Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
Barack Obama (Lascala, 2021)
Are you seeking positive change to enhance your life and expand your horizons?
As we head into the new year, it’s not uncommon to want to start it ‘afresh’ as we set new intentions to improve our ways of living and finding more happiness and joy. So why is it then, that by the middle of January we find ourselves floundering; feeling stuck and indulging in self-sabotaging habits and behaviours that prevent us from making the changes we desire?
All great changes are preceded by chaos
Deprak Chopra (Lascala, 2021)
There is nothing you can’t do if you get your habits right says James Clear in Atomic Habits (2018), so let’s explore how you can become the change you’re wishing for and take an active life-changing step right now.
I love the title of Joe Dispenza’s book: Breaking the habit of being yourself: How to lose your mind and create a new one (2012). His teachings on habits have changed the way I view the world and have increased my capacity for making better choices about how I emerge each day and what I put my energy into. I was equally fascinated to learn that we have the ability to change almost anything in our lives after reading The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change (Duhigg, 2012). It helped me understand why the therapeutic approaches I offer my clients at Bayside Healthy Living, provide an easier way to ‘lose’, ‘override’ or ‘uninstall’ a habit/mindset and upgrade to something better. Charles Duhigg encourages us to focus on one pattern, which he refers to as a ‘keystone habit’. This unintentionally then has a flow-on effect into other areas of our life. For example, going to sleep an hour earlier can result in greater morning calm and clarity, motivate us to exercise in the morning and make better food choices throughout the day.
As discussed in one of my previous blogs, ‘Breaking the Cycle of Rumination’, we are creatures of habit. Every day we get out of bed on the same side, we brush our teeth before or after coffee, tie left or right side shoelace first, etc. Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the product of well-thought-out plans and decisions, but they are not. Habits in isolation may not seem like they have much authority on us but layer after layer of the habits we develop directly influence the choices we make. Whether it’s the food we eat, the hours we sleep, the choices we make socially, what we say or don’t say to those we love, the way we spend money or move our body, these are all habits that ultimately shape and impact our physical, mental, emotional, and purposeful worlds.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear takes the science of Charles Duhigg (2012) to a more practical level by starting with a focus on our identity; the person we wish to become. Research has shown that when we truly believe a particular aspect of our identity, we are more likely to act in alignment of that belief (I talked about this in a previous blog ‘Love and Fear’). James Clear suggests that the more we can act from a kind and loving mindset, the more we’re reinforcing the habit or behaviour and proving it to ourselves. So, every action is effectively a vote and endorsement for the type of person we wish to become (Clear, 2018). You have the choice to decide what kind of person you want to be and how you want to show up in life.
Your habits are how you embody your identity ... your identity is literally your repeated beingness”
(Clear, 2018, p. 36-37)
Let’s break down a simple habit utilising the James Clear ‘Habit Loop’ model. The first thing that happens is there is a ‘cue’ or a trigger that tells the brain there’s an automatic mode being signalled to activate a particular habit. Awareness comes before desire. A craving is created when your brain assigns an emotion or feeling to the situation. Emotions drive behaviour, so how we feel influences how we act. There is however a gap between our cravings and rewards and the brain will want to repeat that reward if it is surprised and delighted. For example, will you have a water with your post gym session coffee or will you have a muffin? You’ve just worked out, so why would you want to ‘undo’ that with a muffin, right?
© James Clear
Why am I telling you all this when we are exploring change? Unless you deliberately interrupt the daily programs/patterns/habits (the cue-craving-response-reward loop), the brain just keeps firing away and you won’t be surprised to find your hand reaching for things you don’t really need. So, when you search for a muffin or biscuit to accompany your coffee or tea, or the urge hits you for a piece of chocolate at 3pm, or a drink at 5pm (It must be 5pm somewhere in the world! … Sounds funny until you notice another habit has taken over and even earlier lunchtime drinking has started). You can see by this scenario that our brain learns and makes choices for us automatically, so we are not always aware of the habits that get in the way of who we want to be.
Many studies have shown that best results come when we set the intention for implementing a new habit according to the ‘if-then’ plan so “when situation X arises, I will perform Y” (Clear, 2018; Duhigg, 2012).
James Clear suggests a simple way to apply the strategy is to fill out the sentence:
I will (BEHAVIOUR) at (TIME) in (LOCATION).
Examples may be:
Meditate: I will meditate for 10 mins at 7 am in my study 5 days a week (contact us for a free Morning Meditation audio track)
Exercise: I will exercise at 6 pm in my local park.
Non smoker: I will say ‘no thanks I don’t smoke’ when somebody offers me a cigarette at 10 am.
Lose weight: When dining at home I will finish eating by 8 pm, pick up a water bottle or have black tea and say “That’s it. I’m done with food for today until tomorrow”.
Quit snacking: I will fill up my water bottle, stretch my body and take a brief walk from my desk at 3pm at the location of my work.
Alcohol free days: I will pour myself sparkling mineral water with fresh lime in my favourite glass at 5pm in my kitchen to celebrate “I am alcohol free today”.
Sleep. I will turn my phone onto ‘do not disturb’ at 9pm, and be in my bed reading by 9:30pm, ready to sleep by 10pm.
Know your Why: When you know your WHY factor, your brain and body will work with you to find your HOW.
Identify the obstacles and pain points/challenges along the way, before they happen. What will you do when faced with that old challenge now that you are prepared to change? Research has shown a dramatic increase in successful change outcomes when contingency plans are written down ahead of the pain point (Clear, 2018; Duhigg, 2012).
Changing a thought: flipping it from fear to what you’d love starts the rewiring process of uninstalling an old program that has passed its use by date and upgrading to something better for who you are now (link back August Blog and September blog) If it feels like a choice or something you will enjoy because it helps another, it’s easier to get past the old pain point.
James Clear (2018, p.54 ) says ask yourself when you are preparing for change:
Change may not be as fast as you want it, or as easy as you thought, but with time and effort almost any habit can be reshaped. After all as Heraclitis said: ‘There is nothing permanent except change’ (Lascala, 2021)
If there is a change you are ready to make in 2023 and you believe you need a little help at an unconscious level, please call us to explore your options.
Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. Penguin Random House.
Dispenza, J. (2012). Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One (1st edition). Hay House.
Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why we do what we do, and how to change. Heinemann.
Lascala, M. (2021, September 2). 30+ Inspiring Quotes About Change, Because We Never Stop Evolving. These Powerful Sayings Prove Moving on and Taking Risks Can Be Exactly What You Need.https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/g25383377/quotes-about-change/