Georges Gurdjieff said that “Every grown-up man consists wholly of habits, although he is often unaware of it and even denies having any habits at all.” Our every-day habits, from brushing our teeth to the way we deal with our anger, can determine our health, our wealth and our happiness.
Unfortunately, most of us find it extremely difficult to change these ingrained patterns of behaviour. We begin with the best of intentions, and slip rapidly back into the familiarity of what we know.
It might be difficult, but it is possible to change. If you’d like to replace some of your bad habits with more virtuous ones, then here are my tips to give you a better chance of success.
Choose your new habit carefully. Why do you want to make a change? What is motivating you? Write these reasons down so you can refer to them you’re tempted to give up. Try to frame your new habit in a positive way (enjoy eating more delicious salads and home-cooked nutritious food) rather than a negative way (eat less of the things I want to eat).
Be realistic. Start small. It’s better to meditate for five minutes a day than it is to do it for half an hour once a week. You can always increase your commitment when your new habit is established.
Make a plan. Putting careful thought into a plan will reap benefits later.
- Decide exactly what you’re going to do differently.
- Keep it simple. Start with one thing.
- When, where and how will you do it? As an example, studying for an hour on Monday and Thursday evenings at the kitchen table.
- Decide how long you’ll try out this new habit for. A new behaviour needs to be repeated many times before it becomes a habit. Examples are walking for fifteen minutes every day for 30 days, or trying a new recipe every week for eight weeks.
- Identify any ‘danger areas’. Why do you usually fall off the wagon? How could you make this less likely?
Make a commitment. Once you’re happy with your plan, decide to make a formal commitment to it. Write it down and put it up on the fridge. Tell your friends and family. Set a date for when you’ll be starting, and stick to it.
Seek support. Let your friends and family know what you’re doing. Ask an encouraging friend if you can arrange a ‘check in’ every week or month when you can discuss your progress. Research other sources of support. If you want to make some big changes, book a therapy session. If you’re giving up smoking buy a self-help book, use a nicotine replacement, and see what support is available from your G.P.
Deal with setbacks. Before you even start, expect that you will have bad days when you don’t manage to carry out your new habit. When this happens, try to let it go as soon as you can. Rather than feeling you’ve ‘failed’, see the next day as a new day and pick up your good habit again.
Experiment. You need to find something that works well for you rather than doing it the way other people think you should. This might mean changing your original plan or approaching your problem in a creative way.
Reward yourself for your successes. Plan to give yourself a reward (a meal out or a sum of money) if you make it to thirty days. Encourage yourself every time you practice your new habit. Try to be patient with yourself when things go wrong. Remember your original motivations for your new good habits, and don’t forget to feel good about yourself!
We can see developing new good habits as improving the soil in our garden. Sometimes it takes many years of hard work (digging, adding compost) before we really start reaping the rewards. It might seem like nothing ever blooms, but then one year your roses look more beautiful than they’ve ever looked before, and you get a bumper crop of juicy strawberries.
I hope you can appreciate the journey towards your new habits. If we’re in the right frame of mind, even the hard physical labour of digging the garden can be satisfying. Try to find new good habits that you can learn to enjoy. As Doug Henning says, “The hard must become habit. The habit must become easy. The easy must become beautiful.”