Are working hard to make life changes only to feel defeated by those around you or yourself? It may be time to look beneath the surface of the change process and find the deeper meaning in the struggle.
Maybe it is changing location, moving away from particular people at a party, going a new way to work, having dinner at a different time, saying a particular phrase, etc. There are many ways to address and deal with your challenges – and they will come up. So plan to meet them with grace and confidence.
The Spirituality of Change
This brings an aspect of living your essence and spirituality. As you work on changing, you must face yourself – sometimes this is the hardest person to face. You must take an honest look at who you are and who you want to be. Then do the difficult work of change. Through this process we often find parts of ourselves we do not like, want around, or understand. It is in facing these aspects of our being that we become a better version of ourselves. If you find yourself lost in the struggle, it may be worth finding a support system for your change process – a group, class, or therapist to help you navigate the steps and set you up for the best possible results.
Finding your voice
Sometimes explaining your desire to change to others is hard. Sometimes they work against you – like crabs in a bucket, pulling you back into old patterns and behaviors. Remember, you do not have to explain your changes to anyone else. You do not have to justify your new behaviors or work to get the to understand your reasons, purpose, or dreams. Your change is all about you and you can chose who to share it with and when.
A few simple statements go a long way, like:
I’m the DD tonight
I am working on a new fitness plan
I am trying a new meal plan out
I am working on shifting my sleeping pattern
I’ve been reading about _____, and I want to try some of the suggestions
I have a friend who did ____, I am hoping to have similar results
I noticed I feel better when I do _____
You can create all sorts of simple statements that give enough information but do not require you explain or rationalize your new behaviors. Just make sure you are creating statements you can back up if they ask later – i.e. if you are telling people you are working on training for a race, you might want to make sure you are planning to run a race. When people ask how’s the racing going you don’t want to be “aaaaaahhhh …” and stumble trying to make something up on the spot.
In the end, relax into the change process, enjoy the ride, find yourself, and become a better version of you. It is here you find your spirit and strengthen your soul.
So many people bite off more than can chew when it comes to habit changes. They know the big goal they want to accomplish but it is too big, too overwhelming and they never start or stop too soon to see the change happen. Don’t be that person. Just start small and keep going.
Ready for spring and something new? It’s time to change! Let go of old habits no longer serving you and create new habits to move your life toward the goals you want today.
As spring equinox takes us by storm this week and ushers in the season of new beginnings, I thought it fitting to talk about creating new beginnings for ourselves. In many spiritual traditions, this is the season where rituals focus on creating something new in one’s life. In many practices this is the time of renewal, rebirth, and new growth following a time of reflection and rest.
As we move toward the culmination of the reflection period we emerge from a period of challenge to slingshot into something new and better. We have faced our demons and recommitted to our journey to become the best version of ourselves. These concepts are observed in religious traditions (lent, fasting, giving up), fairy tales (the quest), philosophy (the hero’s journey), and nature (winter). This week, where will you be challenging yourself and what will you be giving up in effort to spring forward into something new and better for yourself?
Change is hard. If it was not we’d be making a lot more changes in our lives on a more regular basis. However to build new habits we must be conscious that we want to change. We must reflect accurately on our lives and determine what is working and what is not working for us. We must be willing to observe our own patterns and challenge our own beliefs. This is not easy. It is hard to consider what I may be doing that is not helping me and it is hard to change a habit. According to Lally and Gardner (2013) “when designing behaviour change interventions, it is important to focus both on disrupting existing undesirable habits and developing new desirable habits” (p. 16). This means it is important to determine what you want to let go of and then figure out a way to disrupt it in your daily life. Then you must figure out what you do want and figure out a way to anchor it into your routine.
Disrupting Old Habits
Let’s start with disrupting an old habit. Habits are different than goal directed behaviors. Whereas goal directed behavior happens with consciousness and effort, habits are behaviors that have become somewhat automatic in your life. You often do not think about them, they are just the way you go about doing things.
