5 Essential Ingredients to Change a Habit

Dr. Purushothaman
January 10, 2014

Did you make a resolution this year? How are you doing so far with your goals? Are you saying to yourself, "I really wanted to change this year, but I never stick to my goals!" Perhaps you can relate to the thought, "I know WHAT to do, I just can't get myself to do it! I know that I "should" be eating more fruits and veggies and less junk, drinking more water, exercising regularly, etc, but I'm just stuck in old patterns." Or maybe your goals have to do with time management, relationships, or another area. You know if you could just change this one thing, your life would be dramatically improved. We all have goals and wishes, right? The thing that will push us toward or away from our goals comes down to our daily habits. Whether you have a goal related to your health, your productivity or income, your relationships, how you organize your things or your time, or your spiritual journey...all of these things can be improved with daily habits. If you can learn how to change your habits and make them automatic, then a makeover for your habits, becomes a makeover for your life! If you're a mom, I think it can be easy to focus our time and attention on caring for our kids...sometimes at our expense. We spend more time helping them develop positive habits, even though we know modeling positive behaviors, self-care and achieving healthy goals is extremely powerful! If you'd like to change your habits, the first step is to be compassionate toward yourself. As humans, we can run on autopilot for much of the day, which is helpful when we tie our shoes or brush our teeth, but when it comes to change, this autopilot feature can work against us. It is not helpful to "beat yourself up" for past attempts to change that didn't go as planned. It does help to understand that your brain was programmed to stick with familiar habits. I encourage you to look at past experiences for lessons about what worked or what didn't work and to see opportunities for growth. There are five likely reasons you haven't been able to keep a resolution or change a habit in the past. You may have been missing one or all of the five essential ingredients. These things can be easy to implement, but they're often overlooked and if you don't have them in place, it can be so much harder to change that one thing you know will change your life. If you act on these missing steps, you will finally and easily make the changes you crave. 1. You weren't clear. You didn't have a goal that was specific and measurable with a detailed plan to back it up. For example, "I will run my 1st 5K 2 months from now and I commit to running with {friend} Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. You may not have been clear about your "big why" in a way that got you excited. Try to get a vision about how your life will look and feel after you've met your goal. When you connect with that image and excitement, you will be pulled toward your goals! 2. You weren't consistent. Exciting research in neuroscience tells us that we can literally "re-wire" our brain with new pathways! This takes consistent, repetitive actions, however, like creating a path through the snow. You may have heard the saying that a habit takes 30 days to form. In fact, you can decide to change a habit in an instant, but in order for your brain to make the action easy and automatic, it needs consistency for around 30 days. So take a small step every day! 3. You weren't calm. If you were stressed and forcing a change, it likely backfired. When we are anxious, we use the part of our brain that helps in fight or flight mode, but we often "flee" by escaping to habits that sooth us for the moment. When we can access a calm state, we use the part of our brain that helps with delayed gratification so we can make choices more in line with our long term goals. Practice relaxation often and take a deep breath when making choices! 4. You weren't congruent. Our goals need to be in harmony with our values and change is much easier when we can get our unconscious mind congruent with our conscious mind. For example, if you've made a decision to exercise, but you have underlying thoughts and beliefs that undermine your attempts, your efforts will be sabotaged. What thoughts might be holding you back? Perhaps "all or nothing thinking", like "If I can't exercise every day for an hour, it doesn't count" or "I have failed in the past, so change will never work for me". Learning how to be aware of your thoughts and then reframe them as needed will help with lasting change. 5. You didn't collaborate. You didn't have someone to support you in your goals for change! This could be a friend, family member, group, or professional who can offer support, cheerleading, and accountability which studies show is helpful! We really "up the level" of our commitment when we involve others with our goals and intentions for change. So find someone to help you! If you can put those steps in place and take action everyday toward your goals, you will absolutely be able to change your habits.

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