Why Learning New Behaviour Can Feel Like Hard Work!

By , December 19, 2012 7:38 pm

Even though I travel to the States regularly, I still have to concentrate when doing some of the simple things like crossing the road or driving a car when I’m over there.

Stepping off the sidewalk and looking right for oncoming traffic… isn’t a good idea in the USA… because they drive on the right!

Something so simple can make me feel stupid, especially when I keep catching myself looking the wrong way! Duh! I just get the hang of it and then I fly home again!

Here’s what’s going on…

Whenever I cross the road I’m operating from my internal map that applies to the UK, one that was conditioned in me as a child: Look right, then left, then right again!” In the UK this works well but it could be potentially dangerous for me when I’m in the USA. So I have to consciously supervise my behaviour when I’m over there, because I’m not in the habit of looking the opposite way.

During our life we create systems for virtually everything that we do. Many of these become deeply engrained habits and patterns: We don’t have to think about what to do – we just unconsciously do it.

Do you remember what it was like learning to drive? All those things to do at the same time!! You had to consciously self-supervise your behaviour to be able to drive. It took so much effort and concentration.

Once you’ve mastered something you no longer have to focus your attention on your behaviour – you just get in the car and drive! Your behaviour is automatic once you’ve mastered the capability and acquired the confidence to do it.

Transition isn’t always easy…

Change involves us stepping away from what we know and feel comfortable with. And if you’re transitioning into a new role, playing a bigger game or wanting to show up differently in your life, this can feel huge…

I train Leading Through Change workshops and it’s common for people to associate change with negative words such as uncertainty, pain, loss, suspicion, worry, and self-doubt. It makes us feel disorientated and threatened as we cling to the past, holding on to what remains of our comfort zone because the future feels scary.

Change can also bring possibility, expansion, opportunity, excitement, and growth (both personally and professionally). It’s also a natural element of life – we are ever changing and in constant flow from the moment we are born to the moment we die (and possibly beyond!).

One of my clients was surprised recently about how exhausting change is! He was having an internal battle between his head and heart: His head was getting tired of all the consistent hard work,  but his heart wanted to remain true to WHY he was wanting to change.

Creating sustainable change is often about unlearning automatic behaviours that no longer serve you and replacing them with new ones that help you to be more successful.

If you want to learn a new behaviour or replace an old one, then you have to:

1. Identify the specific behaviour you want to change. Understand WHY you want to change it.

2. Focus your attention on that behaviour so you can start to recognize when it shows up because energy flows where attentions goes!

3. Become a student of you by observing and reflecting on your progress and notice the change in your behaviour as you develop. Become consciously aware of your self in the moment.

4. Be a supervisor of YOU by being deliberate and replacing the old behaviour with a new one. Employ conscious self-control – this is also known as self-supervision. This is the bit that is often exhausting because you have to keep checking in on yourself.

5. Give yourself permission to do things badly at first. It can take time get the hang of things. Be consistent and keep trying, even if it feels hard or you don’t feel like it. Persistence is a great tool – you’ll improve with practice.

6. Pace yourself with the change. Catching yourself in the moment can be exhausting work because you have to constantly think about what you’re doing. When you’re tired, it’s harder to be persistent because as things become more difficult, you resist. It’s a bit like lifting weights at the gym: The first attempt is easy and then it progressively gets harder as your muscles tire, until you can’t lift it anymore.

7. Self-control isn’t always a sustainable resource. Sometimes you need to take a break and rest. Otherwise the voice in your head starts complaining that it’s too hard; I’m crap at this! – and the self-supervisor lets go of the reins because your head and heart are not in congruence.

Just know that behavioural change can be exhausting work because you have to employ extra energy in the form of self-supervision to keep a check on all the new things you’re trying to do. It might be controlling your emotions in a meeting, managing the impression we’re making on others, handling nerves, or focusing on a new way of doing something – Whatever the situation, you’ll feel the need to supervise your behaviour.



4 Responses to “Why Learning New Behaviour Can Feel Like Hard Work!”

  1. Excellent Elaine, thanks for focusing on this, always good to get a reminder.

    I must have been in Belgium too long, when I’m here I automatcially look left when crossing the road without thinking about it..

  2. ElaineBailey says:

    Thanks David! You watch that traffic in Belgium now! 🙂 – Have a wonderful Christmas!

  3. Thank you Elaine. Great reminder that although change can sometimes be disorienting and exhausting, if it’s in
    service to something we really want to achieve, it’s worth the temporary discomfort. Merry Christmas!

  4. Elaine says:

    Hey there! Thanks Jennifer! Yes, it’s totally worth getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable! Have a Beautiful Christmas!

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