“I wish I didn’t do that”

This is an all-too-common phrase in one form or another – we may say it to ourselves (sometimes on a daily basis!) and we may also hear others say it. Most people have an element of “I wish I didn’t…” in their lives. Knowing it is one thing, but too often knowing it and not knowing how to change it can lead to further frustration. The good news is that there are practical how-to skills available that allow you to engage with the unwanted behaviour or pattern and ultimately change it, making room in your life for something you do want.


Human behaviour is purposeful, even though at times what you are doing may seem to be unwanted, negative, or self-destructive. If you don’t like a particular behaviour and you want to change it then you need to understand its greater function. It must have something going for it, some payoff, otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it.

The secret of changing easily is to incorporate the positive payoff of your present behaviour into the change you are wishing to make. This is true at an individual level, and organisationally, if you don’t know what the positive payoffs are of the present behaviour then when you propose change you threaten to violate a system that up to now has kind of worked. And therefore you will encounter resistance – either within your own psyche or within an organisation.

Start from where you are

To make real and long-lasting changes in yourself and organisationally, it is essential that you, or they, know what you already have. Part of having a well-formed goal is that you know what you have going for you right now. If you don’t take the time at this stage, you risk the possibility of an ineffective and short-lived change which can lead to another demotivating episode of “I wish I didn’t…”

Take stock by identifying the positive payoff of the existing behaviour or situation and then considering whether they are worth keeping. Think bigger picture here; go to a higher level to discover your intentions, values, that part of your inner-self that is driving your present behaviour. Here are some questions that can help:

Personal Organisational
What is this behaviour doing for me? What functions/purpose does this behaviour or practice perform?
What are the positive payoffs of my present behaviour? What are the positive payoffs of the present behaviour or practice for the individuals doing it and for the larger system?
What else happens – directly or indirectly – when I do this? What else happens – directly or indirectly – as a result of this behaviour or practice?
What do I get out of doing this? What do they get out of doing this?
What else do I get out of doing this? What else do they or others get out of doing this?
What of this is worth keeping? What of this – in their opinion – is valuable and worth keeping?

Incorporate the positive payoffs

Once you have identified the payoffs, get clear about how you can incorporate them into the proposed change. Imagine the future having made any proposed changes to make sure that you have everything that you want. If something doesn’t seem right, then there is further exploration to do. Get curious!

Working with others for personal change

If you are working with a client and they wish to make changes, before you go in with a change technique, acknowledge their current reality. Until you know what the positive payoffs of the present behaviour are, do not try to change anything. Often people begin to say things like “This doesn’t make sense” or “I know this is crazy, but . . . .” If so, pay particular attention to what comes up, because it will almost certainly be significant – usually important information that is being allowed into consciousness because of your questioning but which the conscious mind cannot make sense of – yet.