Observing your behaviors and responses like a scientist observing apes in the jungle can be useful for spotting opportunities for growth and improvement.

While it’s tempting to see yourself as a conscious human being making fresh decisions each day, you can also benefit by seeing yourself like an animal or robot responding to stimuli in a pre-programmed or instinctual manner.

Observe your own stimulus-response patterns, as if you never really had a choice in between. Then consider that you can get different behaviors from yourself if you change the stimuli. Give yourself different inputs, and watch your behaviors change automatically.

Then your personal growth challenge isn’t to try harder or to push yourself to be more disciplined or to do a better job of doing what you think you should do. Your challenge is to determine the right stimuli that will trigger your automatic behaviors to get you moving in the right direction.

Pay less attention to how you want to be or how you believe you should be, and pay more attention to how you actually are. Note how you actually behave. Then you can make decisions based on your real behavior patterns to get results instead of hoping that you’ll somehow behave better than you actually do.

As a simple example, I used this mindset to lose 20 pounds in the past four months, and it was pretty easy. I didn’t push myself to change my eating habits. I didn’t try harder. I didn’t have to exert more discipline. I simply changed the inputs to trigger different behavioral outputs. I started food logging, which gave me the additional input of observing which foods and how much I was eating each day. This took only minutes per day and was super easy to maintain as a habit. Upon seeing that extra data each day, my brain automatically updated its models and changed my behaviors, which in turn altered my results. So I changed the stimuli which in turn generated different responses.

By giving myself a little more input attached to every meal, my internal circuitry responded differently. I didn’t have to be or become anyone different. I didn’t have to try to change my behaviors. All I had to do was change the input patterns in a very modest way. Once my brain had a little bit more data, that was enough for it to respond with different behaviors.

Sometimes you can achieve better results by taking your ego and identity out of the picture. See your brain as a pure stimulus-response creature. Imagine that your behaviors are pre-programmed and automatic, and you can’t really control them consciously day by day. Notice that you just react to events most of the time. Then observe that you can change those events to create different inputs for your brain to chew on, and this can cause you to output different behaviors and therefore get different results.

Then it’s just a matter of experimenting with the inputs to see how different changes affect your outputs.

Don’t beat yourself up for not responding differently than you already do. Just observe: Okay, this is how my brain responds to these inputs. Then if you want different results, look for ways to perturb the inputs till your brain starts outputting different behaviors, which will naturally lead to different results.