Why do we become so attached or addicted to certain behaviours? The truth is even people who are healthy and mindful in many ways still have patterns they wish to change, however our habits actually leave lasting marks on the circuits of our brain which primes us to continue with the behaviour.
I was speaking to a dedicated meditator the other day that can't seem to break the sugar habit, for me it has been coffee. Slowly creeping up from 1 or 2 a day, to 4 or 5, I knew I was in trouble. Although caffeine can have its benefits, for me personally I know that it is highly taxing on my adrenals and that it had to go!
However it isn't always food addictions that we necessarily need to let go of, perhaps it's a pattern of behaviour, a mindset, or an activity that we partake in that we know is not in our best interests.
What habits do you have that you know might need to be broken?
They say it takes 21 days to change a habit, but in reality it's actually at least 8 - 12 weeks, if not longer before we can reach a maintenance stage, and we need to prepare ourselves ahead of time so we can get through these initial days and months.
There are 5 stages of readiness to creating change.
Pre-contemplation: This is a very early stage, perhaps you are recognising that it would be good to give something up, but you don't feel ready, or aren't quite at that point where you can actually see this happening.
Contemplation: You know that you need to make that change, but perhaps don't have a strong enough motivator just yet. Or you could be thinking, "How on earth am I going to do this?"
Preparation: You are planning to change the behaviour and you know your motivation behind your need to break the pattern. This is an important time of preparation for the day you're ready to give up the habit, and I will explore this a little further in a moment.
Action: You start to change the behaviour and you have taken action.
Maintenance: You have given up or have changed the behaviour over a 3 - 6 month period, you are now into the maintenance stage.
If you are serious about breaking a long standing behaviour it's very important to recognise which stage you are in. If you take action before going through some of the preliminary steps you can set yourself up for failure, and what you want to do is give yourself the best possible chance of success.
I am going to talk a little bit about the preparation stage here in more detail.
When we are working towards giving something up I would recommend looking into the following before going cold turkey.
Know Your Motivation
Why are you doing this? What benefits will it bring? You need to have a strong motivator behind the change to give you something to aim for. The pros need to outweigh the cons of giving up the behaviour.
Depending on what you are giving up, especially if it's an addictive substance, do your best to wean down the habit so your body doesn't go into a state of shock, or heavy detoxification on the day you are ready to finally give it the boot!
Replace With A Healthy New Behaviour
Work out what healthy behaviour you can do to replace the old one. Can you create a new ritual around the old habit? For example I am replacing coffee with Matcha Green Tea, as it still has a bit of a kick but without the spike in adrenalin that coffee gives. I am also making sure I have it in a beautiful cup, and making it feel like I am doing something special for myself.
Or maybe you need to find a new activity to keep your mind busy instead of the old behaviour? Find something that is fun, so you don't feel like you are always missing out. Add more than you subtract!
Have A Support System
This is where a coach can come in handy, someone to help you make a plan of action to create permanent change and keep you on track. Also enlisting a friend, family member, or even a colleague to support you is a good idea. Now is the time to tell people around you that you're going to make a change so they can get behind you when the time comes.
Imagine How Your Life Will Improve
Imagine what it would be like when the behaviour has changed. What would life look like? Would you feel better? Would you look healthier? Would you have a better quality of life?
Learn From Past Succeses
Think back to when you had success in the past with creating change. What helped you then? Is there anything you learnt from those times that can help you this time around?
Set A Start Date
Give yourself a start date, and do it at a time that you know is going to be supportive to making the change. For example you might want to start on a weekend where you can take things slow, rather than on a Monday morning, where you have the stresses of a new week in front of you.
It's time.... You have done all the preparation and the date has come to kick the habit.
This is honestly where willpower and belief in what you are doing plays a large part. That's why it's so important at this time to keep the goal in focus, to remind yourself of your motivation, and to know that the benefits will outweigh this period of difficulty, that you CAN get there!
I am at Day 7 of giving up the coffee. I have to admit the first 3-4 days were awful, brain fog and loss of focus. You really start to wonder, "why am I doing this?" However thankfully I am coming out the other side, my energy is higher, and I know I am doing the right thing for my body.
Use all the tools that you created in your preparation, keep that support system going, visualise the outcome, and continue on with the new healthy behaviour that is replacing the old one.
See Setbacks As Learning Opportunities
This is also a time for self-compassion. Be kind to yourself, especially if you have a set back. If you do go back to the old habit, don't beat yourself up, see it as a learning opportunity, rather than give up on the change. Have a think about what happened, or triggered you? What circumstances were you in? What could you do differently next time? Use the discoveries to propel you forward, and then just start again the next day.
Acknowledge The Small Wins
Congratulate yourself on the small wins. Is there some way you can reward yourself to keep your motivation going? It's really important to take the time to acknowledge what you have achieved along the way and give yourself a pat on the back for how far you have come.
When I walk past a coffee shop, and the smell wafts out the door will I want one? Hell yeah! But I'm sticking to my mission.