You have already stopped smoking for the tenth time.
Sitting in the office again ‘til 8 p.m. you swear yourself that you will delegate more tasks tomorrow.
In a meeting you find out that a colleague is selling your idea. He gets all the applause. And you sit there watching silently.
A stranger at the front door asks you about your prejudices towards foreigners. After five minutes you sign a subscription to the magazine “The woods and you”.
Actually you want to do more for your fitness. Deliver more duties. Simply say ‘no’, if you do not want something. However, you do the opposite. Why is it so difficult to change this behavior? Although you know it would be far better for you?
You’ve already read some How-To-Do-It-books. Have asked well-meaning friends who gave you practical advice (“I had the same problem and what helped me was …”)
But all that didn’t really help. Instead you felt even worse because all suggestions sounded so easy. So why can’t you do it?
Obviously your problem isn’t that easy to solve. You could resignate (“Maybe I don’t have enough willpower”) or pound on yourself (“Is there anything in life I’ve managed to accomplish?”). Does not sound like a better solution.
From my experience such problems cannot be solved that easily because you haven’t yet understood the reason behind these problems.
Here some different points of view:
1. Your behavior is always the best solution.
Of course within the scope of your possibilities.
That means, our behavior is always the best choice within the range of our possibilities – and our personal cost-benefit analysis. There may be better options for the given situation – but not for ourselves. In any case, not yet.
The reason is not “an addiction”. Since everybody knows people who have stopped smoking after twenty years overnight.
Also the level of suffering is not always a good motivation. If the ‘benefit’ of your behavior is strong enough you will continue to do it. In spite of sturdy disadvantages and psychological strain. Simply because you have no better alternative at your disposal. Maybe theoretically, but what counts in life is only practical experience.
2. Symptoms are actually solutions.
‘Symptoms’ here are meant as behavioral patterns which we are discontent with, however, but up to now we haven’t managed to change. Most people find such symptoms annoying, they want to have them cleared away etc. Nevertheless, symptoms can be astonishingly resistant to change.
To change this we have to understand that symptoms are not a disturbance, an illness or a tiresome obstacle to a better life. Instead – they’re the best solution!
The best solution for what, you might ask?
For an inner conflict.
And to make it even more difficult: we are mostly unaware of this inner conflict. It’s unconscious. And what is unconscious one does not know and therefore cannot address it directly.
Now, which inner conflicts could be involved with the situations above? Here are some possible backgrounds:
- Smoking helps to regulate uncomfortable feelings. And it is a socially accepted form to do this. Smoking helps with feelings like annoyance, boredom, shyness etc.
- People who refuse to delegate can see themselves as indispensable (maybe without being so). One should also not trust others, because he or she does everything herself/himself (and mostly also thinks that this is the quickest and best way).
- Who acts withdrawn in contact with others reduces the danger of being criticized. Also he can console himself at least with the interpretation of not being as ‘selfish” as others who always have to be in the center of attention.
- Who says ‘yes’, although he feels like saying ‘no’, often solves an inner conflict to always be perceived as a nice, helpful person.
You probably notice here that those patterns of behavior which oppose your serious change attempts have quite another background than you may have expected.
3. Behavior is channeled neurologically.
All habits, these are thoughts, movements, feelings or behavior patterns are channeled neurologically. Channeled by nervous lines between synapses – and organized in ‘mental maps’.
Now with these nervous lines there are narrow streets, federal highways and six-lane highways. Your ‘internal autopilot’ helps you to master certain situations automatically. Habits like reading or driving a car are things you perform without consciously thinking about them.
Symptomatic behavior patterns are traced in similar manner on internal six-lane-highways.
You notice that you’ve got too much work and it would be better to delegate something. Now the internal autopilot comes and you think: “Until I’ve fully explained that to someone, I’ll be better off doing it myself” and the inner conflict which was briefly indicated on top is already “solved” – in the same manner as usual.
These behavior patterns are tremendously strong and are seldom accessible to rational examination. The inner conflict and the proven symptomatic solution are much stronger than your reasoning mind.
Therefore, you often do something where you think afterwards “Why didn’t I…?” – and do it just the same way next time.
Is there a way out?
Yes. Here are four possibilities I recommend:
1. Build up motivation for change
This may come from your level of suffering or you experience that other people you care about suffer from your specific behavior. Though the present behavior is the best option up to now (see thesis 1), there are certainly some others.
For example saying „no“: If you say yes too often instead of no you have to set a limit which is called: “This cannot go on. I must / want to change this.“ This decision is the first step to go into another direction.
2. Examine your defense strategies
Find out what exactly the thoughts are that hinder you over and over again from acting out the desired behavior. It is a matter of observing internally what exactly happens, before one carries out the symptomatic behavior.
If one says, “yes” too often and too seldom “no”, one can perceive, for example, that you:
– put the wish of the others before your own wishes;
– repress or minimize your own feelings such as annoyance;
– develop unreasonable fears, for example that others won’t appreciate you anymore et cetera.
3. Clearing the inner conflict with mindfulness.
The defensive strategies can give you information what kind of internal conflict it may be.
Ask yourself questions like
“What do I fear that could happen if I behaved differently? (say no, delegate, don’t smoke, don’t accuse others?)
“What do I believe others might think about me then?”
“What would I think about myself?”
But don’t think too rationally. It’s better to wait what happens to you. Free associating, as famous Sigmund Freud called it.
4. New behavior must be traced neurologically.
Imagine cross-country-skiing. After fresh fallen snow it takes some effort to make a new trail. It’s the same with our brain. You have to trace the desired new behavior (a new street beside your old six-lane highway) several times.
In addition it needs concentration and consciousness, like a piano player who wants to remove a stubbornly recurring mistake. He must slowly press the right key over and over again until the right key or note is automatically hit and he plays it correctly.
Here are some recommendations:
– Say “no” to somebody at least three times a day
– When you feel the urge for a cigarette wait two minutes.
– Before a meeting decide for yourself to ask at least two questions
Got any ideas, why it is so difficult to change?
And why most self-help books give you good advice, however, you can’t just put the advice into action. Not because you are a loser. Or a sluggard. But human problems are rather not a “hardware mistake” which one can simply reprogram or repair.
Some behavior is quite a creative solution for an inner conflict. If one tracks down these conflicts, new and better behavioral alternatives can be found.
Photos: © CC mommy peace, Flickr.com,
Oliver Weber – Fotolia.com