So often, clients tell me they want to change their lives. They tell me they want things to be different. Yet they repeatedly engage in the same behaviors that landed them in the situation they don’t like. The definition of insanity is repeating the same behaviors expecting different results. The trouble is that many of the behaviors that don’t serve us are triggered by beliefs we hold at a subconscious level. We need to become aware of them before we can change them.
One way we get tripped up is that our behavior can be a lack of behavior. For example, you may not speak up for yourself. You may avoid exercising and eating well. Perhaps you don’t take time alone for yourself each day. These are examples of avoidance behaviors.
Another type of behavior is what I call reactive behaviors. These are things you do in reaction to how you feel about something your partner has done or not done. Some examples of reactive behaviors include compulsive behaviors like overeating, drinking, shopping, cleaning, and exercising. Of course, any of those things done in moderation are normal and even necessary parts of life.
Another type of reactive behavior is passive/aggressive actions. If your partner upsets you in some way, you may “forget” to pick up his dry cleaning, or you may withhold sex from him.
How can you discern the belief behind the behavior and shift into a healthier place?
The first step is to be totally honest with yourself. Take a good look at the things you do and the things you don’t do. Pay special attention to the things you say you’ll do and don’t actually do on a consistent basis. Make a list of anything that is out of alignment with how you want to live your life.
Choose one thing, and be gentle with yourself by choosing something that isn’t the most emotionally charged on your list. You want to give yourself the best chance of success with this process, and if you choose the biggest problem, your ego will come up with an endless amount of resistance. If you start small, you can celebrate your success and move onto the next behavior. Working your way from small to large, you’ll be able to draw on earlier success and eventually change all the behaviors on your list.
Once you’ve chosen the behavior you want to shift, sit with it. Take a journal and some quiet time (about thirty minutes) to think about all the times you can recall acting in this way. Write down at least three to four times you behaved this way. Then try to recall how you feel before, during, and after the behavior. Write down everything that comes to mind, even if you think it doesn’t make sense. Next, think back to the very first time you can remember feeling like that. Write down what comes up for you without judging it.
Typically, you will remember the feeling from your childhood. Unfortunately, the mind of a child is extremely literal. When something gets implanted at an early age, it becomes a powerful influence. In order to shift the behavior, you have to convince your inner child to let go of the old belief.
Ask your inner child what the belief is and listen for a response. It might be verbal, or you might just “know”. Then choose a new belief, tell it to your inner child, and ask if s/he is willing to try it out. Ask what s/he needs to feel safe and loved while trying out this new belief. Listen for the response, and then promise your inner child that s/he will feel safe and loved throughout this process. Whenever you notice resistance to the new behavior, check in with your inner child, sending him or her love. It might sound a little quirky, but it works.