Unwanted behaviours are unconscious habits we don’t like and we wish there was a practical way to change them. They may range from simple behavioural habits to more complex limiting beliefs which make our life difficult.
Aristotle said it very nicely.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”
Examples of unwanted behaviours
Some examples of behaviours or mind habits we may want to get rid of are the following:
Negativism: focusing almost exclusively on the negatives
Criticism and Self-criticism: continuously criticising and judging others and ourselves
Overanalysis: going over the same – usually negative – thoughts, again and again
Urge for control: trying to control things that are usually outside our control (others, traffic, life’s adversities)
Victimisation: placing ourselves in the victim’s position in every situation
Voice raising: putting the volume up when we are angry, disagree or feeling in anyway uncomfortable
Arrogance: being arrogant, ironic or overly suspicious
Superiority or inferiority syndrome: feeling or behaving as we are either superior or inferior to others
Mind-wandering: being absent-minded, either living in the past or the future instead of the present
Emotional distancing: failing to show empathy, keep emotions frozen, being avoidant
Naiveness: saying something naive, usually a habit of talking before thinking
Procrastination: postponing important tasks we have to do for a later time
Luck of responsibility: avoiding responsibility for what is happening in our life
Impatience: being impatient, not realising that others and life in general have their own timing, haven’t cultivated the virtue of patience yet
Bad mood: waking up in the morning having bad mood for no particular reason is so common, some people can stay in this mood for the rest of their day
Some more unconscious habits we may want to change
If you do not resonate with any of the above unwanted behaviours examples, let’s try some simpler ones.
- Keep repeating some unnecessary words when we talk
- Scratching our nose 🙂
- Not smiling enough
- Holding our breath, especially when we are stressed
As you think about it, you may discover your own bad habits to populate your list. For now, you only need to find one, with which you can start practice.
A number of external factors may influence or cause the above behaviours. To a significant extend however, this is because people are good at mimicking behaviours they have encountered in their earlier life (from parents or friends). Such behaviours are not part of our deep core. They are a kind of external coating or a cloak we wore some time and for some reason. We simply have never questioned whether they are really a part of ourself, whether we need them, whether they are good for us or not.
If we are raised in a house where people talk French, we will learn to speak in French. But if we want to learn a new language, or even speak.. better French, we are free do so by all means.
Changing any of these behaviours has the following stages:
- Realisation that a particular behaviour doesn’t help us
- Find a more helpful behaviour to replace it with
- Exercising our awareness “muscles” so we realise we fell into.. the trap
Let’s see below in more detail the full cycle of changing an unwanted behaviour or habit.
Changing an annoying habit
- Become aware of the habit: The first step to changing a habit is to become aware of it.
- Take a conscious decision to change: Once you have identified the trigger, take a bold decision to break the habit.
- Practice self-observation: Lurk like a cat with a mouse until you catch yourself engaging in an unwanted behaviour. In this case you are both the cat and the mouse. Avoid self-criticism, just observe yourself without any judgement.
- Daily reminders: The most common trap is to forget about it. Write a post-it note or set reminders if they can help you stay on track.
- Celebrate your success: Celebrate and reward yourself for successes in breaking the habit. This can help you stay motivated and develop new, healthier mind habits.
Do not rush
Do not try to avoid the unwanted habit from the very beginning. Replacing one habit is a nice battle to win. However, what you really want to win is the war. The war is learning how to change any habit you believe does not work for you. The most important of the above steps is exercising your self-observation in order to increase self-awareness.
Therefore, your first goal is try to become aware of the incident as soon as possible, even after you have lapsed into it. At a second stage, when your reflexes have become faster, you will be able to spot on time and avoid it altogether.
The first few times you will probably miss. You won’t realise it at all, or you may realise it long after you have slipped. That’s ok.
Progressively you will become an expert. The time between slipping into an unwanted behaviour and the moment you realise that you did it again, becomes shorter and shorter. Eventually, with your self-awareness getting razor sharp, you will be able to realise it the very moment it happens.
Mindfulness is the key
It gets even better than this: with enough practice, you become so mindful that you sense it before it even happens. So, you will have all the time you need to press the brakes.
In your awareness strengthening endeavours you might find that some traits are hardwired, hence quite difficult to change. Don’t let them stop you from changing those you can change. True wisdom is being able to distinguish which is which.
See also our article “Reclaim your attention control!”