Sometimes we get so set in our habits it becomes impossible to think about changing them even if doing so means taking back control in your life. Often the route to changing set habits seems too tough to even begin. That’s where process becomes vital. A plan that breaks down the insurmountable changes you need to make into small easy steps is invaluable as it makes those changes easily achievable.
When my son was in his first year of University he visited his Naturopath for some health issue. Hardly surprisingly the naturopath called him out on his eating habits, asking why he ate junk, specifically McDonalds, for his lunch when his Uni was surrounded by great little Asian cafes where he could go and get a big bowl of broccoli instead.
My son came home and told me he’d been told to eat broccoli for lunch. He laughed a lot, said “Yea right! As if (that’s ever going to happen)” and for him that was end of possiblity to change. Totally normal response from an eighteen year old I thought.
Telling a guy of this age to replace all his delicious (to him) foods with another food that he didn’t love, was like speaking to closed ears. For him the cost and the task were both simply too big. He wasn’t prepared to give up his foods because he loved them. He coudn’t find a good motivation as he wasn’t really convinced enough that his poor diet was contributing to his symptoms, in spite of what his naturopath and I told him. He didn’t see the benefit, better health, as big enough a compensation for the loss of a practice he loved.
So we talked, and I gently nagged, and he ended up agreeing once a week to try out the nearby cafes and let me know if there were any worth visiting. Plus I suggested he modified the instructions a little to make it easier and less of a chore.
The prospect of steamed broccoli for lunch five days a week didn’t cut it with him. But when I broke it down into small steps by suggesting he try it just once a week the task was immediately manageable. He no longer saw it as an imposition as he actually really liked the new foods offered.
When I modified it to something less extreme than a bowl of broccoli, and made the change smaller, it was far more appealing to him, and better than the junk food healthwise. In fact he came to enjoy the variety.
Changing habits is never easy to do especially when they are ones you really enjoy. When you focus on the deprivation that’s involved, of how much you’ll miss out on if you drop or change the habit, any benefits can become difficult to see, and without obvious benefits there’s no incentive for you to do it.
The other big problem that often stops you before we even start changing your habits is the actual logistics involved. Sometimes the organisation required to make change becomes so huge it seems insurmountable. While there must first be enough motivation for you to put in the effort, the steps to get there must be designed so it’s actually easy to manage them.
In my son’s case he not only thought he’d miss out on something he loved, but he also had to consider the issues or steps involved in deciding which café to go to before he’d commit to doing it – which ones he could afford, which would have quick service to fit into his lunch break, which menu looked better, and perhaps most importantly whether his friends would also change so he didn’t need to eat alone. The last of these was a ‘maker or a breaker’. If his friends had stayed with the junk food option the steps to change would have been insurmountable in his assessment and he would have dropped the idea before starting it.
One simple way to overcome the apparent looming difficulty of making change is to break the goal down.
I take the attitude that by changing just that one meal a week my son was 20 percent healthier than he was before. And it opened the way to eating healthier because once he started he found he enjoyed it as much as the junk. This made it easier to replace more and more meals with healthier options.
This is a tactic I often suggest to clients. Most of them love their coffee but often coffee contributes to their ill-health. If I ask them to stop drinking coffee they often agree reluctantly but don’t actually make any change, and sometimes even don’t tell me they still drink just as much.
But if they only have to cut their coffee back from say four cups a day to three the task is much more achievable, and they start to see benefits immediately. They’re already doing 25 percent better than they were, so are that much further towards their goal of good health.
Many times when you just don’t ‘feel the joy’ it’s normal to want to change your life. But if you are so busy focusing on the end point where your life would be totally happy, blissful and perfect, that place where you are in control of your life, the road to get there appears simply too long and difficult. The steps you need to take seem too big, especially if they involve juggling many other responsibilities in your life to manage.
Breaking everything into small steps is the easiest way to bring change, to allow you to take a gentler pathway to that goal you have. It also provides an easy confirmation that things are starting to change and you are achieving what it is you want.
When I want to make changes I first break the task down into small steps. Then to I go back through it and break it down again, taking it right down into tiny little steps. There are days when my steps might include one so basic as getting up and going outside. When I get there I can feel the satisfaction that I have been able to drag myself away from my work so I have a sense of achievement that reminds me “I can do this”.
The steps you take don’t have to be major in themself, they simply need to be defined and achievable. They reinforce your knowledge that you can make the change you need. Each and every one needs to be acknowledged right when it’s achieved. And most importantly each one will allow you that feeling that you again have some control in your life.
So what is it you want to change first? Take another look at where you can break it down into those tiny little, easily attainable steps. Then begin, one confident step at a time on the pathway towards your goal.
All information and opinions presented here are for information purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation. Please consult with your health care provider before following any of the treatment suggested on this site, particularly if you have an ongoing health issue.