If I had a penny for all the times I’ve promised myself to make positive change but never followed through, I’d be a wealthy woman.
Over the years, I’ve wanted to start running daily, learn French, paint, meditate regularly, and many other endeavors I can’t remember. I’d start them with a bang, with great intentions of commitment and follow-through, only to quit a few days or weeks later.
Then, of course, I felt like an undisciplined loser.
It’s only been in the last few years I discovered I’d been going about creating change in the wrong way. Creating positive changes in your life is really simple if you know the method for doing it correctly — in a way that makes change stick.
If fact, I think this method should be taught to every child in school. If we understood from an early age the simple steps to making positive change and creating new habits, we could accomplish so many amazing things and expand our joy and experience of life exponentially.
Imagine if you could easily achieve all of the things you want to achieve and create positive change without feeling like an undisciplined loser.
You see, we get stuck in a rut because we’ve trained our brains in a certain way. Our daily habits have become deeply ingrained in our brain circuitry. If you repeat small behaviors frequently enough, your brain begins to carve out new neural pathways. Those neural pathways allow behaviors to become automatic.
That’s why brushing your teeth, putting on your socks before your shoes, and grabbing your morning coffee have become mindless routines for you.
You probably don’t remember when or how you started those automatic habits. But the same process of creating all of your now-automatic habits applies to creating positive new habits in your life.
You just have to rewire your brain. Easy right?
Well, it’s actually easier than you might think — if you understand the simple method for mindfully creating new behaviors and habits. Once you apply and practice this method, you can begin recreating your life, one positive new change at a time.
So what’s involved in rewiring your brain and creating new habits? Here are the steps:
1. Start small
Whatever it is you want to achieve, break it down into the smallest possible actions. Don’t begin a running program by attempting to run 5 miles the first day. Just start by putting on your shoes and getting out the door and run for 5 minutes. Make it profoundly easy to accomplish your new action at the beginning. Do this for several days before increasing your time. Build up to your optimum time for your new behavior very slowly over a period of weeks.
2. Have a trigger
Use an already established habit as the trigger to remind you to do the new behavior. If you want to meditate, do it immediately after your brush your teeth or take a shower. By attaching new behaviors to existing habits, you are making it easier for your brain to integrate the new behavior.
3. Reward yourself
Find some small way to acknowledge your efforts every day. Find out what feels like a reward to you, and give it to yourself immediately following your new habit. Remember getting gold stars in elementary school? Well they are still surprisingly rewarding. Watch them line up on your calendar as you accomplish your small goal every day.
4. Create accountability
If someone else is paying attention to what you are doing, you are more likely to follow through. So announce your plans for your new positive habit to other people. You can use social media, email a friend, or have your spouse serve as your accountability partner.
5. Prepare for disruptions
Life has a way of getting in the way of our plans and preparation. If you miss a day of completing your habit because of travel, emergencies, etc. don’t use that as an excuse to quit. Just pick back up as soon as you can. In fact, try to anticipate possible interruptions to your new habit and create an alternative plan.
6. Be patient
Depending on the difficulty of the positive change or new habit you are trying to create, it could take anywhere from 4 weeks to a couple of months to make the new habit automatic. So don’t try to rush it or get impatient when it still feels hard and frustrating after the first few weeks. Continue to be steadfast in taking small, daily actions — increasing your time slowly after 4 or 5 days. Just believe that if you continue doing this, you will make this new behavior automatic in the not-too-distant future.
If you are stuck in a rut and want to create positive change in your life, pick something that you want to accomplish. Break it down into small and manageable actions. Begin by taking those actions just 5 minutes a day immediately after an existing habit. Reward yourself when you accomplish your habit and increase your time after a few days.
Before you know it, you will be out of the rut!