“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
How many times have you said, or heard others say, they either want to develop a particular habit or get rid of one?
Habits such as getting to bed earlier, consuming less alcohol, exercising more often, or saving more money each month are often considered to be worth having. Habits like driving too fast, eating late at night, excessive spending, or interrupting people when they speak are examples of habits considered worth losing.
Most people can easily come up with behaviors they would like to change. Identifying what we want to change about ourselves is easy. Actually making changes and sustaining them – well, not so easy!
Entire industries are based on promises of change. Even a holiday, New Years, is about resolving to improve something about oneself, ie to change a particular habit.
As a psychologist, I am fascinated by what motivates people to change and how they stay motivated.
There are lots of tips out there for how to improve your chances of successful habit change. Generic suggestions typically include the importance of consistency, daily practice, keeping it simple, hanging out with likeminded people who are already successful with the habit you are trying to build, and incorporating some form of accountability. Setting realistic, measurable goals and rewarding the baby steps along the way are other common recommendations.
Ideas such as these are solid. They make sense and indeed may be helpful.
But not for everyone.
In my clinical practice, I have noticed that generic lists are not necessarily helpful for an individual. There are no blanket suggestions that work for all of us. “It depends” is often the response to questions about personality. So many factors influence our behavior in ways that make it impossible to state hard and fast tendencies. History, experience, culture, expections, genetics, and family background are factors that can’t possibly be accounted for in a generic list of how to develop and sustain habits.
Former attorney and now author Gretchen Rubin apparently agrees.
She developed a cool rubric to help people improve their likelihood of making habits stick. She says that knowing how we respond to expectations can make the difference between success and failure. Each of us generally falls into one of four categories -- Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel—depending on how we respond to outer and inner expectations.
When we know in which category we fall, we are better able to understand ourselves. That works to our advantage, especially when it comes to goals we set for ourselves and habits we want to strengthen.
Here is the basic gist:
Upholders respond to outer and inner expectations. They tend not to disappoint others or themselves.
Questioners question expectations and will meet expectations only if the explanation makes sense to them.
Rebels resist outer and inner expectations. This is the least common category.
Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet self-imposed expectations. They benefit significantly from external accountability. This is the most common category of the four.
Recognizing which tendency you have (and you can do this by taking her quiz) will guide your approach to how to make a habit stick.
This column is not a review of Ms Rubin’s theory, nor is it an endorsement of it necessarily. Her theory though highlights a basic tenet that after my 20 years of private practice is clear to me. No one approach works for everyone.
My take home messages are:
Knowing yourself is an important requirement to making effective and lasting change. What works for you based on your personality, prior attempts, and/or reasons for wanting to make changes? This may shift over time and is going to be different from the person to your left or right.
Practice makes progress. If you fall off the horse, just get back on. No drama.
Perfection is the enemy of good. All or none thinking (“I have to do this perfectly or I am a failure”) is a setup . Throwing in the towel due to less than perfect execution or outcome will doom any possible success.
I will sign off now. My habit of being in bed by 10 pm must prevail. I am an Upholder, after all!
Dr. Elayne Daniels – www.drelaynedaniels.com
We all want to develop good habits and accomplish goals.
Whether its getting into great physical shape, quitting smoking or finally writing that book you want to write, new habits need to be developed in order to bring about the end result. Many people try to create new habits by using willpower. However, studies by the American Psychological Association suggest our willpower may be limited.
Known as willpower depletion, it is compared to a muscle that gets fatigued from too much use. As we go through the day resisting the many temptations before us, our ability to withstand later temptation is eroded. There are, however, ways to increase our ability to stick to the new habits we want to create and even strengthen our willpower.
How to build “sticky” habits:
1. Implementation intentions: These are “if-then” statements that you set before the event so you don’t have to draw on your willpower in the moment. It works because you already have a plan in place. It involves taking something you already do in your daily life and adding another link to the chain, by adding in the new habit you want to build. The regular routine will act as a trigger to help you implement the new habit.
Examples: If it is dinner time, then I will eat only fresh vegetables and lean meat. If someone offers me a drink then I will ask for soda water and lime. If I brush my teeth, then I will floss. If I get dressed in the morning, then I will meditate for 15 minutes.
2. Visualize the Process: When you want to attain a goal, we’re often told to see the end result. However, when you are trying to build a new habit, visualizing the process of what needs to be done to achieve the goal is much more effective. The reason for that is visualizing the process focuses you on the individual steps needed and it also reduces anxiety because you aren’t focused on the overwhelm of the big result —just the next step.
