You’d think that if your therapist has a favorite catch-phrase, you might not need to keep seeing them after a few sessions. After all, you know what they’re going to say (to some extent, at least).
I’ve been seeing the same therapist for a few years, and even though she often repeats herself, I keep coming back for more — more support, more guidance, more help. So, what is this pearl of wisdom my therapist keeps saying to me?
She says, “Amy, you’ve got to behave your way to success.”
I’m pretty sure she got this from Dr. Phil, but I don’t let that bother me. Because this little saying — behave your way to success — has really helped me. And it can help you too, even if you don’t think you need therapy.
What My Therapist Means by “Behave Your Way to Success”
My therapist is an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) with a degree in Community Counseling.
I don’t have her credentials, but she and I do share a passion for mental health topics. I’ve done a lot of reading and research about self-help, self-care and psychology in the past several years, so I’m pretty sure I know where my therapist is coming from when she tells me to “behave my way to success.”
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a treatment that focuses on your thoughts (cognition) and actions (behavior).
The cognitive part of CBT might include therapeutic activities like filling out a thought log — making a list of your thoughts and then analyzing the benefits or disadvantages of them. If your thoughts are mostly negative, a CBT-trained therapist will guide you to change your thoughts.
The idea is that if you can think more rationally and less negatively, you’ll be happier and you’ll function better in your work and relationships.
For example, let’s say you’re giving a presentation at work next week and you’re feeling nervous about it. Your thought might be, “I hope I don’t screw this up.” This thought is likely to make you feel even more nervous, and to start a cycle of negative thoughts and emotions.
On the other hand, you could practice a new thought such as, “I feel nervous about this presentation, but I know that if I prepare for it, I’ll feel better about it.” This thought is empowering and rational. There is something you can do about your nervousness (prepare for the presentation), and it’s easier to do that when you’re thinking rationally instead of emotionally.
The behavioral part of CBT is just as important as the “thinking” part. And this is where the saying, “Behave your way to success” comes in. In CBT, you’re encouraged to take action that aligns with your values so you can live a life that aligns with who you are as a person.
For example, I value community very highly. That’s why I took the time to get on a zoom call with a group of mostly-new-to-me people to talk about my writing goals for the day. If I don’t take the time to connect with other people on a regular basis, I get discouraged and my energy feels depleted.
So, if my goal is to honor my love of community by engaging in more social activities, I can “behave my way to success” by:
- scheduling a regular phone call with a friend
- putting the call on my calendar
- showing up for the call
And if any of those steps feels like too much (maybe I’m having a hard time focusing or I’m having a bad day), I can break them down into smaller steps. Which brings us to our next CBT concept, Behavioral Activation.
In short, Behavioral Activation is a set of techniques for getting yourself to do something when you’re having a hard time getting started on a task. The task could be anything — cleaning your room, doing the dishes, sending an email to your boss or deciding what to have for dinner.
The basic technique here is to break the task down into small steps and then “behave your way to success” by completing the first mini-task.
Here’s an example: let’s say you want to tackle a large pile of dirty dishes and leave your sink sparkling. By behaving your way to success (with Behavioral Activation), you’d begin by making a list like this:
- Remove dishes from the sink and place on counter.
- Wipe out sink.
- Fill sink with hot, soapy water.
- Return dishes to sink with dish water.
- Wash one dish, rinse, and place in drying rack.
- Repeat step 5 until all the dishes are clean.
- Drain sink.
- Wipe down sink as needed.
You may be asking yourself, why would I want to make a list of the steps required to wash my dishes? Doesn’t that just turn a short task into a longer task?
Let me point out that you don’t have to use this Behavioral Activation technique of taking “baby steps” — you can behave your way to success without it. But if you’re really struggling to tackle a project, making a list only takes about a minute and being able to start with “step one” instead of “project one” may make it easier to begin.
So whether or not you use Behavioral Activation, you still need to go through the steps. So, how do you “behave your way” to getting your dishes done? Same way you accomplish anything else — by showing up and beginning the process.
How I Use “Behave Your Way to Success” in My Daily Life
I’ve recently used “Behave Your Way to Success” to establish a morning routine that makes me feel good and that helps me prepare for the day.
Morning routines are all the buzz right now, aren’t they? It seems like everyone is eager to share how they spend their first few hours of the day. Nevertheless, let me illustrate how I’ve behaved my way to success with my morning routine. My hope is that it will inspire you to give the technique a try the next time you’re having trouble making progress on a goal.
First, I made a plan based on what I’ve learned in my time in therapy and doing my own research. We all know what’s good for us, and my reading has provided scientific proof that things like mindfulness or exercise are helpful for humans.
Here’s a list of what I want to include in my morning routine:
- Complete a 10- to 20-minute yoga session
- Listen to a 10-minute guided meditation
- Shower and get ready
I wake up at 6:30 a.m. every day and give myself two hours for my morning routine.
Sounds pretty simple, right?
I thought so. Until day after day and then week after week went by, and I wasn’t sticking to my plan.
When I asked my therapist what I should do, you can guess what she said: “You’ve got to behave your way to success, Amy.”
I’d heard this before, but it was still helpful. Here’s why.
It has to do with the verb and noun placement in the sentence. (Bear with me, here.) The action word (verb) is “behave” and the thing (or noun) is “success.”
“Success” is the thing I want, and I get to define what it means for me.
“Behave” is an action, and it’s up to me to follow through on it.
This is why I find my therapist’s words so empowering. They’re clear, straightforward and direct. If you want success, they say, you’ve got to behave your way there.
Every time my therapist tells me to “behave my way to success” I think, “I can do that.” What does this look like in practical terms?
When it comes to my morning routine, it means that every morning at 6:30, I get up and put my workout clothes on. It means taking the first step, or the next right action (another one of my therapist’s favorite expressions). It means showing up for myself and my values, one step at a time.
How You Can Use “Behave Your Way to Success” to Live a Healthier, Happier Life
You don’t have to be in therapy to benefit from this technique. Behaving your way to success means you get to define success for yourself, and you’re empowered to take the first action-step to get there from where you are right now.
Do you want to write a book? Behave your way to success by reading up on the subject you’re writing about, one book at a time. Or by creating a writing schedule and then showing up to write every day.
Want to train your puppy? Search for videos on YouTube about it, and then behave your way there by implementing what you’ve learned. Your puppy will never learn if you don’t show up to train her. Teach her how to behave by behaving yourself first!
Want to start an Emergency Savings Account (generally defined as six months’ living expenses)? Behave your way to more savings by (1) researching banks, (2) opening an account and (3) setting up automatic payments.
You get the idea.
Are you inspired to try the “behave your way to success” technique? What goal will you start with?