How to Make Lasting Lifestyle Changes

May 1 11:57 2009 Vivian Banta Print This Article

This article provides strategies on how to successfully install desirable new habits.

Many of us make resolutions around the improvements and changes we want to make in our lives.  Some of these things are one-time events or occasional efforts whereas others are things we would like to do consistently as part of a lifestyle.  We say things like “I’d like to make a habit of doing XYZ.” 

Whenever you make something a habit,Guest Posting there are several general benefits.  For one, it’s a lot less energy consuming if you are doing something automatically, than if you are actively trying to remember to do it, motivate yourself to do it and then actually do it.  Making it a habit simply frees up mind space. Also, it’s a way of ensuring that the good things that you want to do for yourself, get done consistently with very little effort.

Key Components of Effective Habit Formation
To maximize the possibility of success, it is helpful to be as specific as possible when selecting a habit to install.  A general definition might be "floss teeth more," whereas a specific definition might be "floss teeeth after every meal."  Another example of a general definition is "drink more water."  To make it specific, it would change to "drink 8 glasses of water each day." 

It is also of tremendous help if you identify the benefits of the habit.  What will it do for you?  Will it improve something, bring rewards, prevent something bad from happening in the future, etc.?

Be sure to reward and acknowledge progress or success in a way that means something to you.  Moving forward is moving forward.  Also, take note of what is working and what is not and adjust accordingly.

Don’t spend a lot of time kicking yourself if you miss a time or a day.  It’s not productive and in the same amount of time you use to flog yourself, you could be re-affirming your commitment and noting your progress thus far, instead. 

Repetition is the lynchpin in installing a habit.  The more repetitions, the more likely something will become a habit.  Do something enough times and you will be able to do it without any effort.  If a task is more difficult or requires more time, then consider easing yourself into it.  If you want to exercise an hour each day, start with a smaller timeframe or fewer days.

Strategies for Success
A trigger is something that reminds you about the habit and re-affirms your commitment to installing the habit.  To determine what type of trigger works best for you, it helps to know what kind of learner you are. 

Do you mostly learn new things visually, by seeing pictures or text, by reading or watching something?  Then, you’re probably a visual learner.  If instead, you learn from hearing something described, listening to speech or sounds, then you might be an aural learner.  You’re a kinesthetic learner if you learn primarily from doing or from physically performing a task.  Most of us are a combination of these but one of the forms is usually dominant.  So, choose the tactics that will work best for you:
Visual learner:
§    Put up visual aids like reminders, motivating quotes or affirmations
§    Write down a list the benefits of the habit
§    Track your progress on a calendar or in your day planner or on a chart
§    Send yourself reminder e-mails
§    Put it in your MS Outlook and set up an automatic notification
§    Keep things related to the habit in your view
Aural learner:
§    Put reminders on a tape recorder or audio file
§    Leave yourself voice mail
§    Ask a friend to remind you or call you
Physical learner:
§    Silicone bracelet or other item you wear to remind you
§    Intentionally place objects related to the habit where you will encounter them at the desired time
§    Focus on repetition—make it part of a daily ritual

Another strategy is to make the habit as easy as possible for you to install it.  For example, if you want to get up earlier but keep hitting “snooze” on your alarm clock, try moving the alarm clock to the other side of the room.  If you want to exercise as soon as you get up, try sleeping in your workout clothes.  

Also, remove any obstacles that might prevent you from taking action.  These might be physical or mental barriers to success.  If you want to use cash more and credit less, then put a small amount of cash for everyday purposes in your wallet and then put your credit cards on ice—literally.  Try putting them in a Ziploc bag, put the bag in a bowl of water and then stick all of it in the freezer.  If you want to more active but get sucked into channel surfing on TV and find the recliner too comfortable to move from, try leaving the remote control at work or at a friend’s house and move the recliner to another room.

Involving others is another great strategy.  You could pair up with someone else who wants to install the same or similar habit and support each other.  You could make a promise to someone and ask him or her to hold you accountable.  You can also “witness” to others and ask them to encourage you when you are doing what you should and discourage you when you aren’t following your habit.  For example, you want to use the stairs and not the elevator at work.  If someone sees you in the stairwell, you can ask them to high-five you but if they see you in the elevator, you can ask them to “boo” you. 

Don’t let others’ perceptions or judgments about the habit or how you are going about installing it get in the way of your achievement.  Habits are hard enough to install without other people mocking, criticizing or putting you down.  These  comments can range from comments about money ("that's too much to pay for x") and effectiveness ("I don't think that works" or "I heard that doesn't work") to personal comments directed at the person attempting change ("you won't stick with that" "you've never finished anything" "you tried that before and it didn't work".  

Just keep in mind where people's negative, mood-killer, pessimistic comments come from regarding your desire for change.  Sometimes, they are not happy with themselves so they like to rain on other people's parades.  Sometimes, they fear change, in general, in themselves, in you, in their dynamic with you.   It's their stuff, not yours. 

My Own Story
I had to utilize many of these strategies myself when I installed the habit of flossing regularly.  First, instead of saying that I wanted to floss more, I chose to set a goal of flossing after every meal.  Then, although I already knew that flossing was good for you, I looked for more a concrete description of benefits and discovered that flossing daily can add a year to your life and that in addition to helping fight gum disease, it also helped protect your heart.

Then, I had to remove a major obstacle.  I hated flossing with regular dental floss because the floss would bite into my fingers and cut off the circulation and flossing this way always messed up my lipstick.  So, I would never do it.  To remove this obstacle, I picked out these little floss picks instead.   It solved all the problems that I was having with regular floss.

Then, as a visual learner, I used the trigger of putting the floss picks in clear containers where I could see them and I placed them in my home, at my office and in my purse.  This also “made it easy” because the floss picks were on hand whenever I finished a meal and wanted to use them.

Finally, I had to get over looking “silly” to other people.  My friends, co-workers and even family members had their two cents to say about my attempts to install this habit.  First, I took a lot of flak over my choice of Glide picks from a family member who said “but they are so much more expensive than regular floss."  My reply--Well, regular floss is going to cost me more in the long run since I won't use it because it cuts into my fingers and cuts off the circulation.  So, I'll just throw it away unused.  Might as well order dentures now.

Then came my friends and co-workers who said things like “Does that really do anything?" Health studies bear me out.  And "you should do X instead of that".  That may work for you--this works for me.

I kept track on the calendar but the big reward and acknowledgment for me came with the next dental visit, which went something like this: "Wow--your tartar is so much lower than last time."  Well, I started flossing.  "Can we show you off to our other patients to get them to floss?"  BOO-YAH!  After that, I kicked it up another notch: sonic brushing.  Even better results. 

Bottom line--let it be about you not them.  And people may surprise you.  If you stick with it, your success can encourage others to jump on the bandwagon.  That family member I mentioned did.  He now uses the same picks and bought himself a sonic toothbrush after he saw/heard about the results from the dentist that we share.  

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Vivian Banta
Vivian Banta

Vivian Banta (MBA/Coach U CTP Grad) is a life and transition coach who works with people who want to fully engage in their lives or who are experiencing changes such as relocation, career shifts, and personal relationship changes.  To find out more, visit her website or contact her at to schedule a free, 45-minute personal coaching session.

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