Lately, I’ve been re-learning the importance of “associations” when it comes to changing habits/behavior…even in little things like quitting sugary drinks.
I used to think that the answer was to create clear rules for yourself that force the behavior you want. Accountability partners, self-imposed consequences and rewards, etc.
But the problem with rules is that they often kill intrinsic motivation. Doing the right thing is reduced to getting the carrot or avoiding the stick. As soon as the stick is gone, or the carrot doesn’t seem worth it, your motivation vanishes. You forget about your actual “why”.
Rules also tend to increase the perceived value of the things they forbid. We tend to glamorize the things that we can’t have, which makes us want them even more…the forbidden fruit.
So, not only do rules deflate your deepest actual motivations for doing the right thing, they actually make the temptation to do the wrong thing even STRONGER.
The only thing I’ve seen that can actually create lasting behavior change is a change in DESIRE. In other words, you have to either:
A) Stop WANTING the wrong thing
B) Start WANTING the right thing
…in a clear, intense way.
As in, not only do you no longer want the sugary drink, but you might be embarrassed to even be SEEN with it.
Or, something happens that makes you want a certain result so badly that it suddenly becomes an absolute necessity…a MUST.
The only way I know to change desires is to change associations. Associations are, in many cases, the reasons we like or dislike the things we do.
If I see a sugary drink as a wonderful, refreshing treat, the odds are slim that I’ll ever be able to avoid it for long periods of time no matter what I try.
But if I start seeing it as a sticky, syrupy, cheap, liquid candy that is PROVEN to cause obesity and disease…something that teenagers drink in their mom’s basement while playing World of Warcraft for days at a time in a t-shirt you can smell from across the room…
NOW, my associations start to change.
Your behaviors often come down to the way you see things…your beliefs.
Since beliefs can’t be changed directly (they are the results of our thoughts), I’m learning that the best place to start is to:
1) think of a way to “re-frame” the thing you want to avoid so that it seems disgusting or terrible…or re-frame the thing you want to do so that it seems like a MUST.
2) change your words. Your words go a long way in shaping your thoughts and beliefs. Don’t use words that glamorize the things you don’t want. Use words that affirm the thoughts, beliefs, actions, and results you WANT.
When we change our associations, and ultimately our desires, we no longer need so many rules and consequences to force the right behavior.
Our motivation is often stronger than we realize. We just need to make sure all of our motivations are aligned in the right direction.