Last time we covered the importance of letting go of blocks to change.
Today, I want to talk about how to make new habits permanent.
You’ve probably heard about the idea that it takes 28 days to create a habit. But that’s not necessarily so. It depends on too many factors to pin it down to such a definite number. If the issue is deeper and more persistent, it could take much longer.
For example, I’ve sometimes spent several years changing certain ways of thinking. That level of change requires a very specific focus and commitment.
One of the ways I think about making new habits stick is through an analogy. I first applied this towards my qigong practice, but really you could apply it to any new habit you want to have.
The analogy is that each time you practice a new behavior, it’s like adding a single sheet of paper to a pile. Obviously, a sheet of paper doesn’t weigh very much. So a single day of practicing doesn’t add up to much. But after 500 times of adding , you’d have a ream of paper. That’s a heftier weight. And as you add more and more, eventually you’d have a case of paper. And over time, you’d have a pallet of paper. You’d need a forklift to move that pallet.
Now the sheet of paper analogy mostly applies if you are casually practicing the new habit once a day. But if you were more serious about it, each time you practice would count for more, maybe 5 or 10 sheets. And if you spend time during the day reminding yourself of the new habit, you might have 20 or 50 sheets for the day. At that rate, you would establish the “weight” of the new habit much quicker.
When you combine this idea with paying attention to when the old habit comes out, you have a powerful way to change old habits into new ones. And those new habits will stick the more time you practice them.
An example will illustrate this. Let’s say that you want to spend more time exercising.
You might have failed in the past when trying to exercise, so you have some old feelings and beliefs about the idea. You might say things to yourself like, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get myself to exercise.” And you might have feelings of frustration, depression or just plain being stuck about it.
These are the blocks to making this change. So the first thing is to identify them and especially to notice them when they come up.
The second part is creating an idea of what, specifically, you want to create. You might spend 20 to 30 minutes each morning imagining yourself working out. You might remember what you’ve felt like in the past when you were really motivated to exercise. Or you could imagine looking in the mirror and seeing the new, fitter you and how that feels. You might think about what your friends and family will say when they see these changes in you. The richer the ways you think and feel about the great things you get from exercising, the better the change.
During the day, notice when you have negative thoughts or feelings about exercise. As soon as you notice these, immediately replace them with one of your new thoughts or feelings. The more you do this, the more you reinforce making the change you want.
At the start, realize you are in this for the long haul. Be doggedly determined to never miss a day setting your intention as above. And be relentless about changing the old habits into new ones.
I’ll have more to say about this next time.
All the best for your health and happiness,