Changing Habits

One of the first things you have done on this course is to develop the habit of doing neck exercises to relieve muscle tension and thus your reaction to stress.  Most people find it a helpful exercise and therefore plan to keep practising them.  But then realise when they next go through a stressful episode and develop neck strain and headaches, that they had forgotten to keep up the habit!

And having completed a couple of self-assessments about how well you are caring for yourself it will be apparent that there are a lot more habits of life you need to look at and, I guess, probably need to change.

Is this a recipe for disaster?

Well it could be, so let me go over some guidelines for habit change that will help you avoid  some disappointments and hopefully any sense of failure. Here we go:

1. Doubtless there are a lot of habits you need to change but do not try to change everything all at once. You need a plan.  Keep a list of the changes you wish to make but then only work on a few at a time.

2. Start with habits that you reckon are relatively easy for you to give up or establish depending on what habit you are dealing with, even though they may not be the most important habit you need to address. Success will encourage you.  You will learn something about yourself, motivation, planning and such like that will strengthen your resolve and develop your skills for when you need to deal with more difficult tasks.

3. If possible work with family and friends. Can you work together with your partner, friends or work colleagues to ensure, for example, you exercise regularly, have a good work-personal time balance and sort out differences early before they escalate into open warfare?  How about having a family conference, children and all, to discuss and plan bed-times, homework schedules, weekend activities and such like?

Peter and Sue had a two week family holiday every year.  After a few days when they had settled into their holiday routine they discussed how their family life had been during the last year and what was to be expected during the next stage in their lives.  This would take a few days, on and off, on country walks, when they were in bed, during meals, etc.  Sometimes the children were involved in these discussions and always, toward the end of the holiday, they would have a family conference when they would share their thoughts and plans with the children.

4. That is enough to get going. See what you can do with the first two habits you wish to change.  Sometimes you just have to get on and do it!

5. Do not be upset, despair or feel guilty when you fail – as fail you will. Check what went wrong and start again.

6. Habits are ingrained into your being so you hardly think about them. They are done subconsciously. They are therefore difficult to change. You will undoubtedly fail, we all do, so you need to see failure only as step on a journey – it is never the end.  Check what went wrong.  See if you can approach the task differently and try again.

7. Do not compare yourself with others as you are unique. The habit you find easy to change someone else will find difficult and vice versa.

8. When moving on to the more difficult habits, bear in mind that habits are undertaken subconsciously so before trying to change them you need to examine them. Bring them into your conscious mind.

Why did I do that?

What triggered it?

What actually did I do?

In what way did that habit reward me?

9. For some habits you may benefit from the observations of someone who knows you well and will cope if you get annoyed with them after hearing what they say about your habits!

10. Plan how you are going to go about changing a particular habit. Find out about it.  Learn how others have handled it.

11. Think about why you want to make this change. What is your motivation?  Write this down.  When you go through a dark time and are thinking of giving up you may be so focussed on your sad, bad mood you will have difficulty remembering this.  Keep what you have written in a safe place so you can remind yourself of your motivation and commitment.

12. Often habits need to be changed gradually. If so, set yourself a target that you believe you can manage.  Set a time frame.  When you have achieved your first target set another and keep doing that until you reach your goal.

13. Some habits are best changed by making a sudden change. This is particularly true of addictions whether to drugs, gambling or even nail biting.  Such cases need research and careful planning.  You will need to develop other things to occupy your time and interest to take your mind off your habit.

14. ‘Giving up’ is a negative phrase as the focus is on what you are losing so consider how you can develop a positive attitude. Instead of ‘giving up’ think of the change as ‘taking up.’   For example:

Instead of giving up smoking I am taking up non-smoking.

Instead of dieting I am adopting healthy eating habits.

Instead of stopping responding to work emails at weekends I am adopting a positive work leisure balance to enhance the quality of my work commitment.

See if you can do better than that.  Consider one of the habits you are planning to change and create a positive word or phrase to describe it.  Click on the button to let us know your suggestions.  A selection will be displayed.

15. Can you talk about what you are going to do? Tell your friends. Encourage them to do it with you.  That will help to improve your focus and the chance of achieving your goals.

16. You will probably underestimate the emotional stress you will incur in changing some deep seated habits. Be gentle with yourself.  If you realise you are getting depressed and downhearted, stop.  Give yourself a holiday from habit changing.  Even have a binge!   Take life easy.  When it settles down reflect on what you have done and start again continue the journey.  Notice, I have left my error there.  You will tend to think of such experiences as failures but that is wrong.  And you never ‘start again.’  You have moved on.  You have made progress on the journey so you need to think of it as at a new stage.  Such glitches are inevitable. It is better to see them as a minor detour on a journey.

17. Keep a record of your journey: successes, experiences on the way and not just mishaps. This is for your own motivation but you will be aware how some people turn such journeys into a blog to entertain and encourage others.  Why not do that?  That can be a stimulus to your own determination.

18. Establish an accountability link. This may be another role for a family member or friend with the idea you regularly report back to a specific person about your progress and are honest about your successes and disappointments.

Pause for a while

Do not rush on.

This is one of the places where you should not go any further until you have put into practice what you have been considering.  This may take a week or a month.  You will recognise when it is time to move on.

Until then devote time and energy to do what you need to do, following the above guidelines.

Click here to continue only if you are sure it is right for you at this time