Brushing your teeth. Smoking. Exercise. Stress. Bathing. Emotional eating. Gratitude. Negativity.
What do all of these things have in common? Good or bad, they are all habits. In fact, almost everything we do is a habit. While many of us spend lots of time and energy trying to break bad habits, you can’t break a habit unless you have another habit to replace it.
Last week I was speaking at a conference in Oklahoma. The title of the presentation was “Being Stuck is a Habit: The secrets to getting unstuck”. Even being in a rut is a habit. So how do you get unstuck or create new habits? Here are 7 strategies to get you started:
1. Have realistic expectations. Change can be extremely difficult and can take time. Make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for failure by trying to do too much at once. Remember the slight edge concept. Small changes made consistently over time bring the greatest results.
2. Identify your pain point. Pick one area of your life that is currently causing you frustration. What about it is frustrating you? Remember, it’s much easier to stay comfortable with old problems than new solutions. Whatever area you want to change must be creating enough discomfort to make you do something differently.
3. Define success and write it down. How will you know the changes you have made have been successful? Where do you want to end up? Be specific about this. The more clearly you can define success, the better chance you have of accomplishing it. Now, write it down. Regardless of how clearly you think, writing your thoughts down helps you crystallize them. Make a very vivid picture or story about what the new results will look like. This is a powerful exercise and can determine the success of your outcome.
4. Work backwards. Whatever result you are currently getting is stemming from your actions and behaviors. What behaviors are leading you to your pain point or poor result? These behaviors are also habitual, so it might take some time to really identify them. When you experience your pain point, ask yourself, “How did I act or behave that could have caused or contributed to this result?” Then, continue to work backwards to identify the thoughts that are driving your behavior.
5. Create a replacement thought. Remember, you can’t break a habit until you have a habit to replace it. Most people try to go from a negative to a positive thought, but for most of us that’s too
much of a stretch. Try going from a negative thought to a neutral thought. Dr. David Burns does a great job of explaining this in his book Feeling Good.
6. Make visual reminders. In my car, I have a rabbit’s foot that I’ve had since I was a little girl to remind me I’m lucky. In my office, I have a little Buddha on my desk to remind myself to feel peace. And on my refrigerator, I have fortune cookie papers that have a meaningful message. Visual reminders are extremely helpful.
7. Talk to yourself instead of listen to yourself. Most of us have those little annoying self-defeating messages swirling around our head. Rather than listening to them, replace them
with deliberate messages that are positive and reaffirming.
Let’s apply a real example. In last week’s post, I discussed stress addiction, so let’s use the feeling of stress and overwhelm as an example. Let’s say the poor result is struggling to meet deadlines and get it all done. What behaviors are contributing to the result? Is it procrastination? Poor organization? Lack of clearly defined goals or expectations? Where do those behaviors come from? It probably stems from thinking, “I can’t get this all done!”, or “I’m so overwhelmed” or maybe even, “why am I working harder than everyone else?” Now it’s time for replacement statements like, “I plan and prioritize my day and do one thing at a time. All I can do is all I can do” or “I clarify expectations from my boss to make sure I’m focused on high payoff activities and tasks”.
Until something becomes so engrained and habitual that you do it without even thinking about it, we stay stuck in our old patterns. What can you do this week to get unstuck?