practice change, make progress

I want to post this blog post because I am excited about the handwritten stuff I did for it. I also think you might find it helpful. The desire for healthy behavior changes has inspired me for nearly seven years. I’ve been looking at exactly how I begin new behaviors and I want to share a few ideas I have.

Change happens in a cycle. Our behaviors, or thoughts, and the lessons waiting awaiting us will continue to present themselves until we are willing to learn from them. The moment of change occurs at a fork in the road. The key is to come to awareness in the exact moment where an unhelpful behavior would usually take place. When the awareness in the moment of desired change occurs, the fork in the road is easier to see and you can try something new.

A new desired behavior is an opportunity to learn something. Get curious. If you have trouble getting cool with trying new stuff, you can simply imagine. Take a second to just imagine what it might be like if you were to practice something new. What would your life look like if you let go of the things that are holding you back? What would your life look like if you invited thoughts and actions that help you move forward?

Below is an image of the cycle I am going to cover in this post. I really want to give the most focus to the importance of noticing, because that is where it all begins. Once you are able to see yourself in the moment, you can move on to implementing new skills. I cover each part of this cycle in this post. If you don’t want to read all of it, you can check out the images and see what you want to learn more about.

notice

In order to make a change, there needs to be awareness in the exact moment where you’d like the change to occur. There’s a fork in the road in that moment where you can choose a healthy behavior or slide into the unproductive behavior that has become so automatic there seems to be nothing you can do about it. The fork in the road is not there if you can’t see it. It becomes nearly impossible to produce a different outcome when you are not present to choose that different outcome. The situation comes up and autopilot initiates, leading us down the same unproductive road we keep wishing to avoid. Let’s figure out how to turn off autopilot.

Sometimes unhealthy behaviors and thought-loops consume us without our knowledge or permission. Maybe you’ve found yourself hours after an unwanted behavior realizing that you did the very thing you swore you would not do anymore. Perhaps the behavior you want to change is that you look at your phone too much, speak without listening, bite your nails incessantly, impulsively shop, or forget to use your blinker. Maybe you had a shitty reaction and yelled, threw stuff, texted impulsively, stormed off, hurt yourself, got really mean, or did whatever thing you wish you could just stop doing. Maybe you’re really working on pulling yourself out of intense self-loathing thought-storms that take you out of your day and drain your energy. All of this unwanted behavior and thinking needs to be seen. It needs to be acknowledged, “Yes, there that thing is, right there. I see that.” If it is not seen, it cannot be cared for, and nothing will grow.

Maybe you feel like shit six hours after you impulsively said something super mean to someone you care about. It just happened, you wish you hadn’t, it was automatic, there was no other option, you lost yourself and you snapped, you didn’t even realize what you said until you said it. Instead of slipping into a pool of self-loathing and disappointment, you can say, “Oh, I acted on that behavior six hours ago” without judgment, without resistance, without excuses, without blaming others. Start by noticing. Inviting awareness will invite even more awareness. Over time, you will be able to bring your full attention to your behavior as it is happening, and then before it happens.

Notice. You will pause and you will study. You will spend time looking at parts of yourself you’d prefer to avoid until they magically aren’t there. Be careful not to fixate, however. This is not meant to become the only thing you see. It is simply one more thing you see. Obsession with negativity is never super helpful. Noticing these unproductive facets of yourself means you are expanding your view, not narrowing it.

When you become willing notice what you wish wasn’t there, you will notice that it is not scary. And then you’ll realize there is nothing weird about you. You’ll see yourself without hating what you soo. In fact, you’ll like seeing yourself, even when you’re looking at the annoying parts, because you’ll be looking for new lessons. And then you’ll gain a better understanding of yourself and how you want to express your experience of being alive. And then you’ll learn new interesting things about yourself and other people. You’ll grow in ways that bring you feelings of safety and confidence. First you need to notice.

To notice means to be mindful. When you start practicing mindfulness skills, you will strengthen your ability to notice specific things about yourself in specific situations where remaining present has been difficult.

One way to improve your noticing skills is to practice mindfulness intentionally throughout your day. Take time to practice some mindfulness skills in order to build a foundation of calm and stability. Spend five minutes each day exploring a specific mindfulness skill that feels right for you. Bring yourself back to the present moment as you are going about your day. Come back to oxygen, observe your surroundings, take a big inhale and sigh while releasing the tension in your body. While you are driving, while you are playing with a baby, while you are eating. The moment of awareness is true magic. When you come into the present, you are allowing yourself to exist peacefully.

Come up with a short phrase or mantra that will help you remember to come back to center. You can set this as a reminder on your phone a few times per day, or you can leave yourself notes on your desk, your planner, your mirror, whatever. The phrase I use is, “this is oxygen,” and I really like it for it’s simplicity and the fact that it reminds me to breathe. You can find yourself thinking of your phrase or word and remember, “Here I am, I see myself, I am in this moment, cool.” Taking three deep breaths at this time is also awesome. If you happen to be in a conversation or doing something else, simply try to come to an observation of yourself in the moment.

self-compassion

notice with intense honesty and deep compassion

When you notice that you are behaving in a way that does not serve you, it’s easy to fall into a big whirlpool of shitty self-talk. Please try not to do that. Shaming yourself for negative behaviors only increases shame and prevents a positive attitude while coming up with a solution. Speak kindly to yourself. Acknowledge yourself for your awareness and willingness.

