Awareness, Acceptance, Action
- August, 2019
- Emotional Well-Being
The three A’s of change
The first step in change is awareness of what you are doing that isn’t working (and hasn’t for a long time perhaps). The next step is acceptance. Accepting yourself exactly as you are right now, or giving yourself compassion for that chocolate you crave and then eat every afternoon, is an important next step. Finally, action: Take action that will disrupt the mindless things you do that you are now aware of doing. Awareness, Acceptance, Action.
Awareness of the things you want to change can bring up pain, fear, sadness or self-criticism. You no longer want to go home after work and spend the rest of the evening on the couch because you’ve had a rough day. You know that doing something else, like exercise, meeting a friend, or reading a book would be a better choice but you are stuck in a habitual pattern.
A habit is defined as “a usual way of behaving” and “a routine behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously.” The good news is that an “old dog” can indeed learn new tricks. That’s because our brains have what neuroscientists call neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity in our brains allows us to change, replace or develop new habits. Habits are created starting with a cue or trigger in the brain, which then leads to a behavior with a reward which then gets reinforced. It becomes a looped pattern which gets repeated over and over. We want to get unstuck but how?
Back to awareness! Becoming aware of the cue or trigger is the first step. You crave chocolate every afternoon but you want to lose some weight. The craving is the cue. The next step is to “reward” yourself with something sweet that could be a replacement for chocolate, perhaps a piece of fruit. You may even experiment with waiting out the craving, allowing it to pass and then asking yourself if you still want the chocolate. You may ask your colleague to be an accountability buddy when you have a craving and agree that you’ll go for a five-minute walk instead. Make a plan to break your habit, but don’t beat yourself up if you slip up and eat the chocolate or spend the evening on the couch. Self judgment slows down the process of change.
Acceptance of yourself can make it easier to make the changes you have in mind. That’s because instead of spending energy criticizing yourself you can alternatively spend that energy making a plan for change (with self-compassion). Another example could be the following: you feel slightly depressed on Saturday afternoons. You are aware of that and feel some acceptance for your feelings. The next step is to identify what it is you are needing. Do you need companionship? Do you need fun? Do you need connection with nature or your spirituality? This is where the third A, action, comes into play.
What do you need to do? Perhaps you could call a friend and talk about how you are feeling or plan to meet some friends for dinner or a hike. This is how healthy habits start. Reaching out for help in changing a habit can feel vulnerable, but in isolation the habit may stick, stay the same or even get worse. We all struggle with unhealthy habits, so you are not alone.
During the action phase you may notice you are taking one step forward and two steps back. That’s normal. Just keep taking baby steps toward change and eventually the healthy habits will build new neuropathways in your brain. Practicing is the key.
For assistance in addressing unhealthy habits, you may choose to seek out counseling. If so, know that your Employee Assistance Program is here to help. Contact us by calling our 24/7 toll free number at 800-678-6265 to see a counselor at our Ackerman offices or a provider in your zip code area.