For example, you come home from work and have a glass of wine everyday. For some they do not pay much attention to this habit it is just something they have been doing for a long time. The glass of wine is anchored to coming home from work. Another example is overeating. Often the person is not paying attention to how much they are actually eating. They overfill a plate or grab the full bag of chips and eat it while distracted by the TV. They reach for a soda or candy bar to give a quick burst of energy but do not notice that they did not really need the whole thing, they just finish it because it is there sitting on the desk or as a familiar option in the vending machine. Again, examination of the environment in which the behavior is done will reveal anchors and help disrupt the process of habit completion.
As you disrupt the anchor part of the habit, what you are really doing is disrupting the environment. This is a key factor in changing behaviors. By disrupting the environment you change the way your anchors are engaging you in routine behaviors. This is a very effective way to break a habit. To start, track your habit. Behavior research shows us the power of tracking. Just the act of tracking a behavior can change it. Tracking brings awareness and opportunities to reflect upon what is working and what is not from an objective point of view.
Ask yourself these questions as you track:
What is happening right before you do it?
What happens right after?
How do you feel when you want to do it?
How do you feel when you are in process of doing it?
What does it feel like when you have completed it?
Who were you with?
Who did you want to be with?
Where were you?
The answer to these questions offer examples of places you can make a change in your internal and external environments. For some, disruptions of the environment may look like taking another way home so you do not pass the liquor store or bar you like to hang with your friends. It could be finding new places to eat so you are not habitually ordering the same thing off the menu. Or it could look like changing communities or homes.
Creating New Habits
On the other hand once we take away an old habit we need to replace it with something else. We call this a redirection or attention shift. It helps us maneuver change by giving us something else to focus on. As you consider the answers to the questions above you begin to see places you can change your environment, now look at them to see what else would work in those instances. For example, you might find that coming home from work to a glass of wine is about connecting to your partner and slowing down. Can you create a ritual that helps you meet those two needs without the wine involved? Of course you can, it just takes time and repetition.
Building new habits is about consciously changing our behaviors and then repeating them so we build the neuro-pathways for the new behavior. This can be difficult as we often have habits paired with anchors as noted above. When the anchor behavior happens we automatically do the routine habit. We might forget to do the new habit and feel defeated as a result so we give up easily. However the more we go through the process of deciding to change and working to change, even when we fail, we are shifting our neural structures toward our goals. There are two ways we can help ourselves remember to complete the new habit: 1) create an action plan and 2) create a coping plan.
In the action plan walk yourself through the new habit, the corresponding behavior anchors, the feelings you will have as a result of successfully implementing the new habit, and visualize yourself completing it. It is as simple as writing out your new habit step by step. This creates a play by play plan to create the new habit in your life and obtain its automatic status in your routine. As part of the action plan create implementation intention. Research points to using if – then implementation intentions (Lally & Gardner, 2013) as a way to help guide you through the steps needed to complete the new habit in your routines. If X happens I will do Y. This gives you planning and options for dealing with real life situations. In the end, by creating an action plan you are helping yourself visualize and mentally walk through necessary steps to make your new habit a success.
Coping plans offer a little more flexibility. They ask you to create a plan to deal with obstacles that are going to arise on your path to creating a new habit and breaking the old one. They offer the opportunity to think through difficult steps on the journey to creating new habits by reflecting on what could derail you. In the coping plan we often list all the obstacles we can think of and create options to get around them. Say you want to quit drinking but are not sure how to handle social situations. We would review possible scenarios and come up with ideas and ways you can manage your behavior in them with success toward your goal.
As in disrupting a habit by changing or redirecting the anchor behavior, you can use anchors to help you create new habits. A example is working out. The alarm goes off in the morning and the person gets up, changes into workout clothing, and puts on running shoes. They head out to run. Changing of clothing and putting on running shoes is anchored to the alarm going off and getting out of bed. When creating a new habit it is best to anchor the new habit to follow one that is solid in your routine. You do not want to be crafting 2 new habits. Using something you do everyday – like get out of bed, go to bed, go to the bathroom, eat meals, etc can be very helpful making the new one successful.
