How to Make New Habits Flourish: Use More Crayon Colors

A habit doesn’t change by doing. A habit changes by being present for the trigger.

I am a New Englander, and my body and routines are aligned with the changing seasons, which ask me to shift into new clothing and new behaviors every three months of so.

As I write this now, the tips of the maple tree by the general store are dipped in orange sherbet, while the bee balm has collapsed into the ground having nourished a fountain of birds, bees and butterflies all summer long.

Mama Robin built two separate nests in our climbing hydrangea – first in the backyard and then in the front. The babies have finally fledged and the hydrangea, which has climbed up and into the roof, needs energetic pruning.

As summer shifts incrementally to fall, I am reminded of our habits that need pruning to allow for greater possibilities to flourish.  

Habits: Do They Sustain or Drain?

Habits can serve to set us free to deepen our purpose, passion and action. Or, conversely, they can cement us like epoxy glue into old and automatic reactions. You know, habits like:

  • Worrying
  • Judging & Defensiveness
  • People Pleasing & Accommodating
  • Criticizing & Controlling
  • Overdoing & Over-reacting
  • Underdoing & Under-reacting
  • Avoiding & Procrastinating 

We get stuck in fixed mindsets and just give up as if there is no way forward.   

How to Ensure an Old Habit Will Not Change

Most of us have a reflexive and task-oriented reaction when approaching a change of habit:

💪Give me a checklist, and I can accomplish anything.
💪Give me (another) book/podcast/article on the topic.
💪 Give me 21 days and I’ll muscle anything to completion!

Sound familiar? And yes, indeed, research shows it takes 21 days to change a habit, but for sticky old habits, this often isn’t enough. We need to get to the root to bring about the change, and sometimes this can happen in nearly an instant.

We Need a Big Box of Crayons

Before we can change a habit, we need to recognize our trigger – the unconscious emotion that fuels our behavior. This process requires engaging our emotional self-awareness. Think of this EQ skill like drawing your life with a big box of multi-colored crayons. You have lots and lots of different colors and shades, yes? When you observe your emotions similarly and with curiosity, reactive becomes proactive.
Of course, this is far easier said than done because so often we simply don’t want to know what we feel. I hear this all the time when leading workshops in emotional intelligence: My emotions have nothing to do with problem-solving! I need to remove my emotions in order to see clearly and make objective decisions. 
Actually, emotions are data and insight needs to come before action to influence or change anything. 

To Shift a Habit: Focus on the Trigger First 

To shift into a new behavior, we need to focus on the trigger first. This is not a place most of us willingly go to because it feels messy and unproductive. Yet it’s exactly what’s needed.

For example, good sleep/enough sleep is a frequent issue I hear from clients (and a common concern for many of us). We likely can identify unhelpful habits — cell phone, laptop, snacking, too much to do, coffee, alcohol, etc. But we somehow feel powerless to make the shift and instead wake up every morning tired.

What’s needed is the courage and support to feel into the old habits and identify the unconscious reactions that keep us in the grip. Is it emptiness that keeps us eating? FOMO that keeps us on our cell phones? Fear of not being perfect that keeps us overdoing?

The seed for change awaits in the pregnant PAUSE to:

⏸ Notice the crayon color of your trigger emotion and identify it, whether you like it or not.  
⏸ Notice the shift of the emotion as it moves from your unconscious to your conscious mind.
⏸ Finally, notice your reaction to the emotion and become curious about the change you want to achieve.

Bringing an emotion into our conscious observation often removes the stinger, and we now find ourselves with the objectivity to make better choices. I’ve witnessed this transformation repeatedly and believe it is the only way real change happens. And, yes, this process is much easier to do with the support of trusted friends, colleagues, a coach or a therapist. We are, after all, social creatures flourish together.

Check out this fabulous short video on creating rock-solid habits. It’s fun, engaging and short – just like the practice needed to create a new habit!  And here’s to your life and habits in full crayon colors, with infinite options and choices for the way forward. Because everything belongs.

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