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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 October 29, 2020

How to Develop Mental Toughness and Stay Strong

How to Develop Mental Toughness and Stay Strong

Are you the kind of person who wants to achieve massive success in your life? Do you have the mental toughness to make that happen?

I think we can all agree that no matter your ambitions, achieving success can be difficult; and over time, the daily grind can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional energy.

Achievers and high performers from all walks of life face ups and downs along the path to success—they face failure, burnout, discouragement, fatigue, self-limiting beliefs, stress, and so much more.

How do some people continually strive towards their personal goals year after year while others give up on them? How do those people stay strong and persevere when there is so much stacked against them?

Studies now show that mental strength is a critical key to success. If you haven’t read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, you should. In it, she shows that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’” In other words, mental toughness plays a significant role when it comes to achieving goals.

At its core, mental toughness is simply the ability to stick to something when the going gets tough. People with high levels of mental toughness can push beyond these obstacles and forge a path towards success, while those with lower levels of mental toughness may abandon their dreams.

The good news is that no matter who you are, what you’ve been told, or what you currently believe, you can develop the mental toughness you need to be successful.

1. Develop a Positive Mindset

If you’re going to increase your mental toughness and manage stress, the first thing you have to do is focus on building a strong, positive mindset in everyday life.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% of those thoughts repeat each day and, on average, 80% of repeated ideas are negative.[1]

That’s roughly 45,600 negative thoughts per day!

Carrying around these negative thoughts is like going on a hike in the mountains with a backpack full of rocks. The hike is hard enough on its own, but having extra junk weighing you down is a recipe for failure.

Sometimes, building mental toughness isn’t as much about building new strength as it is about saving your strength for the right tasks. Wouldn’t it be easier to dump the rocks out of the backpack instead of trying to get strong enough to carry the extra weight?

Let Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs

It’s pretty hard to be mentally tough when you’re constantly beating yourself up. Self-limiting beliefs are any beliefs that hold you back in some way. Here are some examples:

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“I’m not smart enough to…”

“I don’t have enough experience to…”

“I’ve tried that before, and it didn’t go well, so I must just be bad at…”

When we allow these self-limiting beliefs to flood our minds, negative self-talk runs rampant, and we crowd out our ability to think positively.

When you recognize a self-limiting belief cropping up in your mind, quickly silence it by telling yourself that it’s not true, and then back that up with some positive affirmations:

  • “I am smart enough; I may just need to do some more research first.”
  • “I may not have as much experience as someone else, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. I have enough experience to get started. I’ll figure the rest out on the way.”
  • “Just because I failed at this last time doesn’t mean I’m going to fail this time. My past does not dictate my future.”

Get Rid of the All-or-Nothing Thinking

Another form of negative thinking that could be preventing you from building mental toughness is all-or-nothing thinking.

All-or-nothing thinking is the concept of thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was great or awful. If you’re not perfect, then you’re a failure.

But this isn’t true!

If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds and only lost 28, isn’t that still better than not losing any weight at all? I’d say so!

If you allow all-or-nothing thinking to rule your mind, you’ll be on cloud nine when you succeed, but you’ll beat yourself up when you “fail.” Acknowledging the shades of gray in between will allow you to see success more often.

When you recognize an all-or-nothing thought, remember to look for the positive in the situation. What did you gain by trying? What would you have missed out on had you not tried? Could you do better if you were to try again?

Ditch the Dwelling

Self-limiting beliefs and all-or-nothing thinking can lead to a bad case of dwelling on the negative, which is bad news for mental health. If you want to build some mental toughness and keep your mind strong, you have to ditch the dwelling.

When we dwell on our misfortunes, we waste massive amounts of energy that we could be using to achieve our goals. When this happens, we’re more likely to quit altogether.

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That doesn’t mean you’re not mentally tough; it just means you’re misusing your energy.

The next time something bad happens, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and frustration, but work on reducing the amount of time you dwell on the situation.

If you struggle with this, you can try the following:

  1. Call a friend or mentor and talk it through with them. Get some outside perspective on your situation.
  2. Time block your dwelling by allowing yourself to dwell for no more than one hour.
  3. Then, tell yourself to move on, that you’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes or experience setbacks.
  4. If all else fails, find a good way to distract yourself until you can calm down and reexamine things with a clear mind.

The faster you can focus on the positives and move past the problem, the quicker you can get back to achieving success in your life.

2. Connect With Your Purpose

One of the most critical elements to building mental toughness and keeping a strong and focused mind is having a strong “why” for all of your short and long-term goals.

If you set out to achieve a huge goal that you don’t have a “why” for, you’re going to find yourself distracted, discouraged, or disengaged as soon as you experience your first setback.

