Change Is Not a Four-Letter Word
Don’t you just love your habits? You must love them, because they are a big part of who you are, right? You have a habit of twisting your hair, sniffing, or eating when you’re tense. You do it without thinking about it, and that’s the great thing about a habit. It’s the robot part of living. It’s autopilot.
The problem with a habit–either one you want to get rid of or one you want to start–is that you have to… change. Ick!
We live in the midst of urban myth about change. The myth is we are resistant to change, yet we change all the time in every way and have from the moment we were born. We believe change is impossible, but that’s not true either. The one thing that is true is while there is expert knowledge about how to effectively make change, very few of us know about this information and subject ourselves to a lifetime of “do-overs.” It’s not surprising our myths about change persist.
In order to avoid being in the 70% of people who fail when making any type of change, there are a few things you can do. You must deploy all of these things:
Plan to fail. As negative as that sounds, it’s not. It means in our effort to change a habit, we will stray at some point. You might stray more than once. Make your strategy ahead of time and use it guilt-free. An example is eating. If you are dieting and can’t resist having some birthday cake, then recognize what you did and cut back your intake on the next meal. It works for anything, but do figure out where you might stray and know what you will do ahead of time.
You need help. As a nation of cowboys, we’re prone to not ask for help. If you’re making a change, you need help. You need a person to hold you accountable, cheer you on, and keep you focused. It often helps if that person is an expert in whatever habit you are working on, because they will have specific insight you need to know. People that attempt to make changes without another person in the mix, won’t succeed.
You have to have an emotional need to change. You can’t logic your way to a change. If you don’t have an emotional connection or reason, you will lack the internal drive to push you forward. Think of this: If logic worked, no one would smoke or do drugs. We start for an emotional reason, and it takes an emotional reason for us to stop. The problem may be you haven’t connected to a deep-rooted emotion. Until you do, don’t start down the path of change, because you will quickly get derailed.
It’s going to be uncomfortable. Part of the beauty of a habit is we don’t have to be conscious of what we’re doing. It’s a way to save energy. We do something and don’t burn one brain cell in the process. With change, you have to become conscious about your behavior, and that isn’t comfy, because it requires energy and focus. You have to keep doing something new in its place long enough to ultimately turn it into a lifestyle habit. Developing new behavior requires your time and attention far longer than you’d like. (Experts say repeated behavior for 21 days. I think that is the bare minimum.)
It’s a lifetime commitment. Many people make the mistake of thinking they will “do something until…” In other words, they have a point out in time when they can take their foot off the gas and relax about the new behavior. Don’t plan on that working for you. You’ll notice people who go through 12-step programs to stop drinking refer to themselves as an alcoholic even when they haven’t drunk in years. It’s a way to maintain a level of consciousness as well as vigilance for the hard-fought-for change to stay in place. If you’re planning to change a habit, you don’t want it to be temporary.
Tomorrow morning when you brush your teeth, be grateful your parents taught you so many good habits when you were young. Because now that you’re an adult, you realize how habits conserve your energy and how challenging it is to change them.
This article was originally published on Evolving Magazine.
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