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  • Writer's pictureAntti Vanhanen

The Secret to Changing Behavior

Almost all of us want to change some aspect of our behavior, yet so few of us succeed. Here's why, and how we can make change effortless and easy.

Most of us want to be more productive, positive, hard-working or motivated. Or we want to eat less junk food, drink less alcohol, spend less time on our phones, or watch less TV.

Every single one of these goals can easily be justified to be "good" goals.

And yet so few of us have actually managed to change our behavior.

The few that have managed change their behavior in one area of their lives struggle to change it in other areas.

Why is it so hard?

As Albert Einstein once remarked, "we cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them."

I've always like that quote, but it wasn't until recently that it's meaning came into focus for me. What might these levels be?

As it seems to me, there are three levels of changing behavior:

Level 1: The Hard Way

On this level, we rely on our intellect to analyze the problem, comprehend the issue, apply the remedy, and execute the strategy.

The problem with this approach is that our mind easily becomes overwhelmed with thoughts about the problem, our abilities to solve it, and what will happen if we succeed or fail.

For most people, the end result is usually that we have a ton of thinking but not a whole lot of action or change.

We get bogged down in over-analysis and indecision about how to proceed.

Level 2: The Harder Way

This is essentially the level on which most New Year's resolutions are made and attempted.

On this level, we are attempting to change our behavior without even trying to understand the problem.

We don't want a lecture on the problem, we just want someone to give us the "proven 7-step" method or strategy to overcome it.

As a result, we tend to sign up for that new crossfit membership, start a fancy new diet, or simply double down on our resolution to give up smoking.

We believe the secret is in the method, the information. All we need to do is execute. Sounds simple, right?

However, when don't understand the problem or why we did the shitty behavior in the first place, we run into a "slight" problem: fighting against ourselves.

We want to quit smoking and yet will still have a strong urge to smoke. Or we want to have a fit body by going to the gyn, yet we still would rather lie on the couch and binge on Netflix.

Thus, our battle becomes one where we pit the outcome we want against what we actually enjoy doing.

Our arsenal in this war is comprised of habits, will power, self discipline and motivation.

All these are weapons of violence and coercion. We are trying to forcefully change ourselves and refuse to listen or understand why we are doing what we are doing.

The fact of the matter is that it's a grind to keep fighting yourself after our initial enthusiasm dwindles, which is why most attempts to change on this level end in failure.

Level 3: The Easy Way

Do you like the easy way? I bet you do.

But I bet you also like the feeling of control, of being at the wheel of the enterprise you call your life.

Unfortunately, for level 3 to become available to you, you are going to have to give up this sense of control, of directing the outcome.

If you're wondering "Antti, what the f does that even mean?", it's this:

All that you need to do is observe.

That's it.

Refrain from analyzing the problem, judging yourself or the situation, or trying to apply a remedy.

Simply open yourself up and look:

What happens just before you get the urge to go for a smoke, bury your face in that delicious cheesecake, or pull out your iPhone for the 200th time that day?

What thoughts or feelings did you just have?

Where in the body did you feel it?

As you become incresingly aware of WHY you are doing something, your relationship to that behavior will automatically start to change.

When you realize, for instance, that the reason you keep reaching for your iPhone is because you feel a sense of boredom coming on, you will see that the core issue is not an "iPhone or technology problem" but rather your refusal/inability to allow and embrace the feeling of boredom.

I'll say this again because it is so important it bears repeating:

Do not analyze, judge, or strategize the problem.

The moment you do that, you are back on Level 1.

Instead, drop all thoughts and what you think you know about yourself, your abilities, and the problem.

All you need is the patience and courage to stay open, to allow the light of your awareness to shine on the issue at hand.

It might take a while for you to see something new, but sooner or later you will.

And when you do, your behavior will change by itself automatically and effortlessly.

This is how children - the ultimate learning machines in the universe - grow and learn.

They learn so quickly because they naturally do it without the interference of conscious, analytical thinking.

Learning and change are not something that the intellect knows HOW to do.

Rather, learning and change happen automatically without us having conscious control over them.

The good news is that this same capacity to automatically and effortless learn is available to all of us.

All we need to know is where to look and then get out of the way.

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