12 ways to change a habit – start small
Start small to change a habit
It's always on your mind. You need to change. You need to start exercising more, lose that five kilos for your holiday bikini, start a blog, get active on LinkedIn, become more disciplined about managing your paperwork or prepare healthier meals. You always mean to, but never do.
There is a lot of self-help mythology about changing habits - some suggest that it takes 21-30 days to change a habit. This is actually largely unsubstantiated! Other studies say that it can take up to 254 days. The bottom line is there is no magical number that becomes a yardstick for success or failure.
Research from the American Psychological Association found long term abstract thinking plays a key role:
"High-level construals led to decreased preferences for immediate over delayed outcomes, greater physical endurance, stronger intentions to exert self-control, and less positive evaluations of temptations that undermine self-control".
Translated into every day language "Dream Big" works.
However, we all struggle with seeming to be too big for our boots, by thinking up grand schemes and then becoming overwhelmed with our great ambitions. Inserting magical numbers only adds to self sabotaging thinking.
Research around self determination, tells us that people who want change for its own sake, are successful in achieving goals that endure. What people struggle with is finding a way to fit the "big dreams" into every day life to make them achievable over time. Motivation alone tends to run out of steam long-term and you won't change your habit in a lasting way that sticks. This is why fad diets don't work!
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit." said Aristotle. People achieve this by changing the one thing that they can control - their daily behaviour.
They do this by starting small, so that you can celebrate a big victory!
12 tips to create a new habit:
- Identify a habit you want to change
- Identify what's blocking you
- Reframe your thinking. Rather than "I'm fat a blob and need to get into that new bikini" consider "I want to be a healthier weight because..."
- Make your goals achievable. Start small to get over the starting hump.
- Change your environment if you need to. It will be hard to cut back on sugar in a patisserie.
- Make your goals incremental and tangible. Rather than "I will stop eating junk lunches" make it "It will eat grilled fish and steamed vegetables"
- Create a "loose" timeframe with benchmarks. Put them on a calendar so that they are clearly visible
- Write an affirmative action plan for specific daily achievable activity. Again rather than "I will stop eating junk lunches" make it "It will eat grilled sole today and steamed broccoli" Tomorrow I will switch to gingered salmon and green beans.
- Set a reminder - a trigger to make your change your behaviour. Pick an existing behaviour as that trigger. "when I go to the cafeteria I will go straight to the healthy options menu.
- Get support from friends and family. Is there a support group? Today there are groups and forums for just about anything.
- Reward yourself! Tell yourself how awesome you are!
- Repeat daily
Be sure to seek professional advice if necessary, particularly with anything that can impact you medically or might be connected to addictive behaviour (smoking, drinking)
Habits develop over time, so it takes time to change them. Good habits are responsible for our success. The best news it is possible to overcome the bad ones. Start small, whether it's flossing teeth, exercise, or weight loss.
You just have to start!
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