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How to Make Changes in Life by Changing Your Habits

How to Make Changes in Life by Changing Your Habits

You wanted to make changes and you wondered how to make changes in life successfully. This summer was when you were finally going to get fit, eat more healthily and lose those extra pounds. However, that new gym membership has seen your four weekly visits reduce to a single one due to changing work demands.

In fact, you have not returned since you fell ill last week. Weekly viewing that subscription payment on your bank statement has become that fine thread of hope to convince yourself are still doing something…or are at least connected to something that can bring you positive change.

You need to just do it.

But you don’t.

Those little three words are damning. Your parents’ judging voices speak loudly in your head of having no discipline yet again, and your shoulders shrink under the weight of regret, guilt and loss of confidence. In your weaker emotional state, you convince yourself you are no worse off as you are back where you started.

Sound familiar?

Coming up with ideas and ways to change your life is easy. Making those changes become habits is harder. However, when you understand how we form habits in the first place, you can become a master of applying a quick process for yourself to redesign and change whatever area of life you want.

How do we develop habits?

Habits give us something. They make us feel better in some way – physically, mentally and/or emotionally – otherwise, we wouldn’t do them.

Our brain subconsciously learns that particular behavior is one to keep. We are usually unconscious of the habits we develop but when we dig deep to see why we developed them in the first place we unleash a whole universe of possibilities!

Firstly, we create and keep long-term habits in one of three ways:

  • Having an enlightening epiphany
  • Changing our environment
  • Making small adjustments and changes over time

Having an epiphany is usually a rare event and something we aren’t in control of. Changing our environment is also something which can be done, but takes time. Making gradual changes is the simplest and most effective way to make big changes in your life!

Your habits play out in a three-step sequence:

The trigger

The trigger might be the mid-afternoon yawn signaling you need an energetic pick-me-up. Notice the trigger of yawning is not something you consciously control?

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For us, that is great news because it means triggers aren’t dependent on your mood state or motivation level.

If you want to change certain habits to change the course of your life, you can use the smallest triggers – occurrences which happen daily, all the time – to catalyze the changes you want.

The routine behavior

With the yawn, the thought of your favorite caffeine fix automatically comes to mind. You reach for loose change in your purse or wallet and tell your co-workers you are going out to get a coffee.

Now you’ve developed awareness of this automatic behavior you’re in a greater position of power to choose whether you want to modify it to something better.

The reward

Leaving the office brings the logical rewards (reinforcement) are feeling the sun on your face and feeling more relaxed in your body because your legs have had a chance to stretch.

These common-sense rewards pale in comparison with the entertaining jokes you have with the quirky, perky coffee cart owner as they prepare your latte. Something about their smile and spirit always lifts yours.

Knowing this sequence to all your habits, you can strategically manipulate these steps to steer your life’s ship toward Paradise Island.

How to build habits and make lasting changes

Here are seven steps to do make changes in life:

1. Clarify and decide on the positive life changes you want and extensively explore the benefits.

Simple goal-setting is extremely helpful in deciding what changes you truly want to experience.

Think deeply. Decide on the changes you want first then prioritize them.

If there aren’t emotional reasons why you want certain changes in the first place, trying to sustain the habit will be harder.

Your brain always operates in ways to keep you safe, relaxed and happy. Use this knowledge to your advantage.

Expect to experience some discomfort in doing something different to your habitual routine. That’s normal. So are those rotten excuses and reasons that immediately come to mind to keep you stagnant.

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Acknowledge these but don’t resist them. Honor their voice and in addition, purposefully and extensively explore the benefits you will experience. Identify the immediate and secondary (delayed) benefits and write them all down.

An example of a new habit might be getting up earlier and meditating. We might draw to mind the benefits to be:

  • My mind feels clearer. (immediate benefit)
  • I feel a sense of calm. (immediate benefit)
  • The rest of my day becomes easier to manage. (secondary benefit)
  • The pain in my shoulders melts away. (immediate benefit)
  • Ideas and answers come to me freely. (immediate and secondary benefit)
  • My mind works sharper and faster; when I slow down I actually can speed up. (secondary benefit)
  • I see possibilities I can’t usually see under stress. (secondary benefit)

The more instantaneous benefits you can identify, the easier changing your habit/s will be, because your brain will love them!

2. Make sure the goals and changes you choose are yours.

It is possible to pick the wrong habits to change. Learning that others have found a great eating plan that worked extremely well for them does not mean you should do it too. Trying to lose a few pounds because your partner says you should also raise alarm bells.

Resist being compelled to follow the masses and motives of other peoples’ agenda and spend time getting clear on what changes you want to experience in your life.

Research has shown time and time again that when you develop your own goals, you’re much more likely to follow through on achieving them.

It’s your life so take the reins and choose your own adventure.

3. Identify behaviors that will give you the change you want, then choose ONE.

Choose wisely. There are many ways to exercise and achieve weight loss, a multitude of frameworks to help you prioritize your time better and become better with managing money. The key is to choose something that positively resonates with you that has a strong element of fun.

