Creating Lasting Change
Updated: Dec 30, 2019
A huge part of our day-to-day life is formed by habitual activity. Sustained change isn’t achieved by doing something spontaneously, or even once-per-day at a certain time. It is achieved when a habit, repeated over and over again, becomes unconscious behavior. Thus, sustained change begins with forming a daily habit.
As we move into the New Year and set intentions for changes we’d like to make in 2020, I hope you find the following tips helpful for incorporating your daily habit goals.
Intention is everything. I forget where I heard the following quote but, I recall it often: “Discipline is remembering what you want”. If you look at the habit you are trying to cultivate as something that you need to do, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Even if you do it, you’ve taken the enjoyment out of it; it has become just another task to cross off your to-do list. Instead, try reprograming the habit in your mind as something that you want to do. Of course, there will be days- many days- where, you’d rather press the snooze button, or go home and put your pajamas on instead of going to the gym or out for that walk after work. The key is, to replace the negative thoughts that our minds automatically create, associating the new habit as inconvenient or unnecessary, with an intentional thought of your desire to do it, a remembrance of all the reasons why you want to do it, and the visualization of where you will be, who you will become, and the doors it will open for you, as you continue to do it. Cultivating a sense of pride, as opposed to, doing it because you think you should, will create feelings of empowerment, which will give you the strength to continue making the right choice.
A lot of people experience unhappiness and unnecessary difficulty simply because of the way they measure themselves. As humans, our minds are constantly measuring and comparing; we can’t help it. We all keep an ideal image in our mind- how and where we envision ourselves when we are at our most optimal place, perfectly comfortable and happy. When we measure ourselves in comparison to this ideal image in our minds, we create what Dan Sullivan calls, “The Gap”, one of the greatest motivational traps we face. (See link to Dan Sullivan’s short audiobook below). Getting to the place that is our ideal image is like reaching the horizon. It is impossible to reach because, by the very definition, it is where we want to be, not where we are. Instead, we must measure our progress backwards, by comparing where we are to where we were, and celebrating how far we’ve come. Focus especially, on specific areas and landmark events of growth and achievement and allow this to give you a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Reinforcement = Empowerment
Once you’ve done your habit for the day, give yourself credit! Do not diminish the effort you are putting in. Throughout the day, reinforce to yourself how you have honored yourself and how you have accomplished your goal for the day. Instead of thinking that you are becoming the person you want to be, think and evoke feelings that you are the person you want to be. Try to carry these thoughts and these feelings with you all day long. Whenever a negative thought comes into your mind (and, it will) quickly recognize it and then, bring to mind your newly created self-empowered thought. After doing this enough times, your brain will jump straight to the latter thought, and you'll experience less and less negative thoughts that you'll need to combat. To accelerate this process, combine your empowering replacement thoughts with 'power postures', as explained by Amy Cuddy in her Ted Talk, "Your body language may shape who you are." (see references below for link).
“The more important an activity is to your soul’s evolution, the more resistance you will feel”. This quote is from a great book called, “The War of Art”, by Steven Pressfield. Feeling resistance is completely natural, and the book will help you to realize this, and to work with your resistance, not against it. See references below for a link to the book and notes on resistance, written by Steven Pressfield. It's a short, easy read; I highly recommend it!
Do NOT Strive for Perfection
Nothing in this world is perfect. The very nature of being human means we are flawed and imperfect; but that’s what makes life worth living! If you aim to achieve your goals perfectly, you will not succeed; life will always through us a curveball so, we need to be flexible. When it does, instead of being hard on yourself or accepting defeat, create an adaptation to your goal for that day. For example, if your goal is to meditate each morning, but you’ve slept through your alarm or you need to drive to the airport at 5am for an early flight, how about meditating in the evening before bed, that day? If that’s too difficult, why not break the 20 minutes of meditation into 5 minute increments and do just 5 minutes in the morning, 5 minutes twice though out out the day, and 5 minutes before bedtime? If you can’t sit down to meditate, simply focus on your breathing and consciously observe your thoughts while you wait in line at the grocery store, bank, etc, and recognize this as a form of meditation.
Pace Yourself & Make Your Habits Achievable
Once you have your goal and daily habit in mind, take a good, honest, look at where you are right now. If your goal seems like a far stretch, consider chunking it down in to smaller, more achievable, pieces. After all, you are setting this goal as a favor to yourself, not as a punishment; you want to succeed. For example, if your goal is to jog 3 miles per day and, you haven’t gone for a jog in 8 months, perhaps, the daily habit for the first 2 weeks could be to simply go outside or be at the gym for 20 minutes each day. When you’ve achieved that, the goal for the next couple weeks could be to jog or walk for 10 of those 20 minutes. After a month, jog for the whole 20 minutes, and continue upping the goals for your daily habit, until you are at a full 3 miles per day.
Other Tools/ Tactics
Easier said than done, right?! Incorporating the following tools/tactics will also help:
Write a list of all the reasons why you making the change/setting the goal and read or recite the list to yourself at points throughout the day (perhaps, when you wake up, while you are driving to/from work, and before you go to bed)
28 continuous days is what it takes to enforce a habit. Be extra disciplined for 28 days in a row, never skipping a day, and notice how much easier it is to continue the habit. It will feel more natural and you will face less resistance, as it has now become a regular part of your lifestyle.
If setting a goal to accomplish your habit for 28 days seems unrealistic or too daunting, try setting a goal for just 3 days and then refreshing it for another 3 days. It is a lot easier to get out of bed thinking you need to do it 2 more times, than it is, thinking you’ll need to do it 27 more times!
Cultivate an inner smile. At points throughout the day, think of some thing/things that you are grateful for and feel gratitude in your heart. It makes all things easier.
“Soften”. If you are feeling frustrated or angry that your goals aren’t being met, silently, say the word “soften”in your head. “Dripping water hollows out stones. Not by force, but by persistence.”
Wishing you all the best for 2020,
With a heart full of gratitude and sincere appreciation,
Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy
Notes on resistance by Steven Pressfield:
Link to “War of Art” by Steven Pressfield:
Link to audiobook “Learning How to Avoid THE GAP" by Dan Sullivan:
Notes on ‘The Gap’ by Dan Sullivan: