Welcome to Episode #79. I’m your host, Kristi Angevine, and today we’re going to step back and discuss how our thoughts about our habits and our emotions towards our habits play an integral role in our experience with trying to make change.
Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits that give more than they take. You’ll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do. And now, here’s your host, Physician, and Master Certified Life Coach, Kristi Angevine.
Hello, hello everybody. So I’m recording this podcast in summer in central Oregon and fire season is upon us a bit earlier this year than it usually hits this area. And so what that means for those of you who don’t live in an area that’s affected by forest fires, what that means is air quality is a thing. So every morning we get up and check what the air quality is, look out the window, see what the visibility is like. And lately it’s been really bad.
So the air quality is not good, it’s hard to see very far into the distance when normally you can see for miles and miles and miles because it’s just smoky everywhere. So when it’s smoky everywhere we end up spending a lot more time indoors. And right now it’s summer break and usually we would get outside and do a lot of outdoor adventuring, but our outdoor adventuring is very much impacted by how smoky it is. And is it safe to go outside? And is it going to make us all start coughing?
So there’s a little bit of stir craziness that is here in my house. And we’ve also been kind of going really a lot. The end of school for us is kind of busy with all sorts of activities and get-togethers and then we like to travel to go see our family back east and this time we did a very compressed, very busy trip. So we came back from that trip kind of feeling the effects of being tired.
So we have this combination of being a little bit cooped up in our house, plus also being tired from travel. And a theme for me personally lately has revolved around what I’m making things mean. So what I’m making these challenges in life mean. What I’m making travel exhaustion mean. What I’m making interpersonal stressors mean. And as I’ve had less ability to get outside and do things I’ve had more time to reflect on the way that my thoughts about these things are influencing my experience of these things.
So today’s topic draws on the ideas from CBT and IFS, that’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Internal Family Systems. Cognitive behavioral psychology and therapy posits that it’s our thinking that shapes our emotions and drives our behaviors. It’s our thinking that’s a lens through which we see the world. So we don’t necessarily see things as they are, so much as see them through a very specific lens of our thoughts.
Internal Family Systems gives us a model of multiplicity. We all have multiple personalities or multiple parts, and these are very distinct sub entities. And when we can notice these parts of ourselves, we can appreciate how we feel towards these parts. And knowing how we feel towards our parts is an essential piece of understanding them.
Now, let’s bring these two ideas together with habits. The way we think about our habits and the way we feel toward our habits will color how easy or how hard it is to make change. This is because to change any habit, we have to understand why the habit is there in the first place. All of our habits are there for good reasons. They started out as something adaptive or protective, even if they’ve overstayed their welcome.
So the way to access this understanding requires that we have a modicum of curiosity and compassion. Without these two things, there’s going to be a tendency to rely on strong-arming ourselves and using lots of willpower to make ourselves change without having a deeper understanding of why we actually do what we do.
So therefore, to make any deliberate changes that are lasting to the defaults that we have, we must know what we think about our habits and how we feel towards the part of us that drives these repetitive patterns we call our habits. Now, most of us don’t go through our day to day life with these types of ideas on our radar, this is a rather meta topic. But by the end of this episode, you’re going to see how valuable these two things are.
So, what are your thoughts about your habits? The way you think about your habits, about yourself, about your problems in life is not some esoteric navel gazing thing. The way you think about your habits will shape how you feel about your habits. The way you feel about your habits will drive what you do and don’t do when it comes to changing the ones that you don’t like and cultivating the ones you do like.
So let me give you an example. Say you are a master at procrastinating. It’s your special area of expertise. Yet you’re interested in modifying it. So this means you’re not the person who luxuriates in putting something off and then thrives in those last minute moments of brilliance and creativity that come when they work right up to the deadline. For you, maybe you really don’t like, or you loathe the cycle of putting things off and then the freakout that happens when you don’t have enough time.
So when you think about your habit of procrastinating you might think, only idiots who can’t get their shit together procrastinate. Or you might think, I’m a procrastinator, it’s just who I am. I’m never going to be able to change. If you have these sentiments, they most likely will make you feel things like incompetence, discouraged or stuck.
So let’s think about this. What do you do when you feel incompetent, discouraged, and stuck? Well, if you’re like most of us, you’re going to beat yourself up, you’re going to tell yourself you’re no good, you’ll compare yourself unfavorably to others, you’ll mull on unproductive questions like what’s my problem? And you’re not likely to do things like brainstorm productive solutions. Ask for research help. Use trial and error to experiment with different approaches.
So ultimately, when you think only idiots can’t get their shit together are the ones who procrastinate, and I’m never going to be able to change, you reinforce the idea that you’re an idiot and you stay stuck in your procrastination. So when it comes to changing procrastination, your thoughts about it actually form barriers that make it even harder to change the very thing you want to change.
