119: 3 Steps to Find the Desires Hidden beneath Your Habits

Are you an overthinker? Maybe a procrastinator or a perfectionist? How about the person who is always making plans but never following through? We all have habits—things we do automatically without thinking much about them—that are deeply ingrained in us, and often that we’d like to change. But the not-so-simple question is: how?

Our habits are need indicators. They signal a need or desire. Luckily, there are steps you can take to uncover those needs and desires, which will allow you to identify, address, and then change those habits more effectively.

Tune in this week as I share some examples of specific habits many people have and the needs and desires behind them. Learn why the needs and desires behind a habitual pattern are usually hidden, the mindset required to uncover them, and the detailed steps you can take to address the root cause of your habits. 

Habits on Purpose with Kristi Angevine | 3 Steps to Find the Desires Hidden beneath Your Habits

Are you an overthinker? Maybe a procrastinator or a perfectionist? How about the person who is always making plans but never following through? We all have habits—things we do automatically without thinking much about them—that are deeply ingrained in us, and often that we’d like to change. But the not-so-simple question is: how?

Habits on Purpose with Kristi Angevine | 3 Steps to Find the Desires Hidden beneath Your Habits

Our habits are need indicators. They signal a need or desire. Luckily, there are steps you can take to uncover those needs and desires, which will allow you to identify, address, and then change those habits more effectively.

Tune in this week as I share some examples of specific habits many people have and the needs and desires behind them. Learn why the needs and desires behind a habitual pattern are usually hidden, the mindset required to uncover them, and the detailed steps you can take to address the root cause of your habits. 

If you want to be the first to know when my group coaching program HOPP opens for enrollment again, join my email list here!

To discover how private one-on-one coaching can beautifully align with creating the life you desire. Click here to explore the possibilities!

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • The ways our habits act as indicators or signals of a specific need or desire.
  • Why the needs and desires behind a habit are so often hidden from us.
  • 3 steps to uncover the root cause of any habit.
  • The mindset required to effectively address, and then change a habit. 
  • Examples of different habits and the needs and desires that may be connected to them.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Powerful Takeaways:

03:26 “Behind each and every deeply-ingrained habit that you would love to change is a need or a desire. The need or desire behind a habituated pattern is usually hidden, it’s not super clear. All we see is that we have a habit.”

11:35 “Every habit we have indeed indicates that there is some less-than-clear, hidden, stealthy underlying need or desire. These needs and desires are almost always related to our values.”

11:55 “​​Habits are like breadcrumbs, they lead us to our needs and desires and the work we need to do. And if we are open to the messages that they have, they will help us understand ourselves better.”

13:00 “​​How can you start the process of identifying the need or the desire underneath your habits? Well, lucky you, you don’t need to get a master’s in psychology or no magic to find this. What you do need is to have an interest, an open mind, and the following steps.”

16:55 “When you’re armed with the information about what need or desire your habit reveals, you’re going to be able to anticipate that need surfacing in situations where this habit surfaces. This can help you prepare and to support yourself better in these predictable scenarios.”

Featured on the Show:

Related Episodes:

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to Episode 119. This is your host, Kristi Angevine, and today I'm discussing the needs and desires underneath your habits. What's the real reason that you repetitively do what you do? What's the underlying need hidden behind that habit? Knowing this is one of the missing links to habit change. So, let's dive right in.

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. As I'm recording this, I am getting ready to go out of town to a conference. I'm super excited, because at this particular conference I'm not speaking, but I am one of the attendees, as well as one of the sponsors.

Which means, not only do I get to enjoy all of the talks without some of my self-imposed angst that I have before I speak, even though I really, really love speaking, but I get to enjoy all these wonderful talks. I get to go to these morning workouts that they have before all the talks. And, I'm bringing my kids.

So, my kids kind of get a little sneak peek of a slice of a day in the life of what I do now, which is different than what I used to do before. We're actually in the thick of packing and getting ready. I'm using pretty much all the tools that I have in my toolbox to make sure that I'm not shoehorning, make sure that I'm not catastrophizing, and make this process, of transitioning from being where we are to traveling a really far distance away, as fun, and as pleasant as possible.

And, to be as compassionate with myself, with the world, and with my kids when the inevitable travel grouchiness and challenges surface.

So, by the time this episode releases, you may have already seen me at the Women Physician Wellness Conference. If we met there, and this is your first episode, thank you for joining. If you've been a longtime listener, thanks for continuing to spend your Wednesdays with me, or whatever day it is you're listening to things.

I love knowing that you're out there on your run, on the treadmill, walking around, driving your car, doing whatever it is you do, and letting me be a part of your life.

This episode is about the needs underneath our habits. The basic premise of this is, our habits are need indicators. They signal a need or desire. So, what's this mean? Think of any habit that you have. And by habit I mean, something that you automatically do. Something that happens regularly without you thinking much about it.

