As we are nearing the end of the year, it is time to begin to evaluate and plan. If we truly want to get a different result next year, we will have to do things differently. I know. Damn. This means taking an honest look at where we want to be a year from now and working backward from there. We must determine the behaviors and the habits that would support our getting there and then compare that to the behaviors and habits that we are already living.
Our habits shape who we are becoming. What you do on a regular basis is forming your future self. In some ways, this may be an alarming thought. As a therapist and a coach, part of my job is to get people to look at their habits and to evaluate if those habits are working in favor of who they want to be or not. I find again and again that many people are not aware of the habits they hold or how those habits are keeping them stuck right where they are.
A habit is defined as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” Awesome. Even by definition, a habit is not something we can instantly change with ease. That is where support and baby-steps come in.
Taking a look at yourself and recognizing that you are regularly doing things that are keeping you from moving toward your goals is not a comfortable feeling. And sometimes, we have on blinders to those behaviors. We choose not to see the habits or the effects of those habits, or we may choose to believe that those habits “aren’t that bad”. The good news is that once we are aware, we can change it.
Now, when we decide we want to change a habit, we tend to think in terms of “cold turkey” and “all or nothing”. However, this is not the most effective way to attempt to change something that we have been doing regularly for a long time- even a lifetime. This type of attempt often brings about feelings of overwhelm and burnout, leading us to give up and fall back into the habit we were trying to change in the first place. Think about cutting all sugar or caffeine out of your diet cold turkey. You have good intentions and the why behind your desire is to feel better and get healthier. You start off strong and 3 hours in, you are feeling good about your decision. However, shortly there after, you start to feel poorly, your energy wanes, you have a pounding headache, and your mood is nowhere near inviting. And then you starting thinking that just one candy bar or one latte would help. One is no big deal… And the slope becomes slippery.
The good news is that tiny steps each day can lead to big change. The habit was formed over time and it can be broken over time as well. If you look at your future self and determine the habits that your future self would have, you can reverse engineer the steps to get there. Let’s stick with the no caffeine example. One year from now, you are planning to be caffeine-free, but now you have 3 cups of coffee in the morning and a Venti latte at lunch along with chocolate for your afternoon pick-me-up. A great place to start might be to have two cups of coffee in the morning rather than three or to reduce the size of the latte at lunch. Try this for several weeks and then take another baby-step toward reducing your daily intake. Things that look like insignificant and tiny steps now can lead to lasting and major changes.
Another way to support habit change is to focus on what you will be adding in rather than what you want to take out. When we focus on what we do want rather than what we don’t want, what we no longer want can more easily fall away. Perhaps you exchange the first cup of coffee for a mug of hot water with lemon in it to get your digestive system started for the day. Make a big deal out of that cup. Put some of that organic local honey in it. Sit and savor it as you think about what you are doing to reach your goal and feel healthier. After your few weeks of making the change, reward yourself (but not with caffeine!).
Finally, find someone to be an accountability partner or group for you. There is a ton of research that shows how much easier we can reach our goals when we have support around that goal. I know, there can be some resistance around finding an accountability partner or group as well. None of us looks forward to someone reminding us of how we are not reaching our goals. That is why it is very important to find the right support that is free of judgment. The key word here is support. Maybe you partner someone else who is also working toward habit change or find an online group to check in with to support your efforts.
Remember that you can shape yourself in any way you would like. Simply determine who you want to be in the future, establish the baby-steps of habits that person would have, and start your journey. Finally, whatever you do, try not to aim for perfection. I know for some that sounds counter-intuitive. Instead of perfection, aim for good enough, for 4 days per week, or for 80% success. This will allow you to be human and to resist the urge to give up on those days that some afternoon chocolate is the only thing that will get you through.
Believe in yourself and your ability to transform.
I will be right here taking baby-steps along with you.
Talk again soon.