Many of us may start the New Year with the best intentions. We may make a list of resolutions or set a determination to break a bad habit. We desire to make real change, but as sure as night follows day, despite our best efforts, we soon find ourselves falling back into our old ways and habits. What can we do to create lasting change in our lives?
We all have two aspects to our minds: an unconscious emotional side and a conscious rational side. We can think of these two parts as an elephant and the rider. The elephant is the unconscious emotional instinctive part of our mind and a rider is the conscious thinking rational part. The rider sits atop the elephant believing he is in control, but because he is small, whenever there is a conflict with the elephant, he loses. Efforts to change fail because the unconscious emotional elephant desires instant gratification but lasting change requires short-term sacrifices for long-term rewards. The elephant is not bad. It has an enormous amount of energy and drive to get things done, which, stands in contrast to the over thinking, analyzing, and rationalizing of the rider. Therefore, we must align both the elephant and the rider in ordered to make lasting change. Fortunately, there are some simple helpful ways of doing this.
First, be clear and specific when stating your goals. Vague statements such as “I’m going to lose weight” or “I am going to start exercise” are ineffective. When given many choices your elephant seeks out the old familiar path. Therefore, state your goals so there is only one path such as “I will stop smoking on such and such date and after that no more cigarettes ever” or “I will go to the gym three times a week” or “no more sugary sodas ever.” In addition, it helps both your elephant and rider if you create vivid and compelling images of your goal. For example, if you want to get in shape, find a picture of yourself from a time when you look fantastic and use this as your screensaver or post it on your refrigerator. However, a word of caution, make sure your goal is a reasonable. Remember the old saying, “whatever the mind can conceive and believe it will achieve.” You will quickly become discouraged if you over stretch your self by setting unbelievable goals.
Second, change your environment to support the change you desire. For example, if you wish to stop smoking throw away all your lighters, ashtrays and any other smoking paraphernalia, get rid of any and the all excess cigarettes or tobacco you have lying around, and do not go to places you used to buy or smoke cigarettes. If you wish to eat healthier foods, when you shop for groceries do not go down the aisles that contained the foods you know are unhealthy and fattening. If you wish to exercise more, discover an exercise you find enjoyable and compelling, find an enticing environment to exercise in and motivating people to encourage and support you.
Finally, examine the ways you reward yourself. Look for the ways you inadvertently reward yourself for bad habits. For example, you may set your determination to get up early to exercise or meditate but then reward yourself for not doing so by staying in a warm and cozy bed. Alternatively, discover ways to reward yourself for engaging in your new habits. Here the challenge is to find healthy and enriching ways to reward your self. Consider things such as getting a massage, going to a movie, buying yourself flowers, or any other little thing you can think of, which rewards you for taking small steps towards your goal or for attaining the goal itself.
If you would like help making lasting change in your life, give call me at (805) 637-4263 or email me to arrange for a free consultation.