How to Make Newer Behaviors more Consistent
We’re all been there before at the start of a new year: Feeling tremendous pressure to make changes in your life and once and for all lick all of your “bad habits,” be it biting your nails, staying up too late or drinking 12 diet cokes a day.
The problem is that we often place so much pressure and expectations on ourselves to change and expect sheer will-power and desire to get us there. Unfortunately behavioral change, especially the sustainable kind doesn’t quite work like that. It’s this short term, high pressured goals and expectations that makes the new behavior short-lived in the first place.
In order to create sustainable lifestyle changes there has to be a certain level of understanding about how habits and changing behaviors work in our brains.
1.The behaviors you’ve done for so long served you in some way which has kept you doing them.
2.They were fomented and kept deep in our brains (in the basal ganglia near the brain stem) that store habitual behaviors so we don’t have to learn the same tasks each day over and over again.
3. Habits often fulfill the dopamine pathway of reward but don’t touch the serotonin pathway of contentment. As a reward driven society, it makes sense we’d do the same behavior over and over again.
4. As human beings we will always seek comfort and avoid pain. Using the same patterns of behavior over and over help us to feel safe, secure and familiar in a world that has many real and perceived threats.
Once we’re clear on how habits form and stay lodged in our brains and psyche for long periods of time we can move on to the next step of change – because I want to make crystal clear about one thing.
Awareness does not equal change. In fact, it is a mere precursor to change. Action creates change. And this leads me to the next step.
Awareness does not equal change. In fact, it is a mere precursor to change. Action creates change. And this leads me to the next step. Click To Tweet
Create small, measurable goals instead of lofty or unattainable ones
Even though it feels more satisfying to say “I’m going to the gym every day!” you could reframe that to a smaller goal such as “When I come home at 3pm on Wednesday’s I will commit to attending my favorite yoga class.” Do you see the difference there? You are creating an attainable micro-goal rather than a pressure filled declaration of all out change – even when you don’t have a real plan to actually do that.
Set up your environment for success
So, lets say you want to start making green smoothies in the morning instead of forgetting to eat breakfast or in a furry of chaos and running late you hit the drive-thru on the way to work. You can set up your environment to support that small goal. Have the blender out and ready. Have the non-perishable items on the counter-top ready to go, etc. Make it as easy as possible for you to actually do the unpracticed yet desired behavior. Remember, newer behaviors are not as ingrained as older ones and it takes a lot of practice and multiple exposures to get skilled at the newer one.
Have compassion for yourself
We tend to get frustrated with ourselves very early after we’ve declared we are going to change and then don’t sustain it. Part of successfully creating long-lasting change is to realize that it’s a process and not a destination. Let me save you the element of surprise….you will have times you won’t do what you say you’re going to do. Life will get in the way, you will get sick, there will be holidays and vacations and you will get a case of the “I don’t want to’s.” Accept that, dust yourself and move forward. It isn’t about perfection it’s about progress, persistence, perseverance and patience. (and any other P’s you can think of). There is a term in many 12-step programs called “Do the next best thing.” and to me that makes a lot of sense. Rather than sitting in judgement and remorse about what you didn’t do, you can show yourself forgiveness and move on to the next thing that can energetically make you feel back on track.
Are you ready to learn more about how to create sustainable, effective behavioral change in 2018? Join my free 4-day Consistency Cure Challenge right now. We start January 8th and we’re going to hit the ground running with creating systems and tools to build the healthy lifestyle you crave and want so desperately.
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