In the past few decades most of our personal development guru’s were all hammering on how important it is to change your behaviour. Their central message seems to be: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.” I am not about to disagree with them, but I have tried to implement a lot of their advice in the past… To frustratingly little effect. So what is going on here? Why do our guru’s sometimes say things that doesn’t always help? They helped thousands change their lives, so why didn’t their advice work for me?
Let’s delve into this a bit. For the sake of the exercise, I want to divide you up into three parts: your character, your behaviour, and your environment. Usually when people say they want to change something, they mean they want to change something in their environment. Maybe they’d like to find a better job, or maybe a single person wants to find a partner, or maybe you’d like to lose some weight. In this model, your environment are the things you experience, so this can include things that are internal (like your self-esteem), things that are external (like the pollution in your area), and everything in between. Now this is where most self-development guru’s have a point.
If you are struggling to change your environment, that means you are doing something wrong. Try to do something else, maybe that will change your environment. Change your behaviour, and that will change your environment. This is true, however, it doesn’t answer this question: What if I can’t change my behaviour? Many people have tried to change their behaviour, lasted for a few days and then failed. This is because changing their behaviour felt very uncomfortable, fake, or like they were trying to live a lie. Otherwise, they might have failed to change their behaviour, but never understood the reasons why. They just… failed.
When the behaviour we wish to implement doesn’t agree with our character and our self-identity, we will have a very hard time. We are going to struggle keeping up the necessary self-discipline. If the behaviour we are trying to change is social, people won’t put much stock into our new behaviour. If you are trying to act interested in people’s lives, but you aren’t really, they will pick up on that. Don’t try to be something you aren’t… or rather, change who you are before you change what you do.
So how do we that? Change who we are? Well, to change who you are, you must begin with understanding who you are. This is surprisingly simple: you are your thoughts. Your thoughts determine your self-identity, your actions, your opinions, and even your feelings. Think about it! When you observe your thoughts, how do you it? By thinking about your thoughts! So if you want to change yourself, change the way you think about stuff.
The popular maxim goes: “Sow a thought; reap an action. Sow an action; reap a habit. Sow a habit; reap a character. Sow a character; reap a destiny.” I love this maxim, because it teaches us 2 important lessons: (1) personal development starts with changing your thoughts and (2) this creates an awesome feedback loop! When you change your thoughts (character/identity) it will change your actions and, in turn, your habits (both actions), which will feed back into your character, and your character then changes your destiny, which is your environment taken into the big picture. So you change who you are by starting small, with individual thoughts, and then letting those thoughts lead to bigger things.
If you struggle to change something in life, it is because you’re not changing your behaviour. If you are struggling to change your behaviour, it is because you have to change yourself first. You change yourself by changing your thoughts. Which thoughts do you have to change for which behaviours? Well, that is more topic for a book than a blog post. Otherwise, have a chat with your favourite life coach, he will help you figure that out.