You want to start small and make the new habit easy to implement. So, get clarity on your end result and then plan out the steps needed to achieve it. Then, just visualize yourself successfully accomplishing the first step. When that’s done—rinse and repeat with the second step and so on!
3. Examine your new habit and figure out exactly where things start to break down.
Say you want to eat healthy dinners with your family, but you’re tired when you get off work. It’s easier to drop by and pick up a take out dinner. Instead of relying on how you feel in the moment, you could plan meals ahead on the weekend. Then you could cook ahead of time and freeze them. Have salad mixes available. You could also make meal prep a fun time together with your spouse. When you know where the habit breaks down you can put a plan in place to help you easily stick to your new habit.
4. Transform inhibitional goals into acquisitional goals.
Inhabitional goals are when you are trying to stop doing something. For example in AA , alcoholics are trying to stop drinking. So, they focus on the number of days sober—acquiring sober days rather than inhibiting the desire to drink.
Dieters could focus on acquiring healthy eating days rather than try to stop (inhibit) junk food eating. Writers could acquire number of days they sat down and wrote, even a sentence! This focuses you on what you want, rather than what you don’t want. We create what we are focused on.
And it gives you something to celebrate……
5. Celebrate your successes!
Even saying, “Good job!” or “Success!” each time you do your new habit can be a celebration. Do a fist pump or happy dance! We want to continue doing things that feel good, so reward yourself with positive self talk. Your subconscious mind likes the feeling of progress and marking milestones along the way is a great way to celebrate.
Understand that forming new habits takes patience and time. If you slip up, forgive yourself and re-set.
Estra Roell, Life Purpose Coach– www.americaslifepurposecoach.com
We make good habits stick by making a commitment to self.
In all that we do in life, we are either honoring our sacred self or we are not. In order to achieve all that lies in Universal escrow for us, we must first deem ourselves worthy of more, of better.
So often in life we are putting most, if not all, of our efforts and time into others. We make others a priority over ourselves and we leave ourselves for last. The problem with this is, by the time we have “pleased” the rest of the world, there is hardly time to take care of who is most important, you.
Forging good habits takes conscious thinking and planning.
It means setting aside time to decide what you would like for yourself whether it is better fitness, more spiritual study, education, closer relationships or perhaps eating healthier. Once we decide what it is we would deeply desire, we must give ourselves permission to go after it.
Oftentimes, we fall into the trap of deciding what we’d desire, but we put it off for the future when “the time is right”. The time is always right! There is a saying, “Now is how!” Make the commitment to yourself and go!
5 Steps to Achieving Good Habits
1. Deem yourself worthy– We will not ever manifest what we want out of life if we don’t believe we are worthy of it. Our level of worthiness is in direct proportion to what we can achieve. Understanding that you are as deserving as anyone else on this planet to achieve your goals is vital to fully stepping into the process.
2. Make your well-being a priority– This does not mean we ignore our responsibilities. Perhaps it’s about allowing others to care more for themselves rather than believing you have to do it all. There is a fine line between enabling others and true responsibility. One wouldn’t expect a 3 year old to make his own lunch, but a 10 year old is fully capable. You get the idea!
3. Research your area of interest– There is SO much information out there and with the gift of Google, we can find virtually any information that we want. By researching your goal, you have already begun to form your new habit. You are on your way! Acquiring relevant, solid information and knowledge regarding your goal will educate you in your area of interest and start changing your perceptions.
4. Be gentle with yourself– As with any major life changes, there are times we will fall backward into old patterns or lose track of our goals until they have become a habit. It takes anywhere from 30-45 days to form a new habit. Give yourself grace while you work toward your goal. It’s okay to miss a day, forget or fall off track. If we beat ourselves up, we are more likely to stay in the old pattern. Acceptance and grace of your humanness will go a long way!
5. Pat yourself on the back for a job well-done– Become your own cheerleader and motivational speaker. You know exactly what you need in order to continue on. Don’t expect to receive adulation from the outside world because somehow others will seemingly fall short in what we need to hear, because they are coming from their own projections of what they would need.
Our lives are our own. There is no one who knows better what would nurture our souls and improve our life than ourselves! Go for your dreams. You matter!
Kristen Brown, Author & Certified Empowerment Coach – www.sweetempowerment.com
I own a personal training studio, and the most common issue I hear from clients is, “I know what to do, I just don’t do it.”
Haven’t we all marveled at our ability to know exactly what we need to do, and then inexplicably choose the opposite?
