How many times have you tried to make changes in your life, only to have it end just as quickly as it started? We can too easily lose our motivation or get discouraged or simply give up. I’ve talked a lot this week about making changes to your diet to make it a bit healthier, how to change how you communicate to make it more effective, and even changes to how you spend your family time. It’s easy to think about making changes and even to implement them in the beginning when your motivation is strong. But how do you make those changes stick? Here are five easy steps to get you started:
1. Focus on just one change – If you have a big goal (for instance, to get healthy), that can mean you need to make a lot of changes. But too much change at once can be overwhelming, and when it all feels unfamiliar, you may feel like you’re losing yourself in the process. It takes a few weeks to make a change into a habit. It takes even more time if the old habit has been around for a while.
If you want to create a healthier you, start with just one change you can implement right away. You might decide to take the stairs at work instead of the elevator, you might eliminate fried foods from your diet, or you might try to start exercising three days per week. But just one! More changes can always be incorporated after you master the first.
2. Prepare for the change in advance – Rather than just jumping in, really think about what it will take to implement that change. If your one change is that you want to start walking for exercise three days per week, that’s a great place to start. Go out and get some new workout clothes! Buy some new shoes if you don’t have a suitable pair. Load up your iPod with music you’d like to take with you. Preparing for the change allows you to get excited about your new goal and also builds excitement for the upcoming habit – both of which will be beneficial when you are trying to make your change permanent.
3. Get support – With anything you go through in life, it’s helpful to have a good support system. This is especially true during times when you might falter. So prepare in advance by rounding up the troops. For instance, you could let your family know which three days each week they can expect you to leave for a walk after dinner. Then it won’t come as a surprise, and they know to expect it. Invite them along if you think they might be inclined!
You can also ask a friend to go with you on your walks. Having a buddy system is invaluable when you are trying to make a change. Two people trying to make that change can support each other, and invariably on the day you are thinking of blowing off your walk, she will be at your door and ready to go.
4. Celebrate milestones – Rewarding yourself for a job well done probably isn’t something you do too often, right? Sometimes having your reward in the back of your head, though, can make all the difference when you are tempted to let your new habit slide. Working toward your milestones is a great way to keep on track.
Have a plan for how you are going to celebrate your success. Maybe your spouse will promise you a foot rub after you complete your first week of walking. After a month, treat yourself to a pedicure. After another month, maybe the seasons will have changed and you can reward yourself with warmer or cooler workout clothes.
You know best what will motivate you, so don’t forget to outline your rewards in advance. Making changes is hard enough – take care of yourself along the way, and it will be that much easier.
5. Savor success – You will reach your goal of making your change permanent if you keep at it. Even if you falter, don’t beat yourself up. If you miss a day of walking, go the next day. If you miss two days, think about how many days you did walk, pat yourself on the back, and hit the trails again in the morning. Always try to keep in mind where you started and where you are now. Take pride in your accomplishments!
People who are most successful at turning a change into a habit usually stumble a few times along the way. What’s most important is that you keep at it. Go back to what you know works for you. Turn to your support system, and go back to Step 1 if you need to. Be persistent in your positive change, and you will soon have a habit of which you can be proud. And then – go on to the next one.
What changes do you want to make? Where do you think you might start? Share your ideas with me in the comments, and we’ll talk more. Good luck!