How do we make change that lasts?

How do we really make change?

How do we really make change?

So, you want to make a New Year’s resolution? You want to make a change in your life? Everyone’s statistics are different, but we know that most New Year’s resolutions don’t happen. Why? Making change is difficult! This week’s blog is going to try to make it easier for you! Last week we talked about choosing types of changes we want to make, but this week we’re tackling the more difficult problem – how do we make a change that actually sticks? How do we make lasting change?

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and articles, trying to wrap my head around how people change. There’s tons of great info out there (Learn how to “Be your own dog” or “trick yourself into change”), but here are the basic concepts I’ve gleaned:

Determine if you’re ready to change. Sure, we all want to be healthier, happier, less stressed, etc. But are you actually ready to do something to have that change happen? Or maybe you feel like you should change but don’t actually want to? Or maybe other people want you to change, not really you? The truth might be that you’re not ready. You know what? That’s ok! You don’t have to change. It is yours (and only yours) to decide.

And if you do want to change, but you’re not quite ready for the doing yet, well, there are things you can still do! Check out this article about the 5 stages of change! The 5 stages are pre-contemplation (we’re not even thinking about it), contemplation (the thought has crossed our minds, and we try to wrap our heads around it), determination (we start making preparations – like a start date), action (we begin), and maintenance (we continue). The article has lots of great points to help us in all stages, but I really like this one: Focus on reaching the next stage rather than on the end goal, which may seem too far away and therefore discourage you from even starting on the path towards it.” Maybe your New Year’s resolution (or goal #1 on the year) can just be thinking about how the change you’d like to make would affect your life – that doesn’t seem so tough, does it?

Understand your habit – and your triggers. You’re changing a habit, and, believe it or not, you have bad habits (and good habits) for a reason! Probably you got a reward from it (a cookie can be calming in the short-term, even if long-term I wish I hadn’t eaten it) and/or used it as a response to a trigger (I’m sad, so I’ll eat to feel better). Understanding what you were getting out of the habit is an important piece of making change last. Sure, with willpower you can last for a little while without something that was giving you a positive, but willpower is a finite resource. If you can find a new, healthier way to get that same boost, you won’t need the habit (or willpower) nearly as much! So maybe if you can recognize when you’re sad (or whatever your trigger may be) and call a supportive friend instead of eating a cookie, you won’t need the cookie in the same way (All the better if that supportive friend could use help too – see “Team up” below!)

Make it simple. Like many people, I want to be healthier – I want to eat better, run more, start doing yoga, learn to cook new, healthy things… that’s great, but how will I know when I’m there? Plus, doing all that is a little overwhelming! I mean, even if I eat broccoli or spinach 3 times this week, it doesn’t feel like “being healthier” – it isn’t enough, is it?! And because it is so overwhelming, it is tough to start. My favorite thing I read in preparation for this blog was Stephen Guise’s “One Push-up Challenge.” He wanted to do a 30-minute workout, but felt overwhelmed. So he did one push-up. And since he did a push-up, he did a few more. Suddenly, he had done a 30-minute workout. He calls this a mini-habit. Doing just one push-up (or jumping jack or phone call or step outside the house) doesn’t seem so impossible, and once we start it isn’t so bad and we can keep going! What can you do just one of? (Note: it is still important to connect the mini-habit to your overall value – it helps us remember why it is important!)

Team up. Studies show that when something is forbidden to us, we want it more (which is why moderation and giving ourselves a break work well), but they also show that if something is forbidden to a whole group, and we’re part of that group, it doesn’t bother us nearly as much. So, if you’re trying to quit a habit, team up with others who are also quitting the habit – you won’t feel so put out! You’ll also have someone to talk to about difficulties and setbacks you’re having. Trying to start a habit? Teamwork is good for this too! Get a gym buddy or accountability partner. Even if you have different goals, you can still support each other! Can’t think of anyone to partner with? You could always use a smartphone app to keep you accountable – I like the reward of making a checkmark on my Android calendar! Here are a few app suggestions!

Expect to have setbacks. You aren’t going to do it right every time, especially at first. Even once you get it, you’re still going to have days (or weeks) that’s aren’t what you want. Can you imagine jumping from zero trips to the gym to going 7 days a week? Seems a little fast, right? So maybe you go once or twice, then later you go three times, then later you go four times, then you have a busy week and don’t go at all. Have you failed? Absolutely not! You’ve had a setback. This is why I prefer “goal” to “resolution”. A goal implies it will take some time and work. We all seem to expect to achieve our resolutions right away. Well, that’s not realistic! Making change takes time and work. It is a gradual process that doesn’t go in a straight line. Remind yourself that steps backwards are part of the process too, rather than getting frustrated and giving up the first or second or thirty-sixth (yup, it will happen!) time you have a setback.

So, to review, we’re trying to set small, achievable goals to make changes we actually want, we’re expecting that we’re not going to get it all right, we’re giving ourselves a break when we fall off the wagon, and we’re teaming up with others who want to make changes too. Sound like something you might be able to do? I want to start taking a multivitamin, doing at least one plank every day, reading one page of a book for fun every day, and meditating for one minute every day, but you know what? Even that’s too much to ask. So I’m starting with the multivitamin, and I’ll add more as I’m able so I don’t overwhelm myself.

What are you going to do? We’d love to hear your plans on our Facebook page. And, as always, our Life Skills Resource Group Orlando mental health counselors are here to partner with you! Give us a call at 407-355-7378 if you’d like family counseling, couples counseling, or individual counseling in 2014.

We wish you a happy and healthy New Year, full of positive changes you want! ~Krista Bringley