Updated: Feb 27
Our habits drive our behaviors. That’s why change can be so tricky. We go to a new training or read a book and think, “That’s awesome! It’s totally going to change the way I do _____.” Unfortunately, our enthusiasm and commitment quickly wane as we get back into our regular work groove and things stay the same. We think we “know” what the problem is and the potential solution, but for some reason we can’t seem to adopt the changes we need to make them happen.
It’s like New Year’s resolutions. You think, “This is the year I get in shape! I’m going to the gym everyday and eating better.” In reality, less than 25% of people are still committed to their resolution after 30 days and only 8% actually accomplish them. 1 When we fail, we take it personally and blame ourselves for our lack of will power. The good news is that the problem isn’t that there’s something wrong with you; it’s that most of us don’t understand how our brains really work.
Last week I talked about how educators say they value self-care, but most of us secretly (or not so secretly) believe overworking and being exhausted proves how much we care. It’s part of our identity. When our identity isn’t aligned with the thing we want to do, like take better care of ourselves, our chances for success are low no matter how much we want to change. Why? Because our identity drives our habits, and habits drive our behaviors. If you want to start working out, you’re up against all of the habits you’ve previously established about sitting on the couch or sleeping in. The only way to do this is to change your identity. Otherwise whenever you get up early to work out, your subconscious mind says, “Oh no, that’s not what we do around here. Get back in bed.”
Most people – myself included until recently – don’t realize that our subconscious mind is in control 95% of the time. That means our conscious mind – the thing you’re using to read this blog and identify all the helpful changes you need to make in your life – is just in control 5% of the time! That also means our conscious mind has a short attention span and the rest of the time we’re running on autopilot. We’re usually not even aware of what we’re doing or why we’re doing it.
Not only is your subconscious driving the majority of the time, but it’s also incredibly more powerful than your conscious mind. Your conscious mind can process 40 bits of data per second. Not bad, right? Well your subconscious mind can process 40 MILLION bits of data per second. So, when you go to that training or read that book and decide “Yes! This is what I need to do,” you’re not going to get much traction if you don’t get your subconscious on board. 2
I can’t do the subconscious justice in one blog, but in a nutshell the subconscious consists of the programs we’ve picked up over the years – many from when we were too young to remember. It’s like a computer. If you want to do something other than the programs you already have, you have to upload them. Likewise, if you have a program that has a virus or is impacting how your machine is working – in this case you, you need to correct it or delete it or you’re not going to be able to accomplish what you want. Your subconscious can’t judge which habits are good or bad. It just runs the programs and assumes all of them are equally vital to your survival. Your conscious brain can make that judgement, but just identifying your habits as good or bad is only the first step. Then you have to change your programming and those habits.
Previously, I’ve said that your talents drive your behaviors. When we approach that idea in this framework, our talents are a part of our identity – even if you haven’t thought of them in that way before – and our identity drives our habits. People working in the Strengths framework will often talk about the balconies and basements of your talents. When you’re using your talents in a productive way – aka helping you achieve your goals/finishing a task, you’re working from the balcony. When you use your talents in a nonproductive way – aka hindering you from achieving your goals/finishing a task, you’re working from the basement. This is really just another way of saying you have good and bad habits associated with your talents. The challenge is becoming mindful enough to discover which of your talent behaviors are productive and which ones you need to change.
Once your conscious mind identifies a problem or a solution, how do you change your habits and programming? Hypnosis is one way. If you’re skeptical, I get it. A few years ago, I would have assumed anyone who told me that was a nutjob, especially since my only experience with hypnotists were the brought to campus to make students act like chickens. In reality, hypnosis can help our brains become more open to the positive changes we want to make. 3 A number of medical and psychological organizations have endorsed hypnosis: American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Psychological Association, and British Medical Association. You can either do self-hypnosis – there are a number of great downloads you can buy – or work with a certified hypnotist.
The other way to change your programming is by introducing new habits in a way that works with your brain. We usually start something new by trying to make huge changes quickly. What usually happens is your subconscious sees this new behavior as a threat to whatever habits you already have. Remember, it thinks everything you do is vital to your survival, so getting up early to work out instead of sleeping in is a red flag for your poor subconscious and it goes into battle mode to keep you in bed. Instead you want to slowly introduce the new behavior.
I’m already over 1,000 words, so I’m sure most people’s conscious brain is already starting to check out – I know mine is. lol. I’ll do another blog on ways to introduce your new habits so they stick, but if you don’t want to wait or if you want way more information about it than I can cover in a blog post, I highly suggest James Clear’s book, “Atomic Habits” 4 or check out his website: https://jamesclear.com/. He does a fantastic job breaking down new habits in ways that can be easily integrated into your life. He also explains why changing your habits – or systems – is more effective than goal setting to make the changes you want stick.
2 Lipton, B. H. (2016). The biology of belief: unleashing the power of consciousness, matter & miracles. 10th anniversary edition. Carlsbad, California: Hay House, Inc.