Change can be hard. What should you do when you just can’t seem to stick with something you want to change?
Don’t let it lick you (cute puppy photo intentionally added)!
To create change you first have to:
(1) identify the thing you want to change
(2) figure out a better way to be / live, and
(3) take actions to move from where you are to where you want to be.
Each of those steps can be weeks, months, or years of work, depending on what you’re changing.
What I want to get to the bottom of today is what needs to happen when you’ve got steps one and two figured out, but step three feels impossible.
I want to talk about what to do in those times when we know exactly what we need to do, but we either don’t do it at all or we just don’t stick with it.
Let’s talk in more concrete terms about how to create habits that stick.
Say you’re feeling just a bit “blah” and you’re tired of feeling that way. That’s step one. But, now you have to figure out what to change in order to feel better. It may be that you know that you haven’t been eating properly or exercising enough and, from experience, you know that changing those things would solve your problem.
So, you sit down on a Sunday morning and create a healthy meal plan and schedule your workouts for the week. You shop for delicious, nutritious food and get yourself set up and ready to make a big change this week so you can start feeling better. That’s step two.
Well, sort of. The intentions are good, but how often does that one shift on that Sunday sustain a change in your health habits over time?
How often does figuring out what you need to do translate to successfully taking consistent action over time to manifest the change you’re looking for?
And more to the point – what can you do about it?
We don’t respond well to big overnight changes. We’re creatures of habit – our brains are wired to learn patterns and repeat them. So when we try to change a lot of things at once, it’s simply too difficult to sustain.
Not only are these kinds of changes easy to derail with a sick child or a work emergency, they often require sustained will power which isn’t realistic because our levels of motivation are influenced by much more than mental discipline.
So, the key to a successful step three is to work WITH our natural inclinations instead of against them.
Creating an action plan for goals that stick is all about leveraging existing habits and building on them. It’s about looking at what we’re already doing well instead of focusing on what needs to change.
Here are three things you can do to create habits that stick.
1. Start small
Breaking your big goals down into bite-size, approachable pieces can be the difference between one week of healthy living and a lifetime of healthy living. Start by changing one small foundational habit each week. If you want to improve your diet, start by just increasing your water intake for one week.
Not only does it feel easier and less stressful, it’s MUCH more likely to stick. Once you’re rocking that one thing, it builds confidence. Your brain now believes you can change your habits! Add in a new challenge for the next week but, most importantly, keep it small and manageable.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, small change over time = BIG results that stick.
2. Build on existing good habits
Instead of looking at what you could be doing better, start with what you’re already doing well. Maybe you really think you need to do more exercise but you just can’t seem to add more exercise sessions to your schedule consistently. Start with the two yoga classes you already attend every week. Take that well established habit and build on it.
Can you do a more challenging class at that same time? Or, can you walk or bike to and from class? Or maybe just add a 7 minute workout before you leave for class.
3. Lower your expectations
I bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you?
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for ambition and drive and pushing yourself when it’s appropriate – but if your goal is to build healthy habits that last, sometimes lowering your expectations can be very helpful.
Just because you want to eat perfectly, drink enough water, sleep well, and nail all your workouts each week doesn’t mean that it’ll happen, and if you base your success on perfection, the ripple effect of not reaching your goals can cause more harm than good.
If you’re constantly setting expectations that are difficult to reach, you’re teaching yourself that you often don’t do what you say you’ll do and you don’t reach your goals. Imagine the negative spiral that pattern can create in your brain over time.
Instead, set small, attainable daily goals and celebrate when you reach them. Ask less of yourself, celebrate more, and build on those successes over time to create that big change you’re looking for.
Oh, and bring a cute puppy along to swing with you. Before you know it you’ll be sticking to your new habits one after the other (and the puppy just might be licking them).
Do you want to learn how to create big change with small shifts?
Start with my free guide: 5 Simple Shifts to Less Stress and More Joy!
Photo credit: Marion Michele