Finally, you have to consider motivation. Motivation comes from inspiration. In the beginning we are all motivated for new habit formation. We get excited and make plans, offer ourselves rewards, and share our success and struggle, but a month in, 2 months in, a year into a long habit change and we often struggle to maintain motivation, which will kill a new habit faster than you can blink. The trick is to manage your inspiration. Everyday, look at your vision board, find interesting photos on Pinterest, youtube videos, or discuss your goals with friends. It is important to socialize your changes for accountability and to find intrinsic motivation to help you stay connected to the reasons you are working so hard to change. External rewards – prizes, new stuff, accolades – work for a bit, but if you do not find the internal pride, pleasure, and strength to stay on the path, your motivation will wane. Once it is gone so is the hard work of getting the change to happen.
The down and dirty on change:
To disrupt a habit you want to break:
Track and figure out your patterns and anchors
Change your environment
Find new ways to focus and shift your attention
Replace the old habit with something new
To create a new habit:
Create an action plan
Create a coping plan
Determine your why – why is this so important to you now
Find daily inspiration to maintain motivation
Anchor new behavior to an activity you are already doing regularly
Are you like many – you want to take care of yourself but everyone else comes first leaving you depleted and worn out? You won’t reach your goals by putting yourself at the end of the line. In fact, you may not be helping all those you’ve been giving to in the most effective way either. Many of us assume we must give of ourselves to other in order to help them succeed. This is especially true of those we love most. We go about our days thinking about what they need, like, want, and how we can help them get it. This is great on one hand and not so great on another.
First, when you give to others first you deplete yourself before you can tap the best in you. This cycle eventually leaves you burnt out, resentful, and probably unhealthy in more ways than one. But many of us have been socialized to think that if we put ourselves first we are being selfish. Not so. In fact putting myself first allows me to give more to those around me. Not only can I give them more because I am more full, I can give them better.
When I have put myself first I am better able to focus on them with all my attention and gifts. I am better able to see what I have to give they may be needing, such as attention, play, listening, or space. When I can more accurately match what I have to give honestly and authentically my efforts are more powerful.
Take some time this week and notice. Notice how often you are doing things for others out of habit. Notice if it is truly what they want or need. Notice how you feel about these interactions. Notice how they respond to these attempts at giving of yourself. Notice if you feel more satisfied or less satisfied after the interaction. Many of us operate on habit or perceived expectations.*
If you are up to the challenge – take some time for yourself and then repeat the above exercise in noticing. See you if you notice a difference in how your giving changes when you are taken care of first.
*Expectations and habits are not easy to break especially when others are involved. Too much for this blog post, but we’ll discuss that another time.
We’ve discussed wanting lifestyle change. We’ve talked about ways to do it, why you should, how, when, and the science behind the reasons. Today we are going to explore why you don’t do it.
I can hear the collective exhale, “thank god”, you sigh, finally an answer to my issues. Nope, sorry, just some more ideas on exploring where you really are in the process. I repeatedly get clients who want instant gratification. Remember this is a slow process and it can be a very spiritual experience as you peel off layers of identity, excuses, habits, routines, and other activities that are not working anymore.
Let’s talk about self-esteem. I find this to be a huge stumbling block for many people. Even if self-esteem is there in other areas of life, say work or parenting, when it comes to health it can be dented. Many who are in the process of change doubt what they are doing, are in an uncomfortable place of change, and are facing other issues that may work against their goal further adding to the doubt and insecurity. In an article a few years back (but worth repeating) Brian Tracy , “People with high self-esteem are more positive, more likable, and more effective in every part of their lives. Your job, therefore, it is to keep your self-esteem high and positive on a continuing basis.”
