Another question: What was the first habit you thought of when I asked you that?
Was it something big like “I’d like to stop eating so much and lose 20 pounds”, or something a bit more pedantic, like “I’d like to spend less time checking my email”.
Either way, when faced with habit change, I bet most of us would put the answer to the first question at 7 or more. We all know that considering habit change can fill us with angst, dread, or fear. Or we can get a big dose of depression at the thought of giving up some of our other cherished habits in order to achieve the glorious new path we are hoping for.
Or, at least it should! Let me explain.
Part of the problem with wanting to effect a change is the fantasy we conjure up on our minds about what it will take to get there, and what it will be like “at the end” when we have achieved our goal.
Here are some common fantasies:
- “I just need to find my motivation.” As if motivation were a thing that we sometimes lose, like our glasses or car keys.
- “It’s all about willpower.” Yes, willpower is a real thing (just ask Roy F. Baumeister, the willpower expert). Trouble is, there are many things in our lives that deplete it, many of which we are not even aware of. Just counting on willpower will never get you there.
- “One day, my new habit will slot into place and it will be effortless.” OK, yes, it can get easier but the truth is that our lives are fantastically messy all the time, our circumstances are always changing, and we need to make adjustments in order to hang in for a permanent change.
The cool thing is that these days there is a lot more research about habit change, and some really good resources. At the same time, there are also plenty of ideas and suggestions that are probably not going to cut it in the long run. (for instance, “sleep in your workout clothes”, or “visualize yourself as a super-fit person”)
Here are a few salient, well-researched points that actually work for habit change.
- The BIG thing is to find out WHY you want to do this in the first place. If it is because you are trying to please others or just want to stop feeling guilty about it, that won’t be enough. The WHY needs to be something you really want FOR YOURSELF, and you have also connected it to certain SPECIFIC outcomes that you VALUE and feel good about. This is called INTRINSIC reward. It is THE thing to have on board before you start to tackle the daily grind of figuring out how to make the change.
- Realize that many of our habits are unconscious, as are the distractions in our environment that keep us locked in to certain behaviors. This is why is it so difficult to just say, “I am going to give up cake.” Sooner or later, something comes along that we associate with eating cake, and we can’t help ourselves. Again, many of these distractions are unconscious, and therefore we struggle to identify exactly what happened. This is why JUST SETTING YOUR INTENTION is not enough. It is also why so many programs of habit change include stress reduction or mindfulness.
- Get your sights off the big goal, and on to smaller benchmarks and accomplishments that have small but tangible rewards. In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg states that it is some sort of reward that keeps us coming back. The rewards need to be ongoing and satisfying. In this case, you need to find out what sort of reward works for you. For some it is tracking and seeing a trend of accomplishments, for others it is getting paid (yes, there’s an app for that), for others it is sharing our benchmark win with friends (social media or friends).
What does all this mean on a day-to-day basis?
Once again, the truth.
Each day you need to start out with a clear plan for the small steps that you will need to do THAT DAY to keep you in line with your habit goal.
Keep your mind on the big WHY, not the big goal.
Take stock of yourself, your distractions, and your beliefs and use them to help you SOLVE THE PROBLEM of how the change is going to happen.
Not fantasy, but real life with new choices to make every day.
How have you experienced making changes in your life, and how did they happen? Please leave a comment below. Your input may help others!
Regards and thanks, Kristen
© 2016-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.