PART 1: MINDSET
How many grandiose New Year Resolutions have you made in your life, only to break them by the end of the first month, week, or even day of the year?
Or have you told yourself, ‘l’m going to start [insert desired new habit] on Monday!’ then indulge in the old habit excessively beforehand and end up kicking the can down the road to the following Monday?
Why is it so hard for us to just put our foot down and say, ‘I’m stopping (or starting) this new habit right now!”; especially when we know that it would improve our quality of life by freeing up more time, energy, health or money?
The bottom line is that behavioral change is hard. Your mind perceives the new habit you are trying to create as more painful than putting up with the current status quo. Otherwise, you would have made the change already. Your mind will tell you all kinds of stories in an attempt to protect you from the perceived discomfort of making a change. The more imaginative you are, the better the story you’ll tell yourself about how hard it will be. So, before attempting to make any lifestyle changes, it’s time to have an honest conversation with yourself about why you want to make this change and how badly you want it.
Because, as hard as it can be to admit to yourself, maybe deep down you don’t really want to make the change. And that’s OK, but then accept it and stop beating yourself up.
Or maybe the people in your life or your circumstances make it challenging to make the change, and you don’t feel you are worthy of spending the time, energy, or money that will be involved in changing your habit.
IDENTIFY YOUR CARROT, STICK & ANCHOR
So let’s get clear about why you want to make this change (your carrot) and what your current status quo is costing you (your stick).
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Why do you want to change this habit?
- What do you hope to achieve by changing this habit?
- What are the consequences of not implementing this new habit?
- Who are you making this change for?
- Is creating this change something you feel that you should be doing because of who you think you should be, or perhaps who someone else wants you to be?
- What do you value in life?
- Is your goal of changing this habit aligned with your values and the vision you have for your life?
- What about the old habit? How does that align with your vision and values?
If you are feeling low energy and not motivated to make this change for yourself, who in your life would motivate you to keep going if you feel like giving up? Who would be disappointed by you not making this change? Would making this change for a child, grandchild, spouse, parent, or even a pet give you more resolve? Keep a photo of this person (an anchor) with you so you can look at it when you feel tempted to slip back into your old ways.
Perhaps it is a forced lifestyle change because of a health scare? When it comes to lifestyle changes made for health reasons you may not immediately feel the effects, so it’s helpful to learn the physiology behind why the new or old habit is so good or bad for your health. Sticking to the plan is easier when you understand the importance of why you are doing it. Each time you feel tempted to indulge in the old habit or avoid doing the new one, ask yourself, ‘is this more important to me than my life or my health?’
If you’re still reading, hopefully, you’re now more determined than ever to change this habit. Let’s move on and look at the negative thoughts and beliefs that might derail you.
DO YOU HAVE AN ANT INFESTATION? 🐜
If you don’t question your thoughts, your brain believes them and will act as though they are real, sabotaging your progress. Psychiatrist Dr. Amen, founder of Amen Clinics, identifies nine types of Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs):
‘Always’ thinking: i.e., always/never, no one/everyone, every time/thing
Mind-reading: believing you know what someone else is thinking
Blaming others or situations rather than taking personal responsibility
Focusing on the negative: only see the bad in a situation; never the good
Fortune-telling: i.e., predicting the worst outcome
Thinking with feelings: believing negative feelings without question
Guilt-beating: should, must, ought, have to, etc.
Labeling: self or others negatively
All or nothing: good/bad, black/white
When you think about stopping an old habit or starting a new one, do any ANTs come up?
Some examples might be:
- ‘I’ve had this [habit] for 30 years; I’ll never be able to stop now.’ (Always thinking, fortune-telling)
- ‘If I change all these habits my friends won’t want to hang out with me anymore.’ (mind-reading, fortune-telling)
- ‘This is just how everyone in my family is.’ (blaming)
- ‘This is going to be SO hard.’ (focusing on the negative)
- ‘I’m such a loser, I can’t stick to doing this simple thing’ (guilt-beating, thinking with feelings)
- ‘I don’t have any willpower.’ (labeling [self])
- ‘I’ll never be able to do [old habit] anymore’ (all or nothing, always thinking)
- Is it true?
- Can I absolutely know it is true? [If yes to #1]
- How do I feel when I have this thought? How do I behave?
- Whom would I be without this thought?
Taking a moment to write down the ANTs, identify which type they are, and use the four questions to talk back to them can help to humanely kill them.
An example, using one of the thoughts above:
‘I’m such a loser because I can’t stick to doing this simple thing like normal people.’
- Is the thought real? Yes!
- Can I absolutely know it is true? I guess I can’t prove I’m a loser, and other people do struggle with this issue, it’s not just me.
- How do I feel when I have this thought? How do I behave? Like I’m worthless, deflated, someone who doesn’t keep their promises. I would never speak to someone else this way!
- Whom would I be without this thought? A more confident and proactive person. Empowered because I’m someone who does what I say I’m going to do.
Part 2 of this article will cover the next steps of removing obstacles and implementing strategies to support your success. In the meantime, here are a few simple mindset hacks to get you started:
If one of the challenges you face when forming a new habit is just getting started, try Mel Robbins’ technique of counting down from 5 to 1 out loud to snap yourself out of inertia. This hack is great for getting up from the sofa or out of bed in the morning. It helps turn your higher self into a coach for your just-wanna-be-safe-and-comfortable self.
Research shows that small, consistent actions taken repeatedly are more likely to stick long-term than making drastic changes more quickly. BJ Fogg, PhD, who runs the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford, developed the Tiny Habits program to anchor new habits in place. Begin doing a tiny version of the behavior you want to introduce. Once you have patterned the behavior, you can increase the amount of time or energy you spend on the habit.
In his blog Wait But Why, blogger and professional procrastinator Tim Urban introduces the concept of ‘Future me’ and how procrastinators always leave everything for future me to take care of. So the next time you think about indulging in the old or skipping the new habit, spare a thought for poor future me, who will be left to pick up the slack.
Written by Ellen Letten
Ellen is a Brain Health Educator and Co-owner of Tribe. She supports clients who are facing brain health challenges to implement simple and sustainable lifestyle changes to improve their brain health.