posted by on Articles, Change

Why is it so difficult to change a habit? Is it even possible to change? We are all aware that there is no quick fix and that it is hard to change.  New research from University College London suggests that making changes in our habits is achievable but that there are no quick fixes.  A habit is a ‘tendency to act in a particular way’, something that we do repeatedly, often without even thinking about it. When we want to break out of our old habits many factors come into play, so no wonder that we find it difficult to change.

Most of us want to change something in our lives, some of us have a long list of things that we have always wanted to do going back many years but haven’t quite got round to doing it. Perhaps you want to give up smoking, eat more healthily, exercise more, or simply manage your time more effectively in order to do more of the things that you want to do. My habits are most likely similar to yours – spending too much time working on my computer, not doing enough exercise and (my tough one) not getting around to tidying up my garden. There always seems to be something else to do, another project takes hold and the garden goes on the back burner. It seems that I am not alone in this and many of us; even though desperate to change some aspect of our life fail to do so. But there is good news, new research shows that it is possible to make effective changes and that this process doesn’t have to leave you feeling swamped. It does call for some effort to be made, that goes without saying, but this is not forever because as the change is incorporated into our life we no longer need to focus on it so much it becomes a new habit.

 New behaviours become embedded on average in approximately 66 days. So no wonder we don’t change, most of us give up much sooner than this. When the going gets tough, the tough get going as the song goes. But most of us just give up, instead of carrying on and making the habit stick!  But most of us can make some small achievable changes that can end up having big knock on effects and changes in the rest of our lives. For example, I remember reading a book when I was at college called ‘Pure White   and Deadly’ which was all about the effects of sugar on our bodies. So I decided that I wanted to cut out having sugar in my tea. I used to take 2 teaspoons of sugar in my tea.  I knew that by cutting sugar out altogether all at once would just be too much. So I just cut down the amount of sugar in my tea, at first by half a teaspoon, after a few days I cut it down to 1 teaspoon, then to half a teaspoon, then to a quarter teaspoon and eventually no sugar. Over a few weeks I went from 2 teaspoon of sugar in my tea to no sugar at all. Now, if we take this principle and applied it to other areas of our life you could see some dramatic effects. The most important thing is that if you want to change a habit, you have to change your behaviour. Here are a few simple steps to help you on your way.

  • What are your good habits – look at the good habits that you have and build on these. Use your good habits and the good results you get to help with the areas that you want to work on.
  • Make small sustainable changes – this can have positive knock on effects in other areas of your life.
  • Just do it – stop making excuses, stop listening to your negative self talk or simply tell you negative thoughts to ‘shut up’ after all you don’t want to be bossed around by a few native thoughts do you!
  • Work out what it is that is stopping you from changing and having the life that you want.
  • Look after yourself as you would your best friend and be supportive to the changes that you are making. Be kind to yourself and tell yourself that you can do the thing that you want to do.
  •  Be the change you want to see – act as if you can and pretend that you are already successful.  If you can see yourself going the thing that you want to do, you are already half way there to achieving it.
  • Get someone to support you and to keep you on track.

Finally practice your new found habit until is really established. Changing an ingrained habit is not easy but if you keep at it and don’t give up you can achieve your goal.

Gillian Kitchen  MA, ILM, is a personal & leadership coach