How to Change Your Behavior in 3 Easy Steps: Second Practice the Change
If you took your time during step one, you've prepared a realistic plan for change that focuses on one key behavior at a time. And you've set manageable goals. For example, perhaps you have decided to focus on improving your health by adding a healthy behavior each week for the next four weeks. Or maybe you want to improve your relationship with your children by reducing the times you yell and increasing the times you have fun together. As you practice the changes you are making, it is important to keep track of what exactly you are doing.
A simple behavior, symptom, and mood diary can be very useful at this point. This can be as straightforward as a piece of paper, or a notebook, or the notes feature on your phone. Write down what you are eating, how much water you are drinking, what exercise you are engaging in, how well you slept the night before, and what symptoms you are observing. Or maybe write down "I yelled at son and felt sad about it" or "the kids and I played a board game, laughed together, and I felt good about myself as a mom." The things you keep track of will depend on exactly what you've decided to do. But keeping track of your behaviors and how you feel will help you to gauge your progress.
The power of writing
The simple act of writing down what you do makes you more conscious of your choices. If you know you have to write down "three oreos," you are more likely to cut back to just one! And when you write down "increased my water intake by 30 ounces," you can feel proud of your progress. You might even add a line to your journal every day that simply asks "what did I do well today?"
The power of progress
A month into your plan you will be able to look back at your journal and ask what improved and what did not. Maybe you will find that you are consistently rating your sleep as good by the end of the month. Or maybe your joint pain will have steadily decreased. Maybe you used to yell at your kids a few times a day, and now you yell only a few times a week. Even if your sleep is still troubled, or your joints still ache, or you still yell, if you can see that there has been some progress you will be more likely to continue your healthy behaviors plan.
Learn from your mistakes
Self-monitoring also allows you to learn from your mistakes. Did you have sugar cravings several days in a row? Did you want to yell at the kids multiple times every day? Did you give in every time? Or were you able to tell yourself "That's just my mind wanting that. That's ok. I don't have to change that thought into a behavior." If you surf that urge, you can eat a piece of fruit when you have a sugar craving. Or go for a walk when you want to yell. You will start to see that not all cravings have to be given in to. Then reward yourself by saying "good job making a healthy choice!" That reward increases the chance of resisting the craving the next time it happens.
It is very possible that you will not show yourself enough patience. Remember that behavior change is hard. And it is a process that takes time. What you want to see is incremental change over time. You do not need to be perfect. Instead of looking at your behavior change in black and white terms, look at it in shades of grey. If you started out eating hardly any fruits and vegetables and at the end of week one you've consistently added fruit to your breakfasts, you've made progress! If the next week you're able to add a vegetable to every lunch, you've made even more progress. Recent research shows that making a new behavior a real habit can take 2-8 months! So be patient with yourself.
Tricks and Tips
Setting up triggers can help you cement a new behavior. Let's say you want to remember to meditate daily and you are already good about brushing your teeth. Make brushing a trigger for meditating. Put a note that says "Meditate!" right next to your toothbrush so that brushing triggers you to meditate. If you already eat as a family, add a board game to Friday night dinners to increase positive parent/child interaction time.
Making sure you have plenty of social support can also help you practice your behavior change. If you didn't set up a good social support network when you were preparing to change, now is the time to do it. And if you did, now is the time to lean on your supports. Who is the person who will give you a pep talk when you want to give up your behavior change plan? Which friend will go for a walk with you every day to help you remember to get gentle exercise? Or do you need a coach who will check in with you regularly to help you monitor your change?
Practice, practice, practice
There is really no substitute for simply keeping at it. Maybe you don't feel like walking today. Can you do it anyway? Or if you didn't walk yesterday, can you make sure to get back at it today? It is easy to give up when things get hard, but if instead you pratice, practice, practice, the behavior change will come. But remember, it will not happen overnight.
Feel free to contact me by clicking on Contact Us below or emailing me at [email protected] if you’d like to set up a few coaching sessions to help you monitor and practice your behavior change. And check back soon for the third step of behavior change: Celebrate the Change.