When I was in the grip of my compulsions, I would catch myself doing things like filling up the grocery cart with healthy food, then stopping for fast food on the way home.
Or sitting on the sofa eating out of the ice cream container, while telling myself to stop. It’s an awful, powerless feeling. I held on tight to the belief that I just needed more self-discipline and willpower.
Then, I encountered a powerful verse in the Bible, written by the Apostle Paul, who must have been in the grip of his own compulsions.
He wrote, “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise…I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.
My decisions don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable.” [Romans 7:15-21 Message]
I was stunned. I thought it was just me, but here is this man who lived in the first century, writing laments about his frustrations with himself and his inability to follow through.
Maybe, I thought, this is a struggle common to all humanity.
With that truth as my foundation, I set out to understand what sabotages us.
Take dieting. I would try, but before long I was in the drive thru, saying screw it. Then, one day, I stopped long enough to listen to the part of me that was taking over and making the choices. She basically said, “I am miserable and broken in here. I am trapped, and I need a hit of comfort and pleasure. I don’t care about the consequences.”
It was me. I’d been trying to get my attention for a very long time.
Instead of trying to willpower my way to choosing better, I decided to pay attention to the wounded part of me that was constantly acting up.
Did she really need ice cream, or was it a grief support group that would help her heal?
Did she love fast food, or would healing her self-worth help her understand that she does matter, therefore what she chooses also matters?
Honestly, it was a miracle.
As my self-worth healed, the compulsions started falling away. Turns out they were symptoms, not the root. It wasn’t about food. It was a craving for wholeness and healing, that only came when I stopped long enough to pay attention and find out what the authentic craving was underneath it all.
And it, of course, was love.
Sue Markovitch, Author and Life Coach in Westerville, Ohio – www.clearrockfitness.com
The purpose of habits is to free up energy and attention for more essential tasks.
As an early human, you would survive only if you had developed functional habits that kept you alive and thriving. Toward this end, our mind/bodies automatically lay down new neural tracks for anything we do repeatedly.
Who would feed his family better, the hunter who stowed his bow and arrow in the same place every night or the one who arose each morning and had to search the cave looking for them? Who would help her child thrive, the mother who regularly checked to see if her infant was breathing or the one who did it erratically? Ok, you get the picture.
Here are five tips for creating helpful habits:
Tip #1: Intentionally create habits when you’re relaxed.
Practice specific ways of doing something when you’re not stressed because, “Under stress, people tend to fall back on routines—whether healthy or unhealthy.
In a recent experiment, University of Southern California psychologist Wendy Wood, Ph.D., one of the world’s top experts in habit formation, found that students around exam time slipped into autopilot. (“Going the distance,” Parade Magazine, 12/29/13, p. 11). If you get in the groove when you’re relaxed, you’re more likely to stay in the groove when you’re stressed.
Tip #2: Identify the reasons you don’t want to develop a new habit.
People have mixed feelings about developing new habits, so be sure you recognize what’s holding you back: time, effort, desire, lack of instant reward, money, etc. You aren’t bad for having mental barriers to change. You’re simply human.
Tip #3: Practice frustration tolerance and delaying gratification.
Studies tell us that people who can delay gratification (instant pleasure) for future happiness are better able to tolerate frustration than those who grab at short-term fixes. Put off doing something that’s not healthy for you for one minute or 10 minutes or an hour or until tomorrow.
Use incremental thinking. And soothe your frustration with kind and encouraging words: I can do this, I’ll be fine without my quick fix, I’m going to love how I feel making a healthy choice.
Tip #4: Heap praise on yourself and be proud at each small step you take toward creating a new habit.
Shaming yourself into better practices doesn’t work. It only makes you feel badly and less likely to want to do good things for yourself. When you make a positive choice, reward yourself with lavish congratulations and make sure to feel proud. If you don’t make a positive choice, you can still feel proud that you’re trying to change. Remember, feeling proud works better than self-shaming.
Tip #5: Make sure you want a new habit for yourself, not to please others.
Many people try to change to make others happy or to avoid being shamed by them. Be certain you’re changing for you and know why the change will be beneficial to you.
Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed. – www.karenrkoenig.com
Many of us are very concerned about how we might manage our lives better by developing and keeping better habits.
The problem with our thinking on this, however, is that we think that we can permanently manage our lives based in a kind of discipline that uses for its foundational motivating principle the word should.
Every New Year we watch people apply this principle to their lives only to watch them, shortly thereafter, stop doing whatever it was that they agreed that they should do. Diets die, exercise programs quit, lovers return to their same old tired arguments, and on and on.
