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How to change your habits for the better

change goalsetting habits Oct 05, 2021

If changing habits were easy, there wouldn’t be so many books written on the topic and I would be out of a job!


As you notice signs of the loosening of lockdown, you can allow yourself to imagine your life post lockdown. While you may have struggled through the physical distancing, reduced socialising and managing to go without, you now have an opportunity to design how you emerge into this new way of being.  


You have shown through your experience that you can adapt, dodge and accept situations for what they are when you need to. And now it’s time to call on those skills again to prepare to emerge strong; to declutter from the no longer helpful skills (4pm wine o’clock and Netflix series binges to name a few) and adopt an approach that will support you as you re-integrate into your socialised world.


What habits do you want to change?

I’m betting that there are a good of number of habits that you have adopted that you don’t want to change. However, I am also betting that there are habits that you do want to change.


As a human being you have thousands of habits, both good and bad, which support you in one way of another. Surprisingly they are formed in exactly the same way. The neurological process in forming any habit is identical. It doesn’t matter if it is a tiny habit, a major habit, a bad habit or a good one. So just as quickly as you adopted one, you can change it. And before you worry about the how you’re going to do it, it’s important to first acknowledge which ones you want to keep, change or adjust.  


How to change a habit

If you are planning to stop a bad habit, stopping it completely will set you up to fail. It’s much easier to stop a bad habit by replacing it with something positive instead.


Here are some examples so you can see what I mean. Below is a list of some of the unhelpful habits that you may have listed that you want to change.

  • Stop eating so much takeaway food
  • Stop binge-watching Netflix and get more work done
  • Quit procrastinating so much
  • Stop staying up so late so you have to sleep later
  • Quit being so messy


Now that you have identified some habits that you want to change. It’s important what you tell yourself about what you want to do with those habits. By using ‘stop’ you are taking away things from yourself. The way it reads to your brain is something like this.

  • Never eat those delicious burgers, fries and milkshakes ever again
  • Stop finding pleasure in binge-watching Netflix TV shows because pleasure is not allowed anymore
  • Work all the time and always be doing boring stuff
  • Quit partying and never stay up and do anything fun
  • Be a boring neat freak and be cleaning up all the time


When you list habits that you want to change, you are making your brain think that it’s losing some of the most pleasurable parts of your life. After all you wouldn’t be doing them if they didn’t bring you some pleasure. Thinking that it’s losing pleasure, will make you battle yourself when you try to make these changes. Ever had that annoying voice on your shoulder encouraging you not to make the changes?


Instead, you’ll want to use a positive re-frame and set new habits that will add pleasure in other ways through benefits and value to your life. This will trick your brain into thinking you are getting a reward instead of being punished and having something taken away.


Here are some examples based on the previous example, that do that.

  • Prepare and eat healthy for at least one meal per day (decrease takeaway food)
  • Watch a Netflix movie during the week (to limit your tv watching time)
  • Complete your 3 least favourite tasks first in your day (stop procrastinating)
  • Start going to sleep on time on weeknights (get more sleep)
  • Become more organized in [certain area] (start with one location)


These re-framed examples give you the same result as the habits you want to stop, however they are not taking anything away from your life – especially something pleasurable.


Of course, if you read between the lines, you can see that binge watching Netflix on the weekends means that you don’t watch it on weekdays, but your plan isn’t to fool yourself completely; you just need to trick your brain a little to get it to stop fighting you when you are wanting to break an unhelpful habit and implement a new helpful habit.


How long does it take to change a habit?

The time it takes to change a habit varies and it depends on so many variables. The main one is your self-belief that you can learn and consistently apply the new habit. It also depends on what the old habit was connected to. For example, if you want to exercise more and you used to do it with a good friend, who has moved away, exercising again consistently may be more challenging for you compared to someone who hasn’t exercised before. So, linking your exercise to someone else for a while may help you sustain the goal while you build your habit.


When you carry out your habit enough times the action will become automatic. One study found it takes 66 days on average to change a habit, so give yourself that time to change yours.


To help with staying motivated while you build your habit, you may want to create a benefits list which you can remind yourself of when you start to feel yourself wanting to give up on the habit. I have a picture of me that I remind myself of, when I am struggling to summon the energy for exercise. It is a worst-case scenario for my health that motivates me to attend the gym.


Often, once you have started to make progress on your new habits and start to see changes you are motivated even more. Many clients report to me that the hardest part of changing a habit is at the start and getting started. Once they have tweaked and established their routine and it is firmly integrated into their day to day. That way the habit is harder to ignore.


If you would like some support to determine your post-lockdown goals, I think you'll like to download my Developing Habits to Support Your Goals Worksheet. By working your way through the questions, you'll get clarity on what your goals need to be and with this blog post, how to frame them to give yourself the best chance of achieving them. 


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Set your goals: It's not too late

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