With every New Year, it seems, comes a mass awakening of people willing to objectively look at themselves and try to find a means for positive change. This phenomenon is unique, and I’m sure others feel the same way. This one time in the year where we are willing to seek to better ourselves, whether it be breaking away from a bad habit or behavior. We see it as an issue, recognize the need to change, and give it an honest effort.
The difficulty lies in the fact that we are creatures of habit. We get used to routines, which can be very difficult to break. This is why to simplify this difficulty, and I like to look to reinforcing behaviors; it helps to simplify why it seems so hard to change. The main point is that every time we partake in a habit, vice, or even something positive, we reinforce that behavior.
It’s almost as if we’re building something from the ground up, and each “brick” from the bottom holds the most weight. Every brick from that point on works to reinforce the whole structure, which once builds is hard to demolish without the proper know-how and experience.
So my primary focus in breaking a habit would be the need to deconstruct from the top, ultimately back down to the first heaviest bricks of the foundation, holding the most weight. This is how I look at change, and it makes the most sense to view it this way. Of course, it will take a lot of motivation to get right back to the foundation of your destructive behaviors, but it is entirely possible.
Embrace the New Year and realize that it is possible to change; it just takes real work and dedication. Think of all the years you may have spent reinforcing that lousy behavior or habit and make a plan to consider this.
Know that every time you feed that habit, you are building on a routine that stops you from getting to where you want to be. You have an uphill battle to “starve” that habit and positively rebuild from the ground up!
Micro habits can be helpful.
These small, micro habits make up almost half of one’s behavior. And that’s a good thing.
Because habits are like the fast lane on the highway – they ensure that you get closer to your destination faster, without having to think about whether it would be better to turn off at every exit.
If the brain had to deal with this as well actively, there would be less time and capacity for other important decisions.
Five steps to conscious habits
That’s exactly what everyone can use: Habits can be trained. As early as the late 1940s, neurologists from the United States discovered: The brain learns best from repetition. According to this study:
The more often you do something, the stronger the neural connections for this behavior become. An arduous mountain path becomes a comfortable highway.
Step 1: Notice.
To transform habits, we must first notice them. Only in seeing what we’re doing and what it’s doing to us can we shift gears and steer ourselves in the direction we want to go.
He recommends a micro-habit diary as a strategy: this is where you write down all your habits, when you do them and how you feel at that moment and afterward.
For example, what triggers you to open the game app on your phone? How does it make you feel at the time and afterward? How many steps do you take every day – trackers are practical helpers for exercise habits.
Step 2: Find intention.
Once you’ve become aware of habits, you need to ask yourself the crucial questions: Do I want this? Is this important to me? Will this bring me closer to my goals?
I’ve often seen it happen: when people regained access to the purpose they felt and experienced internally in their lives, they were able to muster the strength to break destructive habits and steer their behavior in the desired direction.
To do this, he recommends the technique of looking back to the future: imagine you’re 80 years old and looking back on your life – which habit are you proud of, which one makes you uncomfortable?
It also helps to make notes here: write down achievable concrete goals such as “going for a 30-minute run three times a week in the morning” on a piece of paper and post it prominently in your home.
Step 3: Keep at it
Manage complications. Changing habits would be too easy if there weren’t so many obstacles in the way.
No one would be munching on chips anymore, and everyone would be lacing up their running shoes or checking in at the gym regularly.
But that’s not how it works; everyone gets lost on the way to new habits. It helps to be aware: What could be holding me back or slowing me down? What could be a serious obstacle?
Now try to develop if-then plans to overcome possible obstacles.
Step 4: Establish a routine
After identifying your goals and defining the proper steps, it’s all about turning those steps into habits.
Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to achieve that by running? Do you have a suitable route and feel good after the first attempt? Now you have to turn it into a micro habit.
The expert advises that it’s precisely this threefold goal – behavior – a habit that you have to keep in mind. And remember the good feeling.
