March 26, 2019

Rewire your brain to make a new habit stick

Do you want to start a new habit? Or maybe stop an old one?

It’s not as easy as simply making the decision to change.  But, with the right framework for change, it may come more easily than you think.  Here’s what I recommend, a process that has worked for me and many of my clients.

Step 1:  Awareness

What is the behavior that you want to change?  If you’re trying to spend less time glued to your phone, then the behavior you want to change may be a tendency to check for new messages any time there is a quiet moment.

Step 2:  Name the behavior

Getting clear about what you want to stop doing is the key to replacing it with something you want to start doing.  Start by naming the behavior and understanding the trigger.  What is it that leads you to engage in this behavior?  Does it have to do with a certain place, time or person?  Recognizing this will help you address it.  Telling yourself that you want to get up 15 minutes earlier and write one page in your journal is specific, and setting your alarm 15 minutes earlier will serve as a trigger.  If you actually get up that 15 minutes earlier, that is.

Step 3:  Name the behavior and triggers in front of a witness

Getting real with yourself is one thing.  Getting brutally honest in front of someone else is a whole different level of commitment.  Choose someone who won’t let you slide, but who will hold you accountable in a supportive way.  You want someone you know to be honest, compassionate and discreet.  Meaning, someone you trust.  Find that person, and tell them you have committed to getting home for dinner with your family at least four nights each week.  Ask them to help you be accountable to that promise.

Step 4:  Develop a practice that makes the desired behavior your default behavior

Want to move more each day?  Find a way to build it in as a natural part of your routine.  Perhaps plan to shower and dress for work at the gym (presumably if you show up, you will work out first).  Or arrange for a regular walking meeting with a colleague.  If someone else manages your calendar, ask them to make sure at least one meeting per day is scheduled as a walking meeting.  They can help make this a default in your day.

Step 5:  Practice the desired behavior

As you try to develop this habit, what triggers do you notice?  Do you regularly find baked goods in the break room when you’re trying to cut back on sugar?  You may want to seek downtime elsewhere.  Does a stressful week make you reach for a second glass of wine?  You might need a different coping mechanism.  Recognizing and interrupting your triggers, whatever they are, is key to settling into your new routine.

Step 6:  Ask for feedback from your witness

You may not have noticed yourself slipping into your old patterns, but I bet your witness did, and she or he may have some insight into your triggers.  Follow up with that person you trusted as your witness in Step 3 above,  have an open conversation and ask for your witness’ perspective.  What you learn may surprise you.

Step 7:  Give yourself a break, and give yourself time

The idea here is to transform your default behavior into your desired behavior, and to do so takes time.

[bctt tweet=”So often we expect change overnight after we make the commitment, and when we think about change this way, we set ourselves up for failure. The inertia of default behaviors is too strong. ” username=”MettaSolutions”]

Don’t commit to exercising 45 minutes daily for six days a week if you haven’t been exercising at all.  Start slowly, with maybe 15 minutes, three days a week until that habit is hard-wired, then bump up by five to 20 minutes, three days a week, then 30 minutes, four days a week.  This process of “installing” new habits takes time, and rushing it is a sure way to compromise your efforts.

Recognize that building a new habit takes weeks or months.  But with this process, you’ll find change is possible and you can build a new habit.  Before long, it’ll be as natural as the old habit.

What habits have you changed in your own life?  And how have you done so?

Please share your experience in the comments!

Last updated March 26, 2019

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