What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Really think about it. It might vary a little bit day to day, but overall I bet it’s something you do day in and day out, over and over again, without really thinking about it.
This is of course not a bad thing, but is simply a habitual thing. Regardless of the consequences, habits become an automatic and natural process for how we live life. The way we respond and interact in the world becomes a conditioned pattern of behaviors; often to the point where we don’t even realize the behaviors we engage in.
What role do habits play in your life? Do you have habits and behaviors that aren’t suiting the life you desire? If so, they can be changed. It just takes a little effort, desire, and commitment.
1. Decide what you really want
One of the hardest things to figure out is exactly what we want. It’s easy to consider the vague and broad goals of “being happy,” “enjoying our job more,” and “doing more of what we love.” The problem with having such vague goals is that they’re unreachable without further clarification. There is no clear path to get there, and no way to measure the progress being made.
So, first and foremost, establish a clear, specific, and measurable problem that you want to solve. What specifically do you really want?
If you want to be happier, what will help you to be happy? If you want to enjoy your job more, what will it take?
2. Make it a priority and really want it
As strange it sounds, even when in a miserable situation, people often really don’t want to change. It can be a scary thought to move out of the comfortable, albeit miserable, situation they are used to. Point being, the desire to change must be greater than the fear and anxiety of stepping outside of our comfort zone toward an uncertain outcome.
Regardless of having a clear and actionable goal to work toward, if you don’t have the desire and commitment to put in the necessary effort, your problems won’t get solved. This is why the second step to really changing a habit is to make it a priority. In other words, you must really, really want to change, and have leverage that drives the change to happen. It may be that you’re in pain and aren’t where you want to be in life, or you’re just are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Whatever it is, it must motivate you to stick with the process of change.
3. Select specific patterns to break and replace with new behavior
When you decide that change is going to happen and you’re not going to stand for your current situation any longer, it’s time to devise a plan to modify behavior. You need to replace the old behavior with a new more healthy behavior. Whenever you feel the urge to engage in your old habits or are in a situation that triggers the behavior, incorporate your new behavior pattern.
For instance, maybe you have a drink every night when you come home from work, and want to stop drinking so often. When you come home you need something to replace that simple habit of going to the fridge and opening up a cold one. You must have something to replace your habits with that fills the void and agitated feelings that will initially be present.
What new behavior can you introduce to replace your old habit?
4. Start reconditioning
Once you have your new behavior in place, it’s time to hold yourself accountable and integrate this new behavior pattern into your daily life. This can also involve changing some aspects of your environment. Maybe you don’t want to drink caffeine in the morning. It’s always easier to have a cup of coffee when it’s right there, so get rid of the coffee maker and prevent yourself from being in those high risk situations.
The more you do something the more comfortable and automatic it will become. As you start to incorporate this new behavior you will slowly gain more confidence that habits can be changed, and the easier it will be to maintain this behavior.
5. Stick with it and re-evaluate
Habits will not be changed overnight, and will probably not go perfect the first time you try. It can be quite a process to change the way you have done things your entire life. Don’t give up and don’t get down on yourself if you aren’t always able to follow through. Consider each “relapse” a chance to learn what to do more effectively next time. Re-evaluate the above steps and examine what barriers got in the way, and what can help you stay motivated in the future. Change will happen when you really want it to. Make a commitment to yourself and really find that motivation to make change a priority. Stick with it, and keep working to recondition behaviors.