Lingering just below the surface of our conscious minds are patterns of thought, feelings, emotions and motivations. We aren’t immediately aware of them, but they wield a powerful influence over how we behave and react to events in our everyday lives. By digging under the surface, examining our behavior and looking for our motivations, we can discover the sources of behaviors that we may not like about ourselves and that hold us back from the lives we really want to live.
Have you ever sat down to think about why you might behave in unhealthy ways? Or why you engage in those behaviors repeatedly, even when you don’t like the kind of person they turn you into (manipulative, passive, even dishonest)? The truth of the matter is that even though certain behaviors are unhealthy, in some way they fulfill our needs. Whether it’s attention, affection, sympathy, forgiveness or just plain old having your way, the behavior is getting you what you want – but at a cost.
Unconscious to conscious
While manipulative behavior may get you what you want, it also reinforces feelings of guilt and shame. Self-destructive behavior might give a person that brief feeling of being purified through punishment, but it also hammers away at self-esteem and physical health. If you want to change behaviors that run counter to the life you want to lead and the person you want to be, then you have to identify the unconscious patterns that drive them.
A little self-analysis can have an amazing impact on helping you take the first steps toward…
• Identifying behaviors you are unhappy with
• Understanding where they come from
• Being able to recognize when you are tempted to engage in an unhealthy behavior
• Having greater control over your actions, so that you can make healthier choices about how you want to operate in the world
Identify the behavior
To begin with, you have to identify the behaviors that are keeping you from what you want out of life. Here are just a few examples:
• I often feel anger and snap at my partner, even when they have done nothing wrong.
• I go on shopping sprees, even though I want to get my finances under control.
• I eat even when I don’t feel hungry or have no desire to eat.
• I get angry with myself for having feelings of guilt.
• I spend most of my time doing things I dislike.
If any of these apply to you, include them in a list of the five most frustrating behaviors you engage in and try this 3-step process:
1. Describe the pattern
After you’ve identified the behavior, describe the pattern in detail (how it comes about, what ensues, the fallout and the resulting feelings). Try to put into words the degree of this behavior’s intensity. Is it subtle or very obvious? Can you brush it off or does it stick with you for hours, weeks, years? In just a few sentences, explore why you find this behavior to be negative.
2. Pinpoint potential payoffs
Keep in mind that we wouldn’t engage in a negative behavior if it didn’t have a potential payoff. The potential payoffs can be monetary, psychological, spiritual, physical, social or related to achievement, and they help to keep you trapped in the behavioral pattern. Next to each of your five most frustrating behaviors, write down the potential payoffs associated with them.
3. Question potential payoffs
Question and test the potential payoffs that feed these negative behaviors. Honestly answering the following few questions can really help shed light on why you behave the way you do:
• What do you gain through this behavior?
• Does is it make your life easier? At what cost?
• What risks does it enable you to avoid?
• What pain does it allow you to escape from?
• What immediate results are you trading for what deferred results?
Finally, consider the change you want and need in your life, and imagine yourself living it out. Write down in detail the story of how this change would take place and the challenges you’ll face along the way. Be sure to include in the story what you are willing to give up along the way and what you want to hold onto.
Change always requires risk. Identifying unconscious patterns that drive unhealthy behavior can help to empower and give you the courage to step out of your comfort zone and enact the change you want in your life!
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