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How to Solve Problem Behaviors

To create positive change in your health or any area of your life, focus on problem-solving strategies rather than obsessing over specific goals.  We have all set goals that we have met and goals that have failed.  I would like to introduce a concept that will help improve success and avoid the pitfalls of failure and ultimately giving up on your outcomes.

Why setting outcome-specific goals may not be the best way to approach making important changes in your life.

Researchers have identified that the area of the brain responsible for recording our failures inhibits motivation to try again by suppressing dopamine-releasing neurons.  This is to keep you from wasting time by repeating unsuccessful behaviors.  Therefore, when goals are measured in terms of success and failure this area of the brain kills your incentive to give things another try.

Another function of the brain that affects outcome-oriented goals is the implicit memory, which keeps track of patterns.  Over time, implicit memory encourages you to stop unpleasant, difficult and painful behaviors.  Because this happens unconsciously, it may be weeks later before you notice that you’re off track and explains why most people revert to their typical habits.

To avoid this common pitfall and set yourself up for success it is best to focus on the process of solving a problem and the joy that comes with figuring it out.  You can be the designer of your goals, habits, and behaviors.

By our very nature, we are always experimenting with solutions for a number of problems that make our life better.  You keep your toothbrush by the bathroom sink, put you keys by the door to grab them on the way out, put reminders on the fridge and this works because it works with your brain.

You are wired to enjoy success when you focus on the process, not just the outcome.  So as you are setting goals for the New Year try designing a process instead.  Reframe your goal as an interesting problem to solve and identify behaviors that may solve the problem, noting what works and doesn’t work, and adjust accordingly. Then track your success and celebrate small wins along the way.

How to Solve Problem Behaviors

Put this into practice with 2 simple steps:

Step 1:

Reflect on a time you failed to achieve a behavior-related goal, or slipped backward after reaching it. Then answer the following questions

  • What was harsh or not enjoyable about trying to achieve your goal?
  • What negative emotions did pursuing this goal trigger in you?

Now that you know what does not work, what do you want to avoid doing when you set goals in the future?

Step 2: 

Now think about a new goal you would like to set for the desired behavior change. What would you like to change?

Transform your goal into a process by filling out the blanks in this paragraph:

I want to figure out how to ______ (the change you want) by trying ______ (the way you will go about it). If I get stuck, or the process makes me unhappy, I will also try _______ or _______ until I learn what works for me.  I will search for a solution and update my thinking whenever I see _________ (a negative emotion, like loss of joy or relapse to old pattern). I am the designer of my behavior.

Join the Freedom Through Living Workshop

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