Making lifestyle changes that last

lasting-change-1Change means different things to different people – some love the novelty and excitement, while it fills others with fear and anxiety. It’s a cliché, but the one thing that never changes in life is change. Whether we like it or not, it’s impossible to keep things as they are. The cells in our body are completely renewed every seven years, our hormones are in a constant state of flux, not to mention our moods and emotions. From one moment to the next, we are literally different people!

If you have a tendency to fight change, it’s worth getting to know some of the psychology behind the process. There’s a great book called Changing for Good that I found really helpful in getting me through experiences that I wouldn’t have actively sought out given the choice.

The authors describe a five-part process, but in the interests of brevity, here are the three that I consider to be most significant:

* Preparation: first you don’t even see the problem; than you gradually become aware of it and make a decision that you want to change. This is the time when you plan your strategy.

* Action: this is the part most people think of as ‘change’ and involves introducing new behaviours or a new environment

* Maintenance: Where you reaffirm the new reality you have introduced.

Now that you survived the shortest day in December and the coldest day in January you can step into the ‘action’ phrase.

When you introduce new behaviors one of the most important things to remember is how your mind works – and for the sake of simplicity lets divide it to conscious / executive and unconscious / habitual part. The conscious part is responsible for your rational thinking and making decisions. The unconscious part takes care of your reactions, emotions and everything you do in ‘autopilot mode’ (e.g. morning rituals, driving, making a tea) AND controls our habits.

This means you can make a decision with your conscious mind / rational thoughts but even if you do, the conscious part of your brain doesn’t control you habits. The unconscious part of your brain has to agree and approve before anything else.

If you gave up your New Year’s resolution by now, please don’t be afraid to start again. Your subconscious responds well to ‘down to earth approach’ such as:

* Consistency: if you want to change a habit, start small. 5 minute of exercise might not impress your inner warrior and glory seeking brain but will work wonders long term. If you want to eat healthy, introduce one healthy meal per day and stick to it for minimum 30 days. If you would like to do more sport, increase the number of practices with one, instead of jumping from one session to 4 sessions per week immediately.

* Make it easy, especially at the beginning. Take a step that feels easy and doable, and do it every day (= consistently)

* Never miss twice – I took this advice from a change expert, and applied it when I started to practice yoga 3-4 times a week. It is fine to miss a session because of unforeseen life events, but you have to make sure the next day you go back and commit to the new habit again.

Lasting change takes time. So whatever stage you’re currently at in the change cycle give yourself a break. Accept you are where you are right now and that you will deal just fine with the change that comes. You might even enjoy it!

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