Why Changing Habits Is So Hard
Updated: Mar 21
What if many of your problematic behaviors are not the result of being broken, lacking, or bad in any way, but are the result of focusing your energy in the wrong places?
So many of us grew up believing we are one, consistent, predictable person. And yet, when we set our New Year’s resolutions every year, somehow or other, we rarely manage to stick with them for very long. Why is that? How is it that we can think about quitting smoking and reach for another cigarette at the same time? If we are truly in control here, shouldn’t we be able to make changes with ease?
The truth seems to be a bit more complex than that: The Internal Family Systems approach to healing and change is predicated on the idea that we are multiplicitous, meaning we’re composed of many parts. There is no single “me.” Instead, there are lots of “mes,” each with their own needs, gifts, and challenges. From this perspective, to be a happy, healthy person becomes a function of inclusivity and fair leadership: how do you balance caring for the needs of all your parts, without excluding any? If a part of you wants to go out with friends tonight, and another wants to stay home and catch up on sleep, what do you do?
This is where therapy can be extremely helpful: beginning to build relationships with our different parts and understand their distinct needs is fundamental to being a good leader. The part that wants to go out tonight: what does that part want for you? Maybe connection, fun, play. The part that wants to stay in: what does that part want for you? Maybe relaxation, quiet, sleep. As the leader of your internal system, what might you do to meet the needs of both these parts? In this case, perhaps finding a middle path, like going out for a short time, or making plans to go out another night. There seems to always be a creative way to make a win/win happen - we just need to be willing to listen to all our parts!
The important thing in the long run is to build relationships with your parts and their needs. You can do it right now: what parts of you do you notice as you read this? Do you notice any needs as you focus on them? How might you meet those needs without sacrificing other needs? The more trust is developed internally in this way, the less likely parts become to “take over” our system and make us do things we may regret to meet very real needs, and the more harmony we feel as we move through life and the very real decisions we need to make every day!