Why doesn’t it work?
Two reasons: 1) we don’t like being told what to do; and 2) we are trying to apply the band aid of should to an old identity.
The identity is the mask and costume we have worn since infancy and toddlerhood that we introjected from our parent’s projections. We became something we are not in order to stay attached to people to whom we longed to belong. But that identity is not who we really are. And at some point in our lives we begin to feel the distinctions between the authentic Self and the identity—though we may not have the clarity to see that this is what it is.
We feel one way, but we do something else.
We find that our thinking is conflicted between what we really want and what we think we have to do. A crisis makes us realize that we’ve been living into a life that isn’t true to who we are. These are signs that we are beginning to wake up to who we really are. And in order to form patterns of behavior that satisfy us (in other words, good habits) we have to start living from the more authentic, the more genuine within us. The authentic Self has its own urgings, desires and patterns of living and they are all about wholeness.
The work of finding the authentic Self is in beginning to hear and then live into its messages.
We do that by tuning into to our emotions and our desires, and our original thoughts. Instead of doing what we have always done, we begin to utilize courage to do what genuine desire has always wanted to do. We begin to fulfill our dreams. We begin to speak up for ourselves. We begin to build boundaries where we have always wanted them. We begin to walk through guilt to the other side guilt-free, instead of caving to its demands.
And finally, as an outcome of all of this hard work to release the Self to live in our own bodies, we also begin to eat better, exercise more, argue less, etc. We have begun to live in the habit of the Self.
Andrea Mathews, LPC, PhD – www.andreamathews.com
There are several ways to help build healthy habits and become consistent with them.
One of the first ways in order to become consistent is to be aware of what gets in the way of starting healthy behaviors. One of the main interfering factors is called rationalization. Rationalization can sound reasonable, understandable and intelligent. Rationalization is really an interference to identify unhealthy behaviors.
For example, I decide that I would like to increase my exercise routine from twice per week to three times per week. On the day I decide I am going to the gym, I tell myself, “I went two days ago, I can go tomorrow”.
Or, I can tell myself that “I really don’t need to increase my days at the gym because I exercise plenty already”.
Rationalization is the voice that says something is okay for us, when it really is not.
Self-acceptance is something that would be effective for us to learn in order accept ourselves for where we are instead of giving ourselves a hard time for not being where we want to be.
How do we figure out if something is okay or not for us?
All of us have an internal voice that is our truth. We need to know who we are, what we feel, what feels right for us and what does not. This is not a simple process. The process to get to know ourselves is important in order to change the behavior that is getting in the way for us to do what is healthy for ourselves.
Self-judgement can be a struggle for many and it gets in the way of being able to do what we would like to do to better ourselves.
“Other practical tips can include being accountable to someone else to help build healthy habits. If we choose someone who is more experienced, knowledgeable, and/or successful with the habit we are trying to start; we can be held accountable to what we are trying to change and feel more motivated by receiving encouragement. The best way to get more results include; being honest with the person we choose to be accountable with and being willing to change.”
- Coach Aaron
Identify what motivates you!
There are different forms of motivation. Emotional and physical pain can be an example of difficult motivating factors. Joy, relief, excitement can also be motivating factors and can be more easy to accept. The results of doing a healthy habit, such as going to therapy, twelve step meetings, reaching out for help are positive and feel good and can be difficult to begin.
If we can play a situation all the way through, we can recognize the positive results we can get out of changing our behaviors, even though it may be difficult to begin.
Dr. Heather Gaedt – www.drheathergaedt.com
It is not just at the start of the New Year that we find ourselves setting goals and resolving to improve ourselves. While incorporating new habits into our lives is a positive thing, sometimes it can lead to stress if we approach it in a negative or self-defeating manner.
Most goals that we set revolve around doing better and being better. While this is a worthy intention, it is important to remember that the changes won’t benefit us if the process of doing so adds stress into our lives. Therefore it is essential to approach it in a way that allows you to achieve a sense of success instead of frustration or disappointment.
Here are a few tips to help you do just that!
1. Set Doable Goals
Many people become stressed out and deeply disappointed simply because they have set unrealistic goals for themselves – or ones that are highly difficult to achieve. It is much more effective to create a goal or a new habit that focuses on the process instead of the final outcome.
For example, resolving to eat better and exercise more so that you can gradually drop unwanted pounds over time means that the process of getting healthy and in shape is the ultimate aim – not just the number on the scale.
