How to Make Changes Stick
Any person who’s into personal development knows that changing your thinking, behavior or emotional reactions is complicated enough. But things often get even more complicated because that change doesn’t stick. You finally got in the habit of eating healthy and hitting the gym every day, then something sidetracks you and you find yourself eating junk food and slacking it again. You finally managed to build your social confidence and be more social, only to find that old anxiety creeping in again one day when you’re in a social setting, and preventing you from being outgoing. Unfortunately, old negative habits often do come back, many times just when we think we got rid of them, and sometimes they come back with a vengeance. This is why it’s important to be able not only to make change happen, but also to make it stick. As a coach, I put a great deal of focus in helping my clients with both these aspects. I’d like to share with you the most important 5 strategies they, as well as myself, have used successfully to make new habits stick.
As far as I can tell, regress is a natural part of progress. When we improve, we frequently make two steps forward, one step back. Our mind falls back on old habits several times until it lets go of them completely to make room for the new habits. What truly matters is how you react when regress happens. If you see it as something terrible that shouldn’t happen or as a sign that you can’t truly change, you’ll likely be shocked, become disillusioned and give up. Obviously, not a good outcome. On the other hand, if you see regress as a natural part of self-improvement, you expect it to come about and you accept it when it does. You take notice of it, then you put your eyes back on the target and you keep moving forward. Sooner or later, the change will stick permanently.
2. Choose Regularity over Intensity
One thing I’ve noticed is that, for building new habits, it’s much more effective to practice something 15 minutes every day for 30 days than 3 hours every day for 3 days. And the latest psychological research tends to support this idea as well. Even though the overall amount of time dedicated to practicing is somewhat smaller in the first case, the new habit will be more likely to stick. And even if you will regress eventually, it will be to a lesser degree and easier to overcome. This is because regularity is more important than intensity in forming new mental associations, which are reflected in new habits. Both of them are essential, but regularity seems to be the priority. Take this into account when you establish how much you implement something each day and for how many days.
3. Don’t Stop Practicing Too Early
On a related note, most people tend to stop practicing stuff too early. Usually, when a new habit starts to take form, when they finally see the desired behavior, feeling or way of thinking emerging on its own, they take it as a sign that the change is done and so they stop practicing. However, this is not true. If you don’t keep practicing at that point, in a few days you’ll go right back to your old habit. The new habit may feel natural at that point, but part of this is only temporary. You need to keep practicing it and to reinforce it in your mind in order to make the change stick. I can’t stress enough how important this is.
4. Incentivize Yourself to Practice
Realizing the long-term benefits of doing something regularly is simply not enough to keep you doing it. Sometimes it’s not even enough to get you started. Just look at all the people who know the long-term benefits they will achieve if they stop smoking, or drinking, or eating sweets, but still they don’t. You need to create and sustain the emotional drive to practice. This is where instant incentives come in: rewards that you give yourself immediately for practicing something, but you forbid yourself from accessing if you don’t practice. In my view, a good practice routine entails daily practice activities, combined with daily incentives to actually do them. In my experience, this is the only approach that works in the long-run.
5. Seek Outside Support
The truth is, other people are a powerful force that you can employ to help make change happen and then keep practicing to make it stick. There are lots of ways to employ them. You can get some of your friends to engage in making the same changes you want to make and you can help keep each other accountable. You can work with a trainer, coach or instructor who supervises your practice and, likewise, helps to keep you accountable. Look around, see the options you have for getting support from others and use them. Change is much easier when others are there to help you. Ultimately, making change stick is from my perspective a matter of working smarter, not harder. You need to have a good understanding of how your mind works in installing new habits and to apply this understanding in the way you organize you day to day activity. This is what works. This is what allows you to genuinely grow and thrive in this world.
About Eduard Ezeanu
Eduard Ezeanu coaches people to help them improve their habits, their confidence and their social skills, so they can experience the best life has to offer. He also posts on his personal blog, People Skills Decoded.