Habit of the month #13: Ten steps to change your behaviour

By johannatime On December 30, 2013 Under The Habit of the Month

The gym is crowded on the 2nd of January. By the end of the month, though, a great deal of those new members decide to stay at home. Heartbreaking. Do you have new year’s resolutions? Will they last beyond January? Why (not)?

My resolution for the next year, is that I will publish a ‘habit of the month’ blog post on the first day of every month. So that’s 12 habits for the next year to adopt, introduced to you at a monthly pace. Consider this post today as the thirteenth month’s bonus to start with, the introduction to the new series, in which I’ll be telling you a bit more about embracing new habits, how that is done.

But first of all, you cannot unlearn. You can, however, replace your own (!) unwanted behaviours by more preferable ones, but you can’t just not do them, or at least that is incredibly hard.

Second, habitual behaviours happen subconsciously, you often don’t choose for your unwanted behaviours, you just display them without thinking about it.

Third, every habitual behaviour has a trigger. And the trigger may well be the key to your habit change.

And last, forget what they say about the 21 days it takes to change a habit. Many habits take much longer, some shorter. Deliberately changing your behaviours takes commitment and discipline, let’s be clear about it.

The process of changing habits in ten steps

Changing behaviour is most successful when you take small steps, so I’ll also break this difficult topic down into ten bite sized chunks, for your convenience:

Step 1 Start easy

Make a promise to yourself that you will take small steps only, and you will downsize if necessary in order not to give up. Remind yourself that change can be massive by taking microscopic steps for a long time, and that slow changes are generally more solid and sustainable than quick ones.

Step 2 Choose a desired outcome

Take an area you care about in your life, that makes it easier to commit. From January onwards, I’ll offer you a sensible suggestion monthly, so stay tuned. Verbalise or visualise (or both) how you want your future to be regarding this particular behaviour and it’s effects on your life. Keep for future reference! Keep in mind, also that a desired outcome is a status quo that you’re able to maintain effordlessly and sustainably, thanks to your new habit.

Step 3 Ask why

Connect with your values, the things you find important in life. This step is your antidote in difficult times, so write down why you want your desired outcome, keep for future reference, and make this information easily accessible.

Step 4 Find your trigger

Consider why your desired outcome is not reality. Dig deep. This is where you will find the trigger for your unwanted habit. Sometimes, the trigger seems to have nothing to do with the behaviour, so keep looking until you found your trigger. Sometimes the trigger can be found in the people you hang out with, or in your daily schedule, sometimes the trigger is caused by an unrealistic belief or even the way things are organised in your home or office.

Step 5 Make a plan

You have 3 essential ingredients now, to make a plan and to commit: 1) your desired outcome; 2) why this is important for you, and 3) your trigger. Now make a plan. See if you can tweak, replace or add the trigger. A plan is about doing and about actions, so be very specific about what you are going to do and remember: start easy! Plans for daily small actions are far more likely to succeed than plans for weekly actions. Build in some milestones along the way into your plan, but be mild, a high ambition is a guarantee for failure. This is about slow and solid change, not about peak performance.

Step 6 Commit

Commit to your goal, to your plan. And if you need to, organise an accountability check. Someone to remind you. You can also tell your (Facebook) friends. The moment your commitment is out there, you’ll feel more motivated to stick to your plan.

Step 7 Just do it

This is the simplest and also the hardest step: just stick to your plan for at least a month. Don’t think, don’t distract yourself, just feed your thoughts with your desired outcome and your motivation only, when you feel tempted to drop out, and don’t question these for a month.

Step 8 Adjust your plan (if necessary)

After a month, celebrate your achievement first. Then evaluate: was your plan too ambitious? Was it manageable? Should you simplify your plan in order to keep up with your commitment? Adjust but don’t give up, and review your desired outcome and motivation if you need to (step 2 and 3). After a month, things may be a routine, but not a habit. So adjust your plan and commit to it. Your goal is to permanently change your behaviour, so if you struggled with the month, downsize your ambition, otherwise you will fail.

Step 9 Repeat

Now repeat step 7 and 8 until you can confidently say that your preferred behaviour is your desired habit. It may take a year or even longer, I repeat: change can be massive by taking microscopic steps for a long time, and slow changes are generally more solid and sustainable than quick ones.

Step 10 Celebrate

Celebrate your new habit. By the time it has become a habit, you will probably not consider celebrating it, because it has become your default way of doing things. But remember, that exactly was your goal! You have achieved something important. Congratulations!

I hope I can contribute to making your 2014 a productive and purposeful year, so stay tuned for my upcoming habits series. Feel invited to adopt which ever habit resonates with you and as always, I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Johanna Jansen

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