Am I my habits?

One of the questions that people raise when invited to try some different mind and language strategies is: Is this sustainable?

What they mean is: This is not my ‘normal’ (i.e. habitual) behaviour. I’ve tested it out to see what happens. But can I keep it up? How can I sustain such a different behaviour when it’s not really me?

The query concerns real issues:

  • Am I my habitual behaviour that I’ve developed over many years and with which I’m very comfortable?
  • How can I keep doing this new behaviour when it took so much effort to do it once?
  • Won’t people think I’m odd, inconsistent, etc if I keep behaving in this way?

What we need to take into account are these ideas:

We are not the same person we were 5, 10, 15 years ago. We acquire new habits and subtly shift existing ones throughout life, often without noticing.

We have a wide range of behaviours at our disposal. We choose to use some much more than others. The ones we don’t use can be tested, practiced and built into new habits, thereby expanding our repertoire.

People may or may not notice any change in our behaviour or in what we say. Worrying about what other people think is not particularly productive as they are often not thinking about us but what others are thinking about them!

We are not just our behaviours. Who I am is not the same as what I do or how I act. It is only part of the picture.

Sustaining change comes from building a habit. A habit is built by practicing, by repeatedly doing something until we no longer have to give it conscious attention. In acquiring new habits we may shift our identity. For some this can be risky. Others relish the challenge. An expanded repertoire gives flexibility. The person with a wide repertoire is going to have more life options than the one with a narrow range of habits.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.