Hungry for Change?
What Is Change?
Change is nothing more than the formation of a series of habits. Look at your life as it is right now. Most of what you do, what you think, and how you behave is habitual.
Yes, there are small differences in your routine, but rarely do you insert some sustained, on-going activity or new way of doing something.
You have developed the patterns of your daily habits over many years. Some you carried from childhood, and others you picked up along the way. But most of your daily habits have been repeated enough times that your brain circuitry is entrenched in these behaviors.
To change the behaviors, you must rewire your brain. And rewiring your brain takes practice, patience, and the knowledge of how to do it.
Start with these 10 steps:
- Plan and prepare. Behaviour change requires preparation; mentally, physically and emotionally, to be successful. This includes creating a vision for yourself of the outcome, and planning a system of triggers, accountability, support, and rewards.
- Start really, really small. Every new habit is comprised of many smaller habits. Break down each new habit into its smallest parts, and begin with just one of those small parts as your first change.
- Stick to 5 minutes. When you begin this small new habit, do it for 5 minutes only during the first 2 weeks. This will feel very easy (especially for some small habits), but it begins the process of retraining your brain to accept this new behavior. This 5-minute rule is critical to your success, so don’t break it!
- Find a trigger. A trigger is an established habit or action that you can use to “trigger” your memory to perform your new habit. You want to perform your new habit immediately after the trigger. For example, you might practice your new habit of meditation immediately after the trigger of brushing your teeth (an established habit). The trigger must be something that is firmly established for you.
- Set up accountability. Most of us don’t tell people when we try to change just in case we fail. We don’t want to be embarrassed. But actually telling people is key to your success. You want to find a place to report your daily habit work, to a friend, family member, a therapist etc. When you know someone is counting on you, you will try harder.
- Acknowledge success. Set up a reward system for yourself that immediately follows the new habit. You have to plan a reward system to keep your motivation and positivity at a high level. (do not use food, you are not a dog) Anything that feels like a reward will work to reinforce your habit.
- Create a support system. Communicate with those close to you about your plans for life change, and get their buy-in and support. If your new habit disrupts the lives of others, and you haven’t communicated with them or gotten their support, they may sabotage your efforts.
- Plan for disruptions. During the planning phase of your life change, you create a “disruption contingency plan.” Unexpected things will happen. You may get sick. You might have to travel. You may need to change the time or place for your habit. Don’t allow these events to be an excuse for interrupting your change work. Plan for them in advance so you aren’t blindsided by the unexpected.
- Increase your time slowly. Be sure that your new habit is fully automatic before you increase the time past 5 minutes. If you have missed more than a day or two during the first two weeks, then add another week of practicing for 5 minutes only. Once it feels automatic, increase to 10 minutes. Keep adding time as the change feels automatic.
- One change at a time. Tackle only one new change in your life at a time. It can take 4-8 weeks for a new habit to be fully automatic. The more difficult the habit, the longer it will take. Don’t begin another one until you have to first one firmly established.
You probably have something on your mind right now that you’ve wanted to incorporate in your life. Maybe exercise, or eating healthy, starting a project (or finally finishing one!) or maybe it’s taking control of your anxiety or depression. Whatever it is, change your mind, to change your life.
Christina Orfanakos MSW, RSW