Think about things like overthinking, second guessing, overeating, over drinking, procrastination, beating yourself up, perfectionistic thinking. Think of numbing, scrolling, shopping for things you might not need, maybe setting lofty goals and not following through, all-or-none thinking, that tendency to imagine the worst-case scenario without a solution, compare and despair, or people pleasing.

Any habit that you have that seems deeply ingrained that you would love to change. Behind each and every one of these habits is a need or a desire. The need or desire behind a habituated pattern is usually hidden, it's not super clear. All we see is that we have a habit.

But the reason the habit is present is because behind it, underneath it, there is a need or a desire. And when we can identify the hidden need or desire, then we can address that. This gets us to the heart of the issue, which is the root cause driving our habituated pattern. And when you can focus on the underlying reason for a habit, that's how you ensure that you can change whatever habit you want to change, and you don't get bogged down in behavioral hacks that just target the surface behavior.

So, let me give you some examples of the desires and needs that can be baked into and behind habits. Let's take procrastination. On the surface, all we see is that we have a habit of putting things off to the last second. But behind the habit of putting things off might be a desire to avoid feeling inadequate. It might be a desire to avoid failure.

And behind that, there could be a need for connection and a need for inclusion. So, here, procrastination as a habit is driven by a desire to avoid messing up, and a need to feel connected and included.

Or take the habit of making plans that we don't follow through on. On the surface, we repetitively make a plan to exercise, then when it comes time to do it we don't do it. But underneath this pattern could be a desire to feel capable and competent.

The habit of over eating could shelter a need for validation and acknowledgement. Behind the tendency to compare and despair might be a desire for friendship. And behind that, “I need to know that you matter.”

Now, these needs and desires behind a handful of examples of habits might seem like really big leaps. So, let me elaborate so you can understand. Let's take procrastination. How could procrastination relate to a need to feel connected and included? Say you have a big project, or a talk or a proposal or a grant. Or say you simply have seven charts that need to be completed. Insert any task, project, goal that you sometimes find really hard to sit down and start chipping away at.

So, it's time to get started on this thing. But the idea of starting is awful. You would rather do laundry. You'd rather clean the bathroom. Anything besides the project at hand. Why the desire to delay starting? Here's how it goes.

You don't know where to start. You have unanswered questions that feel like they must be answered before you can proceed. You worry you're not going to do a good job if you don't do some more research. You really want to do well and the idea of messing up feels like death. Every time you think about flopping or thinking about messing up, you can imagine colleagues judging you.

You can picture people finding out that you're not cut out for the job. The notion of being judged, and found out to be the imposter that you feel you are is enough to seek a pile of laundry to fold.

Why delay the work? Because starting seems to risk failure. If you make failure means something negative about you, you're going to do anything to not have that feeling. So, when failure means you're incapable, procrastination shields you from potentially feeling incapable, and seemingly reduces the risk of failing.

Now, how do we get from here to procrastination indicating a desire to feel connected and included? Think about it like this. If when you feel incompetent, you feel alone, like you're inferior, and like you don't belong, no wonder you might procrastinate to avoid feeling like that. So, we get to ask: What's the deep need here? Well, the deep need here is to feel connected and included. To feel a sense of belonging.

In this example, starting on big project runs the risk of failure, which means a risk of feeling incapable. And if when you feel incapable you don't believe you belong, and deep down you want to belong and you want to feel connected and included, this is how procrastination as a habit indicates a desire for connection and belonging.

Now, this is not to say that for all people procrastination universally signals a desire to belong. This is just to point out that behind the habit, where it seems like it's a very clear reason why somebody would procrastinate, they simply don't like doing a job, there's actually something more.

Let me do another example, so you can understand this even better. Let's take a trickier habit. This is the habit of self-criticism. The habit of a harsh inner critic. And, that habit of beating yourself up. The way I'm talking about self-criticism here, self-criticism as a habit is the automatic act of unfavorably evaluating one's behavior, one's performance, or evaluating oneself as a whole. I.e., thinking mean, harsh thoughts, cataloguing shortcomings, listing off faults, errors, weaknesses.

Self-criticism as a habit often leads to feeling really bad about yourself and emotions like discouragement, guilt, worthlessness, anxiety, depression, etc. I don't know about you, but my inner critic is opportunistic to the core? The part of me that's really critical, give that part any opportunity and they will find a way to turn it into an indictment.

Make a mistake? Sounds like, “Clearly, you're a screw up.” Get through a bunch of travel stressors with your family? Your inner critic says, “Well, you wouldn't have had all that stress if you weren't so impatient and bossy.? Get thanked by somebody? Get a genuine compliment? The critic may offer, “They must be delusional. If they really knew, they wouldn't thank you. This is totally a fluke. Don't let your head get too big.”

