Seven tips for making lasting changes
How many of you have made new year’s resolutions only for them to fall by the wayside weeks into the new year? There is something about the promise of a fresh start in the new year that makes us vow to start exercising, to cut down on alcohol, to eat healthier, or even to stop procrastinating. But, despite our best intentions we can often find it really difficult to make lasting changes.
By utilising the following seven tips and tricks gathered from counselling practise, you could avoid common pitfalls and help make lasting changes:
1. Prepare to succeed
First state your goals.
Be as specific as possible. ‘I want to lose weight.’ is hard to measure, a SMART goal might be ‘I want to lost 15 pounds by Easter.’
Break your goals into smaller more manageable tasks. The idea is that you set a small goal, achieve it building up confidence and motivation, then slowly scale up your goals. For, example instead of committing to working out for 40 minutes three times a week. Try five minutes once a week. Then next week ten, then fifteen and so on.
Get organised and put in the groundwork for the changes you wish to achieve. That might mean buying healthy snacks or purging the alcohol cupboard or pencilling exercise into your diary.
2. Track it
Whether it’s eating healthier, starting to exercise or cutting down on your alcohol consumption, start by observing your habits. Research shows that what we measure, we manage.
Keeping a food or alcohol diary allows you to be more conscious and realistic about how much you are consuming. You can gather information on your habits and helps you notice patterns. For example, do you find it easy to eat healthily during the week but binge at weekends? Do you drink more if you’re feeling frustrated? Are you motivated to exercise in a group or do you go it alone? Keeping track of when, where and your emotional climate will help you look out for any common triggers.
3. Avoid triggers
Research shows that we have a limited amount of willpower per day and the more we test ourselves the harder it becomes to resist temptation. Therefore when you are trying to make a change it can be helpful to avoid places and people that could inspire you to slip back into old habits. For example, if you want to moderate your alcohol consumption change your walk home so you avoid the off license that sells your favourite tipple.
4. Get support
There’s a reason why people who join groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight watchers tend to be more successful at achieving their goals. Going public about what you want to achieve acts as an incentive when your motivation dips. Think about recruiting supportive loved one’s who can act as a coach keeping you on track and holding you accountable. Whether it’s teaming up with an exercise buddy for a run, a partner who commits to a dry January, or an online forum where you share healthy eating tips; try enlisting support.
5. Tolerate discomfort
Change can often feel almost unbearably uncomfortable. Remember you are trying to change habitual behaviour that you may have had for many years. Often we feel the pull to stay with what is known and comfortable rather than trying something new. Tolerate that discomfort, it is part of the process. Change starts at the end of your comfort zone. It's likely you'll feel urges and cravings. But wait, watch and you will notice the urges come and go. You can choose to act on them and you are bigger than they are. Be aware, tolerate the discomfort, and distract yourself until the urge passes.
6. Take it a day at a time
Telling yourself you will ‘never’ do something again or how you must ‘always’ do something can be disheartening. Try day by day reaffirming your goals: 'today I will eat healthily.' And if you do lapse falling back into old habits, tomorrow is a new day to recommit yourself to change.
7. Reward yourself
Needs have to be met.The old behaviour fulfilled certain emotional needs it made you feel calmer, or more in control, or helped purge certain uncomfortable feelings. Unless you identify and address the underlying need, it's likely that any change weren't be sustainable. Work on rewarding yourself and meeting those needs in healthier ways.
Do let me know what your changes you want to make in the comments.
Related articles from our experts
- Here's why gamblers chase losses
Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP20th April, 2018
- From addiction to recovery
Andrew Harvey Counsellor & Therapist, In Nottingham16th April, 2018
- Therapy alone is not enough when tackling addiction
Lyn Reed10th April, 2018
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.