How To Change a Habit…. For Life!
Let’s start with a paradox. You are perfect, just as you are. You don’t need fixing or changing. There’s nothing more you need to do, or know, or have, to make you any better than you already are. You are perfection itself.
And at the same time, perhaps there’s something in your life that you would like to change. Perhaps you know you’d feel better if you went to bed earlier, ate a healthy breakfast, practiced yoga each morning or were more self compassionate. None of this will make you truly happier (happiness is an inside job remember?), but you might feel more energetic, loving, healthy and fun.
If you’ve ever tried to change a habit before, you’ve probably realised how challenging it can be. And there’s a good neurological reason why it is so hard. But if we understand it, we can use it to our advantage and make real and lasting change in our lives.
According to Dr Bruce Lipton, we’re only totally present 5% of the time. And for the rest of the 95% of our lives we’re not totally present, and therefore we’re running on what Bruce calls our ‘subconscious programs’. This is why when we make a New Year’s Resolution we can follow through for the first few days, but then as the year unfolds and we’re not being focused and present in our new commitment, we fall back into old habits, and start smoking, biting our nails or eating junk food again.
Our programs are made up of our early life experiences as well as the habits that we’ve accumulated over our lifetime. For the first seven years of our lives we were like sponges, soaking up our parents and teachers beliefs, habits and ways of being in the world. We didn’t question them, we just took them all in as undeniable truth. And then in our later childhood, adolescence and adulthood, we formed habitual ways of being in the world that were reinforced over time.
But habits are not the bad guy. We need habits to navigate the world. Habits are the way our brains are wired to respond to the world, and they allow us to exist with ease and flow, drawing on our previous experiences.
The problem comes when our habits are self sabotaging.
So our goal is not to get rid of our habits per se, but to create new habits that really nourish and support us.
My favourite way to create a healthy habit involves six simple steps; clarity, noticing, compassion, conscious choice, acknowledgement and repetition.
Let’s use the example of speaking kindly to yourself. Perhaps your parents used shame as a discipline technique and over the years you’ve developed a habit of speaking to yourself quite harshly.
Get really clear on the new habit you’d like to develop. Perhaps “I speak kindly to myself“.
Try to catch yourself in the habit of self judgement and criticism. Just notice that it’s happening. You might like to say to yourself, “ahh, there’s that ‘I’m not good enough’ story again.”
Send yourself some love! Chances are you picked up this habit without your knowledge or consent when you were too young to know any different. This is not about blaming anyone else, but realising that it’s not your fault and there’s nothing to ashamed of. My favourite way of bringing self compassion into this equation was shared with me by a wonderful client. Simply smile and say “oh how human of me!”
4. Conscious Choice
Stay present and consciously act in way that is aligned with your values. Speak kindly to yourself! You might say “that was so awesome” or “I really love you” or “you really are a kind and generous friend.” It might feel strange or challenging to begin with, but stick with it!
After you’ve taken the new action, take a moment to really acknowledge what you’ve done. It’s awesome!
Keep following these steps, over and over again. It probably took you a few decades to establish your current habits, so it’s going to take awhile to replace them with new life affirming habits. Be patient and loving with yourself. If you fall back into old habits, shower yourself with self compassion instead of judgement (judgement will only entrench those old habits even deeper).
Know that each time that you choose to act in a new way, you’re actually re-wiring your brain. Each action you take is having a physiological effect on your brain. Here’s a story that illustrates what I mean……
Imagine that you’re in a grassy field, and that you’ve been walking a particular path across this field for your whole life. Over the years that path that you’ve walking has worn down, so that there’s a very clear dirt track in an otherwise overgrown field.
Then one day you decide you want to do things differently. So you head off in the field in a different direction. To begin with, the field is very overgrown and it’s difficult to make your way through the grass. But each time you come to this field, you make a conscious decision to walk the new path.
Initially it comes with challenges, but over time the old path grows over, and the new path becomes easier and easier to walk, until eventually it becomes so easy to choose that path, that you don’t even have to think about it anymore.
This is the effect this six step process has on your brain. Reminding yourself that every small step you take is creating new neural pathways can help to keep you reinforcing this new habit and making powerful changes in your life.
What habit would you like to change?
Leave me a comment below and let’s get started on the first step here!
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