Changing behaviors is no easy feat. It takes a lot of effort, time, and patience. While we work on driving behavioral changes in individuals and teams on a daily basis, I personally have experienced three things that have helped me when I myself am working on engaging new behaviors and making them stick.
Once the committed actions I need to take are decided, I select just one to concentrate on. There are always many actions you could take to try and achieve your goal, however, this focus allows it not to be overwhelming. For example, when wanting to shed a few pounds instead of cutting out everything I love to eat and starting to exercise 6 days a week – I start by saying I just want to walk for 30 minutes 6 days a week. Then once that behavior is consistent, I’ll add a new one like “I want to eat a salad for lunch every weekday.” This is where reflection becomes key. It is easy to simply say you will take committed actions, but without pausing to “check-in” you won’t really see how well you are implementing them, nor are you able to change course as needed.
For example, using the salads for lunch behavior…each day I would check-in with myself, did I eat the salad for lunch? If not, why not? Then, I would decide what I needed to do to make the behavioral change easier to attain. In this case, I started with the best of intentions, but my mornings are busy and I quickly learned that I didn’t have the time needed to prepare my salad each day and would just end up settling for something quick to grab. After a few days of reflection in which I realized I just wasn’t doing the behavior, I reflected on why, what was my barrier? I realized it was the time aspect, so I decided to do meal prep on Sundays so that my salads can be thrown together really quick in the morning. Reflecting daily on whether you implemented the new behavior, and looking at why you didn’t, will allow you to continue the journey of growth with more success.
Reflection can help you be accountable to yourself, however, I have found that having someone else keeping you honest is a great way to ensure the new behaviors stick. For example, when I was working on my communications habits and trying to make them more responsive rather than reactive, I involved my partner. Each day we discussed openly how my communications were going, what they could do to help me best develop the new behavior, and what I could try and do to improve. At the same time, they had chosen a committed action to work on that was just as personal, so the conversations were a part of a journey of growth for us both, together.
Not only did this drive me to be more aware of the action, but it became something I was naturally implementing. Throughout the day, I was constantly aware of the conversation coming later where we would ask “did I implement my action today?” Moreover, it also enabled a support mechanism. When changing behaviors, the support of others who are going through similar growth can offer tremendous comfort and enablement along the path to change.
It can be easy to fail at keeping a new habit when you are deeper into your journey and trying to make that new habit an everyday act. During this time, more than ever, it takes the art of forgiveness – to forgive yourself in those moments in which you stumble, and knowing it’s ok to get right back up and try again, rather than continuing into the downward spiral. Eating and exercise habits have always been tough for me. I used to really beat myself up when I didn’t “stick to what I was meant to.” If I said I would give up carbs, then ate some fries, I would be so annoyed at myself and it would turn into a multi-day binge of ‘why not?’s I had messed up anyway right? It took me a while to realize that in these moments, rather than correlating this one temporary action to the overall goal, that it was better to reflect and forgive myself, then continue back on the right path straight away. The reflection is key, as when we slip up it is an opening for growth, because we can better understand why we did. What I found was, hey, giving up carbs is not for me, and I started implementing healthier choices instead of cutting out an entire group.
So, to recap, when looking to engage new behaviors and make them stick, I find it is helpful to:
1: Focus on one change and reflect daily on how I am going with implementing the change. Then when that change is consistent, bring in the next one.
2: Engage others to increase my level of accountability and support.
3: Understand mistakes and hiccups will happen as I work to making the new behaviors stick, and, when they do, to reflect, forgive, and move on.