If you can feel before you start exercising how good you’ll feel afterward, you’ll be much more motivated. In addition, this feeling can trigger a desire, with which new becomes completely automatically the habit.
A smart move here is to set reminder incentives for the planned routines:
The packed sports bag in the car reminds you that you want to exercise as soon as you get in. Informing your partner that you’re going for a run every Tuesday and Thursday in the future creates a certain social pressure. Putting your cell phone in your pocket instead of on your desk prevents you from being constantly distracted by it.
To establish routines, if-then rules again help: If it doesn’t rain tomorrow morning, I’ll ride my bike to work. If there is a vegan dish in the restaurant, I order it.
Or for bad habits: If I want to reach for a cigarette, I walk once around the block instead.
Step 5: Coach yourself
Without reproach. Some behavior change comes quickly, and most won’t. You’ll need staying power, and you’ll have to deal with setbacks.
Therefore, one must learn to be an excellent coach to oneself. Don’t be a judge who condemns, but a coach who uplifts and motivates but keeps the goal in mind.
Relapses are deeply human, and we build valued habits not by being steely-eyed and hard on ourselves, but as an expression of being kind to ourselves.
With Micro Habits, you change habits, but you don’t change yourself. Stand by yourself. The way you are now, you’re just right.
Keeping that in mind regularly should also become a habit.
It’s going to be hard, you are going to be your own worst enemy, and this is almost certainly going to be the case. You fight and fight, and it will seem worse before it gets better. Remember, it’s easier to accept defeat and give into a habit than it is to build that new foundation. Not many make it, to be honest.
You will likely fail many times before you have built that foundation strong enough to support the stress of all the other bricks around it. But then, something amazing happens out of all of this; you are finally able to break free, and the sudden burst of confidence will have you flying high, ready to rise to whatever challenge comes next.
The best thing would be to encourage ourselves to go forward in life. But that is not always the case. Often we make our own lives hell.
No one came into the world hating. Just the opposite is the case. At the beginning of our lives, we ask for everything and give nothing. We have no doubts about the legitimacy of our needs and desires. But it is precisely in childhood when we begin to hatch these overwhelming negative fantasies about ourselves, and they can stay with us throughout our lives.
What brings us to this fatal conviction is the presence of a figure who makes us believe it. We love a person who is a fundamental part of our growth. Our father, our mother, or both. Sometimes it’s the entire family structure. Or someone we depend on in some way.
Generally speaking, what happens is a series of heartbreaks: parents, or the whole family, repeat what they experienced at the beginning of their own lives.
Often these relationships involve indifference to the needs of others, sadness, shame and aggression, countless acts of neglect or threats of abandonment, and rejection. Harsh silences, denial of feelings. Rejection and punishment versus assertiveness. Strictness in negotiations and suppressed emotions. It is challenging to find the conditions to develop a genuine appreciation of oneself and others in such an atmosphere.
To despise oneself is learned consciously and unconsciously. Each of us has a certain amount of self-destructive impulses that grow and are reinforced when we feed them.
What comes after that is undoubtedly a complicated story. First, the children become teenagers and then adults who are more or less afflicted by grief, anger, and guilt. The worst part of this is that these feelings hide a high degree of insecurity.
Some ideas pop up in their minds entirely automatically: “I can’t do this.” – “I’m not capable of this.” – “I’m scared.” – “I’m worthless.” – “I don’t matter to anyone.” And that then carries over to how they feel about others: “They can’t do it.” – “They’re not capable of it.” – “They’re afraid.” – “They’re worthless.” – “They don’t matter.”
This results in a vicious cycle that perpetuates a destructive relationship with the self, leading to destructive relationships with others. This creates bad experiences that feed the idea of oneself as someone terrible or worthless.
When there is no self-love, a mechanism called “identification with the aggressor” runs. This means that you will behave like those who have done you great harm. And this, of course, is a mechanism that kicks in quite unconsciously.
As children, we want love, approval, and respect. But we may have received the opposite. But instead of questioning those responses, we try to be like those who have rejected, abandoned or attacked us.