How do I make lasting change?

This week I got asked by a client, “How do I stick to the changes I’m working so hard to make?” I thought this would be great to address in my next email to you.

Do you struggle with making lasting changes that you know will improve the quality of your life?

Maybe it’s drinking more water, eating more greens, picking up the phone and connecting more with friends…

For many of us, the decision to make certain important changes comes from a deep place within about what we want most in our lives. Lasting change and getting what we long for in life comes from a sustained vision of our goals and dreams.

Mostly, we resolve to change behaviors that relate to the way we take care of ourselves and our relationships. After all, we all want to be the fullest expression of our best selves. Often, we are successful in these efforts and other times not so much.

Certain actions can be taken that, when practiced regularly, can support us in making durable change. Learning a few sound strategies about how to strengthen the behaviors that support and nourish our wishes to be healthier, happier, and more connected puts us in a position of greater personal power.

What is the behavior you want to change?

10 Strategies for lasting change

1. Awareness

Living your vision means being aware of your choices as you move through the day. Get clear about the big picture—what you want life to look and feel like.

As you bring the behavior you wish to change to conscious awareness, pay close attention to your thoughts and feelings surrounding this behavior.

Notice the physical and emotional responses that your unwanted behavior evokes. Start with one particular behavior rather than overhauling your whole lifestyle all at once.

2. Substitute An Unwanted Behavior With a Desirable Behavior

When we feel deprived of the object of our desire and do not have a substitute, we are setting ourselves up for failure. We will likely return to our old familiar patterns because there is no reward to help us through times of heightened cravings or unhealthy patterns.

When you want to eat compulsively, for example, get yourself to take a walk or call a friend, so that rather than caving into emotional eating, you are getting fresh air or social support.

Giving up an unhealthy behavior is not about deprivation—it’s about gaining a better and more fulfilling life. It’s about self-love.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

Take some deep belly breaths or meditate for a few minutes. This will ground you and train your mind and body to react differently to the usual stimuli. Then when you feel triggered to opt for the unhealthy choice, tap into your ability to pause, breathe and consider your options.

This will slow you down and help you to make wiser decisions. When you resort to the old behavior, know that all you have to do is hop back onto the path that best supports you.

4. Learn To Tolerate Difficult Feelings

There is a natural rise and fall to your feelings. Think of a bell curve. Feelings (anger, sadness, remorse, guilt) rise and then inevitably fall.

It is not unusual to experience feelings of loss around giving up or changing a particular behavior. Making a change can be challenging under the best of circumstances. You may notice that disturbing feelings emerge as you begin to change old patterns of behavior. For example, smoking and overeating or eating junk food may be a way of self-soothing.

When you modify any of these behaviors, you might notice an increase in stress, anxiety, depression or fear. Your current habits may temporarily alleviate painful feelings and allow you to go numb or relax in the short term. Remind yourself that this feeling will pass and know that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. Practice your substitute behavior!

5. Breathe Deeply

Every breath presents us with a new opportunity to change. Every step of the way, we have a choice to go this way or that. Deep breathing helps to calm the body and allows us to think more clearly. The power lies within at any given moment to make healthy or unhealthy choices, to love or to be unloving, to be compassionate or show indifference. Ask yourself: “How is this going to help me?”

6. Repeat Your Affirmations

Rather than focusing on thoughts of deprivation, affirmations are positive and reinforcing statements that can support us in making lasting behavioral change. “I can do this!” “My lungs feel clean and clear.” “My body feels healthy and strong.” “I can handle these powerful feelings.”

These are examples of affirmations that can strengthen you in anticipation of cravings or during vulnerable moments. Remember that feelings are fleeting and that the intensity of any emotion you experience will subside.

Reminding yourself of this can be quite liberating. Consider that in this moment you can handle these sensations and know that they will not endure. Breathe and let your simple, positive affirmations sink into the recesses of your brain. Repeat them often throughout the day.

7. Slow Down And Focus

Ideally, get plenty of sleep and keep chaos to a minimum when you are trying to make behavioral change. You will be most effective when you are rested and not feeling stressed. Of course, it is not always possible to maintain ideal conditions, but moving in that direction will help you in the process of making lasting change.

Also, know that it takes time and can take several if not many attempts before the old behavior is in the past and the new, healthier behavior is internalized.

The good news is the more often you attempt to change a behavior, the more likely you will succeed. It behooves you to keep reminding yourself of your vision, going back to the basic mindfulness exercise and to practicing your affirmations.

8. Keep a Journal

Changing a habit takes practice and commitment. Write down a realistic plan for the habit your want to change and establish a start date. You can continue to refer to your strategy once it is written.

Make note of the triggers for your unwanted behavior. Keeping a journal gives you a place to record your thoughts and feelings. It will also help you to stay the course and to see patterns and progress.

Write down the substitute behaviors you will put into action preemptively or when the urge for old habit strikes. Perhaps you can also explore: What are your fears and doubts concerning making this change? What keeps you from having the life you want and deserve?

What would your life be like if your were to truly make this change? Keep your journal active for at least two months or until the replacement behavior feels firmly established.

9. Have a Support Team In Place

Perhaps you can join a group for support until the change is firmly in place. Let your family and friends know what you are trying to accomplish and enlist their support. Share your plan with trusted others, not for approval, but to make it more real for you.

You might need to stay away from places where you can become easily triggered. Shaking things up a bit from the routine also helps you from reverting to the old familiar patterns. Until the awareness of triggers and your replacement behaviors are strong, it is best to be exquisitely mindful of your choices.

10. Be Compassionate With Yourself

We tend to be hardest on ourselves for slipping into an old pattern. Remember to be patient and practice self-love. Your behavior towards yourself is a reflection of your behavior towards others.

Be deeply compassionate with yourself and then head right back to step one. Each time you return to the behavior you want to change you’ll likely feel stronger and more resolved. Remember, the more you try to change a behavior, the more likely you are to succeed in making that change last.

How have your succeeded in making lasting change? I love to know some of your secrets or strategies.

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