I can confidently say that if you skip the resolutions this New Year, you will be so much better off by next year. At the end of this article, I will offer five things you can do instead.
But first, let me explain. You are a creature of habit. And, it is common to develop negative habits as a way to cope in life. Examples are overeating to stuff emotions, using drugs or alcohol to unwind, or overspending to feel worthy.
There are two types of habits. One is the habit you want to get rid of, and the other is the habit you want to add. Quitting smoking, drinking too much wine, not sticking to a budget might be some habits you want to get rid of. Adding a strength training routine, drinking more water, or saving money might be habits you want to add.
What happens when you try to get rid of a habit? If you are a smoker because it helps with your anxiety, and you decide this is the year you are going to quit, then you have probably put a plan in place to do so. You may have decided to replace smoking with other activities, such as walking or meditating to reduce the stress. You may have bought some patches and some gum or one of those fancy inhalers. Good for you! You are excited about the possibility of being a non-smoker and enjoying all the freedoms that come with it.
You do pretty well at first, running on will power. But, as the days go by, your body is wondering what the heck you have done with the smoker you and wants nothing to do with what the mind says it wants and this new non-smoking you. Your body starts giving your mind all kinds of reasons why you should start smoking again. One unexpected stress trigger is all it takes to succumb to the old familiar coping mechanism and having a cigarette. This is because your habits are such an integral part of who you are and sheer will power alone is rarely enough to change them.
What happens when you try to add a new habit? Just the opposite is true. Your body is not familiar with what you are trying to add to your life, so it will “forget” or try to self sabotage it because it’s has not been given enough time to make the new behavior automatic and comfortable.
When I was the Wellness Director at the Y, we would always see an influx of new members the first week in January, The regulars would hate it because they could no longer follow their normal routine and had to wait to get on the machines they needed. I would reassure them that by mid February, things would be back to normal, so hang in there! Even though it was my job to retain members, we were lucky if 5% continued past that invisible cutoff date. Every year it was the same thing. It was so predictable!
Please know I am not trying to discourage you from your goals! As an integrative wellness & life coach, that is the last thing I want to do. I am just pointing out the obvious and that there are better, more effective ways to make positive life changes this year if that is what you desire. Also, even though I coach others to upgrade their health and lives, I am not immune to having a few unhealthy coping behaviors that I would like to convert as well!
Here are five things you can do to make your habit changes more successful:
First pick just one or two changes. I know it’s tempting to make a lot of changes all at once, but more than that and you will most likely go into overwhelm and accomplish nothing. Establish just two positive changes every couple of months and you will be a new person by the end of the year. Start by writing down all the changes you want to make this year, and then prioritize them. Start with the top two.
- Make a plan. Prepare for the change you want to make. In the quitting smoking example above, preparation is going to get you started, and doing the following steps will help to reinforce the change until it becomes the new you.
So do not bring the wine into the house, create that new budget, enlist a walking buddy, find some new healthy recipes to make or get a wellness coach to help you improve your health and lose the weight.
It all helps, but you still have to get past the point of no return. You have to be able to practice the new behaviors long enough to establish them as a new habit.
- Re-wire your brain. To do this, try tapping and visualization. Yes, habits are nuero-connections in the brain. The more you practice a behavior the stronger the connections. This is how you learn anything new, like driving a car or playing the piano. The longer you stop the negative behavior the weaker the nuero-pathways and connections become. Given enough time, they go away and so does the habit.
Tapping (emotional freedom technique or EFT) and visualizing the you without the habit are two ways to re-wire your brain. You can learn all about tapping HERE. Visualization is a fun and easy way to establish a new, improved neuro-pathway to replace the old one. You can do this when meditating or by writing down who you are and what your life looks like without the habit, as if you already are that person. Do these as part of your morning or evening routine every day. It only takes a few minutes.
- Find your “why”. Why do you want to make the changes you want to make? Decide to make the changes you are making because you love yourself, not because you “should” or because it’s the customary start of a New Year.
Who else would benefit from the changes you are making? Maybe you want to be more available for your kids or grandkids? Maybe cancer runs in the family and you want to make sure you are not one of its victims. When you find your why, it will reinforce your new behavior in a way nothing else can. When you know why you are getting up at 5 am to go for a run, you will not hit snooze.
You don’t have to be perfect. You may have set backs along the way. Don’t let it be an excuse to give up, just get right back on track as soon as possible. Love and forgive yourself if you slip up. Make changes from a place of love rather than a place of “not enoughness”.
Having a support system in place will help, such as a non-judgmental friend or family member who can remind you of your why or a life coach.
- Trick your subconscious mind. This is where your habits reside. They are often so automatic, you do them unconsciously. You have to get them into your conscious mind and then trick them. You can bargain with them by saying things like “I can have that donut if I want, but not today, tomorrow”, then say it again the next day and the next.
Or say “I will go for a walk, but just to the end of the block and back”, then when you get to the end of the block, say “Ok, I’m this far, so I will go another block” and keep going.
Get yourself to take just one step, one day at a time. As soon as your body/mind feels it is going to be deprived of what it needs, it will find a way to sabotage your efforts. So don’t give it the chance. If you love sweets, treat yourself to your favorite once a week. This doesn’t work with everything, but finding a suitable replacement may also fend off the saboteur.
Also, do not “should” on yourself, instead choose it, i.e. “I should stop drinking wine to relax after work” (weak), instead say, “I choose to stop drinking wine to relax after work” (strong)…and instead, I will have a refreshing glass of ginger kombucha! Lol.
- Finally, buy and read “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself” by Dr. Joe Dispenza. If you like to understand the science behind why you are the way you are and the nature of reality, as I do, you will love this book! Follow his suggestions and you will defeat your old habits and be the person you have always known and dreamed you could be.
I sincerely hope this was helpful. As for me, I started writing this article before I gave myself a chance to procrastinate and get lost in email land. Yay, me! If you have a tough habit you want to break or new habit you want to add that keeps eluding you, for the month of January, I am offering a free 60 minute coaching consult to 10 people to help you get started! To apply, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what you want to change this year and why.
Debra Betterly, PhD is an Integrative Wellness & Life Coach and Metaphysician whose passion is to help women expand their health, joy and purpose in midlife and beyond.
You can join her free Midlife Mastery “Inner Circle” and receive your free gifts HERE
Her free “10 Day Whole Person Detox Challenge” is offered as a body, mind, Spirit approach to holistic health. Learn more HERE