In other words, the success of your new habits are not based on pounds lost, but measured by how you are feeling — more energized, stronger, or healthier. Not only will you achieve a greater sense of success with this type of approach, but you will also avoid setting yourself up for undue stress or disappointment.
2. Short-Term Goals For Long-Term Changes
When you want to implement new habits, shorter-term goals are the way to go. Year-long goal setting often leads to lack of follow through and disappointment. The best way to avoid having your intentions fall by the wayside is to create 30-day goals instead.
If you hope to implement a new habit, giving yourself a time frame of a month holds you accountable and allows you to see an achievable end in sight – both of which are factors that increase the chances of success and a greater likelihood that the new habits will stick!
3. Don’t Go At It Alone
Having someone else on board with whatever new habit you hope to implement into your life is another key to success. You will normally work harder at achieving your goals if you work toward them with a friend. A good friend not only serves as a great cheerleader, but he/she also holds you accountable. Plus, your support will help your friend reach his or her goals too! So, find a buddy who shares the same goal as you, partner up and enjoy the power of two!
Dr. Kelly Mothner – www.drkellyhb.com
"Why can’t I just follow through on plans to improve my life?"
"I get all excited and pumped up and ready to step forward to take on the world. I think about how my life will be better once I achieve the ultimate goal and I inform others in order to gain their emotional support. Then, I set out on my journey and find that within a short period of time, I loose interest because either the gains I was looking for may not be realized soon enough, it may take more effort than I thought it would be, or others may be undermining my efforts. Whatever the reason may be, I end up quitting. What can I do to stay on track? What can I do to motivate myself?"
I’ve heard these words many times over in my work with clients during the past 25+ years.
Developing good, productive habits starts with having a good work ethic and a positive mindset that helps jump-start a task into fruition.
Having a lifestyle that keeps one moving in a positive direction is a big plus. Focusing on the journey toward your goal rather than on the goal itself can help keep you going when a crossroads moment wants you to give up. Check with yourself by asking, “Is what I am doing right now keeping me on track to meet my goal?”
If the answer is “yes,” then this provides motivation for the next day of your journey.
If your answer is “no,” then you have to step back and re-evaluate what’s going wrong. Are you expecting too much too soon? Are you using a lot of negative self-talk and putting yourself down?
If so, lower your expectations a bit so that you can experience little successes over time and change the negative self-talk to positive. You have to be your own best cheerleader to stay motivated as well as surrounding yourself with supportive people who can cheer you on rather than sabotage your efforts.
Practicing meditative and relaxation exercises for a little as five minutes a day by focusing on your breath can increase your willpower to accomplish the goals you have set for yourself by calming your brain.
In the book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It, Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. explains how the neurology of the brain can be trained to increase an individual’s sense of willpower to control powerful emotions and continue in the face of overwhelming and frightening circumstances.
In this exercise, focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale.
If your mind wanders and starts thinking of other things, it’s okay because it is part of the training process. Just come back and refocus on your breath coming in and going out.
This is training the brain the responses of I Will and I Won’t and creating a balance in your body’s neurological system, which helps to reduce stress and leads to making healthier and wiser choices for directing your lives. And don’t forget to find little extra ways to reward and pamper yourself as you progress on the way to meeting your goal. Now this is a good habit that shouldn’t be too hard to keep.
Dr. Joanne Wendt – www.drjoannewendt.com
We are all in process, and striving for personal improvement is what keeps us moving towards the best version of ourselves.
Whether it’s to lose weight, become more organized or improve relationships, progress comes down to new habits. It’s much easier to conceptualize the new habit and make a plan than to follow through for the long term. Things get in the way, such as sickness, life changes and increased stress and we can easily give up on our new habits if we see ourselves as failing at them. This is why it is important to celebrate our progress, if we only focus on how something got in the way today and forget to remember we were and are capable of success, our motivation will be lost.
When it comes to making changes in our lives it is important to pick one thing to change at a time.
If we decide we’re going to quit smoking, change our diet and begin exercising all at one time, it will feel overwhelming and impossible when you really get into. Picking one thing to focus on allows us to create a plan that we can stick to.
For example, maybe you first focus on quitting smoking, since this change will help you in the next habit you chose to change, which might be to start exercising and once you start exercising you might find increased motivation to feed your body well. Whatever habit you’re looking to begin or change, you must hold yourself accountable in order to stay focused.
For many people writing down their intention and why they want to make this change helps bring the motivation back when it seems to be lacking.
It’s also important to remember that success is not equivalent to perfection, no one is perfect all of the time and having a bump in the road should be expected. By expecting to have bumps in the road, you can then plan for them and how to return to your new habit.