So, if it's true that behind every habit is a need or a desire, what could the underlying need be for the habit of self-criticism? Let's investigate this hypothetical with my hypothetical character “Penny.” Penny speaks up at a meeting and her comment seems to elicit crickets. Nobody says anything, nobody asked any questions, and then the subject has changed.

After the meeting, she thinks, “What was I thinking? How dumb. I shouldn't have said anything. Everyone is going to think I'm unintelligent, at best. A liability, at worst. I'm always screwing up. I don't even know how to speak my truth in a room of colleagues. I screw up all the time. I fail at everything I do.”

Now in Penny's case, the need signaled by the self-criticism could be a desire to be seen and heard. And behind that, there could be a desire to make things make sense, and a need to be accepted as she is, as her authentic self. How is this possible? How is her self-criticism a signal for a need to be seen, a need to make things make sense, and to feel accepted?

For this hypothetical Penny, her inner critic surfaces after her comment isn't acknowledged. This is only problematic for her because of an underlying desire to be seen and heard. If this desire of hers weren't so strong, she might say what she says at the meeting, have crickets, have the subject be changed, and then conclude the silence was because people agreed with her brilliant comment. People took her as the authority with the last word and then they moved on.

But since she perceives that she's not seen and heard, to the internal microphone comes her inner critic. In order to make things make sense, her critic surfaces to explain it all, “Crickets happen because you suck. You always will, and they know it.” This interpretation is negative, but at least it paints a cohesive picture. It makes it make sense why she got silence. Albeit negative, this meets her desire to explain her experience.

In Penny's case, her concern is that if she didn't criticize herself, she’d just keeps speaking up and risk rejection. And, this seems like a risk because deep down she wants to be accepted for who she is. So, in this way, her habit of self-criticism occurs because of a desire to be accepted. It occurs because she has a desire to explain and understand things, and she has a very human need to feel seen and heard.

In this case, the habit of self-criticism is driven by a need to feel seen and heard. Not everyone's habit of self-criticism signals a need for acceptance, or a need to be seen or heard. But every habit we have indeed indicates that there is some less-than-clear, hidden, stealthy underlying need or desire. These needs and desires are almost always related to our values.

Now, I could go on and on and on, and give you examples of other habits that have stealthy needs behind them. But suffice it to say, habits are like breadcrumbs, they lead us to our needs and desires and the work we need to do. And if we are open to the messages that they have, they will help us understand ourselves better.

Why does this matter? When you know the need or desire beneath any of your habits, then you can address that need or desire. If you don't know it, you may spend inordinate amounts of energy trying to change a behavior solely from the outside-in, with things like habit trackers, really strong willpower alone, setting rules, using a screen time limiting app, or hiding sweet treats, etc.

But when you know the underlying need or desire, that is how you can start changing a habit from the inside out.

So, let's recap. Habits, they're the automatic ways that we show up in the world. They're the ways we think, the ways we feel, the ways we act, when we're on autopilot. And, they indicate needs and desires. These needs and desires are usually hidden. Once we identify the need or desire under a habit, we can address that need or desire. And in turn, this helps us change our habit in much more of an effective way.

How can you start the process of identifying the need or the desire underneath your habits? Well, lucky you, you don't need to get a master's in psychology or no magic to find this. What you do need is to have an interest, an open mind, and the following steps.

There are three steps to do this. Step one: Do a U-turn. Step two: Find the worry. And, step three: Tend to the need. When you're in the middle of doing a habit that you'd like to change, or you notice that you're about to do a habit that you'd like to change, take these three steps. Let me explain.

Step number one is to do a U-turn. If you haven't already listened to Episode 115, after you're done go listen to that, because it describes the power of doing a U-turn. In short, to do a U-turn, as soon as you notice a strong feeling or a powerful reaction towards something in the external world, pause, check in with yourself and put your attention inward, and do as John Palmer says, “Go in and down.” Away from your thinking mind, down to your body, and find out what's coming up inside you.

This can be emotions, feelings, sensations in your body, or thoughts. It can also be impulses, like an impulse to run, an impulse to hide, impulse to lash out. Once you do this, you turn and you look within. Then, take a breath. Do not rush to fix anything. Do not rush to figure anything out. Don't rush to change anything. Just breathe and see if you can get just a little curious about what there is to learn here.

Then, step number two. With the habit that you are doing, or are about to do… Say, overthink or beat yourself up or compare or make a self deprecating comment... ask yourself: What am I worried would happen if I didn't do blank? What am I worried would happen if I didn't people please? What am I worried would happen if I didn't berate myself? What am I concerned would happen if I didn't open up my phone, scroll, check out the J.Crew sales, and do Wordle?

