It’s not yet Christmas and already Valentine items are out. The far future always seems to be shouting before the near future can be fully experienced. One thing that many people are thinking of before Valentine’s day is the New Year. The New Year brings thoughts about what we would like to be different in our lives. We realize that we can’t control the economy and decisions that others have not consulted us on, but what do we want to change? Us personally, about our lives?
Change can mean control or better yet a different, more effective way to respond to something, either internal, like that rumbling stomach and what to put in our mouth, or an external stressor. That external stressor could be who we might be spending the holidays with or any other number of things that show up in our day.
The easiest way to make and keep change in some aspect of your life is to make a very small change. Very small. Make that change consistently so that it becomes part of who you are, integrated into your being and you’ve made a long-lasting change. It has now become a habit and one not easily changed.
I can do that! Yes, you can!
When do you want to start?
In order to make a change, you do have to decide which part of your daily dance you want to change and what you want to do instead. Your brain is in a habit and to change that habit it needs to know what we are doing instead of the response that we have been using for the past 10 or more years. The brain loves structure and to make a change? Well, the brain needs a plan.
So step #1 - Decide what you want to change. Eat a piece of cheese instead of a piece of pie? Respond with a smile? Take a breath instead of a comment you’ll regret later? Take a walk regularly? Think small, very small. Success will be easier to achieve.
Step #2 - Start thinking about all the what if’s and then construct your plan for when those what if’s show up. They will. I find that it’s easier to say no to pie/cake/cookies/ice cream when I’m feeling quite full. When I’m hungry and dinner is slow and pie is leftover and I’m only going to have a small amount, just a tiny amount really….
I need to decide and here is the big helpful piece – mentally rehearse - what I am going to do in those moments when I’m really hungry and tired and it’s dark and I don’t want to cook. Pie/cookies/ice cream is a fast and easy fix. But it isn’t change. Which is what we are after.
Mental rehearsal is what top athletes do when they “see” themselves making the catch, making the basket, making the goal. They do this more than once (hundreds of times actually) and they may have started “seeing” themselves as making the catch or the basket as young children or a teenager. The brain is getting into a mental habit and physical practice and mental practice make change more of a sure thing. The mental aspect of behavior has to change prior to, and along with, the physical responses. It is the way we are wired.
Also, don’t forget to ask someone you trust if they will check in with you to see how change is going. We all need someone in our corner and someone we can be accountable to.
Step 3 – Put your plan in place. You have determined what you want to change and you have decided on a small manageable change. You have thought about all the ways that barriers to changing your behavior dance could come up and decided how to manage them (getting real with yourself and writing down these things is very helpful). Keep in mind that there may be other barriers that come knocking that you hadn’t considered. That’s okay. Incorporate those new or unexpected barriers into your plan.
Step 4 - Finetune your plan. New things will come up. People may knowingly or unknowingly pressure you as you work your plan. They may be uncomfortable with your improvement and put psychological barriers in place. That is just fear of change speaking on their part. Know that their discomfort is not about you. Continue to finetune your plan.
Step 5 - Repeat the steps. I would not recommend more than 1 change a month if you are truly trying to make a change that is going to be long-lasting. Once you have some successes in your change corner, you may decide to vary your pace. Don’t underestimate the power that one small change can make in your life. It is like a line of dominos all lined up – one push affects all the others.
I wish you wonderful change and a happy New Year!
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By: Gail A. Chester
Psychologist, PhD, LPCS, LMFT., Author