Think about the last time you were working on a goal or resolution, and things weren’t going well. Perhaps you thought you didn’t have enough willpower or discipline.

It’s more likely that you just didn’t have a strong enough why.

Simon Sinek has been spreading his message “Start with Why” across the globe.[2] In short, he says that:

“Your ‘why’ is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.”

One of the biggest drains on your mental energy is pursuing a goal or a task that you don’t have a why for. Often, we set goals because we like the idea of the goal, not the reality of the goal. Without connecting to our why, we can’t intrinsically motivate ourselves to achieve our most challenging goals.

You can learn more on identifying your purpose in this video:

Find Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is our innate desire to do something, and it comes when we work towards something that satisfies ourselves above all else—not our parents or our bosses or our teachers[3].

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Develop mental toughness with intrinsic motivation

    Let’s say you think you want to quit smoking because you know it’s bad for you, but you really enjoy smoking. If you don’t truly want to quit smoking, it’s going to be nearly impossible, regardless of your willpower or mental toughness.

    However, if you want to quit smoking because you just had a baby, and you don’t want your baby growing up around smoke, then that “why” is going to give you intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than sheer stubborn willpower, and it’s far easier to maintain over the long haul.

    If you’re trying to develop mental toughness, connecting a why to everything you want to achieve will reduce the effort and energy it will take to achieve those things.

    3. Find Strength in Unity

    The final aspect of developing mental toughness is embracing the idea that you’re not in this alone.

    Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft alone. Oprah didn’t build her network by herself. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone without a team. Michelle Obama didn’t implement the “Let’s Move” campaign on her own.

    Behind all of these successful people were countless other people who were offering support, mentorship, guidance, and encouragement.

    If you want to develop unmatched mental toughness, you need to understand that you don’t have to go it alone. Even the toughest Navy Seals have a team backing them up.

    Find a Mentor or Committee of Mentors

    The benefits of having a great mentor are far too many to list, but to boil it down to the basics, a mentor is someone who will help show you the path to success, discover your greatest strengths, spot and overcome your blind spots, and work through your weaknesses.

    If you’re struggling to deal with your internal negativity or with finding your purpose, talk it through with a mentor. Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees, and a mentor can help us take a step back and see the bigger picture.

    Here’s how to find the right mentor for yourself: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

    Recruit Some Cheerleaders

    If you want to stay strong, it never hurts to have a group of personal cheerleaders to help you successfully complete your goals. Unlike mentors who are going to jump in and help you address your problems, a group of cheerleaders will help keep your spirits up.

    Even if you have a strong why and a positive mindset, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a positive attitude 100% of the time. It doesn’t make you weak to need some help from time to time. Having a group of people cheering you on will make all the difference in the world.

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    As you work towards your goals, tell a few close friends about what you’re doing, and when things get tough, tell them about it. When they give you the pep talk you need, don’t resist their positivity or counter it with your self-limiting beliefs.

    Allow their optimism to refill your energy and use that energy to press on.

    Form an Accountability Group

    Cheerleaders are great, but sometimes we need someone to give us the kick we need to keep going. You might have a strong why for running a marathon or losing 30 pounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy; and trying to force yourself to follow through is a sure way to tax your mental energy.

    Why not save some of your mental energy by forming an accountability group?

    Find a person or a few people who have similar goals, or at the very least, the need for an accountability partner. Then, form an agreement within the group to push each other every day.

    4. Learn to Pick Yourself up After Setbacks

    Building a strong mindset and developing mental toughness isn’t easy! Anyone who’s ever achieved massive success knows that obstacles, setbacks, and failure are inevitable, and you’re no different.

    As you work on your goals, you’re going to face many ups and downs, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have mental toughness, willpower, or discipline.

    When you find yourself in a low spot, instead of giving up right away, ask yourself these questions:

    • “Am I being too hard on myself?”
    • “Are negative thoughts distorting my view?”
    • “What’s the positive side of this setback/obstacle/failure?”
    • “Why was this goal important to me? What was my purpose?”
    • “Is this goal still important to me?”
    • “Who can I ask for help? Who can mentor me or hold me accountable?”

    Asking yourself these questions is a great way to check in on your mindset. When we get lost in negative thinking or lose connection to our purpose, it’s far too easy to become discouraged.

    This article provides some useful tips to help you get back on track: How to Deal with Failure and Pick Yourself Back Up

    Tying It All Together

    A crucial part of developing mental toughness is learning to recognize negative tendencies and taking action to correct them early on with healthy habits. Developing mental toughness is not about eliminating weakness, but learning how to deal with it and overcome it.

    No one is perfect, but when we focus on the right things, we can develop a mental toughness worthy of life’s biggest challenges.

    More on Developing Mental Strength

    Featured photo credit: Zulmaury Saavedra via unsplash.com

    Reference

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