The Number One Key to Changing Bad Habits

Niccolo-MachiavelliLet’s say there’s a habit you want to change. Maybe it’s bickering with your partner, yelling at the kids, eating a bag of chips for dinner, or watching too much TV. The way most people thinking about changing something that’s become a habit is to try harder.

But tightening up and striving more is actually not the first step. Nor is it necessarily necessary.

The first step is actually more about softening. It’s about being willing.

The opposite of willingness is resistance. And THAT subject could fill a whole book (in fact, it has, three of my favorites are I Don’t Want To, I Don’t Feel Like It by Cheri Huber, and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks—if you have a favorite book about it, tell me! I’d love to read it). While it’s so helpful to educate yourself about resistance so you can get hip to it and become less susceptible to it, that’s not the purpose of this post. This post is about focusing on what do to when you find yourself resisting something that you have a pretty good feeling would be good for you. And that is to embrace willingness.

By which I mean:

A willingness to see—How you are perpetuating the habit, what your triggers are, what the effects are, what it’s costing you to keep this habit going.

A willingness to be open to a new perspective—To take in new information and really try it on for size, whether it’s from a book, a podcast, a friend, a mentor, a loved one.

A willingness to try something different—To say how you’re feeling if you usually bite your lip, or go to bed when you’re tired instead of watching another episode, or invite someone to do something if you usually wait to be asked… the possibilities here are endless. Endless! It doesn’t really matter what you do or how well you do it so long as you just step out of your rut and give yourself a different experience. (I wrote more about that in my post The Difference Makes All the Difference.)

A willingness to be wrong—This is kind of a biggie, because a really common reason that people aren’t willing to try on a new perspective or try something different is because they are convinced they are right. Which means anything that’s not coming from their own mind is wrong. And so, of course, why would you try anything new if you’ve already deemed it wrong? Whenever you’re feeling stuck about something, ask yourself, Am I just committed to being right? It will take willingness to see it and recognize it in yourself. Even if you don’t do anything else, but you see that you’re clinging to a need to be right, that will be progress. Perhaps the next time you’ll be able to explore what it might mean if there were no one set definition of right.

A willingness to fail—Or mess up, or look silly, or do something imperfectly, or look awkward. You can’t do something you either don’t usually do or have never done before and expect to nail it right of the gate, am I right? So that means you have to be willing to get a little egg on your face.

A willingness to find the humor—To me, this is paramount. If you can see something as funny, it means you can see it from an outside perspective, which means you aren’t overly identifying with whatever you’re facing. Sure, humor can be a way to deflect bigger, more uncomfortable emotions, but that doesn’t make it wholly undesirable. Laughing at yourself means you are willing to not have it all together all the time, and that is freedom.

You may not be able to access 100% willingness at any given time, and that’s OK. Sometimes all it takes is 1% willingness to start to crack open doors in your mind that lead to happy new changes in your life. You don’t have to nail this. You just have to try, and then keep trying. It will change.

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