What is the key to making real, lasting change in our lives?
As a therapist I used to look to create therapeutic home runs. Some of these felt to the client like a 4×4 across the forehead and others came in the form of a wave of love that produced satori—sudden enlightenment. Although I still value these moments, I realize that they don’t usually produce lasting change. They may contribute to seeing the world—or ourselves—in a new light, and this is part of what it takes to bring about change, but this alone is seldom enough.
Lasting change comes about as a result of two things—often happening in concert.
First, we need some kind of paradigm shift—a new way of making meaning of ourselves and our lives.
Second, we need to create new habits.
Why? Because we calcify ourselves with our old habits. We must replace them with new habits or else our new behaviors will be short lived.
Habits account for how we function throughout more than half of our waking hours, this is based on new research coming out of Harvard. Habits are super efficient ways of getting things done without having to think. I’d be in trouble without my habits. Yet some of my habits are the cause of how I disappoint myself—time and time again.
The messy pile on the left side of my office desk seems to reemerge within hours after I remove it. The postponement of taking a walk each day seems to be a recurring theme. Being impatient with my wife, Hannah, when she unknowingly interrupts me is a behavior I’d rather not see again. Yet, the pile on my desk keeps showing up, I’ve not walked enough this week, and I was impatient with Hannah twice, which is twice too often.
How can we change our habits?
The antidote to habitual behaviors is focused attention. I must use focused attention to wake myself up. When I use focused attention I arouse my higher brain centers. This is what many mindfulness practices stimulate—focused attention. But the problem is that they usually only last for a short period of time—30 to 60 minutes of meditation or yoga.
The practice that I find more impactful is to use Perception Language, because I speak on and off throughout the entire day. If each time I speak I practice Live Conscious then I am using focused attention repeatedly throughout my day. This different way of using language requires me to slow down and be intentional—no longer habitual. As I do this repeatedly I create new neural pathways—new, healthy habits.
Language is how I make meaning of whatever happens in my life. Largely, I do this unconsciously. And in many situations that works fine, but when I experience a conflict within myself or tension with another person, I immediately start using Perception Language. This way I disrupt my own habitual patterns of being defensive and reactive. As I break this tendency, I change my behaviors—and not just temporarily—but in a lasting way.
I just came back from our winter Live Conscious Retreat in Mexico. I witnessed people change and grow for three reasons.
- They had the courage to honestly speak up.
- They entered a new paradigm that allowed them to make meaning of their lives and relationships in a new way.
- They used Perception Language, breaking their habitual speech patterns and experiencing new ways to connect with themselves and other people.
I witnessed a mother and her grown daughter reconnect after twenty years of animosity, alienation, and adversarial monologues.
I witnessed a woman have an epiphany the first night of the retreat when she exclaimed, “It’s all me.” What she meant was that by no longer thinking of herself as a victim, she was free to become the architect of her life.
I witnessed couples rise up in love again. Not “fall in love,” but consciously rise up in love.
I witnessed a man embrace his “darkest” side, which resulted in a new born compassion for himself and other people.
I witnessed a man name himself “Artist,”—everyone at our retreats chooses their own name—and this name served to remind him that as a master wood carver he uses the imperfections in the wood to enhance his designs, and he realized he could do the same things in his relationships. He could work with people’s imperfections instead of judging them.
Will these changes last? I speculate that for well over half the participants, these changes will last, because the two ingredients for lasting change were present. A paradigm shift and new habits.
Live Conscious is the new paradigm. It helps me let go of praise and blame, come into the present moment, and step more fully into myself.
Perception Language is the tool by which I can create new habits—the only tool I’ve ever found—that allows me to wake myself up every time I speak. When I use Perception Language I focus my attention—engage my higher brain centers—so that I can consciously choose how I behave.