Jennifer Misenti, LPC, NSCA-CPT – www.whole-health-wellness.com
Write this down right now….I am capable of more than I can imagine! When you feel you’ve messed up, write it again. With that in mind, building good habits that stick requires a mindset that nurtures self-love (not selfishness), flexibility, forgiveness, and a connection to your Soul!
Here are 7 tips to keep you moving in a rewarding direction:
1. Set REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.
This doesn’t mean lower your standards, but it does mean start small and work your way up in order to feel successful. An example of this is if you have a long-term goal of doing 100 push-ups without stopping, start out with 1 push-up on day one, 2 push-ups on day two, etc. Start from where you are! Test it out and see what you CAN do now and then add slowly from there.
2. Be aware of your ALL or NOTHING stinking thinking!
When you allow these rigid thoughts to be your guide, this only feeds self-sabotage! When you allow your Heart/Soul to guide you, you make room for forgiveness and push through the barriers that come your way.
3. Eliminate UNNECESSARY CHOICES.
Most of us already feel on information overload due to the many choices thrown upon us like food choices, technology gadgets, remembering pin numbers, etc. According to the variety of research on self-control, being a bit boring can decrease the chaos in your life! Try packing a similar lunch every day to eliminate a stressor. Choose your battles wisely to allow time for more important decisions.
4. Don’t SHOULD on yourself!
Comparing yourself to others or doing things because someone says you should only takes away your personal power. Beware of those statements in your head and allow your heart to guide you. Having role models is a healthier approach to take and can be a constant motivator!
5. EMBRACE the feelings of PLEASURE AND PAIN!
Creating new habits is gonna hurt sometimes! You may have trained your brain to do things one way, so it naturally tries to revert back to what is familiar. Be patient and give your body time to adjust. The pleasure comes when the many rewards of your new healthy habit(s) start to show.
You may behave differently and this makes your Soul light up! Others will notice and may praise or reject you. Regardless, give yourself permission to enjoy the many pleasures of your hard work and dedication!!
6. Create a RITUAL in your day and RECONSTRUCT your environment.
Create your sacred space for your new healthy habit and set aside the best time to do your thing! Every time you see this new space, it sends you a loving reminder of this new addition in your life.
7. You must have a day of REST to rejuvenate your mind/body/soul.
Overdoing only leads to burnout. Sleep in. Laugh. Get out into nature.
This will become your lifestyle if you allow yourself to embrace it. Be sure to celebrate your victories large and small and enjoy the ride!
Cheryl Mlcoch, M.S., LPC – www.woundedhealercounseling.com
Our desire to build good habits is about making improvements, and can touch on any area of our lives.
No matter what area of our life we’re trying to improve, there are some universal challenges in adopting a new habit and in keeping with it.
A new habit, whether it’s stopping something you’re doing now or starting something you’re not doing yet, begins with two conflicting goals.
Part of you wants to do something different, something that’s good for the long term because it’s healthier or better for you. Part of you wants to keep the status quo, even when it seems clear that the status quo isn’t a good thing.
This dynamic of conflicting goals means that implementing a new habit and sticking with it is going to require self-control, willpower, and stick-to-it-tiveness (also known as persistence). Fortunately, knowing that these qualities are what’s required can guide us, and give us lots of information on how to be successful.
I’m going to touch on 4 strategies that can help you with self-control, willpower, and persistence – Effective Self-Talk, Journaling, Meditation, and Understanding and Building Willpower.
Before I go into each of these strategies, let’s first set expectations that will help you be successful.
First, when you are working on a new habit and staying with it, don’t expect perfection.
Because you have two conflicting goals competing within you, there will be back and forth between which impulse is in the lead in each moment. Rather than expecting to always be in control, try setting your measure of success as you’re creating a strong trend in the direction of your new habit.
Second, there is a common belief that it takes 21 days to adopt a new habit.
In truth, it may take less or more time than that. There are a lot of things in play for each of us individually as we try to break a long-standing habit or implement a new one. Rather than expecting to “be done” in 3 weeks, try setting the expectation that within 21 days, if you’ve been consistent, you’ll have your new habit in place most of the time. Habits aren’t absolute and may require on-going conscious choices and effort.
Ok, let’s talk about some tools for success that you can try. Changing our words can change our habits and change our brains so they’re more likely to stick. The first 2 strategies tap into using our words.
As you make your habit changes and strive to stick with them, use positive coaching talk, minimize negative self-talk, and talk to yourself by name.
