Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Changing Habits: What Keeps Me Stuck In Old Ways?

ChangeImage by Wonderlane via FlickrBy Steven Handel

There are problems in my life that I have been conscious of for a very long time, but haven't yet found the capacity to fix. I reflect on these old ways and old patterns, and I can clearly see the unnecessary pain and suffering they have caused me. Yet I remain stuck in them.

Even while knowing they are wrong and ineffective, I keep doing them. Repeating them. Again and again. And each time the pain and suffering comes back. And I say to myself, "Okay, that's the last time. Fuck that. Never again. I've learned my lesson now."

But, for some odd reason, I do it again. And again. I act as if I enjoy the pain, even though I know I really don't. I act impulsively. Automatically. Like a programmed robot with no sense of choice.

These patterns in my life seem to be really sticky. They are deeply rooted. I've thought of countless ways I can try to correct them, but my efforts have so far remained fruitless. It is almost as if there is another part of me that I can't change. And perhaps there is.

But that's not going to stop me from trying. Not yet at least. Maybe I need to dig deeper. Maybe I need to ask myself better questions. Maybe I need a new perspective. Maybe I just need to be more patient. Maybe I just need more experience. Maybe I need to "just do it" and habituate myself to failure until it means nothing anymore.

If there is a solution, then I know that it's going to take some time, effort, and dedication. I'm well aware of the myth of overnight success, and as a 22 year old I don't expect to have everything work out my way all of a sudden.

Upon reflection, I've noticed that there are some things I need to consider about these "old ways" (ways that seem so persistent throughout my life), and how these relate to personal development more broadly.


Not only can I not change everything overnight, but I also can't change multiple things all at the same time. Making a conscious change in your life takes up physical and mental resources. The more resources you allocate to one conscious endeavor, the less you can allocate to another.

Trying to change everything all at once is only going to spread your resources too thin - and then nothing will get accomplished. Therefore, it is important to focus on only major change at a time.
"We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations" - Anais Nin.
We are multi-faceted beings. Therefore, simple solutions (while desirable) aren't always the correct ones. Occam's razor says, "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

It's good not to over-complicate our problems, but at the same time we can't ignore the details of our plights if we truly want to get to the root of them. If we think too simply, then we won't develop the proper focus to overcome our bad habits.

The truth is our life can be broken down into many different components:

* Health
* Relationships
* Career
* Finances
* Education
* Psychology
* Religion/spirituality

Sure, they are all intertwined and interrelated. For example, working on your health may increase your confidence and self-esteem, and that can then spill over into your relationships and career. But it is important that you don't try to conquer the whole world all at once.

If you are the kind of person who has never went to the gym on a regular basis, then you should really just focus on that for your first 2-5 weeks until it becomes a more common habit. Once that becomes more second-nature and automatic, then you can shift your consciousness to other aspects of your life that you want to adjust. This basic rule applies to any kind of habit change.

The point is that you go step-by-step, building yourself bolt-by-bolt, and not trying to transform yourself in one desperate swoop.

Again, these things take time, effort, and dedication. Personal development is an ongoing process with no clear beginning or end. Often you just have to take life one step at a time, because any other way will just get you flustered and frustrated.

LESSON: Some aspects of my life have been relatively "stagnant," because I've been busy focusing on other aspects of my growth.

This is one reason I am still stuck in some old ways.

However, I can try to better overcome these old ways by focusing on them on a 1 to 1 basis. It's OK to put some goals on the back-burner while I work on others, because working on them all at once would spread my physical and mental resources too thin.

Click here to read more on Changing Habits.

Steven Handel is a frequent blogger on psychology and personal development who practices what he preaches. Check out more of his articles on personal development. If you really enjoy his writings then also subscribe to his psychology and personal development newsletter.

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