He goes on to outline six critical elements of self-esteem building: Goals, Standards, Success Experiences, Comparison with Others, Recognition, and Rewards. Striving toward each element helps build, grow, and maintain your self-esteem. High self-esteem is directly related to accomplishing your goals, and the more you accomplish the goals you set the more confidence you have, and the more you strive to live by your standards and values. When your values and standards are congruent with the lifestyle you lead the more self-esteem you have and the more peace you feel in daily life. See the process? The elements build upon each other to help you be the best you can be.
We are typically taught not to compare ourselves with others, but here he refers to positive comparisons where you feel you have room to grow and accomplish your goals while using another’s success as a benchmark for your own. This is a tricky place to be. Similar to setting realistic goals you must choose comparisons that will allow you to be successful and continue to build your success experiences. He does note that we come to a place where we are no longer competing with others, but rather our own past successes.
Another factor in cultivating self-esteem is self talk. Many of us have an inner critic. For some this can be a voice that spurs us to strive harder and make the finish line, and for others this critic derails us and we pretend not to hear it as we sit on the couch with the whole bag of potato chips, only to hear it loud and clear when the bag is gone and the opportunity for exercise missed. Victor M Parachin, Mdiv writes (again and oldie but goodie), “Avoid becoming your own worst enemy by talking back to nasty voices in your head.” Next time you hear yourself saying I am fat, I am lazy, I will never make it, I can’t, talk back and tell the voice to be quiet. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend.
Look for areas in your life where you can implement these elements and begin to build yourself up. Draw on your strengths and downplay your weaknesses. Find successes in your past to use as comparisons for new goals, and find people you admire to model your direction after. Tracy states, “…you need to build your own structure and take full responsibility for building yourself up on a regular basis.” If you won’t take the time on you, who else will?
Many of us decide it’s time to do something different in our lives. But is this decision truly ours? Or has someone else put the idea we need to change into our head? When deciding to change honestly answer these two questions.
Once you have convinced yourself you are ready for change you must determine who you are changing for. The obvious answer may not be the real answer. Deeply look at your motivation, are you the reason for the change, or is a parent, spouse, doctor, sibling, friend, etc. Is it someone else’s idea or voice you hear?
If it is not you; commitment is likely to wane. Next determine why you want to change. As with the question of who, why is a critical factor in realizing a goal. Determine your why. Get passionate about it. Taste it, feel it, begin to live it.
Immersion into an idea is supported by research and will lead to change. In other words, find as many ways to support your new lifestyle, new activities, new thoughts, rewards, support, new ideas about how you could change your habits to support your new direction.
The more pathways you create in your brain to support this change the more likely you are to succeed. Believe with every cell in your body and it will manifest.
Have you ever experienced sighs, rolling of eyes, or underhanded “not again” comments when you announce to those closest to you that you are embarking on a new fitness goal? Well, take note.
When trying to form a new lifestyle it is important to go after your dreams. Some dreams may be weird, or hard, or nearly impossible, and those that know you best, know it will be a rough, if not, wild ride before you are done, but do it anyway, and for god’s sake quit listening to them! I am not suggesting you quit your day job, move to a faraway land, and forgo all responsibilities.
If you are dealing with a friend or family member who is working hard toward a goal and failing, or if you are the friend who continually tries, but are having trouble getting it off the ground over and over, take note. Failing is reaching for success.
By repeating an activity even if it seems we are not reaching our goals, we are creating pathways in the brain that reinforce our goal. These pathways become stronger the more they are used and soon it becomes second nature.
Today look back and take stock of the failures you’ve had. Can you see a pattern? Can you see progress (remember to look at the big picture)? Can you see where you may need work? If these questions seem daunting, hire a professional in whatever area you are working to change who can help you sort through your ideas.
Once you’ve got your track record you can limit your obstacles based on past experience, draw new confidence based on what you have been able to overcome, and begin again armed and ready when your best buddy rolls their eyes and exclaims, “Not again!”