When learning a new skill or solving a problem, we have better success if we talk ourselves through it. How we talk to ourselves matters. We perform better when we talk to ourselves in a positive, coaching voice. Negative, self-deprecating talk increases our stress levels, anxiety, depression, and shame, all of which is self-defeating.
We also perform better when we talk to ourselves in the third person, in other words when we call ourselves by name. This approach seems to help us access wisdom that we have when talking to a friend but that we don’t have as easily when talking to ourselves.
Use journaling to stay on track, and cement changes. Use your journal to coach yourself, track successes and lessons learned, provide support for obstacles and challenges, and to process self-defeating reactions and feelings.
Journaling to stay positive is very helpful.
Write about your habit change successes, appreciations, and gratitudes. This helps you stay connected with the progress you’re making and the positive trend you’re stiving for. Use your journal to coach yourself following the same guidelines as outlined above for self-talk.
You will have ups and downs on this journey.
Journaling is very effective in helping you stay positive and keep your eye on the prize. Use your journal to write about any set-backs or things that didn’t go well. For each set-back or problem write down the lesson(s) learned. Write about challenges and obstacles. For each of these, write down an action plan, something concrete that you can do to support you with whatever the challenge or obstacle is.
Trying to change habits will trigger many defeating reactions and feelings (remember the two conflicting goals?). Expect to have reactions that aren’t aligned with your new habit goal. Expect to feel at times discouraged, angry, overwhelmed, tired, anxious, like you deserve to give-in or deserve a treat, and others.
Giving these reactions and feelings a voice through journaling (remember not to be self-deprecating!) allows them to resolve so you can return to being positive. Write in a way that honors and witnesses rather than negates or judges. If after writing you still struggle with reactions and feelings, journal about steps you can take to support you in staying on track inspite of them.
Meditate to build self-awareness, self-control, and persistence.
Adopting a new habit requires self-awareness to notice when we’re doing something other than what we want to be doing. It requires that we have the self-control needed to choose something other than what we do impulsively. It requires that we be persistent and return to choosing the new habit rather than what we did before.
Meditation is a practice that builds our ability to notice our reactions, exercise self-contol, and make a different choice, and so is excellent for helping us with making habit changes.
A meditation practice doesn’t have to be difficult or require a large investment in time. It does require consistency just like any other exercise program. Simply spending 5 to 10 minutes most days can help build these abilities.
Try taking 5 minutes most days just noticing your breath. Your mind will wander, and that’s perfect. Each time you notice your mind wandering, bring your awareness back to your breath. This noticing and bringing your awareness back to your focus is exactly the exercise. It allows you to practice noticing, practice staying focused, practice making a different choice from what you do impulsively.
Understanding and Building Willpower
Having willpower is incredibly important in making habit changes. It’s required to get us past our good intentions that will only carry us so far. Willpower enables us to navigate the two conflicting goals, and keep the scales tipped in the direction of our long-term goal. Kelly McGonigal has written an incredibly helpful book called The Willpower Instinct, that not only outlines the science of willpower, but also provides a workbook approach to building your “willpower muscle.”
Some helpful highlights from her book include that willpower is like a muscle that we can strengthen. It isn’t something we either have or don’t. You can get strong enough to make lasting habit changes!
Willpower encompasses our ability to know and remember what it is we want, notice impulses, control them, and make a different choice.
All of this work requires physical energy. As you pursue your habit change, make sure you have the physical energy it requires. There are certain states to avoid since they will make it harder for you to make changes, such as being hungry, sleep-deprived, intoxicated, distracted, or overly stressed. As you adopt or change a habit, make sure you eat well to keep your blood sugar balanced, get plenty of sleep, manage distractions, and manage stress.
Stress relieving strategies that really work (that help us have more willpower) include exercising, playing sports, praying, meditating, reading, listening to music, social time with family or friends, massage, walking (especially in nature), yoga, and time on creative work. Many of the things we do when we’re stressed, such as shopping, internet time, gambling, smoking, and drinking, don’t actually relieve stress. This is because they don’t switch the body out of stress response and into relaxation, even though they do trigger a dopamine response.
In addition to physical challenges to willpower, there are psychological challenges.
In her book, McGonigal covers that science behind how progress can undermine our motivation to stay the course, how feeling optimistic or good about our progress can undermine making good choices. Pay attention to your thinking and self-talk when you want to give yourself a treat or a break, and make a choice towards your new habit instead.
The last word goes to Knowing and Remembering What You Want.
