The four steps to successful and permanent behavioral change

Some time ago, an amazing and very courageous young woman and I were trying to figure out why her relationships failed when we decided to explore them using the “archetype” tool. 

For those not familiar with the term, an archetype is a very typical example of a certain person or thing or (in Jungian theory) a primitive mental image inherited from the earliest human ancestors, and supposed to be present in the collective unconscious. For example, there’s the archetype of the hero. When we talk of a hero, it has the same characteristics in every culture; courageous, brave, self-sacrificing, protective etc.

During that session she was shocked to realize that it was the saboteur who was wreaking havoc in her emotional life. Walking down memory lane, she saw how she herself sabotaged relationship after relationship. Although we kind of figured out why she did that, we won’t analyze it here as life coaching focuses on the present and the future and it helps us to move forward.

She asked the following question with urgency in her voice: 

“How do I stop the saboteur?”

It was then when I explained to her the 4 steps to behavioral change. For any change, whether you want to get rid of the victim, the judge, the servant inside of you when it no longer serves you, these 4 steps are the key to change:

  1. Awareness
  2. Observation
  3. Action
  4. New paradigm

Step 1 – Awareness

In order to be able to make any change, you first need to be aware of what needs to change. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. 

First of all, you need to realize that you have this behavior. In order to do that, you need to look inwards and not outwards. When something repeatedly goes wrong, try to find your role in it and not pin it on the other person. Even if your role plays a 5% part in what is wrong, you should still examine it. Until you realize that a certain behavior is not serving you anymore and all it does is have you suffer by repeating the same thing over and over again, change is not possible.

If introspection doesn’t work, just be open to what well-intentioned friends or people say about your behavior. If someone mentions it, instead of getting defensive and dismissing the suggestion, try to ponder on it and see if there is any truth in it. 

Another very effective solution would be the help of a professional (life coach, counsellor etc.).

If you are ready to change your life for the better, have faith! The universe will make sure you become aware of what needs to change one way or another!

Step 2 – Observation

Now that you know what needs to change, don’t think it can happen overnight. It’s a long process. You have been using the old ways for so long that it’s an automatic response to external stimuli. It’s like breathing or blinking. You don’t think about it. You just do it.

That is why, you need to start observing it. 

Well, I have news for you. It will most probably take days or even weeks before you can observe it. It’s so ingrained in your behavior that it will go unnoticed. Nevertheless, as long as the intention of the observation is there, at some point, you will be able to observe. In the beginning, it will be well after you have already done it. When this happens, don’t blame yourself for not picking up on it earlier. Be happy that you noticed it, even if it’s too late. Tell yourself that you will try to do better next time and keep observing. It will take many disappointing moments of your observation being “too little, too late” before you are able to actually observe yourself while you are doing it, mid-way. Now you can continue with step 3.

Step 3 – Action

Where are we? Yes! You are still doing it. But thanks to the power of observation, you caught yourself red handed. You can literally see yourself doing what you do not want to be doing any more. Take a deep breath! Ok, you started it but it doesn’t mean that you have to go through with it. 

Take action now! 

Stop yourself from going any further. Change the topic. Say you are sorry. Pretend to have forgotten what you wanted to say. Do anything but, for your own sake, do not, I repeat, do not go through with the harmful behavioral pattern.

What a relief! You can now stop yourself while you are doing it. This will go on for some time and, before you know it, you will be able to stop yourself before you even start! You will open your mouth and, instead of saying something, you will be taking a deep breath. You will be so proud of yourself the first time this happens. Know that it will keep happening. Once you do it for the first time, there’s no going back. 

Step 4 – New paradigm

And then, something magical happens. The impulse is gone. The automated response is gone. You don’t feel the need to do it anymore. You don’t have to stop yourself any more. 

You can now reap the benefits of all your hard work. You can now live free of that harmful behavior. You can now experience the new paradigm in your life.

Take it from me. It is possible! You can do it! 

The only question now is: Do you want to do it? 

Photo by Bluehouse Skis on Unsplash

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