Changing Habits

Changing Habits

Changing Habits. How much do you really want to change? That’s the first and most important question to ask yourself when changing habits. Short of a desire to change, few plans will stand a chance. Motivation is your key to success or failure.

While some habits are relatively easy to change others can be very difficult. The second important thing to know is that your habit doesn’t exist in a vacuum. A single behavior becomes a cue for another behavior, which in turn will trigger another. These habit sequences form a string of patterned behaviors. The point here is that when it comes to changing habits, you must be aware of what precedes it and what follows it, and to understand that you’ll likely have to target those behaviors as well. That’s what makes behavioral change so challenging.

Here is a 5-step process that is guaranteed to help you change your behavior by eliminating self-defeating habits and replacing them with a string of self-reinforcing actions.

  1. Identify the habit you want to change. In order to identify the behavior you wish to change, you’ll have to examine several of your behaviors and the situations where they occur.  The more you know about what you do, when you do it, and why you do it, the easier it will be to identify the habits that are counterproductive.
  2. Define the new habit(s) you wish to develop and the old ones you want to change or eliminate. Again, this is meant for you to consider the string of behaviors that might need changed. Be honest with yourself. How would your natural behavioral tendencies impact your success? Gather the information you need to implement the change and visualize yourself doing it.
  3. Begin the new behavior as strongly as possible. Tell everyone about the new habit you want to develop.  Set up a routine to go with your habit.  Put signs in your office or on your bathroom mirror reminding you of the new behaviors. Remember the importance of cues and how habits are interconnected.  Change your environment to give your new habit some “fresh air” to grow in. What steps will you take to be sure that you begin strongly?
  4. Don’t stray from the behavior until your habit is firmly established.  Many people practice their new behavior some of the time; some practice the new behavior most of the time; only a few practice their new behavior all of the time. Part-time application doesn’t develop new habits. Consistency and persistence are the only ways to changing habits. What will you do to keep yourself from straying from your new habits?

Be prepared when you’re tempted to do things the old way. Resist! Some people rationalize deviations by saying, “just this one time won’t matter.” The truth is that every time you stray, you are now starting over. The more times you attempt to start again, the harder it gets.

  • Ask other people to help you change.  Few of us can make significant changes without the support of others. Think about who might be able to help you. How can they help? What will you ask them to do? Building a support partner or team around you will make new habits easier to master.


Tom Sullivan, MPA
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