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Habit change…

Don’t set a New Year’s resolution until you do THIS!


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#TransparentTuesdays

It’s a brand new year, and you may find yourself resolving to do more or the things you know are good for you, and less of the things that aren’t.


Graphic of a calendar and note stating: quit making new year's resolutions

This makes sense, because we all want to feel good and thrive, right? And yet every single one of us has a list of things we habitually do that prevent us from feeling our best (like too much screen-time, drinking, or procrastinating), as well as a list of things we habitually don’t do that would help (like meditating, exercising, or drinking enough water). 


Instead of diving into resolution-mode though, let’s pause for a moment to consider why this is. 


Why does it take so much damn effort, willpower, and discipline to do things that make us feel better? Shouldn’t we be intrinsically motivated to feel good?


Well… no. 


We’re intrinsically motivated to do things that align with our deepest needs and priorities, but often those deeper needs and priorities have nothing whatsoever to do with the things we think we “should” do to feel better. 


Most of the time, because we’re not usually aware of the deeper needs and priorities driving our actions, we invent a story about what we think is most important to us. Then we go around feeling bad about ourselves for failing to live up to that! (For example, we might tell ourselves that “health” is a top value, and then feel weak, broken, or ashamed when we can’t get ourselves to regularly make healthy choices. Or maybe we decide that “joy” is what we care most about, and then judge ourselves harshly for avoiding the things we know would bring us joy.) 


It is our lack of awareness and understanding about the deeper needs and priorities that drive our behavior that both keeps us from changing it, and feeling good about ourselves. 


After all, how could you possibly feel good about yourself when you view your actions and behaviors as irrational and out of control? How could you ever feel whole and at peace, when you imagine yourself divided into two warring factions: the recalcitrant trouble-maker, and the failing disciplinarian? 


And more importantly, how could you possibly change a habit that you outright refuse to recognize is successfully meeting your needs or protecting you?


You can’t, which is why I don’t recommend setting a behavior or habit change goal until after you’ve done the work to fully understand how doing things the way you do them now is serving you.


Sign with the words, I hate nothing about u" in lettered text
Photo by Designecologist

Your actions always make sense and serve a deeper purpose— even if you can’t see it yet, I promise. (Just like your feelings, thoughts, and body image issues!)


If you ignore or deny this simple fact, you can make all the goals and resolutions you want, but your behaviors and habits won’t change. They might change in the short term, mind you, like how diets tend to work in the beginning, because you’re actively harnessing willpower and motivation. But when that willpower and motivation runs out (and it always runs out eventually), you’ll fall right back into your old habits and patterns— and you’ll probably feel even worse about yourself on the other side, because you really wanted to make this change, and couldn’t.


You’ve probably experienced this already. 


Maybe you’ve tried to start meditating, exercising, journaling, going to bed earlier, spending less time on your phone, or drinking more water. But after enjoying a few glorious days, weeks, or months of sticking to your goal and feeling better, the new habit seemed to just disappear. Even as it disappeared, you probably felt confused and ashamed, because… it was working! You felt good! Every so often you might even still catch yourself saying “I really need to get back into that, I felt so much better,” and wondering why you ever stopped. 


If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. 


There is literally nothing wrong with you. It’s just that the old way of doing things did a better job of meeting your deeper needs and priorities than the new way, and your brain’s automatic mechanism kicked in again the moment you stopped putting all your effort toward overriding it. 


What are these deeper needs and priorities? 


That’s different for everyone, but here are a few common examples:

  • A seemingly self-destructive behavior may actually be a way of asserting your agency and refusing to be oppressed, in a world that has made you feel powerless. (We tend to see this in people who learned early on that authentic self-expression was mutually exclusive with getting their attachment needs met, and have thus learned to do a lot of self-suppression and care-taking in their relationships.)

  • Your “bad habit” may actually be helping you numb, avoid, or cope with painful or uncomfortable feelings. (This is often the case with compulsive behaviors like drinking, shopping, gambling, porn use, endless scrolling/numbing with screens, and constant business.)

  • You may avoid a behavior you “know would make you feel better” because that behavior feels too threatening to your safety, identity, or relationships. (For example, meditating or moving your body may force you to feel or face things you’re not equipped to handle yet. Plus the very thought of thriving itself will feel threatening and dangerous if your sense of self— or the care/attention you receive from others— is based around your fundamental lack of thriving!)

All of this is to say that if you want to make changes to your habits this year, please don’t try to discipline-and-willpower your way into them.


Instead, start with the assumption that all of your actions always make sense, and are serving a deeper purpose or need. Then get curious– what deeper purpose or need might they be serving? Why might you actually need your current habits or behaviors right now, and what would have to happen for you to no longer need them?


This, and this alone, will move you toward the long-term behavior changes you’re hoping for. 


It automatically invites self-compassion and self-acceptance into a process that has typically been marked only by shame and self-rejection. And that is the only way that healing can take place, and long-term sustainable changes can be made.


By the way, if you’re looking for guidance or support on your journey to thriving this year, you can apply for private coaching here! I’d love to help you get where you want to go in 2024. 


Big hug,

Jessi

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