This is the time of year when many of us are setting new goals for our behavior. We want to become our best selves.
Some habits are good, such as brushing your teeth or drinking lots of water. Other habits are those you wish to change such as negative self-talk, smoking, drinking too much coffee, or not exercising.
Understanding how habits work
It helps to understand more about the features of habits. For example, habits are formed in a particular environment. This means that they are usually triggered by a cue, situation, or event.
For example, we may have fallen into a slump around physical activity or socializing. After work, we walk into our house and feel the urge to get into a comfortable change of clothes, grab some comfort food, and spend the evening in front of the television.
If this pattern has created a sense of listlessness and lack of joy, we need to change it. But how?
We need more than just the intention to change. By understanding that part of the problem is our environment, we can make a plan that will give us the best chance at changing the habit.
One way to change a lackluster routine could be to go directly to a gym or yoga studio after work. This would change the habit of ending up on the couch for the evening. Think about how you feel as soon as you walk in the door of your home after work. Your body knows it’s time to relax. It signals that it’s ready for this and feels tired. You may think about going out to exercise, but you’re not exactly sure why you ever thought this was a good plan in the first place.
If instead of going home, you take yourself to a yoga studio, the newness of the situation and the change in the environment will most likely invigorate you. The environment of the gym or yoga studio will lift you up rather than pull you down. If you continue to do this, over time a new habit will be created.
Things to consider while making a lasting change
- Keep the changes small and manageable – in sticking to the above example, try changing your evening routine three times a week. If you start out with a goal of every day or five days a week, you may realize you’ve taken on too much and stop altogether.
- Make sure the goal is achievable. This is basically the same principle as above– if going out two or three times a week seems achievable, start with this, choose an achievable and reasonable goal. You are the best judge of what you can do.
- Do not quit if you fail– if you take an entire week off or even more, get back to the new habit you began. Research shows that people who fail but then try again in their New Year’s resolution are often even more motivated after they get back to it.
If you are struggling with life changes, you may benefit from working with a therapist. Often we get into lifestyles we want to change because we are attempting to cope with stress. Sometimes we want to change our lives but do not have the support we need. Working with a therapist can help you discover the underlying issues and then create a strategy to move forward in the way that builds on your own inner strength and resilience. If we are working towards change, sometimes support form a professional can help.
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