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Creating lasting habit change

Why habit change is hard and what we can do about it.

It's natural for us to want to change certain habits in our lives. Whether it's to be more productive, less stressed, or just to feel better about ourselves. But for many of us, the way we approach habit change has been heavily influenced by a lifetime of punishing, critical, and shaming demands. We often hear phrases like "Why can't you just..." or "if only you could __, you'd be a better person" which can make us feel like we're not good enough as we are.

This approach to habit change can be detrimental to our mental and emotional well-being, as it creates a negative association with the process of change. And it adds a crust of shame about where we are at, which we need to dig through before we can get to the thing we wanted to address in the first place.  when we view change in this way, it's unlikely that we will be successful in making lasting change.  In short, bullying yourself is rarely a productive catalyst for transformation.  Despite it being the most tenacious method, most of us have been trying most of our lives.

So what else is possible?

By focusing on small, manageable habits, we can start to create a different relationship with change that aligns with our conscious and unconscious desires. And if you really take the time to break things into smaller chunks, it also gives rise to the possibility of play and fun, (which also happen to be great teachers.) This approach can dramatically improve the odds that we will get more of what we want in the long run. And perhaps more importantly, in real terms, it will make the whole game feel a bit less rubbish.

Our brains often process change, which is dangerous, and therefore, it is always going to try and convince us that stagnation is far more seductive. Anything we can do to bring a bit more joy to our journey will make the idea of growth a lot more appealing. For example, rather than telling yourself that you're going to save 10% of your wages each month, could you put aside a fiver a week? Rather than saying that you're going to become a morning person, could you try rising 15 minutes earlier for a week?  Rather than telling yourself that you're going to do a massive restriction diet, could you try adding a vegetable to each meal? Look at what works for you and what feels small enough to not feel like punishment.  We've convinced ourselves that yelling at ourselves is the motivation we need or we just won't get things done. But in my experience with myself and with others, kindness always creates lasting change. And if it is sustainable differences you are seeking, perhaps it is worth trying a little bit more compassion.

The way we approach habit change has a huge impact on our ability to make lasting change. And maybe, if creating these transformations was fun, would be more inclined to explore what else we could try to achieve rather than berating ourselves for what we have not.


A bedroom with plants and books


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