What do you have to know to make change stick?
So much has been written about this topic, yet making change stick remains difficult for most people.
Why? Because from an evolutionary point of view, our brains are programmed to do what is easiest in order to conserve energy for the next time we must hunt down our wooly mammoth steak for dinner. Nearly everything you do on a routine basis is because you formed a habit or collection of behaviors that served you at some point in time.
Habits are like Facebook lurkers; they are always there in the background. They never go away–kind of like that memory seared in my brain of my sister throwing up spaghetti in the back seat on the way to Florida when we were little. Oh how that smell lurked for months…
But don’t take this as a sign you can’t change habits, and don’t give up!
In the interest of saving you time and money buying self-help books (authors Charles Duhigg, Gretchen Rubin, and Brian Lansink can get you started), here’s a quick summary of all the best habit changing advice:
- You must cultivate a more mindful approach, and actually think about what you are about to do.
- Pick a habit to change that will impact how you see yourself. Changing it will create spillover change into other arenas of your life, sort of like getting a BOGO.
- Start small. Start small. Start small. So ridiculously small that your initial goals seem way easier than you think you can manage. Think you can walk 30 minutes a day? Start with 10. Every day. For two weeks. Then increase to 15.
- Write down a plan that states step-by-step how you will reach this goal, and a break it down into smaller, attainable, MEASURABLE, periodic objectives.
- Figure out ways to reward yourself periodically that don’t wreck your goal.
- Reminders really help: Use your smart phone to set times to get up off your rear end. I love post it notes, and they come in such pretty patterns and colors nowadays!
- Choose your buddies wisely. They have a massive influence on the choices you make and how you feel.
So, what do you have to know to make change stick?
Ask yourself, each time, is this short term choice I am about to make worth more to me than succeeding at my goal?
Need some examples?
- Will skipping the gym help me to curb my path towards heart disease?
- Does this comfort [burger, cupcake] taste better than fitting into my clothes?
- Is this shopping spree going to help me achieve financial security?
- Will my snarky comments help or torpedo my relationship?
To achieve deeper and more lasting change, figure out why (mindfulness deployed) the habit began in the first place. Sometimes the pain or fear of change outweighs the desire to make that change. There is a lot of science that backs up change readiness, and the steps necessary to make lasting change. You can’t just take a pill, read a blog post, think about it, and boom. Thoughts must be carried into an action plan! And it is important to build in self compassion, as relapse can and will happen, but you don’t have to throw your hands up in the air and call it quits when it does. It is all part of the process.
Page Rutledge is a licensed Clinical Social Worker practicing in Wilmington, NC. She specializes in anxiety management and relationship counseling. Visit her website and blog at www.pagerutledge.com.