If you could customize every reaction, behavior, and mood you have, you wouldn’t choose anything that emotionally or otherwise harms the people you love. We all know that. The shitty stuff that we do happens because we picked it up as an attempt to protect ourselves from something that made us feel unsafe, or we saw someone else do it and now it’s all we know. Understanding where our behaviors come from is important and helpful. Love yourself for that. Love your younger self for that. Love your future self for that. It is okay that this is where you are. It’s exactly where you need to be. Destructive behavior patterns are understandable and that does not mean they are excusable. Though it is not your fault that you picked up these things, it is your responsibility to put them down. That is not going to happen without self-compassion.

You can be determined and peaceful at the same time. You can be gentle and deeply committed to change. You can be self-compassionate and uncomfortably self-aware. If the unhelpful behavior happens and you feel like shit, you’re going to feel even worse if it happens again. Say, “okay, that happened, it was not helpful. I am learning and I am worthy of love. How can I learn from this and move forward with a broader awareness?”

If you act out and raise your voice, maybe you feel a bunch guilt and self-loathing. If this occurs again, the guilt and self-loathing is going to come back ten-fold. That self-loathing behavior cycle can happen over and over again. It can become unbearable. Like, this shit can cause suicidal thoughts, dude. Be kind to yourself, please.

When you are changing in an intentionally healthy direction, you are healing. Your efforts to change are amazing and something to be super proud of. I need you to know that healing takes time. You are going to grow at your own pace and that is wonderful. Grow with awareness. Grow with love. Please get a professional involved when needed.

learn

If you are willing to learn about yourself, you will learn about yourself. Opening up to learning will provide clarity as you come up with realistic alternative behaviors that will move you forward instead of keep you stuck.

Behaving in a way that you do not want to behave does not mean you suck. The areas of yourself that you are not proud of are not to be angrily pushed away. The parts of your Self that bring you disappointment are really road signs signaling you toward the corners of your Self that need more love and acknowledgement. This is an opportunity to grow your connection and love for yourself.

Ask questions with self-awareness and answer them with humility. Look at your actions, emotions, and words to understand what you’re really trying to accomplish when you act against your values. When you can identify your needs, you will be better equipped to come up with a helpful behavior.

As you gain a deeper understanding of your behavior patterns, a well-informed alternative behavior can be practiced. You can use what you know about your inner-self to come up with some realistic behaviors to act upon in place of what you’re used to.

When you have come up with some new healthy ideas, you can start practicing them in your daily life both in and out of the situations that pull you into unproductive auto-pilot.

practice

Once you have some new stuff to try out, put it to the test. You can practice new behaviors throughout your daily life where they might fit. And, try them in the moment when you notice that this might be a time where you would otherwise fall into your go-to negative behavior. When you notice with awareness that you in a space where you would typically engage in a negative behavior, take a breath. You are at the fork in the road. You can breathe. You can choose the helpful path and see what’s waiting in that direction.

Write down the new behavior you want to practice and keep it easily accessible. When you come to the fork in the road, you can reference it to help align you with the changes you want to make.

Do this, and repeat. Practice your replacement behavior and see how it is. Did it work? Did it feel weird? Could you edit it? Ask all sorts of questions so that you can customize your new behavior in a way that totally suits you.

The learning part of this cycle is super helpful when you are experimenting with new ways of being and thinking. This is all re-con. When things do not go the way you wish they would have, remember that you were just doing research. Now you have some more data. This can inform future research as you observe your behavior going forward.

repeat

Self-aware and self-compassionate observation will inevitably lead to growth. It just will. As you continue your growth, continue to check in with yourself. How does this feel? Ask yourself, “am I living in accordance with my values?” When you act out on behaviors that do not serve you or others, get curious instead of self-loathing. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to communicate? What needs to be heard?” You don’t have to reveal all of your underneath stuff, just get curious about how you can let that stuff be heard from a rational and mindful mindset.

Sometimes our negative behaviors are a distraction tactic. Like, we’d rather people see the negative behavior than the pain that is underneath. Someone saying, “You hurt me when you yelled at me,” might feel safer because they are looking at the yelling instead of at the vulnerable, sensitive piece that we’d rather keep secret. Maybe we’re distracting ourselves, too.

By looking at your vulnerabilities, you can find ways to let yourself be heard in a way that will actually help you feel heard. You can show yourself to others in ways that make you feel seen and safe. A lot of the stuff that scares us the most is the stuff we don’t know we’re not seeing. Opening up with willingness will provide a view with new binoculars.

Simone DeAngelis