What a $500 Mistake Taught Me About Behavior Change

I had been having problems with my car. Any time it would rain my car wouldn’t start. As you could imagine, this is a bit problematic if my getting to work is dictated entirely by the weather forecast. (I mean, who really wants to leave the house when it’s raining anyways?)

So, like any responsible car owner I took it to the mechanic to get this issue figured out. Admittedly, this wasn’t my first time taking it in for this issue, but in previous attempts they couldn’t figure out what was wrong because the car would start every time. (Ugh, annoying.)  

Fortunately, they came back to me that day and told me it wasn’t starting, they had diagnosed the issue, and it was the camshaft sensor thingymajiggy. (Their words, clearly.) The unfortunate part of this conversation is that it would cost me $500 to fix. (In the grand scheme of a car repair it isn’t THAT bad, but it’s still not pocket change and I certainly didn’t feel like spending my roundtrip airfare to Italy on a stupid car problem.) 

So I grudgingly authorized the repair and got my car back the following day. A few days pass and it rains again. Car gives me trouble and doesn’t want to start. By now I’ve learned that it will start with enough persistence; and being the irresponsible car owner that I am, I deal with it. 

A few more weeks pass. Not a lot of rain during that time, not too many issues. Just recently I take my car in for a separate issue to a different mechanic. During this repair they notice something, the ignition coil is “arcing.” (Kindly note that I have no idea what this means, and that this is a different issue than mentioned previously.) This issue was noticed while they were replacing a water pump, so the engine was wet. The mechanic asked if I had any trouble starting the car in the rain: “Yes!” 

To get to the point of this story let me summarize by saying the first mechanic checked my car until he found something wrong that could be the issue, then ceased any further investigation and assumed that was the problem. Had he investigated ALL possible issues, he may have found the actual problem. In other words, I may have done a $500 repair for no reason. 

I see a similar process happen when people are trying to change their behavior. “I eat too much junk food,” they say. “I just need to stop eating junk food.” 

The problem is that, while this may be true, there is no attempt to uncover WHY they are eating too much junk food. Is it environmental? Is it emotional? Is it a poor relationship with food? Is it a coping mechanism? These people understand there is a problem, look to the first (most obvious) perpetrator, and jump to the conclusion that THAT is the thing that needs to be fixed. 

Without a thorough investigation of why this behavior is happening, you won’t be able to correct the actual cause of that specific behavior; and thus, it will likely continue. 

You can overcome this “jump the gun” approach to changing your behavior by asking the question, “why?” Why do you think that is the problem? Why is this behavior happening? What situations, contexts, people, or things cause you to engage in that behavior? In what contexts do you behave differently? 

These questions will help you perform a full investigation of the potential causes of the issue so that you can identify the correct one to fix. Only then can you successfully change your behavior, and hopefully do so without wasting $500. 

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