So in contrast, you want to change your procrastination, but you think, I bet you I can figure this riddle out. Or you think, in the past I really struggled with procrastination, but now I’m learning what I can do to change it one day at a time. These thoughts about procrastination will likely make you feel maybe matter of fact or perhaps even optimistic.
So what do you do when you feel matter of fact or optimistic? Well, you probably don’t beat yourself up, compare and despair or ruminate. Compared to when you feel discouraged or defeated, you’re much more likely to be methodical, to be open to experimentation, to trial and error things, to brainstorm. So your relationship to your procrastination isn’t so adversarial or bleak. And the way you think will help move you forward.
So can you see how it’s really important to know what your thoughts are about your habits? The way you think will be reflected in your approach to your habits. And your approach can either be counterproductive or productive, based on how you think about the habits themselves.
So this is your homework, I want you to find out what you think about your habits and then take a minute to figure out what these thoughts make you feel. If the thought plus the feeling isn’t that useful, then you get to consider a different approach.
So if you feel really unpleasant emotions when you think about your habits, the first thing to do is just notice that this is the case. Name that this is a phenomenon or a thing that you do, and then see if there’s a more neutral way of thinking that is available to you.
Now, let’s extend this from thinking about your habits to thinking about your problems and your challenges in life. What do you think about your problems in life? What do you think about the challenges that you face? What do you make it mean that you have these particular problems and challenges?
As we’ve just talked about, the way you think of them is going to color what you see and how you experience them. So recently I was listening to a podcast, it was a Tim Ferriss interview of Dr. Gabor Maté, and we’ll link it in the podcast because it’s from probably about four or five years ago. And in the podcast, Dr. Maté shared a quote from A.H. Almaas, and I’m going to read it to you here because it was a quote that really resonated and is related to what we’re talking about.
And here’s the quote. It says, “Your conflicts, all the difficult things, the problematic situations in your life are not chance or haphazard. They are actually yours. They’re specifically yours, designed specifically for you, by part of you that loves you more than anything else. The part of you that loves you more than anything else has created roadblocks to lead you to yourself.
You’re not going in the right direction unless there’s something pricking you in the side telling you look here this way. That part of you loves you so much that it doesn’t want you to lose the chance. It will go to extreme measures to wake you up. It will make you suffer greatly if you don’t listen. What else can it do? That is its purpose.”
So when you see your problems as specifically yours, as things designed to help you connect to yourself, as things that lead you back to yourself so that you can learn about yourself, it can make it so much easier to be curious and compassionate about your problems and challenges. Which brings me to the concept from IFS of how you feel towards things.
Now we just discussed your thoughts about and your feelings about your habits. And now we want to get into how you feel towards your habits. So bring your habits to mind. How do you feel towards them? A way to make this question make sense is to take a moment and envision your habits are behaviors and thought patterns and emotional responses that come from individuals who are like consultants who are working on a group project.
I want you to imagine that all of your habits come from people or distinct parts of you that are these subpersonalities. Now let’s make this really specific and concrete, say there’s a head of a catastrophizing committee in your system. This part is adept at seeing all the worst-case scenarios.
Then there’s the lead of one of the projects who’s a perfectionistic lead. This part is very all or none. Always thinks things have to be perfect or else they’re unacceptable, doesn’t quite see that her standards are about 10 standard deviations away from most people’s.
Then there’s another person who worries and frets and doubts. Then there’s a cynical, very sharp-tongued critic part who always has just the right zinger of a comment that feels like a gut punch to anybody who dares cross its path.
Then you’ve got the part who’s like, screw it, we don’t have a real sense of what’s going on anyway. So what’s it matter? Let’s just eat or shop or drink or binge watch a sitcom. And this part is always saying things like, “You know what? One more minute won’t hurt. Let’s just sleep a little bit longer.”
Then there’s the overthinking overcomplicating board member. And this board member gets bogged down by minutia and really can’t see the forest through the trees. Then there’s the person who procrastinates and says, “You know what? When we know more, then we’ll be ready to start. And besides, this, and probably wait.”
I want you to think of each of your habits and see them in your mind’s eye like they’re a person, or like they are a committee of people. When you do this, you get to figure out how you feel towards them, how you feel towards these parts that have these habituated behaviors.
Now, let me walk you through how you can figure out how you feel towards your habits. Once you’ve taken a moment to personify your habits in your mind’s eye, to attach them to a specific person with a specific personality that might even have a particular look, they might have a particular shape, they might have a particular face to them. Once you do that with all of your habits, or even just a couple of them, I want you in your mind’s eye to place each of them in a room.
It can be a room with one way glass so that you can see them, and they can’t see you. Or it can just be a room that you’re in with them. They can each have their own room, or they can just share a space. It can be a boardroom, it can be a meeting room, it can be just a comfortable big living room, it can be a patio, it can be a pool, you get to decide. You just want to make it a space in your mind’s eye that’s comfortable for everyone.
