January – the time of the year when we want to improve our lives. We make resolutions, set goals, vow to change our habits only to be back at square one by the end of the month. But some people manage to keep their resolutions and meet their goals, even if they’re just a small minority. So what is their secret? The secret lies in how you go about changing habits.
Most of what we do is shaped by habits that we have picked up and carried on doing subconsciously. We eat healthily or unhealthily out of habit; we exercise (or don’t) out of habit; we watch TV, get up late, smoke, snack, take the lift or the stairs, all out of habit. This means that many goals we want to achieve will be shaped by changing existing unwanted habits and creating new habits that we need to progress.
So how can we do this successfully?
1. Don’t take on too many habits at once
If you are trying to improve your life in all areas at the same time, you are most likely setting yourself up for failure. You have to be superhuman, if you’re aiming to stop smoking, lose weight, get organised, get your finances in order and meet up more often with your family members, all at the same time.
Be realistic and concentrate on one goal, one habit at a time. You are much more likely to succeed.
2. Be realistic
Set yourself achievable goals that you can reach easily with habits you can implement without difficulty. If you want to get more sleep don’t aim to go to bed 3 hours earlier – even though that might be your absolute end goal. Aim for half an hour, to begin with. Once this new habit sticks, it will motivate you to keep going. After a few weeks, add another half hour, and so on. You can always improve the habit once you have accomplished the first step.
3. Have a plan
Simply stating that you are going to change a habit isn’t going make it happen. You need a plan. Let’s say you want to incorporate meditation into your daily life. Just because you intend to do this isn’t going to make it happen. You need to decide when you’re going to meditate, where and how. Are you going to be in the same spot every day? Are you going to wear special clothes? Do you need a calming soundtrack or do you need to find a suitable YouTube video? Once you know the details of what you’re going to do, you are more likely to succeed.
4. Set up reminders
New habits can be easily forgotten because you’re simply not used to doing the new behaviour and you’re likely to forget to implement it on a regular basis. One way to changing habits could be simply to either set a reminder on your phone or give yourself visual cues. This way, you are increasing your chances to sticking to the new routine. An example for a visual cue could be to leave your running clothes out the night before so that you see them straight away when you wake up. The clothes will be your reminder to go running.
5. Manage your environment
Some habit changes will require you to make changes in your environment. Eating more healthily will entail not having any junk food or unhealthy snacks in your house. This way you are less likely to grab something you shouldn’t when you get peckish. Set yourself up for success by cleaning up your surroundings first.
6. Be mindful
Too often we live on autopilot. We do things without even thinking about it. This can be good, such as putting on your seatbelt as soon as you get in the car, but often it is the actions of your autopilot that lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. This includes mindless snacking while watching TV, leaving stuff out rather than putting it away, lighting up a cigarette in certain situations, etc.
Being mindful of your actions means that you are fully present in the moment, you think about what you’re doing and you are doing things consciously. This will help with getting new good habits going as well as avoiding old bad habits creeping back in.
7. Be kind to yourself
Just because you slip up once, doesn’t mean you are a failure. If this was the case, we would never have learned to walk or drive or do anything we can now perform confidently. Learning something new means getting it wrong for a while until you get it right.
The same goes for habits. Consider slipping up a learning experience. What can you do differently the next time? Simply get back “on the horse” and do it again. Eventually, you will succeed.
Also, listen out for negative self-talk which can sabotage your efforts. Replace those negative mental tape loops straight away with positive ones. Yes, you can do this.
8. Don’t rely on the magical “21 days”
For years we have been told that it takes 21 days to create a habit. This is an average, nothing else. Some people fall into new habits really easily and will only take a few days to solidify new behaviours. Others will take a month or more to get used to doing something completely new or just doing something differently. It also depends on the habit. Some habits are easier to master than others. So, don’t get hung up by having to conform to an imaginary average.
Once new habits are formed they are largely controlled by your subconscious. Hypnotherapy can be a great tool to influence our subconscious mind to achieve what we’re setting out to do.
I am Samantha Culshaw-Robinson, a clinical hypnotherapist and mindfulness practitioner. I can help with creating new habits to achieve your goals for the coming year and beyond. For a free introductory session, please contact me either via email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 075 222 777 22.
If you would like to book in for a session, please fill in your contact details on my consultation page.
Disclaimer: As with most practices, mindfulness may not be suitable for everyone. If you have any existing mental health conditions or past trauma, you should discuss these with your GP or mental health professional and these should also be disclosed prior to enrolling in a class.