The Dead Weight of Habits
Many of us know we have attitudes and habits that don’t help us in life; yet we sometimes feel powerless to do anything about them. We know they don't help, but they remain with us. Why is this so, and what can we do about them?
It's part of ourselves
The answer can be different for different people, but to generalise it can sometimes seem that our bad habits and areas of blindness are so much a part of ourselves that to lose them means that we lose part of ourselves. Even though these things don’t help us – and we can see that – they are at least known and familiar to us and this is better than the difficult prospect than making ourselves anew.
Another reason is that we don’t want others to see that we have changed, especially if it is a change that they have been asking for – if my partner wants me to drink less, I don’t want to ‘give in’ to them by drinking less – this only makes me feel like I have lost and they have won. Battle lines are drawn and we consolidate our positions. We harden ourselves, and change seems even more impossible and remote.
It is for these reasons that behavioural approaches to change often fail – when you try to change the behaviours alone without understanding and respecting the history and the underlying need that gave rise to them, the result can be that our very selves can feel threatened when we try to change attitudes and behaviours.
Don't focus on change
Somewhat paradoxically, psychotherapy can have more success with making changes by not focusing on change. Rather, when we take the time to understand ourselves and how we came to be this way, we can find ourselves unconsciously and subtlety restructuring ourselves. We do this to become closer to being the people we want to be. If we persist with that, the attitudes and behaviours that we have known as ‘us’ can be inconsistent with this emerging self and in time, fall away.
– Tim Hill
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