We try to change habits because we want something better for ourselves. However, it can be difficult to remember what we want when the scales tip towards maintaining the status quo, instant gratification, and giving up because it takes so much effort to make changes.
Begin your journey with defining your vision and continue on your journey staying connected to your vision. Spend time defining what your habit change will be and what will be different for you and in your life once you’ve made the change. Keep this vision in front of you until it feels like your new habit is in place. Keep your eye on the prize!
Heather Leavesley, MA – www.hlcounseling.com
By definition, habits are patterns of behavior that are acquired through frequent repetition.
In many instances, they are unconscious causing a person not to be fully aware that they are engaging in them. There are good and bad habits; one enhances, while the other can potentially interrupt a person’s life. It can go without saying that people have a deep desire to acquire good habits, so why are they so much harder to maintain than bad habits?
Well, the answer is easy, it is our outlook on the situation; making things appear more arduous than they actually are. If we change our outlook, then we change our habits.
Now, let’s change our frame of mind.
Instead of thinking of good habits as something that we MUST do, rather view it as something you WANT to do. It is as the Olympian, Jim Ryun said, “Motivation is what gets us started. Habit is what keeps us going.” If something is viewed as a task, the less desirable it is.
Next, what goal do you have in mind? Is it manageable? One problem people run into is making their goals to cumbersome. It is good to be ambitious, but break down the larger goal into smaller, more attainable steps. This way, a routine is easier to be established, and habits formed.
As an automatic effect, once you start moving towards your goal, the bad habits become less present.
For example, you want to incorporate more self care into your busy schedule. One small step towards this goal would be to take five minutes everyday, and indulge in one of your favorite activities, such as listening to music, meditating, or walking. It is a small, yet effective, manageable step towards developing a good habit of self care. In this instance, the bad habit of no personal time was replaced with the good habit.
I can’t say it enough, but, as you start to advance in your steps towards your goal, always remember to keep them manageable.
This also consists of thinking of possible challenges that may arise. Going back to the self care example, you want to increase your self care time to 15 minutes a day, during your lunch break. Well, what if something comes up and you miss your lunch? What will you do? Thinking of possible obstacles in advance will enable you to think of plausible solutions, and not be thrown off track.
With the self care scenario, one solution would have been to go back to the five minutes for that day, so no personal time would be missed. Whatever goal you set, you can do it!
Robin Ennis, LMSW, CPC – www.prominentpathways.org
Change is not as easy as it sounds.
We all want to change. We really, really want to change, even pray for change, but when we set out to make that change, we often get thrown off our goal.
The problem is that real change requires really changing. So, how do we replace a bad habit or build a good one if we can’t, or don’t know how, to actually change?
The most important thing to remember when we are trying to create a positive change is to set a clear intention.
That means we need to know what we want. Really know. Whether it be to lose five pounds or to make a million dollars, the strategy remains the same.
In order to create an actualized result you have to set a clear intention. The clearer your intention, the quicker is the manifestation. If you doubt your desire, it will surely be dubious in manifestation.
Realize that when you set a goal for yourself that it cannot be instantaneous.
Know that you will get dunked, you will wobble, you will not immediately succeed. If you know this going in, then you are more likely to succeed. If you expect to hear no, then you won’t be surprised when you do. If you have been eating perfectly and haven’t lost a pound in three days, you’ll know to hang in there. Do not lose sight of your goal. In this way, if you become tempted by ice cream or wine, you can gently, lovingly steer yourself in the direction of what is in your highest and best interest based on what you know you truly want.
Old habits die hard.
Theses habits can be hardwired into us, by genetics, by physiology, by ancestry, or simply by repetitive thought. It takes time to change these patterns, because that’s what they are, patterns. And patterns are inherently a closed system. And, a pattern by definition is something that repeats.
So, in order to make the change we want, we must understand why we want to.
These reasons must be known through and through, from the inside out. We need to know this by heart. Otherwise it just won’t stick. Why do you want to lose weight? Write it down. Memorize it in your body. Your list might say: I want to feel better. I want to look better in my clothes. I want to be healthy and live a vibrant life. If this intention is unclear you will not succeed. You will slip gradually back to the old pattern and find yourself back where you started. This is hugely disappointing and worse, can make us lose faith in ourselves and our word.
There is a metaphysical principle that says, “Your word is law,” meaning what you say, is what it is. This is critical to understand for real change. You must take yourself seriously. For your Self surely knows if you do, or do not.
Diana Lang, Counselor and Author of Opening to Meditation – www.dianalang.com
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