If you choose something you associate more with punishment and delayed gratification, sticking to your new habit is going to be harder and unlikely.

Choose one habit change and become good at mastering it. Continue with mastering it to the point of it becoming second nature and it feels wrong to not do it.

Your initial job is to become a master of the change process. When you do that, the result will speak for itself.

4. Change your life through making minor habit adjustments, not by punishment or denial.

Going cold turkey will shock your system and before long, you will have resumed the old habit.

If you look to make big changes, when you fall, you fall further emotionally and mentally.

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Denying yourself pleasure is already attaching a negative perspective to the new habit you are trying to create; you have sacrificed the guilty pleasure habit for the sake of a new habit.

B.J. Fogg, researcher and psychologist at Stanford University, recommends training your brain to succeed at achieving minor adjustments.[1] Pair your desirable habit with an existing trigger.

Don’t look at changing a habit altogether. Gradually reframe it in gradual steps.

Using the previous meditation example, let’s say you desire increasing morning meditation to help calm your anxiety. If your morning routine is already hectic, see if you can pair it with another behavior you do already:

  • As I shower (trigger), I stand still for twenty seconds with my eyes closed and let whatever thoughts come into my head, come;
  • I close my eyes as I gently brush my teeth (trigger) paying attention to spending 30 seconds in each quadrant of my mouth;
  • When I wake (trigger), I sit up in bed, close my eyes and deepen and slow my breathing for ten cycles

Doing one of the above is much easier and faster than putting on a candle, getting into a lotus sitting position, turning on the calming music and trying to meditate for 10 minutes.

Your brain will always struggle to adapt big, unfamiliar changes even if we know they’re good for us. Work one minor change into your already existing triggers, slightly modify your routine and make that your focus for a week.

5. Choose something that is easy to start.

Prioritizing what changes and new habits you want to make is not as easy as you think.

Do you start with exercise or focus on replacing your afternoon coffee and biscuit with? Do you do both? Do you work on getting better at leaving your work on time instead of staying behind an extra ½ hour every day?

We get pulled here and there by changing work demands, our children getting sick, the vicarious stress of friends or extended family going through challenging times.

Start small and choose to start with something that you have full control over despite the curve balls life may throw at you.

Using the morning meditation example again, it’s nonsensical to think you’ll have uninterrupted time in the mornings if you have young children to get ready for school. Your morning tea break might be a better time to grab 2-3 minutes of uninterrupted time. If your workplace allows it, play a calming non-lyrical tune on your workstation and put your headphones in for 2 minutes.

Changing your life can be easy, taking one small step at a time.

6. Strengthen and stabilize your new habit by increasing your attention to it.

Make your new habit easier to stick to by increasing your focus and attention to it.

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Talk about it. Talk about it with friends, family and work colleagues. Talk about it with your neighbors.

Write about it. Read about it and actively seek people who have been successful in changing this habit. Create a community you can plug into which supports the change you are looking to try and create.

When you fall off the bandwagon, acknowledge and accept this. If you keep falling off the bandwagon, review your triggers and modified routines. It might help to adjust them.

Maybe you need to create some variety. It might be highly possible your initial existing/new behavior-pairing no longer gives you the satisfied feeling you initially felt. It’s probably time to mix things up a bit.

If you want to increase your exercise – for example, gentle walking as a start – you might start with walking up the three flights of steps to the third floor, then take the elevator to the fifth where your work area is.

Extra motivation might kick in to walk the full five flights particularly if you want to avoid morning conversation with that energy-draining work colleague at all costs!

Eventually, you become bored again.

You might then look at walking outside for 10 minutes when the alarm you set yourself for lunch at 1:00 pm, tingles its pleasant ringtone. You will feel the air on your face, see the sky, and see different people.

When you come back in after lunch, you feel more energized whilst your colleagues are falling victim to the post-prandial dip from eating lunch at their desks.

Get good at creating little, interesting modifications. The magic of great life changes comes from tiny habit changes.

7. Reward yourself every time you implement your new behavior

Celebrate all wins! Regardless of how minor it might seem, anchoring a positive experience will help burn that pleasurable memory into your brain that your new habit is one you want to keep doing.

Wallow in that celebratory feeling to help your new habit stick. Swim in it like staying in the bath water too long until your finger pads turn into prunes. Tell your brain, this is something good!

As you are carrying out your new habit, pay attention to how you feel better about yourself as you are doing it. Increase dedicated, purposeful recollections of this.

Over time, your brain will direct you to keep this habit, you will feel better for it and one day you will wake up with your life looking radically different. And when you look back, it won’t have been as hard as you thought.

More Resources About Making Changes in Life

Featured photo credit: GREG KANTRA via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] B.J. Fogg: Tiny Habits

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Malachi Thompson

Leadership & Performance Edge Strategist

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Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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