“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” Bill Gates
20 years ago, I went through a deep teenager crisis which completely disrupted my life trajectory. From being best student in class and a competitive judo player, I became the shadow of myself, dropped out of school, and picked up multiple addictions.
This experience changed my life forever. I was only 18 but I thought back then that I was like already dead and would never feel joy again. Surprisingly, though, this fiasco turned out to be the most fruitful phase of my life.
It started as a reaction to a minor tension between my parents. I was probably not mature enough to understand and accept what was going on. As a result, the paradigm of success I had at the time was not making sense any longer and it exploded in pieces.
In a desperate attempt to numb the pain, I indulged into self-destruction. I stopped sport competitions, started to smoke, first a cigarette, then a joint, then a bong, etc. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd.
I needed meaning but could not find it anywhere. I had picked up philosophy classes but what they were teaching there seemed superficial and did not answer my questions –or my distress. I dropped out of university after a month.
I felt increasingly isolated. I stopped talking to people. I would just write notes to my mother. I had built a hut in the forest where I would spend most of my time, in the loneliness of my morbid thoughts. So when people say “If only I could be 18 or 20 again…”, I think to myself that it was actually the worst time of my life.
It took me some time to recover. My parents had the wisdom not to push me. I did not want any help. They were confident that I would somehow get back on track. The odds seemed against them at that time. But actually they were right. I made it through.
In retrospect, I realize that there were many steps involved in getting over failure and building my life back. Let me try and share them with you.Advertising
1. Give up the victim mindset
When something bad happens, we tend to picture ourselves as victims. As a result, we adopt a passive attitude: if the world did us wrong, then it should also make things better again for us. It is as if we were trying to convince ourselves that there is nothing we can do to bounce back. After all, it is a comfortable thought: if there is nothing we can do about it, we have nothing to do but bemoan our fate.
The first step in my “recovery” process was a mindset shift. I simply realized that nothing was going to change by just waiting for it. I had been through tough times but I could not expect the solution to come from outside. I had to hold myself accountable for what was coming next. No one will look after you if you don’t start by looking after yourself.
This realization did not come overnight. It took me almost a year to get there. Of course it was frightening. When you are at the bottom, you can’t fall lower. If you try to come back up, you expose yourself to failure again.
But the biggest risk at this stage was not to take any risk at all. By maintaining self-destructive behaviors, I would just lose any chance of a better life. What did I have to lose but the hell I was living in?
I had touched the bottom and pushed it with my foot. I was ready for action and committed myself to getting back to the surface. There was a long way to go.
2. Change the setting
Our lives are deeply influenced by our environment. The place where we live, the people we know, etc. They are part of our identity; they are constant reminders of who we have been to date. To a certain extent, they anchor us in our past.
This is natural, and even comforting. But it may be unhelpful when we strive to create change in our lives. People sometimes expect us to behave in a certain way which makes it difficult to adopt new behaviors.
When I decided to rebuild my life, I felt the urge to break free from the past –at least temporarily. I enrolled at the university in a town where I knew no one. It made it less awkward to try and be the new me that I wanted to be. There was no sign from the past; I could focus on the present. It was like a cocoon in which I could be born again.Advertising
Sometimes changing the outside makes it easier to change inside. This is what behavior psychologist James Prochaska calls “Environment Control”.
Depending on the severity of your setback, you may not have to go as far as moving country or city. But taking a 1- or 2-week break at least can prove beneficial. It will facilitate the introspection process and help you get a fresh perspective on the situation.
3. Know yourself
Major breakdowns shatter our identity. In order to move on with life, we have to rebuild a sense of self.
Who am I? How did this fiasco come along? Where do I want my life to go from now on? I knew I needed answers to these questions in order to get back on track.
When life doesn’t go the way we want, we tend to avoid mirrors and the ugly reflection they send back to us. Yet facing the mirror and raising awareness is essential to pick ourselves back up after a fiasco. Without self-awareness, any behavior change process has very little chance to mature.
I used two mirrors: reading and dreaming. I would read voraciously anything that could help me understand the situation better: psychology papers, books on mental illnesses and spiritual experiences, biographies from people I felt somehow related to, articles about substance abuse, etc.
This is also when I started to write down all my dreams. I had a Dictaphone next to my bed and I would wake up at night to record a few words and remember the dreams the next day. I became an expert dreamer! I could remember up to 20 dreams per night very vividly. I didn’t feel the need to analyze them. By simply acknowledging them and exploring my subconscious, things were getting clearer: my fears, my aspirations, the people I loved, what mattered to me.
