Form Lasting Habits, Part ISeptember 22 , 2011
So, you’ve decided it’s time to make a change — to start meditating or writing in a gratitude journal or to add more mood-boosting exercise to your week. So you decide, start doing it and then boom, you are fit, balanced and grateful. It’s that easy, right? No?
We’ve all had experiences of making a New Year’s resolution and letting it go before two weeks (two days?) have elapsed. Long-term, sustainable change is hard. We are creatures of habit; in fact studies suggest that only 5% of our actions are consciously chosen. We build strong neuro-pathways over years of repetition that make it so much easier to keep doing things the way we always have – flipping on the tv instead of meditating or pushing the snooze bar instead of going for a run. We have very limited stores of will and discipline to overcome that inertia of do-it-like-we-always-do.
The good news is that a lot of research has been done on ways to make change stick. With some concerted effort and focus, we can literally rewire our brain, developing and strengthening neuro-pathways towards habits that we want in our lives. Over time and with consistent practice, the new pathway can become the default, the path of least resistance. Then this new desired habit can become as ingrained as brushing your teeth before you go to bed.
Here are three proven steps to making lasting change. Next week, I’ll share four more ideas for forming lasting, constructive habits.
“Incremental change is better than ambitious failure”
– Tony Schwartz, author of the Power of Full Engagement
- Pick one thing to change at a time. Seriously. Just ONE and commit to it. Developing a single new habit (and the neuro-pathways to support it) is hard enough. Trying to change more than one thing at a time dilutes your effort and significantly increases the likelihood of failing which can lead to losing a sense of control and potentially giving up on making any change. So prioritize the most important habit you want to bring into your life. If done right, these changes can last a lifetime.
- Give yourself two months to make one change. The research shows that it takes 30-60 days to make a new habit stick — to fully rewire your brain. Give yourself enough time to really lock in the new desired behavior.
- Start Easy. Take whatever goal you have, whatever habit you want to form and find an easy way to start – put on your running shoes and go out the front door, meditate for 60 seconds or do 5 minutes of uninterrupted writing. Stick with this initial goal for a few days. By setting, achieving and celebrating small victories, our brains get the message that we are on track, that we are making progress and that builds our confidence, our sense of control and our focus. Then add a little distance to your running or a little time to your meditation or focused writing. The key is to make each step easily do-able from where we are now.
Tune in next week for more proven ideas for making happiness –or any other – habits stick.
The Happiness Coach
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