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Why changing your behaviour alone, won’t help you to change bad habits

Jan 22, 2024

Same ole, same ole

Do you find that bad habits are easy to make but hard to live with? And good habits are harder to make and easier to live with?  

Studies show that around 95% of what we do day in day out is reactive habit and when you couple that with 95% of our thinking is led by our subconscious, it means that for a lot of people, they are sleepwalking through life.

Don’t get me wrong, many habits are great for short handing many of life’s tasks, for example, I don't want to have to think about how I consciously make my breakfast, how I put the toothpaste on my toothbrush and the action to clean my teeth; how I get dressed, or put my shoes on; how I type on my laptop and so forth. If I get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I don't need to put the light on because I know my way there. Although when I first moved, the number of times I'd bang my head on the slanted ceilings was ridiculous– hard hats should have been standard issue when buying the house! All of these day-to-day things that we do regularly are taken care of by our subconscious. However, if you broke your leg, then you’d need to think much more consciously about how you get about; if you had a stroke, everything would become much harder, even down to how you speak and communicate. You would be using more than 5% of your conscious thinking.

Automatic systematic habit

During the recent cold snap, I was on a dog walk and as usual, I had on my wellies with thick socks, but my feet were freezing. I passed a fellow dog walker and we exchanged pleasantries; being British, we of course commented on the inclement weather and the fellow walker said: “It's not a very good temperature for wellies, is it?“ I looked down at her footwear and saw that she had on walking boots. I laughed and said how I wear my wellies come wind, rain or shine and we both went our separate ways. It got me thinking- I never think about not wearing my wellies in the cold. There is never any conscious thought that maybe they're not very conducive for keeping my feet warm. I don't think about the fact that thick socks inside thin rubber footwear will not ward off the cold temperatures; it’s complete habit that makes me reach for my wellies every single time- there is no conscious thought at all. It was that conversation that sparked the change in habit. I swapped out the wellies for my walking boots and it was revolutionary! My tootsies now nice and warm on those very cold days. A simple change of habit leading to a great result.

Why do we perpetuate some of the habits that are not so helpful to us? From the banal habits to the ones which might have more serious consequences- if we gave more conscious thought, and changed them, might that change have quite a profound effect on our life?

Some of those 95% habits are really great, really helpful, really effective. Like I say, the things in life that you don't want to have to consciously think about. But for many of us, we have some really unhelpful habits. Now my example of wellies is a simple one- it was an unhelpful habit, but when I changed it, it had a positive benefit. So what other things might I be doing habitually, which are not helpful? Maybe it's the way I'm communicating with someone; perhaps it's that I've got a relationship in my life- a friendship, which isn't particularly a positive one. It’s important for me to think, what part do I play in this? How am I communicating with that person? If it's not such a fruitful friendship, is there something I can do to change the dynamic in the way I communicate? Maybe I feel I'm being taken for granted. Maybe I feel there's a lot of take take take. We can only be taken for granted when we give that permission. Nobody can take us for granted because the world accepts you at your own evaluation of yourself.

New Year, new you?!

January is of course the time of year when people reflect on the change they want to make in themselves, when they want to perhaps break unhelpful habits and form new ones which will serve them better, more commonly known as New Year’s resolutions. However, what do so many people use to try to stick to those? Willpower. But willpower just doesn’t cut the mustard. Willpower is why gyms are busy January to March. Any long-term gym user will tell you that when the New Year starts, you can’t get a parking space in the gym car park; come March time, you’re fine- plenty of spaces!  

Approximately 17% of people stick to their resolutions for four to six months. Another 9% persist with their goals for six to nine months, and only 6% for nine to 12 months. Frankly, that’s a sad state of affairs as far as seeing things through is concerned. They're obviously called New Year resolutions for a reason- because everyone sticks to them as the year begins, and then things tail off somewhat.

I prefer to set intentions for the year ahead. What is it that I want to do during the next 12 months, and what’s the plan to make it happen? This is where self-discipline is required– when you get to the root of your thinking, why you are doing what you're doing. You’re not just deciding to change something by behaving differently, there is a lot more conscious thought going on about why you want to make the changes.

A couple of years ago, I got chatting to someone in the village where I live, who said how ill she had been with COVID. It had knocked her for six and this scared her; she felt she needed to make her health and fitness a priority because she never wanted to feel that vulnerable again. She got herself a Personal Trainer and she was determined to stick to her intention because it was so important to her. She wanted to form a very helpful habit. Because of this, I said to her that soon, her subconscious would ensure that when in the supermarket, she’d wheel her trolley straight past the end of the confectionary aisle, and the biscuits and crisps. She laughed and said that was highly unlikely. I said: “You will, because you know what your ‘why’ is- you have such a strong reason as to why you want to feel fitter and healthier, and you're re-training your brain to think differently.” About two months later, I bumped into her and asked how things were going. She said: “I can't believe it Kirsty, you were right- I no longer even see those aisles. I just wheel my trolley straight past the crisps and the chocolate, even the biscuits! All of it, because I know they won’t help me with my goal.” This stuff works I thought to myself, it really does work…

New thoughts, new results

So, bad habits are easy to form and harder to live with, and the good habits are more challenging to form but much easier to live with; but, long term, which do we benefit from the most? (There might be differing opinions on that one!) Give some thought to what those 95% reactive habits are that you practice day in, day out that are not particularly helpful. Can you swap those out for some much more helpful habits? Be it healthier eating, a healthier lifestyle. Is it limiting or giving up alcohol? Smoking? Vaping? Working too many hours that isn’t conducive to limiting stress levels? How can you change things? Is it about thinking more consciously about the way you communicate with others? Perhaps you’re a hot head and jump to conclusions without first using MUMMS to assimilate a situation (for those of you who haven’t attended a Winning Edge course, MUMMS is to Make Up My Mind Slowly). Is there a relationship in your life that maybe you could do some work on? Perhaps you could be more patient, listen more. Maybe it’s about you not allowing yourself to be taken for granted, to be respected more. Could you work on your timekeeping? Be more careful with your money? There are so many ways we might be able to think more consciously about habitual ways we live our life, make changes, and improve things. It's ensuring we drag more of those subconscious thoughts up to conscious gaze.

It's not about changing your behaviour because that just doesn't cut the mustard- it’s like wearing rubber gloves to fix a leaky pen. It's thinking about your why and why you want to do it- getting down to the root of the nature of your thoughts.

So, having read this or listened to the podcast, give some thought to what you'd like to change because it all starts with your thinking. If you've attended a Winning Edge course, you will know remember the Thinking to Results Model - if you want to change anything in your life, where does it need to start? With your thinking. Here’s to a stunning year ahead and all that you strive for.

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