Have you been trying to change some of your habits and find yourself unable to even begin doing so? This is a fairly common effort – the need to change bits and pieces of us, with an equally common outcome – we rarely keep our efforts going, apart from perhaps a burst of conviction in the beginning. Why does this happen? How can we make personal change more consistent and sustainable? This article is about one powerful tool for personal change. I’ve used it successfully to great effect for myself and nearly every one of my clients, most of whom have one or the other aim for personal change. If you’re looking at personal change, then read on.
When we speak about personal change, what we’re usually trying to change is either a habit, say, a cup of tea every morning without fail, or a pattern, for example, each time we’re in front of a cup of tea, we must add sugar and also have a munchie with it. These are fairly simple examples that I’m sure many of us resonate with.
If you’re wondering why anyone would want to change the things in the examples mentioned, it’s usually about either wanting to begin a new habit or practice for which older ones must be discarded, or it could be about establishing a greater sense of independence and personal influence over oneself.
There are usually some attributes associated with the habit or pattern that make it appear indispensable or difficult to break. In the case of tea every morning, the most common consequence I’ve heard of skipping it, is a really bad headache that lasts throughout the day. In the instance of the tea-related pattern of sugar and munchies, the usual thought is that one will not enjoy the tea at all without sugar and not as much without a munchie to accompany it. These are thoughts that might be fact or assumption, but are closely held nevertheless, and rarely challenged, even to test if the thought is still valid.
For example, we may have experienced a headache that is co-related with skipping tea, say 5 years ago. All we know is that, that morning we didn’t have tea and had a day long headache. In our eagerness to jump to conclusions, we assume it must be the tea, without considering other factors at the time (e.g. temporary stress), or the possibility of change over time.
Co-relation, is not necessarily causation.
Here, we come to the notion of what I like to call, a Positive Precedent. The key, is to merely try and see what happens when we skip the said cup of tea one morning, and experience a single cup of tea without sugar or munchies and see what happens. It is quite possible we might begin to get a headache or not enjoy the tea as much. The point here, is that the opposite is also possible, and in most cases, it is the opposite that happens. We rarely get a headache from skipping tea in the absence of other factors, and might find the tea quite acceptable with none or less sugar.
Now, when this happens; when we find the basis of our patterns isn’t as strong as we thought it was, i.e. we didn’t get the headache for instance, we now have a positive precedent, a basis to repeat the act of skipping tea and sugar and munchies. When we do it again, and continue doing so, we gather a number of such positive precedents, and given enough of these, the habits or pattern is almost certain to be broken, because we have no reason to continue them, and we’ve proven that to ourselves, repeatedly.
Keep in mind that Positive Precedents can be used with all kind of habits and patterns. For example, smokers believe they need a cigarette before visiting the loo; drinkers believe they cannot enjoy an evening without alcohol and so on.
I hope this helps with breaking your habits and patterns. 🙂