Each one of us is faced with the need to change something in our life, at one time or another. This could be to add a new, healthy or useful habit, or to stop a bad one.
Most people think, that to bring about change, you simply need to have a clear plan in your head and a will power. However, strong will is rarely enough, as habits are ingrained behaviour, which we may sometimes even do unconsciously. Also, there may be unconscious needs these habits are fulfilling,
If will power was enough, we would all be skinny, healthy, and probably rich and happy.
Here are some ways, you can increase your likelihood, to succeed in changing a habit.
1. Become Aware
Observe and notice your behaviour, and/or thoughts, depending on what you want to change.
The first step in changing habits is being aware of how many times it happens and catching yourself doing it. This is not for self-berating or useless guilt, but just to train your mind to become more aware of what may be an unconscious behaviour, and of the extent of the habit.
In some situations, it might be possible, and even beneficial to keep track. The human mind can trick us into, either exaggerating the negative, by ruminating on it; or underestimating the extent of the problem, due to unconscious behaviour. For example, calories eaten at the fridge door, are not counted.
Keeping track, will give you a true picture of the extent of the problem, and the progress if any; and therefore you can take the right corrective action.
2. Take Baby Steps
Do not try to change everything at once, or more than one thing at a time. If possible, break up, big changes, in small steps. For example, if you wish to start eating a healthy diet, do not try to eat, only healthy food as from next Monday.
Unless your health is in danger, try to make changes, one at a time. Say, you first, replace all white wheat and grains, with wholemeal food, then when you get accustomed to that, reduce sugar, or remove processed meat. And only introduce another change, when the last one becomes routine. Trying to change your whole diet at one go, is almost an impossible task; and you would be setting yourself up for failure. The more ways, you can break the new diet, the more likely you are to give it up.
3. Be Easy on Yourself.
Take note of your successes and celebrate them. Be aware of any fallback, but do not waste time ruminating about them.
4. Use Mental Practice
The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. – Albert Einstein
In a test on the effect of mental practice on basketball free throws, a group of basketball players was divided into three subgroups. The first group practiced free throws every day for an hour. The second group just visualized themselves making free throws, but did not do any physical practice. The third group did neither.
After 30 days, they were tested again. The first group improved by 24%. The second group improved by 23% without touching a ball, and as expected the third group did not improve at all.
Instead of feeling guilty, every time you catch yourself doing, or not doing what you said you would do, simply close your eyes and imagine yourself doing what you said you would do. Imagine it in detail. How would it make you feel? What would be the reaction of others? Imagine yourself rewarding yourself for reaching your goal. If it is not possible to do it immediately, you may wish to do this before you go to sleep.
5. Take All the Time You Need
There is an old standing believe, that it only takes 21 days to change a habit. New studies have mention 60 days or even 100 days. I believe there is no standard number of days. First of all, not all habits can be practiced daily. Some habits are more ingrained than others, and you may need to try different methods to instill the new habit.
Do not concentrate on the time it’s taking, but instead on whether or not you are making the effort in changing it. If you are doing your best, staying aware, taking note, and trying new things when you fail, you are on the right track.
Some habits, you will manage to change quickly, while others, will take more time.
6. Use Structures
Willpower is rarely enough. Put in simple structures, to support your intended change. Structures are techniques to remind you, and help you, do, or not do something.
An example of a structure, are sticky notes, or reminders, placed in places where you will see often, or where you are likely to look, at the time that you want to remind yourself of the new habit. You could also, use mobile reminders, or schedule the new task in your calendar.
Another structure suggested by James Clear, an expert in changing habits, is to link it to another habit, you already do. So, for example, if you wish to start using face creams before you go to sleep, you may put your creams near your toothbrush, and do it just after washing your teeth.
One more type of structure is to eliminate the possibility of you falling in the old habit. Such as, if you overeat in the evening in front of the TV, you simply do not buy things that you like to nibble on in front of the TV.
A structure I use is that, just before I get to the supermarket till I check my trolley content and only one “unhealthy” item, can go through. Unhealthy for me, are items high in sugar content and/or processed, not high in calories.
7. Reward Yourself
Setting a reward system will do wonders to ensure you are more motivated to practice your new habit more often, Give yourself small rewards for reaching smaller goals at first. Do not wait until you have fully mastered the new habit, this way each step will become easier.
If you track your progress, as per point 1 above, you may give yourself small rewards when you reach 20%, 50%, 80% and 100% of the goal. Say for example, if you want to start daily meditation, you can reward yourself for practicing 3 days per week, at first, raising the bar each time. Needless to say, don’t make the reward to be, that you can break the new habit. That would be counter-productive.
8. Replacing a Bad Habit is More Effective Than Controlling It
In most cases, it is easier to embrace something new, than to stop an old habit. Trying to stop a bad habit, is very much like holding down a coiled spring. When you let it go, it will spring out even further away.
The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old,
but on building the new – Dan Millman
Instead, try to create new behaviour which will slowly replace the bad habit. Say, if you are often curt with people, practice being nice, rather than concentrating to hold back. Eventually, the positive feedback and feeling generated by being nice will make your old habit, less attractive.
9. Changing Habits for a Definite Time, Rarely Works
Only embark on changes, you know you can keep for a lifetime. Do not plan to exercise three times a week, only until you lose weight. Changes like this are perceived as punishment and deprivation and rarely work. Embark on changes you believe in, and you want to become part of the new you,