Everyone has heard the platitude, “change is hard,” but not everyone really thinks about just how difficult change is. Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight understands it isn’t just about portion control. Lasting change often requires changing our thoughts as well as our habits. Why is that?
Habits are behaviors that require no conscious thought on our part. To change these automatic behaviors, we have to start by recognizing when we do them. This takes patience and awareness. In other words, we have to work at it before we’ve even started to replace the actions with new ones. Using the weight loss analogy I started above, we have to become aware of our eating. We have to catch ourselves in front of the TV or computer stuffing chips in our mouth because we are hungry and that was the only thing ready to eat.
Change takes planning. We need to break things down into small, achievable steps. In order to avoid unconscious eating, we need to have healthy food in the house. That means going to the grocery store. It would be useful to have a shopping list before we go. To create that, we would need to decide what to eat. It often involves cooking ahead of time so that there is food in the house and to take for lunch. So, planning cooking time into the schedule at least twice a week is part of the process.
In addition to thinking ahead, we need to consider the past. We form habits for many reasons, good and bad. So, any lasting change requires looking at the thoughts that led to the habit we want to change. We can’t help what we think, but we can change a thought once we have one that doesn’t help us lead a happier, healthier, fuller life. Changing our thoughts involves noticing when we are thinking things that will lead to behaviors we don’t want and replacing that thought with something that works better. Change is a process of trial and error. It can take time to get things right.
Once we have formed a new habit, we must remain vigilant about our thoughts and behaviors. Old habits never go away, according to author Gretchen Rubin. When we become too tired, hungry, or otherwise stressed, we can automatically fall back into ways that no longer serve us.
One thing that helps throughout this process is having a support system. Loved ones, friends, a coach can help keep us on track. They might recognize a slip before we do. Having someone to listen when we feel frustrated and exhausted, someone to offer encouragement, will be invaluable during the process of change. It is critical when change happens that we didn’t initiate.
How do you manage change?
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