Do you ever catch yourself saying either silently or out loud, "I can't do that" or "I have never been good at that" or "I've tried and failed" or anything remotely close to those phrases? I know I have and it's amazing how we really convince ourselves of these beliefs of what we are capable of accomplishing.
I've mentioned in some of my other posts about the power of our thoughts and words and in particular the words "I am" and what follows it. Our thoughts and our words become our beliefs. Our thoughts and our words directly impact our world. They are important, they matter.
If you find yourself saying that you can't do something quickly self-correct by adding three simple words to the end of the sentence...up until now. Pamla Ashlay-McPherson contends that if you add the words "up until now" to the end of any sentence that you say or think that is negative or stops or blocks your growth for one year that you will change your entire life. I can't sit still to meditate...up until now. I don't have time to exercise...up until now. I don't like vegetables...up until now :) Give it a try and see what happens!
Let's talk for a minute about habits. As I've mentioned before, in the past I wasn't real fond of habits and routines. I thought of them as mundane and boring and without purpose. That's until I began to understand the importance of them. Once I had a different understanding of them I began to appreciate their role.
So, why are habits important? Habits automate routine activities and they eliminate decision making, both of which frees up our minds. Walking, writing, talking, tying our shoes, chewing, brushing teeth are all automatic leaving us the ability to perform other functions. Habits simplify life and reduce the amount of sensory stimuli we need to process. This saves us energy. Things that we can do automatically require little physical and mental strength to complete. Good habits serve to create routine, order and efficiency.
An important consideration before implementing any life change is to ask why you want it. Dig down into your motivations and keep asking “Why?” until it stops being an intellectual exercise and you provide a deeply emotional answer.
Once you have the fundamental why for your new goal or habit, the next step is to believe that you can make it happen. Get pumped, get psyched, develop a sense of certainty that you can do it. There’s been a lot of research on the biology of belief at the cellular level, so work on believing that you can make it happen. Another trick to be aware of is that the brain can’t really tell the difference between a scene you actually see and one you imagine vividly. So, envision in great detail accomplishing this goal, implementing this habit and what your life would be like.
The next critical step is to give yourself a lot of “small wins”. Plan for incremental changes. For example, if your goal is to become a vegan, stop eating animal products once a week at first, then twice a week, etc., until you’ve stopped completely. Each small victory of a meat-free day rewards you with a boost in dopamine. When we achieve a goal, dopamine is released in the brain, making us feel good. Dopamine contributes to pleasure and joy, but new studies indicate that it is also essential for habit formation. The satisfaction of a small success keeps you going and makes you want to do better.
You can boost up the dopamine even more by rewarding yourself and celebrating your win. If your goal was to workout three times per week and you accomplish it, maybe treat yourself to a new pair of running shoes. Releasing more dopamine will help you form positive habits by allowing you to feel joy. Consider creating a reward for yourself every time you achieve a small victory. So, instead of focusing on a negative, like that you’re still not fully vegan after three months (which releases all kinds of negative hormones in your body), celebrate that you’re now down to eating meat only three times a week compared to seven times, which will give you a dopamine boost, and make you progress even more, and more permanently.
Shawn Achor, Ph.D. recommends what the 3-20 second rule for establishing new habits. To introduce a new habit, we need to lower by 3-20 seconds the time needed to perform it, and to avoid an existing unwanted habit, we need to increase by 3-20 seconds the time needed to perform it. This rule helps to make new habits easier to adopt and old habits harder to maintain. For example, if your goal is to get up early and workout, set your running shoes by the bed, lay out your workout clothes and set out your breakfast the night before. These small tasks will make it a few seconds easier for you to accomplish your goal in the morning enough to cause you succeed.
Do the opposite for getting rid of bad habits. If you desire to watch less TV, take the batteries out of the remote control and place them in a drawer and put a book down where the remote usually resides. The simple act of having to put them back in will deter you from falling back into the bad habit.
I would love to hear your feedback on this post, was it helpful to you? How are you doing at setting yourself up for success with your new goals and habits for the year? Drop me a comment or send me an email to let me know!