Changing our behavior seems to be one of the hardest things we do in life. I’m talking about long-term, sustained change, not short-terms that only lasts a few weeks – or days for that matter. (Okay – maybe minutes!) We all have our own list of changes we would like to make in our lives– it could be eating healthier, more exercise, spending less time on social media or binge watching TV, spending more time reading or doing our favorite hobby, cleaning out the garage, etc. One thing is for sure: changing behavior is one of the hardest things any of us will ever try to do. This is a well-researched area and quite a lot is known about why sustained change is tremendously difficult. Here are seven of the biggest reasons plus to make it easier for long-lasting change to occur.
1. It’s the positive, not the negative emotions that are the catalyst for long-term sustained change.
While it’s understandable to think that strongly felt negative emotions like regret, shame, fear and guilt should be able the reason for lasting behavior change, the opposite is true. Negative emotions may trigger us to think about everything we’re not doing, or feel like we’re doing something wrong, but negative emotions are not the ones that make long-term changes stick.
The negative emotions make us feel bad about ourselves, and that becomes a downward spiral. When we can have even a glimmer of something positive, that can be a true catalyst for change, and one that is sustaining. A Study of 129 behavior change studies found that the consistently least effective change strategies hinged on fear and regret. As common and sensible as this sounds, real change needs a positive platform to launch from; we need positive, justifying reasons for taking on the challenge to change. So instead of being driven by fear to change, find the positive reasons for the change. Write them down, share them with others and get a good support system.
2. We get trapped by faulty thinking.
Feeling overwhelmed by trying to change a behavior—any behavior—tends can create all or nothing thinking.
I'm going to charge in and change, and if I fail that means I just can't do it. This applies to just about everything. Going to the gym, cleaning out a closet, quitting smoking/vaping, etc.
The all-or-nothing thinking is a big trap that keeps us stuck in the same old behavior we are trying to change. It traps us into a no-win situation, because the odds of sustaining change going into it with this thinking really just sets us up to fail. If we really want to change, one of the first things we have to do is take all-or-nothing off the table and create small, bite-sized change. Speaking of bite-sized…
3. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Of course, I am not talking about eating an actual elephant. And if you have been a Life Coaching Client of mine – you have heard me say this repeatedly. Changing a behavior is a big thing, no matter the behavior, and it’s almost never possible to take all of it on all at once. We have to start somewhere and staring with attainable and reasonable steps makes success much easier.
Big and vague has to give way to small and specific. Rather than “I’m going to start exercising,” it’s “I’m going to start walking tonight after dinner for 20 minutes. And will do this on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday nights.” Setting small attainable goals, which are specific and measurable will help to create small successes along the way. Being patient with yourself is also key. I know clients who want to overhaul their lives in one week and are baffled when Friday comes and they barely accomplished anything on their list.
4. We try to change too much too soon.
Trying to take change multiple behaviors at once is a surefire way fail at all of them. Who has said this before – or something like it? “Ok, I am going to stop eating half a bag of potato chips every night, and I am going start going to the gym everyday for an hour. And while I am at it, I am going to stop playing that dumb game on phone and start going to bed earlier!”
The resources we use to make change happen are limited: it’s our attention, our self-control, our motivation, etc. Trying to change too much at once places unrealistic demands on those resources and dooms our efforts very early on. We forget that the other areas of our lives keep spinning and also require those resources, so even just one additional behavior-change commitment is a big deal.
5. We underestimate the process.
Change is never just one thing, it’s a lot of connected things, and sustained change doesn’t happen without a process that wraps in all of the pieces. It’s easy to fool ourselves into believing it should be so much simpler, but nothing about behavior change is simple. It’s a tough, process-oriented challenge to move the behavior needle even a little. However, using the tools given here and having an accountability partner, life coach, therapist or other professional is a great way to feel supported during a time of change and transition.
6 . We give up after a failure.
If you try to change anything and fail, you’ve just proven one of the sturdiest truths of behavior change: failing at least once is part of the process, and it’s probably going to be more than once. Failing reveals more to you about what deserves your attention and energy in the next round, and the next.
Failure is part of the process, and I encourage those who are embarking on changing a behavior to see failing as a step, not the end or an excuse to stop trying.
7. We don't make a commitment.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, what the best of behavior change research tells us is that if we haven't made a commitment to accomplish whatever we want to accomplish, it won't happen. Writing you’re your commitment down, sharing it with someone, making sure you have the support you need to be successful, these are just some of the ways to be successful in your endeavor.
Nikki Buckstead is passionate about empowering people to find their truth and purpose in life. As the Founder and Owner of Transformative Coaching & Consulting Services in Orange County, California. Nikki successfully serves clients going through various life transitions and challenges.
Nikki’s central gift to the world is helping other people find their unique talents, so that they can become architects of their own lives. She focuses on helping others find clarity and live with passion and purpose. Whether it is through guided meditation, corporate training, or one-on-one coaching, Nikki serves the mind, body and spirit, in personal and professional growth that helps her clients achieve positive, lasting results. Nikki provides a safe, supportive, and sacred space to connect with her clients, which makes them feel inspired, and helps them to create the life they desire.
Nikki holds a Masters degree in Psychology and is a certified life coach, certifed meditation and Auyrveda teacher through the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a certified yoga teacher and certified in Workplace Wellness Management. Her office is located in Huntigton Beach and she provides in-person and online sessions. She is the President of the Huntington Beach Holistic Chamber of Commerce and is co-authoring a book with Jack Canfield titled Recipe for Success, due out in early 2019.
Here is how you can connect with Nikki:
Phone: (714) 880-4134
LinkedIn: Nikki Buckstead