start asking yourself who it is you want to be in this world. Dive deep, keep peeling back the layers, be gentle and kind – I promise you’ll start to find clarity and inspiration. It’s the perfect place to start.