Do you want to change a less-than-effective habit?

Perhaps you want to stop reacting to emails or opening social media, or saying yes to things before giving yourself a chance to think.

You keep doing something that, deep down, you know you don’t want to do.

How to change?

Most of us spend most of each day unconsciously reacting with habits rather than consciously choosing our response.

Habits are behaviors that we’ve practiced so much that they become automatic. Habits are neither all good or all bad.

If our habits serve the situation we’re in, they work well.

But if we react with habits that don’t meet our needs at the moment, they work less well.

Habits shift into gear in response to a trigger—any stimuli that you see, hear, or otherwise sense in your environment.

When a habit is “triggered,” your nervous system detects a stimulus and sets off a chain of neurological and physiological reactions.

Part of you unconsciously perceives the trigger as an opportunity to meet a need or a threat against their needs. They react and grab the wheel in an attempt to meet or protect a need.

It’s as though you are a bus driven by a scared child, careening down the freeway.

When we react unconsciously to our environments, it is hard to discern whether we need to find a different environment.

Perhaps we need to create external change—to quit our job or leave our partner or let go of a commitment. Perhaps we need to learn a different response. Maybe both are true.

For example, let’s say technology triggers you. You promise yourself that you’ll start turning off your computer an hour before bed, but there you are at 9:05pm, unable to stop responding to email.

You see an email from a client, a voice in your head says, Just one more! And you open the email.

You can’t tell if you need a different job with fewer demands or if you need new email habits (or both).

It may seem too simple to be true, but the first step to changing a behavior is to pause.

When you pause, you stop the bus and regain conscious command of the wheel.

When you pause, you interrupt the automatic cascade of sensations, emotions, and thoughts. Rather than following your impulse, when you pause, you create an opportunity to check in about what you feel and need.

As Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for MeaningBetween the stimulus and the response is a space, and in that space lies our power and our freedom.”

When we pause frequently, we create built-in opportunities to notice that our habits are triggered, investigate what is needed, and consciously choose a better response.

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