Once you do this, I want you to gaze at this room and all the different parts and all the different habits and I want you to notice, what’s your emotional state and how do you feel towards them as you gaze at them? Do you feel irritated? Do you feel overwhelmed? Do you feel angry, sad, curious, warm understanding? If you know immediately how you feel towards them, beautiful.
If you don’t, I want to encourage you to press pause right now and take a minute to check in. How do you feel towards all these parts in this room? Knowing what emotion you have in the face of all your different habits is very important because it will reveal how you might be approaching them. How you approach your habits is oftentimes subconscious and this is a way to bring it out of the subterranean and into your more conscious awareness.
So let’s say that you gaze into this room of all of your parts with all their habits and let’s just say that you feel irritated towards them. You wish they would shape up and just stop being such problems. Now, imagine you’re on the receiving end of somebody who’s irritated with you for being such a problem. That’s no fun, right?
So if you’re wanting to change a habit, say you want to change self-criticism, but you’re simultaneously super irritated with the part of you that’s critical, you’ll end up creating a tug of war, where your energy and time is going to be spent back vacillating between listening to this inner critical part and then feeling irritated with it.
When you feel irritated towards your habits, this simply means you have another part of you that is present when you’re gazing at this room. You can think of this as the part that’s irritated with everybody else on the project.
Now, I want you to imagine what might be different, what might shift if when you gaze at this room, and you look at all these parts and all these habits, that you feel calm, or you feel confident, or you feel curious towards them, or you feel compassion towards them. When you yourself have been on the receiving end of someone who’s calm and confident, curious, or compassionate towards you, how do you typically experience that?
Well, oftentimes, when we’re on the receiving end of that we feel settled. It’s easy to feel seen, heard, connected, maybe even understood, relaxed and calm ourselves. So when you feel calm, curious, confident, compassionate towards the parts of you that have the habits that you have, you are much more likely to be able to learn about them and come to understand why these habits exist. And this is so critical because understanding precedes all change.
So the exercise I’m going to recommend you do is the room exercise. In this case, your personification of the parts of you that have your habits, and you put them in a room, and you check to see how you feel towards them. And once you see how you feel towards them, if you notice anything other than calm, curious, warm, loving, compassionate, patient, playful, anything other than these emotions, then you have just identified another part of you that you get to actually place in the room with that initial batch of parts.
And once you place this part in the room, you could ask yourself again, now how do I feel towards these parts? Now how do I feel toward these habits? And every time if you notice something other than calm, compassionate, curious, you’ve identified another aspect or another part of your system. And you can take that part and place it in the room and check in again.
Now, the goal here is not necessarily to go and go and go until you make yourself feel compassionate and curious. The goal is just to see what’s present for you. How do you currently feel towards your habits? The more you understand how you feel towards your habits, the better grasp you’ll have on why it might be challenging to change them.
Now, if you do this exercise and you find that you indeed do have a modicum of calm or curious or care towards your parts, there’s an optional step that I’m going to invite you to take. And that is simply to stay in that emotional state. Stay in calm, compassionate, curious, caring, and let the parts in the room know that that’s how you feel towards them. And then just notice how they respond.
Now, if this feels a little bit out there, a little bit like you are talking to made-up imaginary people in your mind, that’s okay. At first this type of exercise can feel like a stretch if you have a strong streak of skepticism or a strong rational part that says this is just crazy. I don’t have multiple personalities, there’s not little people inside of me. If that’s the case, just go with it and open up to what you notice when you do this.
So let’s sum everything up. The way you think about your habits informs how you feel about them. And this will ultimately directly relate to what you do when it comes to making the changes you desire. So knowing what you think and feel about your habits is absolutely essential when you embark on creating new ones.
Then, knowing how you feel toward your habits also arms you with really important data that may be really below your radar because it’s subconscious. When you can step back from your habits and you can tap into clarity, calm, compassion, curiosity, playfulness, patience, confidence, all the qualities of what Internal Family Systems call Self with a capital S, then you make it infinitely easier to learn why you have the habits you have, what purpose they serve, and what’s in the way of them shifting. And these are the ingredients for lasting habit change.
So I hope this rather meta topic was useful for you. And if you have any questions I want to encourage you to go on Facebook and join the Habits On Purpose Facebook group. In that group you can ask any questions you’ve got. You can get my feedback on what you’re going through. You can bring up questions about topics you’ve had on any of the podcast episodes, and I will answer them personally.
The other way that you can get some of your questions answered and learn more is to get on my email list. Just go to HabitsOnPurpose.com and you’ll see a little link that says join the email list. And then if you’re intrigued by using these ideas in your own life and you want to understand exactly how to implement them and you want help understanding what’s actually in the way for you of making the lasting changes that are so important to you, you might want to connect for private coaching.
If you want to connect for private coaching and learn more about it, you can go to HabitsOnPurpose.com/private. I keep a very small panel of private clients and right now I have a few spots open, and it would be an honor to connect with you. I hope you have a great rest of your week, and I will talk to you next time.
Thanks for listening to Habits On Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit www.HabitsOnPurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.