Do you have have any limiting habitual ways of doing or perceiving things? Maybe you’re overly self-critical. Maybe you get impatient with people. Maybe you habitually look for the problem and see it as proof that life doesn’t work.
Just resolving to change those things tends to be as effective as deciding to run a marathon after years as a committed couchpotato-ist. If you’re going to run that marathon, you have to go through the steps to prepare and enable yourself to do it. Making changes that stick is not different. You have to train your brain to change.
Your 30-Day Experiment: Train your brain to change.
However sincere your intent to change an ingrained way of showing up, it’s unlikely to happen with the flip of a switch. In my work with helping clients create careers and lives that light them up, here’s a process I have found to be much more effective than a flip-switching approach to change .
1. Train your brain to notice what you want to change.
In this step, you’re not worried about changing anything. When something is an ingrained habitual way of seeing or doing things, it can be so automatic that you don’t even notice it. And you can’t change what you don’t notice. So this step is aimed at shining the light of attention on it, training your brain to start noticing it. It is often one done in hindsight with, for example, an end-of-day review.
2. Train your brain to see better options.
Again, you’re not worried about making a change yet. You’re just taking your brain to the gym to help it start seeing different, more constructive options. This is done in hindsight as well, looking back and exploring, “What could I have done? What were some alternative ways of looking at that situation? What were some other things I might have said that would have been more constructive.”
3. Notice it as it happens.
Finally you’re noticing it on the fly, as it happens. But you’re still not getting caught up in insisting that you must make a change. Often the momentum is too strong to let a silly little thing like noticing get in the way. If you expect the change to implement here, it will probably feel like failure. So just give yourself time to notice it when it happens, without having to do anything about it. Let your brain get adept at noticing in real time.
4. Notice it as it happens. Stop, re-evaluate, and make a different choice.
Ahhhh…we’re getting closer. You noticed the train going down the track. You noticed the bridge was out. You saw it happening, but you couldn’t stop it from getting derailed. As soon as you can, back up and say, “OK, what would a better option be?” Again, you’re training your brain to get to the next step, which is…
5. Notice it before it happens and make a different choice.
You see that knee-jerk response coming up, notice it, and decide on a different option. Over time, as this becomes more natural, it leads you to the result you’ve been after all along…
6. Make a different choice.
Now you have a new habitual way of showing up.
Think of this one as a multi-step experiment. Let’s say you want to stop being so critical of yourself. Your experiment might look like this.
Week one: Notice what you want to change. Just notice. Don’t worry about changing anything. Do an end-of-day review. Every evening, scan back and ask, “Where was I critical of myself?” Maybe make a laundry list. this is a no-judgment zone. You’re just noticing, objectively observing like a scientist.
Week two: Keep doing the end-of-day review. Each evening, pick one (or more, if you feel inspired) thing from the list of times you have been overly self-critical and ask, “How could I look at this differently? Was it really as bad as my story would have me believe? Was there anything positive about what I did? What can I learn from this? How could this prepare me to do something different in the future?”
The point of the exploration is to train your brain to see different alternatives than your knee-jerk, habitual one. Doing it after the fact gives you time to sort through it and give it some thought, taking the pressure off.
At the same time, challenge yourself to catch your habitual way of being as it unfolds. Don’t worry about implementing the new alternative (if that happens, it happens, but if it doesn’t, that’s not your focus yet anyway).
Week three: As you notice what you’re aiming to change, encourage yourself to start incorporating the alternative. Start with an immediately after-the-fact approach. “Hey, there was that old pattern. What would a different way of seeing it/behaving have been? How could I have played that differently?” If possible, hit reset and do it over.
As you recognize the old pattern coming up, challenge yourself to catch it before it happens and replace it with the new approach.
Week four: Reinforce. Reinforce. Reinforce.
Now, realistically, do I think it will be a nice, tidy, linear process like this? No, probably not. But this lays out a way for you to approach it that takes you out of the tyranny of must! change! now! and lets you take an approach that is more likely to stick.
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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM
Time for a career change? Start with The Occupational Adventure Guide