Three simple steps to change a habit
In this short article, I describe a three-step process to help change unwanted behavior.
Have you ever found yourself engaging (often repeatedly) in a behavior that you dislike and want to change?
Our mind is an amazing machine that strives for efficacy. That’s why it loves to create habits. Many habits are incredibly useful: we learn to walk and talk at an early age. Later on, we learn all sorts of skills that range in complexity, from brushing our teeth to driving a car or playing a musical instrument. None of these complex behaviors could be possible without our mind’s ability to strategically create behavioral patterns and habits.
Some of the habits our mind creates for whatever reason are less desirable for us. Smoking, specific eating patterns, procrastination, self-criticism are just a few examples of habits that can seriously interfere with our life goals, whether you want to become healthier and look better or have a successful career.
In this short article, I’d like to explain the three simple steps that will help you change habitual behavior more easily.
The most important prerequisite to start effectively changing a habit is your genuine desire to change. Equipped with this desire, you have the power to choose your actions and build a new, beneficial pattern quickly.
Since habits are mostly run unconsciously, it’s essential to get into a relaxed and focused state of mind, and the process described below allows us to do this.
WHERE TO DO IT
You can do it anywhere, provided that it’s a safe space where you can turn your attention inside for a few minutes. You can NOT do it while driving or performing any task that requires your full attention.
WHEN TO DO IT
Anytime, especially when you find yourself wanting to engage in a habit that you desire to change.
It’s very beneficial to do this exercise at night just before going to bed and first thing in the morning.
HOW TO DO IT
The first step of the process is to shift yourself into a more resourceful state. And I invite you to read through the steps and apply them afterward to be able to learn them experientially.
To illustrate the exercise, let’s suppose that you want to prevent snacking in between meals when you know you’re not hungry.
1. First, sit in a comfortable position and find a spot in front of you and just above your eye level. Fix your eyes on that spot and keep staring at it. Without shifting your eyes, notice three objects that you can see with your peripheral vision, and name them (either out loud or silently with your inner voice). Example: I can see this lamp, I can see my table, I can see the wall.
Then, start to notice sounds around you, and name three sounds you can detect in your environment. For example, I can hear distant traffic, I can hear my own breathing, and I can hear birds singing outside.
Finally, shift to your sensations in the body and notice three sensations that you can detect (example: I can feel my feet on the floor, I can feel my chest expanding when I inhale, I can feel the surface beneath me).
After doing these mindful observations, you can notice that your state has changed. Most probably, you will feel more relaxed and focused. If you feel that you need more relaxation and focus, you can simply repeat the same observations once or a couple of times.
2. Second, close your eyes for a moment and imagine seeing yourself on a screen and watching a good movie about yourself. Imagine making a different choice – a choice that will allow you to get closer to your goal, for example, drinking some water instead of snacking. Notice what you are doing on the “screen,” how you are moving, what you are saying, how you are smiling, how you look, etc. You can even add a soundtrack with some inspiring music to your movie! It can be useful to briefly revisit your goal (for example, visualize yourself in your best shape).
3. Finally, take a deep breath and imagine that you’ve already made this new choice. Celebrate it within and ramp up the feeling of the deep appreciation of your freedom and your choice. Each small step towards your goal is important and worth being acknowledged! You can even imagine giving yourself a high-five for this great accomplishment!
After these three steps, you might find that it’s much easier to act differently (ex. drink some water instead of snacking) as if you adjusted your internal “programming” (which you did, in a certain sense!). It’s especially true if you do this little exercise regularly!
HOW LONG DOES THE PROCESS TAKE
Depending on the duration of your visualization, it usually takes from 2 to 10 minutes.
WHY DOES THIS WORK
This exercise is based on Betty Erickson’s self-hypnotic process, and it creates a state of increased receptivity to self-suggestion, in this case, in the form of a visualization.
It’s important to approach this exercise with playfulness, kindness, and curiosity rather than judgment. The state of self-compassion and curiosity creates a relaxed physiological response in the body and mind, and it’s the fertile ground for change and flexibility in behavior.
It’s crucial to pay attention to the positive shifts that you notice – praise yourself for small wins! Whatever you focus on, your mind considers important and tends to repeat in the future.
I hope this was useful, and I wish you a lot of success on your way to your goal!