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3. Find the good intention behind the “bad” behavior.
Almost every persistent behavior happens for a good reason—no matter how many problems it may cause. You rarely do the “wrong” thing because that’s what you want to do, or because you literally can’t stop yourself—you do it because there is some payoff. And if you don’t like the negative side-effects (like weight gain) that come with a particular behavior (like overeating), your best bet will probably involve finding a way to get the payoff without those undesirable side-effects.
So if you’re having trouble resisting that sweet tooth of yours, for example, don’t waste time blaming yourself or trying to figure out what’s wrong with your willpower. Ask yourself what the payoff really is. Is it simple pleasure, emotional comfort, or relief from boredom or other unwanted feelings? Then ask yourself what you can do that would give you that same payoff, without the extra calories.
4. Predict your way to success.
Bad habits are often the product of self-fulfilling prophecies. You expect yourself to experience a problem, and then you do—again and again. You can interrupt this cycle by trying to predict your own behavior in advance. Before you get out of bed in the morning, take a minute to predict how you’re going to handle the potential problems you may encounter that day. What are the chances that you’ll have the problem again today? Pick an actual number—is it 100, 60, or 34 percent likely? What specific events, thoughts or feelings might make it more likely that you’ll face (or avoid) the problem? When and where are these events likely to happen? Who else is going to be involved? What can you do to influence this course of events and increase the odds in favor of not having the problem today?
Keep in mind that you’re not trying to convince yourself you can handle or avoid the problem you want to work on. This is not an exercise in positive thinking, but rather an effort to look at things differently and approach your problems in new ways. Instead of asking yourself why you have a particular problem, or what you do to “cause” this behavior, do the exact opposite. Focus on why you do things "right" and try to increase the odds of that happening more often.
Because the tendency to slip back into problem-focused mode is so strong, it will be important for you to check out your own assumptions and the focus of your questions on a regular basis.