Psychological research found repeatedly that change happens in stages. To increase your probability of success, look at the behavior’s components—as if they were a chain made of links—and learn each link in order. Break down your behavior, so you can break the links in the chain.
Change is scary
We don’t like change. We resist it because we are afraid of the unknown, of the discomfort of the process of change, and of letting go of the familiar and easy.
Let’s look at it another way: What would happen if we don’t change? What are all the possible consequences of staying the same? And of making a change? If there are more positive outcomes associated with the new behavior, your fears of the unknown are unwarranted.
Warn your audience. New behaviors can scare the people who observe them… So, introduce them slowly and with caution and sensitivity.
Be realistic. An unrealistic goal can be really terrifying, and fear increases the probability of failure. Instead of trying to change everything all at once, chose your first step carefully, and focus on just that for a while.
Positivity brings successful change
Enjoy the act. For example, if you like beauty rituals, lay out your tools and materials first, and feel the joy just looking at everything. The same goes for laying out your barbell and plates, or jump rope and boxing gloves before your workout.
Admire the outcome. Even if putting on your face masks and getting dirty is not much fun, seeing how your skin glows afterwards is worth the effort. You look amazing. The same goes for the lean muscle you put on or how the fat has been consistently dropping off of you.
The ultimate reward. Don’t be shy, reward yourself! One may hate their job, but will continue to work for a paycheck; why not put a $20 aside each time you did your homework? Maybe at the end of this you can take that trip to Cabo you’ve been dreaming of (And proudly wear the red bikini!).
Not changing is easier than changing
Notice how many new people come to the gym at the beginning of a new year. Three weeks later, look again—notice how many of them are still showing up…
Take small steps instead of big leaps. Forget the ultimate goal right now—write it somewhere, and then write at least four steps you’ll need to take to get there. Then just focus on one step.
Simplify. Find ways to make taking that one step easier for you—for example, using the daycare at the gym so that you can take a class without having to worry about your child for 45 minutes.
The slower you go, the farther you’ll get
Changing the natural speed of things can cause some unpleasant things to happen. The best, long-term change happens slowly.
Calm down. Just like muddy water—if you allow it to sit calmly, it will clear up. One way to make things less hurried is to plan in advance—like putting aside you workout clothes the night before or planning and packing your meals in advance.
Develop awareness. Monitor your behaviors, become aware of how you do things, journal and document to see what you are really doing.
Seek feedback. If you give your support system permission to give you positive feedback (for example “how am I doing with showing up on time?”), they will feel less uncomfortable to do so.
Analyze and understand the outcome. If you know the reasons why you succeeded or why you failed, you can apply the same methods that worked for you to other behaviors as well.
We need structure to change
While going with the flow is free and spontaneous, it is also a well-tested method for destroying change.
Notice what works for you. Every action you take is either helpful, neutral or unhelpful in driving you closer to your goal. Eliminate the unhelpful, turn neutral into positive, and keep getting better with the helpful.
Revisit, reassess and rewrite your plan. Revisit your why—your initial reasons for making change (and that can also change as you go), look at the how—is what you’re doing moving you closer to your goals? Keep doing this often.
Look at the order of your actions. Make the sequence logical, like reorder your tasks from easiest to hardest, or from least time consuming to most time consuming.
Practice makes perfect
Some change cannot be achieved alone. Sometimes you need to enlist the help of a friend, a trainer, or a coach. Maybe you need someone to spot that bench press so you can reach your new PR. Or maybe you need a professional to go over your meal plan and see why things stalled. Or perhaps you need to talk to someone about your PTSD first so you can finally start getting some sleep.
Change your settings. Practice your habits or behaviors in new environments, with different people around. For example, see how you can stay on point while on vacation.
Visualize possible challenges. Practice how you’ll respond when Aunt Lois says “You don’t like my cooking? Because you haven’t even tasted the lasagna!”), or what you’ll have at the corporate happy hour.
New habits are like newborn babies
Even if you feel you’ve mastered a new habit, it has to be protected, reinforced for a while so it does not disappear when you don’t pay attention.
Use reminders. Post it notes, phone notifications, a checklist can help you remember what you need to do and when, in order to help you be consistent. Eventually it will become automatic, but until then… anything that can help you remember is great.
Small = big
Plans for a big success often lead to big failure. Instead, focus on a series of small successes. Break the process down to small, achievable steps. Each small success raises your confidence and self-esteem, while one big failure can devastate them.
Markers on a map. Approach each step as a separate mission, and by the time you accumulate all the small achievements you’ll have reached your goal.
Focus on now. Take small actions, focus on one habit you can change right now, instead of looking towards the end of the journey every second of every day.
Stay in your own lane. Stop comparing yourself to the Instagram glamor girl with the perfect abs. You don’t know her story or her struggles, which she doesn’t write about of course. Focus on your unique situation and on your unique set of tasks, and get them done one by one, as long as it takes. Trust me—the genetic wonder who was born with wide shoulders and a tiny waist might be a lazy crybaby, while small shoulder “chubs” here is impervious to pain. Who do you think will win the show?