Right now, when most of us are deep within the retreat to our homes, we may be inclined to look at all we have going on around us and do the things we WANT TO DO, before we do the things we HAVE TO DO. Those wants and haves are different for everyone and they are categorized in the mind in different ways and of course, also influenced by the context. For example, where someone may put “researching something on the internet” in the WANT TO DO category, another may put it in the HAVE TO DO category. Where someone may put “going outside for some exercise” in the WANT TO DO category, another may put it in the HAVE TO DO category.
You’ve probably observed this now that home and work life have blended contexts.

Yet, what you might not have observed is how some of your WANT TO DOs are designed to avoid the HAVE TO DOs because they generally feel better. Your subconscious mind actually preferences the things that make you feel better and in doing so hijacks your body to FEEL something about them, hijacks your mind with THOUGHTS and IMAGES to draw you toward them, and hijacks your internal chatter to TELL you certain things about them to influence your movement toward them. This hijack of the feelings, thoughts, images and chatter creates desire to move toward it.

Desire is a powerful motivator. Think about some of the things that we desire – sex, food, cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, sleep, a shower, scrolling our devices, TV / Movies, music, a hug and even sometimes exercise (that’s not me, I wish it was. LOL). It’s a very subtle process and designed not to be observable. In fact, if you have mindlessly moved toward a WANT TO DO without giving any thought to why, you are actually training your subconscious mind to make that move quickly and more efficiently. It might even become so speedy and efficient that it wires to it, the context where you usually do it. Now you have a habit – an automatic response triggered by a context cue.

Unless you have stopped to give any thought to why you are moving toward a WANT TO DO, then you are missing something very important about the moment – your discomfort. And if you have chalked this up to a habit, and run that automatic behavior without observation you will further train your subconscious mind to be more and more efficient at preferencing the WANT TO DO over the HAVE TO DO in that context. Good news is, that a habit is just subconscious efficiency. It’s compressed time. It’s wired neurons that you can actually unwire. It starts with mindfulness and it can be accomplished in a few easy steps.

1. BECOME AWARE and BREATHE: of the ping of desire – it might be an image, thought, a felt sense in your body, or internal chatter. Breathe and acknowledge it and before doing anything else…

2. ASK YOURSELF: “Why am I not okay in this moment without it?”

3. OBSERVE: your first reaction to this question. It will likely be some iteration of “because it will make me feel good” or “because it will make me feel better” or “I deserve it” or even “it’s my reward.”

4. REMIND YOURSELF: If you are moving toward something that would make you feel good or better, you do not, by definition feel okay. Something is off.

5. REFLECT: Take that moment and look for something that you may be avoiding – something that has associated with it a perception of discomfort in the process or the outcome. This something may be a task that is uncomfortable in and of itself, or action you need to take that produces an uncomfortable outcome. It may also be simple avoidance of a thought, feeling, or belief about yourself, other people and the world.

6. NOTICE: your feelings about that thing. Notice your beliefs about yourself when you think about that thing.

7. Lean into it and DO THAT THING ANYWAY: Anything less trains your subconscious to 2 things – 1) to become more efficient in avoiding it and 2) to attach increased desire to whatever moves you away from it.

8. PRACTICE and CELEBRATE when you do it: If you are not practicing this, you are practicing something else. And practice makes performance. And to really lock it in, when you catch yourself doing it, celebrate it with a little “yeah me!” Give your system a shot of dopamine – dopamine is a hormone which among other things facilitates learning and memory. So, tell your system this new habit something to remember by getting excited about it. The more kinesthetic your celebration the better. So move your body while you are celebrating!

This is a very subtle process and it’s the same mechanism that would turn you safely back toward your village before venturing into the jungle where the tiger lives. So, we are grateful for it. But in this day and age we are avoiding paper tigers, not real tigers. So, the skill is being misapplied and we have become so riddled with habits that we feel we have no choice and control over.

As a hypnotherapist, this is the kind of thing I unravel for folks every day. Most of the time, I use hypnotherapy and NLP to reframe the awareness that come up in #2, #5 and #6 above. In our work, we clear those things and the avoidance behavior drops off. And, at the risk of engineering myself out of a job, I teach them this and it produces incredible behavior change.

It’s not theory. It’s the real deal. It’s how I broke up with a 30+ year relationship with Bulimia by facing head on the tiger I was trying to avoid.

So, take the HAVE TO DOs head on. Do it so often that your subconscious mind learns they are not a tiger to fear. The WANT TO DOs will still be there. They will still bring you pleasure, yet you might find you gain even greater joy and satisfaction from realizing how much choice and control you actually have over your behavior.

Now THAT’s something worth making a habit of. And tiny habits add up to BIG change!

#tinyhabits (Read more about Tiny Habits here.) I am a certified Tiny Habits Coach, so when you are ready to leverage this too to create your BIG change I am here to help you make confetti out of your paper tigers.