How to Change a Habit

How to Change a Habit

Most of us function just fine day-to-day, but still fall short of our potential. This is often due to learned behaviours – habits – that once served us but have now become a barrier to self-actualization. In this blog you’ll learn how to change a habit. Once you understand the change model, you can use it to transform old habits preventing you from being your best.

Most people have a few unresourceful habits they’d like to change. Too much time on social media and not enough time in the gym. Procrastination. Anxiety. Over-eating. You name it.

Many clients I work with misguidedly assume that the struggle they’ve experienced when attempting to change is due to personal weakness. By understanding the change process, you are in a much better position to transform any habit.

How Does the Change Process Occur?

Step One – Awareness

The first step of the change process is awareness. Without it, any habit of thinking or behaving is literally outside awareness and therefore a blind spot. You can’t consciously change something you’re not aware of.

Therefore, all change begins with awareness.

“Awareness is curative.”

– Fritz Purls, founder of Gestalt Therapy

We may be well aware of some habits; however we often have others that are outside our awareness.

A simple example for me was swimming, which is one of my favourite forms of exercise. I learnt to freestyle as a child playing around in the backyard pool. Last year whilst at a local ocean pool, an ex swimming coach whom I happened to chat with, commented that when I swam freestyle I crossed my right arm across to the left side. I had no idea I did this. This new awareness was the first step in me learning how to change that habit. Over time I retrained myself which made a noticeable difference to my stroke, speed and overall enjoyment in the water.

If you’re serious about change and being your best, it’s vitally important to get objective input. Work with a coach or other professional trained who can show you what you cannot see. This is true in any context, whether sporting, personal or professional.

Step Two – Choice

With awareness comes choice.

For example, you’re driving to work, and a car suddenly pulls out in front of you, causing you to slam on the brakes. Tension grips you, and heat rises from your belly to your throat. Previously, without awareness you would have re-acted (done again what you’ve done before) by perhaps shouting at the other driver or giving them the finger.

With awareness (of your changed physiology – red flags that indicate anger arising) you’re at a choice point. You can re-act habitually, the comfy, easy and well-trodden path by yelling abuse or giving them the finger! Or you can try something else, anything else. Break into song, count to ten, stay focused on physical sensations and emotions as they morph and shift.

Choice points can be ‘loud’ like this example, or more subtle, like whether to read an incoming text message or stay focused on the blog you’re writing.

In my experience, it can take a bit of practice to notice a choice point especially the smaller ones. Even though we face them many times a day, the process can go under the radar unless we intend to make it conscious.

The next step then in learning how to change a habit is to practice catching the choice points. As you move through your day, see if you can spot them. What will assist you to notice them?

Practice spotting the choice point for a few days before going any further.

Step Three – Decision

A choice point means you’re faced with at least two options. Do you decide to take the easy familiar route, or do something different?

Do I yell at the other driver or break into song; choose the salad or go the deep-fried chicken; check the text message or stay focused on the task in hand?

This is the step where the rubber hits the road. It’s also the step that trips many people up because they’re not prepared or trained for it. Unless you have a significant ‘why’ for doing something different than your habitual response, chances are you’ll go the comfy option.

So what’s your why?

If your answer is something like “because I’ll feel better” or “it’s a good idea” you’ll more than likely be lured to take the easy way out.

If you’re serious about change, you need to dig deeper. You can do that by asking yourself this simple question: What’s important to me about that?

Let’s say you want to change your eating habits so you consume less processed food and more of fruits and vegetables. Here’s an example of what that process might unearth.

Q: What’s important about eating healthy? > A: Losing weight and feeling more energized.
Q: What’s important about losing weight and feeling more energized? > A: Keeping up the pace at work and still coming home happy, able to focus on the kids.
Q: What’s important to you about that? > A: Striking the right balance between my career and my family.
Q: What’s important to you about that? > A: Being my best self and a great role model for my kids.

Keep asking that question until you get to your deepest meaning. It’s essential that this is more meaningful than the thing you usually go for. You might want to journal about this over several days, creating a list of reasons, and identifying any key themes.

Now you’re ready to play. You’re aware of a habit (of behaviour or thinking), you’re practiced at spotting choice points, and you’ve identified why this change is a must for you.

Now, when you find yourself at a choice point, take 5 conscious breaths and review your ‘why’ reviewing all the reasons why change is so important to you, really feeling into what a new future will mean to you. Ask yourself “What am I being called to do right now?” feeling into not what feels comfortable, but what feels right to you.

When you’ve done that, make your decision.

Step Four – Integrating

This final step is all about stabilising the new behaviour (or thinking pattern). This is done by deciding to behave (or think) differently than before, whenever a choice point arises.

Change rarely happens in an instant, it’s usually occurs as a process. You took time to create the habit, give yourself time to change it too.

Imagine your old habit as a six-lane highway that you’ve travelled more times than you’d like to remember. And think of the new habit as bush track that is barely discernible.

The more often you decide to do something differently and walk the bush track, the stronger the new habit becomes, and the more established the new neuronal pathway. Eventually the bush track becomes a road, then highway, whilst the old habit atrophies, and the old highway becomes unused and overgrown.

A healthy dose of compassion at this stage is important. If you run perfection as a habit, this is vital. Often perfectionists will avoid doing something unless they know that can do it exceptionally well, which means they often don’t try in the first place. The irony is, you get good at something through practice, learning from mistakes and practicing again.

That means give it a go, and if you make an unresourceful decision or two along the way, learn from the process. Inquire into where things went off track. Did you miss the choice point in the first place? When making the decision did you rush things, failing to take time to review your why and feel into right-action?

If you know you want to change but continually go for the easy and comfortable option of the old habit, then inquire into what you gain by staying the same. What’s the positive intent behind the original habit? Does it keep you from facing reality? Does it cushion you from feeling something you’d rather not? Does it keep you busy so you don’t need to look? If you have difficulty identifying this, a good coach can help with this process.

The more you practice, the more skilled you’ll become.

The more you connect each action to purpose, the more meaningful each action becomes, the more right-action arises.

It all starts with practice.

Of course sometimes this is easier said than done right? Maybe you even known this before but still haven’t put it into practice.

If you’re tired of figuring it out on your own, and want some help to make those important changes sooner rather than later, contact me here today.

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