8 Ways to Make Positive, Sustainable Changes in Your Life
Now that Spring has sprung, we are seeing all kinds of changes. Spring is a time of renewal and for mother nature, changes happen naturally and fairly easily. However, it is difficult for people to change and it doesn’t come naturally, but don’t we wish! Wouldn't it be great if you could change as easily as do our four seasons? Change is an ongoing process that takes time and devotion. It doesn't have a sudden start point or end point. For successful change you need to implement actions realistically and slowly, and repeat behaviors until they become second nature. Eventually something that you don't do, becomes something that you do do. This is how you form habits.
Even if it doesn't happen as quickly as you may like, the most important thing is that you are heading in the right direction and getting closer to your goal.
Here are eight things to consider and do, to make a change and stick to it:
1. Remember, you have a choice.
You make lots of choices every day throughout your life whether you realize it or not. For the most part, you get to choose how you live your life. You have the power to change yourself when you so choose.
2. Begin with bite-sized goals.
Think about what you want to ultimately achieve and start with the smallest version of it. If you want to take up running, don't expect to do a half marathon within the first week. Start with five minute chunks. Then slowly work up to your goal. If you want to spend more time focusing on yourself, and less time working, you can’t expect to immediately be able to devote several hours each day for ”me time." Perhaps try just 15-30 minutes a day to start. A little tweaking goes a long way. Be realistic and don’t expect miracles. Our bodies and minds are designed to respond better to small gradual changes.
3. Associate the change with something you already do.
It can help to attach a new desired action to a well-formed daily current behavior in order to make it easier to turn it into a habit. For instance, always do your Pilates stretches before you take your shower or always walk or run on the treadmill when you watch TV. Do a short meditation while you have your hot drink in the morning. It serves as a good way to find a time slot within your day to implement your change, and at the same time, works as a reminder to keep it up. Just like animals, we learn by association.
4. Give yourself rewards and daily pats on the back.
Be aware of when you are exhibiting positive behaviors and give yourself credit every time. If your goal is to decrease the amount of sweets you eat, Say to yourself, “I’m proud of myself for passing up on that cake at work today”. Change is hard, so acknowledge your efforts. Think of a reward that will make you feel good, and that you'll miss if you don't get it. It can be a small reward, like stopping on the way home from the gym after three consecutive days of workouts to buy your favorite magazine. It can be a bigger reward that you work up to such as after one month of including a vegetable in your diet daily, you will treat yourself to tickets to a concert that you want to attend. The reward should not relate to your goal, i.e. don’t reward yourself with a cupcake if you are trying to cut out sweets, or don’t reward yourself with taking a week off from exercising if your goal is to exercise several times a week. You get the idea.
5. Make it public.
If you are socially accountable for your actions toward your desired change, this will help you to succeed. Tell your friends and family your intentions. This will “let the cat out of the bag” and will help you to stay on track. Ideally, find a buddy you trust, who can be your first line of support when you need a boost. Arrange with your buddy that you will call or text them when you are feeling discouraged or tempted to give up, and let them give you a bit of encouragement. If your goal is to run in a half marathon, find someone who has the same goal and arrange to train with them. Often that's all it takes to keep up your motivation level.
6. Planning is key, especially for different circumstances.
So you've managed to make a change and it's all going great at home. But then you visit your parents and it's game over. Don't use this as a chance to stop. With full preparation, this can be avoided. Identify your obstacles, be true to yourself and give yourself the best chance to stick with your intentions. If it means missing out on a few things at the start of the process, so be it. Explain your situation, and remember why you started the change in the first place: it's your choice, and it's what you want. Be strong.
7. Have self-compassion.
When you want to change something in your life, it helps to go easy on yourself during the process. If you have a stressful day, and are not focused on your change behaviors, don’t beat yourself up about it. Acknowledge without judgement that you are not perfect and that tomorrow is another day. Treat yourself as though you were encouraging and supporting a friend. You deserve the same compassion.
8. Give it time, and be patient.
Change will happen. But it won't happen overnight. It can be frustrating at first but if you persist and frequently remind yourself of your reasons behind your actions, the process itself can be very satisfying. You've put yourself at the top of your list for once.
It is hard work, but with commitment and keeping an eye on your “whys”, you will get there. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.