When you are heads down working toward a goal, have you ever gotten a small win or made a change in life and never thought twice of it? You just took it for granted and continued on.
This happens all the time and to all of us.
But this is actually a bad habit.
You know something good has happened — because you planned for it — but you were already on to the next thing.
If our mind reaches a point of identifying an extraordinary or meaningful behavior — good or bad — we should recognize something remarkable has happened.
Most of us will move immediately into action. We want the next thing in the chain and we want it now.
But we might be overlooking a very critical moment for learning and celebration.
Two things are simultaneously happening when an extraordinary behavior is mindfully realized. We are both capturing the definition of that behavior and deciding we want to act to either change that behavior or amplify it for greater effect.
What we are not doing is fully understanding the context, nor do most of us sufficiently celebrate this moment.
Understanding the context simply means asking a couple questions.
Question 1: What was I doing in the moments leading up to or recently that made this behavior become known?
Question 2: What effect was this behavior causing in my life?
The second question works itself out pretty quickly. The first usually takes some work.
Did your routine change that day?
Did somebody say something today, yesterday, last week, last month? What’s your emotional or mental state? Were there any big changes in your life recently.
If the behavior you identify is positive, then your success of repeating that behavior may have less to do with committed action but environmental modifications to support the behavior.
A quick aside … we humans almost always want to attribute a win to our own action. We don’t like the feeling of having put in some effort to only find out there were other forces greater than ours that delivered the outcome we wanted. For example: Doctors and therapists summarily reject the effects of placebos (READ: Alchemy by Rory Sutherland). It can’t be that the lighting in the waiting area or the doc wearing a white coat can effect actual medical outcomes … but it can and that flies in the face of why the doctor or therapist exists.
If the behavior you identify is negative, then the causal relationship can provide insight into the actions you create to change the behavior.
Another fundamental element to that process of understanding is the reward mechanism.
Science tells us that positive reinforcement or reward helps build good behaviors. What if you rewarded yourself for simply identifying the issue, behavior, and decision to do something about it?
This sets a reward tone.
Adding a reward is also a behavior. If we pause to celebrate the decision to change or modify a behavior, we start to build the reward muscle. Reward is a valuable part of the behavior change process.
In sum … if we are trying to change a behavior (negative effects of excessive drinking or drug use), not only must we pause and celebrate the first day without (or less of) that substance, but we need to reward both the process and that small outcome.
Doing this early and often — versus 30-day or 1 year moments — creates movement and a cycle of positivity in the process that has magical power you can use to get to the big goal.
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