Most people know that attitude effects behavior, but the reverse is also true. You can change your attitude and character by changing your behavior. Did you know that forcing yourself to smile will improve your mood? In the military, I was taught that false motivation was better than no motivation. I thought it was just a means of getting us to push ourselves harder during tough training, which it did, but I also discovered that it changed my attitude. Pretend motivation, leads to genuine motivation.
Our mind seeks harmony between our attitudes and behaviors. The psychological term that describes a disharmony between attitude and behavior is called cognitive dissonance. When we perceive a divergence between our attitude and behavior, we will either change our attitude, or our behavior to minimize the disharmony.
Bad habits provide instant gratification, so changing our attitude around the behavior is easier than changing the behavior. Changing the behavior would require sacrifice while changing our attitude wouldn’t require anything but lying to ourselves. Changing our attitude allows us to continue indulging in the bad habit without any psychological angst.
Everyone knows that smoking is terrible for your health, but a smoker will reduce the conflict by convincing themselves that a longer life devoid of smoking isn’t worth living. They will identify themselves as a smoker. Their attitude is that smoking produces so much pleasure that a shorter lifespan is a price they are willing to pay.
Your attitudes and behaviors are inseparably linked, with each affecting the other. If you think your actions are not in line with your values, I would argue you are mistaken. Unless your behavior is forced upon you, I would argue that your actions are in line with your true values.
The problem is your values aren’t what you think they are. If you are always eating poorly, I would argue you value eating junk food more than you value having a strong lean physique. If you are always arriving late to work, I would argue you value the instant gratification of late-night TV, or partying more than you value getting up early and getting ahead.
“So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.” – Benjamin Franklin
Bad habits persist because we have changed our attitude toward the behavior instead of changing our behavior. We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, but are we? I think we have a great capacity to be rational, but just because we can be rational doesn’t mean we always act rationally.
Our emotions can easily overpower our rational mind and cause us to make illogical rationalizations. These justifications cause us to act most irrationally. Emotions are a much more powerful driver of action than logic and reason. We need discipline in our lives because we fail to do what our rational mind is telling us to do. This is because we don’t feel; emotion, like doing it.
We would all act in a disciplined manner if we were truly rational beings. Discipline is doing what our rational mind knows is in our best interest. Therefore an action that wasn’t in our best interest would be undisciplined, and irrational behavior.
Our ability to rationalize our behavior reminds me of this excerpt from Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography in which he justifies breaking his commitment not to eat animal flesh.
“I believe I have omitted mentioning that in my first voyage from Boston, being becalmed off Block Island, our people set about catching cod and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food; and on this occasion I considered with my Master Tryon, the taking of every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and when this came hot out of the frying pan, it smelled admirably well. I balanced some time between principle and inclination: till I recollected, that when fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs: Then, thought I, if you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you. So I dined upon cod very heartily and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and them occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.”
Success is a few well-chosen disciplines practiced daily. Change your habits, change your life!
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