Illustration by Wenting Li
Making positive lifestyle changes starts with reprogramming your autopilot.
It's at about this time every year that we start thinking about freshening up our style—sartorial, hair and even life. The idea of transforming a lifestyle gives me much pleasure, not only because I work in mental health but also because, in psychological parlance, lifestyle has a double meaning, connoting our eating, drinking, exercising and sleeping habits as well as the pattern of beliefs that motivates behaviour.
Alfred Adler, one of the early humanists, first floated the notion that, in early childhood, an individual develops a set of convictions about self and the world that informs the style with which that person navigates life. Those beliefs are usually deeply embedded in the murky depths of memory, operating at the subconscious equivalent of auto-pilot, but do you ever stop and ask yourself:
• Why am I on yet another beach vacation when what I really want is to hike the Camino Real?
• Why do I consistently find myself working into the wee hours?
• Why am I always the one left holding the bag on group projects?
• Why do I overeat, and why is it always leftover mashed potatoes or mac 'n' cheese?
In short, why do we do what we do? What motivates our choices and guides our decision-making? This question has intrigued psychologists for many years. For more than a century, social scientists have been exploring the concept of phenomenology—a fancy way of saying that what we believe, think and perceive are entirely subjective.
People like me work hard to unearth the highly subjective beliefs that govern our clients' behaviour. Psychologists and psychotherapists are archeologists of the unconscious. And why should that matter to you? Because those unconscious and idiographic ways of seeing and believing shape your choices—and not all of your choices are good ones. In fact, many of them create patterns that limit and undermine you.
Isolating and questioning the unhealthy thoughts that hold us back allows us an opportunity to swap them for better ones—but you have to tap into your unconscious in order to recognize negative thought patterns and make positive changes.
If you want to change your style, try these swaps on for size, which you can easily personalize.