After the new year many of us try to incorporate healthier habits into our lives. Different strategies work better for different people. And while strategies are important in trying to implement any change, more important is cultivating internal states that make the change a welcome part of life. When you cultivate states of openness to change, any challenge along the way can be met with greater ease.
Below are seven ways to help keep you on the path to the change you would like to see in your life.
1. Recognize that change is an ongoing practice.
Although we may believe that habits are formed by steely resolve or willpower, this is not the case. Any lifestyle change is a practice, and most often a number of practices. Approached in this way, you can take an interest in developing each of the practices that go into the sustainable change you most want to bring into your life.
2. Get clarity on what you want to bring into your life.
By vividly envisioning change as something that will add to your life, you are better able to face the challenges that arise in making the desired changes. Having to give something up sets up the change as loss, rather than something that will add to your life. It is true that if part of the change involves giving up unhealthy habits (e.g., too much sugar, alcohol, smoking, too much internet), then moving toward change will be challenging and may feel temporarily like a loss. If you perceive the change as something healthy to bring into your life, then cravings will simply be physical sensations that you can move beyond. The experience of physical cravings is very different than that of emotional deprivation that keeps us hooked in unhealthy habits.
3. Take time to conceptualize your strategy.
Set aside time to come up with a plan of action. When devising a plan, take into account how you have successfully achieved goals in the past. Specificity is your friend. What are you going to do in week 1, week 2. Schedule in your calendar and treat that time as importantly as any other thing in your life. For example, if you want to eat healthier, schedule time to go to the grocery store. Allow time to prepare food and cook. If you don't like to cook, then investigate healthy options beforehand.
Write down your strategies. As with implementing any systemic change, it is helpful to come up with measurable goals along the way. A goal like, 'by week 1 I will have lost a pound' is not so helpful in changing lifestyle patterns. It is more helpful to have goals around changes of lifestyle that are sustainable. 'By week 1 I will a. cook my lunch for the week and bring my lunch to work. 2. Have tried out two new classes (e.g., pilates, yoga) to see which one I want to incorporate into my life.'
Revisit your plan and modify it as you go along.
4. Give yourself a realistic time frame.
Taking time to integrate healthy habits into your life takes time. When you approach the change as a lifestyle shift, rather than as simply a means to an end, you are more likely to be patient and accept the time it takes to not only initiate change but, also, to make it a sustainable, welcome part of your life.
5. Be Creative in finding social situations to support change.
Sometimes when we are trying to change habits, we don't trust ourselves to practice these new habits when we are out socially. So we make fewer social plans. While this is understandable, it ultimately reinforces the idea that change is a deprivation rather than a welcome addition to your life. Part of your game plan to succeed is scheduling new ways of being social. OK, if you don't want to go out to eat as you are first trying to change the way you eat, then make plans to go to the movies, to a concert, or ask friends to join you on long walks. Schedule self-care appointments such as a massage. Don't be in a state of waiting to have fun again! Incorporating change into your social life, from the get go, helps make the change sustainable.
6. Discover new ways to let loose.
Sometimes unhelpful habits are associated with being care free and spontaneous... even with self care. We can think of our less healthy habits as ways to step back from the mundane or the responsibilities of day-to-day life. While this may be our felt experience, it represents a limited view of the variety of ways we can relax, unwind, have fun and practice self care. When welcoming healthy habits involves letting go of unhealthy ones, watch how you think about decreasing unhealthy behaviors. Can you broaden ways to 'treat' yourself to include those behaviors that you are now welcoming into your life? Can you imagine the spontaneous, carefree you at the forefront of the change you want to see? Doing so will help you more easily integrate the changes you want in your life.
7. Notice all that you are doing right, and build on it.
Everyone needs encouragement along the way, especially when we we are struggling or feel discouraged. It is important to be your own effective coach. It is important to recognize the efforts you are making, and let yourself feel the well-earned pride of doing something that is challenging and, at times, difficult. This practice involves paying attention to how you talk to yourself...especially in difficult moments. When you feel discouraged, practice talking to yourself with compassion and understanding. Practice learning how to regard or talk to yourself in these moments to help you persist. Be grateful for your desire to bring in new healthy ways of living.