This is why you keep failing at changing your life

Sean Knight
4 min readAug 25, 2021

Personal change has two parts, but we only pay attention to one

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Originally published on my personal blog as Why people fail at making big life changes.

Behavior vs Evaluation

Let’s say you want to change something about yourself. You want to lose some weight, get better at chess, or be less anxious in social situations. All personal changes break down to one of two types: changing what you do (behavior) or changing how you feel (evaluation).

Changing what you do means changing what behaviors you engage in on a regular basis. Despite what you may think, this is actually the easier area to change and one that is well documented. The science of behavioral analysis has amazing efficacy around doing just that. And it has nothing to do with motivation or discipline.

Changing how you feel is more complicated. Every time we encounter some stimulus — you see a loved one, you get cut off in traffic, you open the refrigerator, you contemplate a decision — every time any of these stimulus run through your brain your brain quickly processes what the event itself means, what the options related to it mean, and what feelings to attach to those. This is called a value judgement. And value judgements are flexible.