The Power of Habit

Many times I’ve worked with clients who have made up their minds to change. They have determined that a change is needed and they have decided to change an old habit of their behavior that has been around for a long time (such as overeating, being sedentary or smoking). They appear motivated to change and vow to stop a certain behavior from occurring any more.

Before long they are disappointed that the behavior that they decided to end had resurfaced once again. Often the client would be disappointed not only that the behavior was back, but disappointed in their own lack of will power. They had thought, contrary to what we’ve seen Prochaska teach us, that change was an event (a decision) not a process. They made it about strength of character and gave their own inner critic plenty to berate them with.

Don’t underestimate the power of habit! Once we have adopted a new behavior there are actually neural pathways set up in our nervous system related to this behavior. Today’s neuroscience tells us that our habits are part psycho-physiological! Our bodies, as well as our minds, are in the habit of reacting a certain way, so no wonder changing a habit is not as simple as making a resolution.

Urge your client to consider these quick tips for changing habits.

  1. Practice patience. Research tells us that it takes as many as 180 days to truly drop an old habit and adopt a new one. So stay with it.
  2. No beating yourself up! Don’t put yourself down because you find yourself engaged in the old habit. Be compassionate with yourself instead.
  3. Celebrate catching yourself! Take the repetitions in stride. Realize that despite the old habit showing up again, you are committed to changing the habit. Instead of putting yourself down (“There I go again!”), celebrate the fact that you managed to catch yourself and become aware of it. As you catch yourself earlier in the practice of the old habit, you’ll have even more to celebrate!
  4. Use structures, as discussed on page 155, to help remind you of the new habits you want to adopt. Structures are little physical reminders that help you remember your goals. They may be little signs you print up for yourself reminding yourself to: “Wait to answer the call after 2 rings, not sooner!”; “Breathe!”; “Call a friend today!”;
    “30 min. of writing every day.” Another hint about structures—move them around, change the look of them so they don’t start blending in with the background again (out of habit!).
  5. Involve others in your goals. Let co-workers, friends and family know what you are working on changing. Enlist their support and possibly their awareness and feedback to help you stay engaged in the habit changing process.
  6. Get a coach! Working with a coach gives you someone to help you get clear about what behaviors you really want to change; give you support in the process and/or hold you accountable to do what you say you will do to change the habits.

Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again.

-Hermann Hesse

Every person’s path to and through change will be unique. As we strive to develop ways to help people make the lifestyle changes that will maximize their wellness we must remember that they are all just offerings we make for each person to examine for themselves.

-Excerpted from Wellness Coaching for Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed. by Michael Arloski, PhD, PCC, CWP

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