Change is hard. There’s not much getting around that – it’s hard! The reason is simple: we are creatures of habit. And a high proportion of what we do in life is habit; some of our habits are positive and healthy, some aren’t.
I’m going to assume that you would like to be healthier in some way. This could mean you want to incorporate running or yoga into your life, or implement a daily stretching programme. It could mean that you want to change your diet in some way or stop an addictive behaviour like smoking or drinking. It could be a limiting belief you’ve carried around for a while that doesn’t relate specifically to what you’d call ‘health’. Whatever your goal, I hope that today’s post will help you achieve it.
Habits are formed by repetition, and are brought on by triggers. Each time a specific trigger is fired and an action is taken in response to it, a groove is formed a little deeper and the association between the trigger and the action becomes a little stronger. For example:
Trigger: feeling stressed.
Negative action/Habit: eating junk food for comfort.
If every time you feel a certain level of stress you reach for a chocolate bar or a take-away menu, a habit begins to form. If this has happened every day for the last ten years, a really strong habit has formed!
Your first job in changing your habit is to write down the negative behaviour you would like to eliminate, and the positive behaviour you would like to replace it with. It is sometimes easier (and definitely more beneficial) to replace a bad habit with something positive than to just get rid of it; the trigger will stay the same, but the action will be different. Next, you need to write down your triggers; what causes the action that you want to change? List as many as you can
Now comes the real work! Once you’ve identified your goal and the triggers that cause your negative habit to surface, you need to do your positive behaviour every time the trigger is fired for 30 days straight. This is how long it takes to form a habit. So let’s take the stress-junk food cycle above as an example . Here’s a simple outline of what your plan could entail.
Trigger: feeling stressed.
Negative action/habit: eating junk food for comfort.
Desired positive action/habit: 10 deep breaths (each lasting 10 seconds) and eating at least one piece of fruit (stock up in the morning and have your supply nearby at all times).
If you’re implementing a completely new habit (i.e. you don’t need to break a negative habit, you just want to install a new one – 10 minutes of yoga a day, for example), try as best you can to do it at the same time every day – it’ll help massively with creating a stronger habit that’s easier to stick to. You will also need to come up with your own trigger (as there isn’t one in place yet) – for example, cleaning your teeth in the morning could be your trigger for doing your 10 minutes of yoga. Again, this must be done for 30 days.
They’re the basics behind habits and change. Here are some simple (notice I didn’t say easy!) tips to help you make the necessary change in your life:
1. Choose ONE habit to focus on (you might need to make a priority list).
2. Write down your motivations – your reasons for wanting to make the change.
3. Write down your obstacles to success – and your strategies for overcoming them.
4. Publically show your commitment (in person, phone calls, text messages, online) to your new habit by telling as many people as possible about your goal.
5. Find one person (more if you can) who will commit to being your supporter for each of the 30 days.
6. Come up with a consequence for each day that you don’t do it (parting with cash is a good motivator!).
7. Reward yourself every day and/or week that you do the habit (sweets and chocolate aren’t a good idea; consider a trip to the cinema or a sports event instead).
8. Tick off each day that you are successful on a large, visible calendar.
9. Try and catch yourself in the act of falling into your negative habit as early as you can, and take positive action before your negative habit kicks in.
10. Set your environment up for success; e.g. if you’re trying to start running every morning before work, get your running gear out the night before and put them in front of your bedroom door.
11. Be kind to yourself – remember that habits are hard to break and make so try and be gentle with yourself if you don’t succeed at the first attempt.
12. Find evidence that your new belief is working – no matter how small or seemingly insignificant it is. Even the world’s biggest snowball started off as a single snowflake!
The hardest step of all is the first one. When you take it, no matter how small it is, I will be cheering!
Good luck! Let me know how you get on.