I have clients say to me, “This is just the way I am and I can’t change my natural nature”.

Usually this statement follows a story about a troubled relationship with a close friend, family member or lover.

The reality is we all can change our habits and resulting behaviour because they have all been created from past experiences and resulting decisions.

Our working brains work in two stages of thinking. Stage one is a rather lazy consciousness, more intuitive than logical and prone to error decisions. Stage one consciousness likes to keep things simple, make hasty decisions and in some cases repeat bad habits and behaviour.

Stage two consciousness demands more rational thinking and greater brain effort — more like the effort of reading a book versus watching television.

How can we make it easier to engage in stage two thinking to stop engaging in lazy stage one thinking, leading to repeating bad habits and bad behaviour?

The first step is to write down the whole puzzle or scenario. By writing down the whole story, you externalise the situation and you can now look at what is really happening and how you can rethink the situation.

Next, write down what you want to change and how you can do it. By doing this you are already engaging in stage two thinking which is a higher level of rational thinking. If you practise this process, you will reframe unhelpful habits and your emotional intelligence will soar.

It is important to bear in mind that the only person you can change is yourself. Others will carry on doing what they do. In the end you can only change the way you react to others and in doing so, like a stone thrown into a pond, a ripple of new experience will occur.

For instance, when you get stressed or upset by others’ behaviour think it through in stage two and say to yourself, “I am going to stay calm and friendly”. Use this the next time you get annoyed with your lover, at a rude waiter, waiting forever in the post office queue or getting annoyed because the person in front is paying for a $7 item with a credit card and holding you up.

If you are having calm and friendly thoughts, your responses are more likely to be rational and processed in stage two consciousness. I am not saying you are not entitled to be angry at situations — you just need to check if your response is going to be an automatic stage one bad habit reaction.

Stage one thinking does have positive attributes as it allows you to be intuitive and it provides a strong sense of creativity. Analytical thinking and creativity do not necessarily go hand in hand.

Our habits have been developed from wanting to do the same things over and over again to provide a sense of safety with the known. But they can also keep us imprisoned by behaving badly with bad habits and allowing us to hang on to negative thoughts.

Maybe it is time to review attitudes to work situations, our careers, our dreams, relationships with our lovers, the gay scene, our family or whatever. To do this well, we need to engage in stage two thinking.

Our bad habits do not have to be our destiny.

INFO: Gerry North is a gay counsellor and can be contacted at [email protected] or www.gaycounselling.vpweb.com.au

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