The answer to this question will point you to the underlying concern. For example: What am I worried would happen if I didn't people please? Well, I might not be seen as a team player. So, what would be so bad about that? Well, then I'd be rejected and judged. Here, the underlying need is to feel accepted.

What am I worried would happen if I didn't berate myself? Well, I'd make even bigger mistakes. I might get fired. I might lose an income. Here, the underlying need is for a sense of safety, security, and to feel resourceful. To feel like I can handle anything that comes my way.

What am I concerned would happen if I didn't open my phone, scroll, look at the J.Crew sales page, and do a New York Times puzzle? Well, I might feel awkward, and like I don't belong. So, the underlying desire is to feel confident and a sense of belonging.

Or maybe the answer is, “I’d feel overwhelmed. I would get curt with my family, and then I’d feel guilty.” So, the underlying need that the phone and the shopping indicates here, is a need to feel untroubled. A need to feel free. A desire for more time. A desire for connection.

So, first, do a U-turn. Second, ask: What am I worried would happen if I didn't do this thing? And then, number three: Given this worry or concern, what do I need most in this moment? Maybe you desire acceptance. So, before you people please, and say yes when you want to say no, maybe you find one of your ride-or-die friends, who is your soft landing spot, and you get a dose of unconditional love from them.

Or maybe you give yourself a reminder about what actually matters most to you, and you remind yourself that you love and accept you. Whatever the need is, see what you can do to address it. What you'll find when you do this is that you start tending to the root causes of your habits.

You will also notice that when you're armed with the information about what need or desire your habit reveals, you're going to be able to anticipate that need surfacing in situations where this habit surfaces. This can help you prepare and to support yourself better in these predictable scenarios.

So, take the example of hypothetical Penny criticizing herself after speaking up at a meeting. Knowing that she has a tendency to do this, before her next meeting, she can anticipate the habit of self-criticism. Before the meeting, she can remind herself that she has a need to be seen and heard. She can remind herself that she has a need to make things make sense. And, her default is to presume that she's the problem. But underneath that she just wants to be accepted for who she is.

Knowing this, she can realize that a part of her is primed to detect judgment and might detect it where it doesn't exist. She can remind herself that meetings, they just might not be the most reliable place for the desire to be seen and heard, or to be reliably met. She just might adjust her expectations accordingly.

She might remind herself that meetings they're the bane of everyone's existence. Some people are distracted and tuned out. And she might tell herself, “I can do my best to explain this in a way that people can understand, but I can't control how other people respond. All I can control is how I respond, and how I tend to my nervous system.”

Then, for the meeting, she'll be more likely to catch her self-criticism before she's stuck in a cyclone of self-loathing. And this is how the deeply ingrained habit of self-criticism can start to shift.

Let's review shall we? Habits are indicators of needs and desires that are often hidden. Following these breadcrumbs of our habits to the underlying desires and needs gives clarity around why we do what we do.

To find the needs behind your habits, there are three steps: Number one, take a U turn. Number two, ask, “What am I worried would happen if…” And number three, ask yourself, “What do I need most in this moment?” Then, take what you learned from this experience and use it to prepare yourself for other situations when your habit occurs.

Now, this process that I just took you through is precisely what we do in coaching. We peel back the layers of patterned ways of behaving and emotionally responding and thinking, and we look for the root causes. So you can then rewire new habits from the inside-out.

I hope you find this inner exploration to be high yield. And if you need any help, if you have any questions, go to HabitsOnPurpose.com and join my email list. You can always reply to me there; I read every email. I'll see you next week.

Like what you're hearing on the podcast? Want help taking these concepts and ideas and applying them in the trenches of ordinary everyday life? That is what coaching helps you do.

In my coaching practice, I help high achievers change their habits from ones that take more than they give to ones that are much more nourishing. Turn your inner critic into your inner cheerleader and strategist. Convert your overthinking into a habit of swift, creative problem solving. Trade in the habit of perfectionism for a habit of resilience and resourcefulness. Learn the skill of emotional processing, asking productive questions, and compassionately witnessing your cognition through coaching.

My coaching comes in two flavors: Private coaching, with just you and I. Or small group coaching, in an intimate group just for women physicians. If you're interested in connecting for either, go to my website HabitsOnPurpose.com and join the email list.

The waitlist for the next round of Habits on Purpose for Physicians, the small group coaching program, which starts in October of 2024, will go live soon. When you're on the email list, you'll be the first to hear about early enrollment where you can place a deposit to hold your spot. And from the website, you can also see a link to learn more about private coaching.

For private coaching, before we connect we meet by Zoom for a consultation call to see if we're a fit. The way you can do this is go to HabitsOnPurpose.com/private and you can schedule a consult call and get more details. Take care, my friends.

Thanks for listening to Habits On Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit HabitsOnPurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.

Enjoy the show: