Happy Monday friends! Today I’m coming to you with a topic near and dear to my heart, because it’s one I’ve struggled with and know many others do too! I’m sharing my 5 tips for how to make a change and create better habits in your life.
If there is one habit I am amazing at, it’s not sticking to new habits. I used to think it’s just how I was. Be it my enneagram score, zodiac sign, or a trait I inherited from my great grandmother’s, second cousin’s, aunt. No matter the reason, I simply thought I was incapable of changing my ways.
But good news! We ARE 100% capable! It’s not necessarily easy but it’s definitely doable. The key, I have found, is first understanding why we don’t stick with new habits in the first place (hint: it’s that darn thing that sits between our ears in our skull), and second, tricking our brain, to stick to the very thing we are trying to change. So let’s get to it!
5 Tips for How to Make a Change and Create Better Habits
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Tip #1: Stop Expecting it to Look Like, What You Thought it Would Look Like.
I’m pretty sure that’s a quote from Sex and the City, but here’s the deal, often times we set out to embark on making a change, envision ourselves doing it once, sticking to it every day from there on out, and having our lives magically transformed forever after just 2 days of making the change.
The fact of the matter is it’s going to be easy for probably one week max, if that. Change is hard! Which is why it’s called change. If it was easy we would just do it and call it routine.
Here’s the big problem when learning how to make a change and create new habits. Our brain. One thing I remember from nursing school was learning about our primitive brain and fight or flight and basically all the ways in which our brain tries to protect us. If we’ve made it this long having not done said new habit, our brain sees us start something new and says, “whoa, why are you doing this? We don’t need this. We are perfectly fine as we are.” Because if you’re reading this then obviously your current patterns haven’t killed you yet and your primitive brain is just fine with status quo and not rocking the boat.
The problem is, it’s not communicating with your heart which desires for something better. So therefore, you can 100% make a change, but your brain isn’t going to allow it to be easy. My best analogy of this is sky diving. You can be so excited and ready to do it but the second you are sitting on the edge your brain says, “what are you thinking? Why would you jump out of a plane?” So it takes some major convincing and mind over matter to make yourself do it. Once you do, you’re likely able to do it again because, play it safe brain saw that it wasn’t that bad and you survived.
So the same is true here. You can do it, it just might take some convincing. But don’t confuse the need for discipline with a sign to give up. You simply have to train your brain to see it as a new, safe practice.
Tip #2: Consistency is Key!
You can’t spell consistency without con. As in, the big negative about consistency is that it’s not always fun and sexy but you have to do it anyways. Consistency is a key player in how to make a change and create new habits, but it’s also the arch nemesis of instant gratification. And instant gratification is something else our brains love as much as safety and security.
But there is a pro to CONsistency. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Consistency is like a muscle. Every time you stick with something, you are strengthening that muscle until finally it’s totally developed and second nature to use it.
Say for example, you laid in bed for weeks on end and never moved. Your muscles would atrophy (weaken) and when you finally decided to walk you wouldn’t be able to. You would have to practice walking every single day until you rebuilt those muscles and had strength again.
Habits or changes are the same way. Our brain wants instant gratification. So the second you try to “walk” and it’s not second nature and you have to work at it, your brain, in an effort to protect you, is going to say, screw this! Go back to how it was. Sure you weren’t fully happy but you survived. The brain means well you guys, but sometimes it needs some guidance. If you give in when it tries to talk you out of it, it will keep doing that, because it thinks that’s what you want. If you continually “work that muscle” though, give yourself pep talks, recite mantras and do the thing, it will eventually catch on and start working for you. But the only way to get your brain to understand what you’re after is consistency.
Tip #3: Know Your Why
A big tip for how to make a change and create better habits, is knowing your reason behind it or you won’t stick with it. Take me wanting to get up an hour earlier for example. For me, my why for doing this is because Leyton wakes up at 8am and it’s the only time (other than nap time) that I have to myself to get things done. It’s also the only time I will realistically do devotionals and have quiet time with God and set my intentions for the day. So for me, my why for getting up earlier is important and I know my whole day will be better if I follow through with it.
But before Leyton, if it was a day off from work there was zero reason to wake up early. If I slept until 10 I could still start my day with quiet time and devotionals. So there’s no way I would have gotten up earlier because there wasn’t an important reason behind it.
So simply put, you need to be motivated and focused on the why and the result, more than the discomfort.
Tip #4: Start Small
Have you ever heard the saying that small things compound? It means a bunch of small things eventually stack up to be big things. So when trying to make changes, don’t look at the entire staircase, start with the first step. This is the same theory for why we should make our bed each morning. If you haven’t read Make Your Bed, I highly recommend it. The fact of the matter is, when we do one small task every day we, again, work that muscle and tell our brain we can do it. Then, as you progress through the day your brain then starts to believe you can achieve other things as well and soon you are completing better habits left and right. They are compounding.
But if you try to go all in at once, your brain is going to say, “whoa! What is this?” And to try and protect you from going too far it will talk you out of it. Our brains are almost like little babies learning to eat. You don’t throw a steak at a 6 month old and say, here you go! No, you start with liquids, then purees, then soft foods, and advance from there. The brain is the same way. So when trying to adopt a new habit, ease in. Start small. Let your brain know you are just dipping your toe into the pool before submerging.
Tip #5: Reward Yourself!
Remember earlier when I said our brains love instant gratification? Well what if you found a way to give yourself that, even when the habit or change can’t produce a result that soon? Hear me out.
There’s a reason we give kids sticker charts when they are young for doing chores around the house or completing tasks. We know that we are instilling a strong work ethic and feelings of accomplishment within them that will benefit them over the years and well into adulthood. But kids don’t get that. Kids don’t give two craps about what picking up their toys is teaching them about life. That’s not going to motivate them. They want to get something out of it now!
So, we give them sticker charts so they can receive that instant gratification and the reward center of their brain can be activated. And eventually so many stickers leads to a bigger prize. Soon, their brain starts to connect that A leads to B leads to something fun and it keeps doing it.
As silly as it sounds, make yourself a sticker chart! Not only are you activating your reward center every time you stick to your new habit but you are gaining a feeling of accomplishment. Your brain likes that feeling and will want to keep getting it. Soon you will find that you want to stick to that task just to be able to mark it on the chart. You know you don’t want to get to the end of the month and see zero stickers or check marks, so darn it, you’re doing it. Again, sometimes it comes down to just tricking out brains a little bit. But shhh, don’t tell it I said that.
Oh and give yourself a reward! Make a deal with yourself that if at the end of a month you have 80% or so of your sticker chart completed, you get something for it. Is it weird we are treating ourselves like 5 year olds? Maybe. But hey, whatever works.
YOU CAN DO THIS!
Okay friends, so there you have it. My 5 tips for how to make a change and create better habits in your life. Your mind is a powerful tool that can 100% help you or hinder you. Now that you know how it works, use it to your advantage. Stop letting it get in the way when you know you can train it to propel you forward in life. If you need more help some books I recommend are:
Battlefield of the Mind – Joyce Meyer
Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself – Joe Dispenza
Mindset – Carol Dweck
The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
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