Self-understanding leads to self-acceptance. It is the cornerstone of any genuine reconstruction process.Advertising
4. Body first
Critical setbacks in life leave us with a lot of uncertainties. We doubt whether any activity is worth pursuing.
At the peak of my personal crisis, I wouldn’t listen to any music anymore because I could not identify myself any longer with anything. Why would I listen to this song rather than this other one?
The first certainty that emerged out of the chaos was the importance of physical health. I did not know which life track I would eventually follow, but I was sure that I would be better equipped under any scenario if fit. This fundamental belief was where I started my reconstruction process from.
I went back to a healthy life with regular exercise, pushups every day, a balanced diet, no smoking or drinking, etc. The downward spiral was over. I was engaged in a process of progression which helped regain self-confidence.
When we are in good shape, our thoughts are clearer and we manage our emotions better. Our body is ultimately our home, our temple. Treating it with respect is essential to rebuilding a positive sense of self.
5. Mull it over and get it out
A life crisis is a traumatic event. We can be tempted to avoid thinking about it and live in denial in order to reduce our pain. Yet this can’t be fruitful in the long run. We have to face reality and confront our suffering if we want to go beyond it.
At the same time, we shouldn’t get stuck in unpleasant thoughts and relive in our mind the fiasco we have been through again and again. We need to eventually get it out of our system.
The way I did it was through writing. For about a year, I wrote poetry. I had some very strong feelings inside that I needed to crystallize in order not to drag them along. This was my emotional catharsis.Advertising
Creative activities such as journaling or painting can be immensely helpful in getting you over the bad aftertaste left after a personal fiasco. The point is not to create a masterpiece, but to let go of limiting emotions.
6. Set goals
Goal-setting probably saved my life! As I engaged in a reconstruction process, I felt deeply frustrated with where I stood. Setting personal objectives allowed me to set eyes on a new horizon and move forward. I was perhaps very far from where I wanted to be but I was on my way there, step by step, day after day.
I wrote a list of the goals I wanted to achieve in life, organized them by category (physical, intellectual, artistic, etc.), and kept a daily log of the activities that were me getting closer to these aspirations. This provided me with a sense of direction and helped me be at peace with my present self.
By setting goals, you make yourself responsible –you adopt the viewpoint that you can do something about your situation. By having goals, you take ownership of your destiny and become the architect of your life.
Don’t set too many at first. Try with three to five simple goals, with a focus on daily or weekly habits. Make them S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound); e.g., exercising 3 times per week, reading 20 minutes per day, or drinking 2 L of water daily.
When failure becomes an opportunity
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill
If you had asked me back then, I would have told you that I would rather have avoided this fiasco. It’s only years later that I recognized how beneficial it had actually been. A breakdown may shake you but it does not destroy you –it de-constructs you. The bricks of your life may be scattered all over the place but they are still here. This gives you a rare chance to rebuild from scratch the life you want.
It took me some time to get back on track. I eventually managed to enter a prestigious university and started a career in investment banking. 12 years later, I launched my own venture to help people reach their own life goals. It was a way to close the loop: failing, growing, and sharing.
The lessons I have learned and the habits I have picked up through this personal crisis stay with me to this day. This fiasco ended up having a positively transformative impact in my life.
When you experience personal chaos, you may not see the light at the end of the tunnel right away. It may feel like everything is over. Don’t freak out, it could well be instead a blessing in disguise and a rare opportunity for you to step back and build the life you want.
Last Updated on March 25, 2020
How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)
Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.
However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.
Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.
Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.
Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems.
In this article, you will learn why it isn’t easy to build new habits, and how to change habits.
Table of Contents
What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?
To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior. Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.
Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.
Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.
The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.
A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.
Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.
So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.
Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.
Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.
Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.
Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.
Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.
Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality. A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.
Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit. By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.
Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.
What Can You Do To Change a Habit?
Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.
Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:
1. Identify Your Habits
As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.
2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit
Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?
It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.
3. Apply Logic
You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.
Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.
4. Choose an Alternative
As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.
Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.
5. Remove Triggers
Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.
Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.
6. Visualize Change
Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.
For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.
7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking
Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.
Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.
Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!
Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.
More About Changing Habits
- 11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits
- How to Break a Habit and Hack the Habit Loop
- How to Find Your Keystone Habits to Change Your Life
Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com