Why You Can't Learn Your Way Out of Limiting Habits


Habits are a challenging obstacle for everyone. Whether you are trying to get to the gym more consistently, attempting to change how you show up in an intimate relationship, growing out of some old patterns that are holding you back at work or simply trying to attune to your child that's challenging your preferences, habits hold you back.

My book Strength To Awaken is an in depth exploration of how to work with habituation for precisely this reason. If you want to change in any area of life, you must confront the habits that hold you. In many challenges learning new strategies, applying new techniques to some area of your life or training yourself to behave differently largely fail. To put this into the words of Robert Kegan, Harvard's professor of Adult Learning and Professional Development, you don't need "technical change" but instead you require "adaptive change." Strength To Awaken is an adaptive approach to working with limiting habits.


If you needed technical change you wouldn't still be struggling with trying to change. Learning a new technique or appling a different strategy would have already worked. The persistent challenges, the type of change that bumps up against your more entrenched habits, requires adaptive changes. This means you must qualitatively grow the complexity and size of your psyche. If you don't grow, that is undergo adaptive change, the habits of your life have you, possess you and thereby govern you. Instead of being captured by your habits you need to possess your habits.

This all important shift is the process of growth and development. One psyche is smaller than the habituations thereby allowing limiting habits to have, hold and govern you. The psyche that has undergone adaptive change is larger, more complex and thus capable of holding, governing and mediating habits. Instead of struggling with limiting habits adaptive change allows you to set limits on your habits which is a remarkable transformation.

When ever you are working toward changes that require adaptive growth, consider a these points:

1. What would you have to experience if you actually did change?

Typically your habits are organized around you NOT experiencing facets of yourself and your history. Deep change work (whether that's losing 20 pounds of fat and gaining 10 lbs of muscle, taking responsibility for creating intimacy in your relationship and self-regulating yourself in the face of contact that creates anxiety or establishing new leadership capacities in your organization that require you to hand off greater responsibility and freedom to your team) almost always places you face to face with facets of experience that you are equally if not even more so committed to not experiencing.

Identify what you are likely to experience, physically, emotionally and mentally as well as socially and perhaps economically. Moving this commitment into your awareness shifts essential dimensions of your limiting habits from subject (that which holds you) to object (that which you hold).

2. Make an explicit commitment to yourself to metabolize these unseen and guarded facets of your experience.

If you don't feel through and welcome these facets of your experience you will likely not change. Move neglected, guarded and strategically avoided facets of experience into awareness. Clarify these objects and make commitments to experience these parts of your life without manipulation.

3. Live into the decisions that most serve your life (not necessarily the ones that most serve your habituated sense of comfort).

Move habits from subject to object. Learning new strategies, approaches and or techniques will not result in the change you desire if the change requires adaptive growth. Learning adds tools but often fails to bring underlying habits into the light of your attention. This movement from subject to object frees you up to live into the decisions that support your well-being, excellence and elegance as a human being.

Enjoy,
~Rob
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