WASHINGTON, January 31, 2017 – We’re off to a new year, and, according to statistics provided by Northwestern University, 92 percent of the populace has already given up on New Year’s resolutions…not a great statistic!
But if that’s the case, how can we somehow manage to develop a sustainable new habit ourselves? Sounds like a tall order to fill.
What this does take is practice… habitual practice.
Do you remember the feeling you had when you were learning how to drive? Everything was new to you, so you had to really focus and be present in the moment with each new step you took. You were very aware of putting the key in the ignition, adjusting the mirrors, starting the engine, putting the car into gear, and so on. But you’ll also remember that after doing all this so carefully for a while, the process soon became second nature. You’d made driving and safe driving a habit.
I was recently giving a public health and wellness workshop during which I discussed the power of being present. As an example, I asked the participants “What were you thinking about when you were taking a shower that morning?” Sound funny? Well, yes it does. Yet, what people think of in that moment is so telling of the way most of our thinking goes throughout the day.
Most people answered the question by saying they were thinking of the meeting they had to attend later in the day, the dry cleaning they had to pick up, the conversation they had yesterday with a colleague that didn’t go so well, the project that was due in one week, what time they needed to carpool, and so on.
You can see the things on their minds were past- or future-based. No one was actually thinking in the present, as, for example, “This shower feels great, the hot water feels so good on my neck…” People’s responses simply did not exist in the present and in the moment. To be in the present moment takes practice. Our brains are wired to go back to the past and ahead to the future, and we have to keep bringing ourselves back to the present.
If you want to establish a new habit, you have to be consistent or habitual with it. Individuals do not form a new habit overnight or sustain it if they are not aware of it and practice it so it becomes a habit.
For example, I cannot remember for the life of me to close the apps on my cell phone. Since the battery is drained so much faster with the apps open, I realized I needed to develop the practice of closing apps because I needed the battery to maintain its charge longer.
Here’s what I did. I wrote on a sticky note “Close Apps,” and put it on my night table. After several days of seeing the note I began to develop a new pattern or habit of closing the apps. It’s been a few weeks and I no longer need the reminder. The amount of time for developing a new habit varies considerably with each person. How long it takes to develop that new habit depends on that variability.
Generally speaking, I would say encourage you to give yourself one month to develop that new habit, practicing daily. Getting through the initial conditioning stage is the hardest part. But you can do it.
What structure can you use for developing a new habit? A note? How about a reminder like a “ping” from your computer or phone? What method works for you?
Don’t get discouraged if you try one method and it doesn’t work. Just try another one. Run it like an experiment. Think options and possibilities, and the benefits of this new habit. Plus, remember there’s a bonus when you succeed: you get to know yourself better.
Here are a few tips that can help the habit-forming process:
Build awareness and be present
Set up good reminders to alert you about what you need to do. Remember the sticky note example I mentioned earlier. I put one sticky note on my desktop, refrigerator, mirror, and so on, driving the point home.
Remember: you can’t make a change if you’re not aware of it. Ask yourself, “What are the consequences of not committing to making this new habit in my life?”
Make a daily commitment to practice.
Create a time each day when you can work on increasing your discipline. Commit to yourself and an accountability partner, if needed. Make developing this new habit a priority. When you are able to complete the habit without having to think about it, you can move on to the next habit you want to build.
Our brain is hard-wired to first take things in visually. Visualize yourself doing the new habit. Look at your reminders. Think of the benefits you’ll reap for internalizing this new habit and think of what that would look like. This approach helps keep uncertainty limited.
Celebrate the new habit.
Be proud of yourself. Transforming this new activity into a habit took commitment, and, with so many things on your plate, that’s quite an accomplishment!
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