How To Change a Habit and Make It Stick
"A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time." – Mark Twain
If you want to change a habit and make it stick, this post has the keys (and just in time for New Years resolutions.) While the saying may go, “where there’s a will there’s a way,” I find it’s way more effective to bet on techniques that work, or at least improve your chances for success.
When it comes to change, stack the deck in your favor.
Steps to Change a Habit
Here are the key steps for making your change happen:
- Step 1. Start with a Compelling Why
- Step 2. Catch Yourself in the Habit
- Step 3. Choose Your New Response
Step 1. Start with a Compelling "Why"
Why do you need to change to this new behavior? If you don’t feel you need to, you aren’t going to do it. Meaningful change happens out of purpose or pain, not convenience.
To bottom line it, if it’s not compelling, you won’t change. You need a strong, emotionally compelling reason to make the change. Are you doing it for yourself? Are you doing it for your kids? Find the reason that gives you the most inner strength. You’re going to need this during your trying times and your moments of choice.
Change doesn’t have to take forever. Remember Ebenezer Scrooge — it was a life-changing event for him and it happened over night. The real key here though is having something to move towards or change to. It’ tough to just move away from a pattern. Instead, have a replacement pattern that you want to implement.
Step 2. Catch Yourself in the Habit
There are events in your day that trigger your habit. For example, maybe it’s every time you feel stressed, you reach for your habit to comfort you. It might just be part of your routine. For example, maybe you’ve baked it into your morning routine or when you come home at night. Make sure you identify these triggers and events up front, so you recognize them when they happen.
What’s important is to know when it happens, so you can catch yourself. Catch yourself in the moment, and pause. It’s these moments that you’re going to introduce your chance to choose your new response. These are your choice points.
Step 3. Choose Your New Response
As Nike says, "Just do it." Implement your replacement pattern. This is where it counts. The key thing here is that you’re choosing your new response. This is where your compelling "Why" kicks in. If it doesn’t invoke enough emotion for you, then it’s not compelling enough.
The key here is to make your new habit, feel good. You can do that by linking it to good feelings, such as playing your favorite song. You can also think the thoughts that serve you, such as "why" you’re making the change. You can also focus on "how" you’re making the change. Either way, you engage your mind and emotions to support you. It’s a tag team.
Create Glide Paths to Make It Stick
Another thing you can do here is create a glide-path for yourself. Make it easy to fall into your new success pattern. Structure your success, whether it’s visual cues or just making it easy to choose your new pattern. Do this planning up front; don’t try to figure this out on the fly while you’re in the thick of things.
Flex Your Attitude of Gratitude
One other key here is to reward your behavior along the way. Flex your attitude of gratitude and thank yourself for choosing your new pattern in your moment of choice. Rewarding your behavior along the way versus promising yourself some reward after the fact is the key to results. This will also reinforce linking it to good feelings.
Example of Changing a Habit
A simple example of putting this into action comes from a friend who used it on a habit of regular late-night snacking.
- Step 1: Why – genuinely wants to lose the extra weight, in particular for an upcoming reunion.
- Step 2: Catch Yourself in the Habit – snacking would typically be while watching movies, so starting a movie was the time to be watchful.
- Step 3: Choose Your New Response – they like edamame, which is much healthier, so have that ready when the movie starts (this is a Glide Path).
- Step 4: Gratitude – thank yourself for choosing the right behavior, connect it to a healthier slimmer self.
Don’t try to "will" your way through it or suffer through it. The real key is knowing that you move from intellectual to emotional to physical. Once physical the new habit is firmly in place and the old one is gone for good.
Photo by ZedZap.away.Van.