Habits are hard to change. I know. In some ways, I love my routines and rituals because they make me feel cozy, secure and happy. But when they turn into habits that no longer serve me, I am faced with learning how to let them go. Over the years, I’ve managed to put together a few steps that really work and I thought I’d share them with you.
Habits are behaviours that become automatic because they have been performed frequently in the past. This repetition or automaticity creates a mental association between the situation (cue) and action (behavior).
If you think about it, automaticity is the opposite of mindfulness. Research from the journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Quinn & Wood) suggests that 45% of our behaviours are repeated almost daily! Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment. When mindfulness is present, we can see our thoughts, feelings, motivations, reactions, and responses with greater clarity and wisdom. We can pause before reacting and choose the appropriate response for the moment we are in.
Let’s take a situation and map out the experience:
Situation – Thought – Feeling – Behaviour
Situation: I have to do some marketing.
Thought: I don’t like to do marketing.
Feeling: Anxiety, frustration, annoyance.
Behaviour: I do it but feel agitated and checked out the whole time. I line up chocolate almonds on my desk and get up to clean yet another part of my house. I do this ALL THE TIME!
In my coaching practice, I hear something similar over and over. You distract from the unpleasant feelings by reactively choosing something more pleasant. This quick fix is ultimately not rewarding, but you keep choosing it automatically. With mindfulness and seeing your habit clearly, you have the power to change it.
So I suggest trying something new:
Situation: I have to do some marketing.
Thought: I don’t like marketing, but I know it is important for all my clients and potential clients to know what I’m up to and if I can serve them. I can only serve if people know how to find me!
Feeling: Ease, contentment, eagerness.
Behaviour: I get out a huge Post-It and some stickies and map out a great experience that helps solve a problem. I do this with enthusiasm and creativity. I also make a plan to go out for a walk to clear my head.
You can change your habits by changing your routine to a new rewarding one.
By looking closely at your thoughts and how this impacts your behavior, you can change your thoughts and also change your routine to something with a more long-term reward. Often you can remain in a cycle of unhealthy patterns because you believe that they are rewarding you. When you look closely, you see that many of your habits are NOT very rewarding. A walk is much more rewarding in the long-run than emotional eating (in my case!)
Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion, has shown in her research that we often think we need to “beat ourselves into shape,” but the opposite is actually true. The research shows that when you have a critical thought, your nervous system goes into fight/flight/freeze and from this place you can only respond from your reptilian brain (survival mode). From a place of survival, you are unable to see the bigger picture, be creative or compassionate toward the perceived stressor. Criticism makes you feel more anxious, more depressed, and more afraid of failure. However, compassion is the antidote to criticism and in my opinion the greatest motivator for change.
What negative or critical thought gets in the way of your creating this new routine?
- “I will never meditate.”
- “I don’t have the willpower.”
- “I don’t have enough time.”
- “I’m not enough.”
When you stop to inquire if those thoughts are absolutely true, you’ll find that many are NOT! So, let’s change it around to something more empowering.
- “I know that with consistent effort I will be meditating.”
- “I am more than enough to create a great proposal.”
- “I had a tough week and still managed to complete my work.”
Out of the critical or compassionate thoughts, which type encourages you to move forward? The compassionate thought!
Can you notice the difference? Once you can be compassionate in your thinking, you can figure out the next best step to take. It is important to understand your readiness for change. For example, if you are still preparing to change, the lived experience of that will include some resistance. Let that be ok! This is part of getting ready to take action.
On your path to create change, invite compassion and embrace and accept where you are. Only from a place of compassion will our efforts move into fruition.
So what is the next compassionate step you can make towards a change you want to make today?
If this resonates with you and you’d like to overcome some of your own barriers to living the life you want, then click here and I’ll make sure we connect. And you know I like to share the love, so if you know someone who could benefit from this article then please share it! Imagine, thought by thought and act by act we are creating a more conscious world.