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  • Writer's pictureLuna

Why We Fail To Change

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

My client Peter is sitting in front of me. His body language is that of someone who regularly beats himself up. He thinks that he's a loser because he decided he was going to change something about his life, but his will power quickly ran out and he gave up. He's convinced himself that he can't do it so he might as well not even try. This decision has only led to more undesired behaviors.

He looks at me helplessly. "I am so depressed…I can't seem to do anything right. No matter how much I try, I know deep inside I will fail again…"

Most of us can relate to Peter. We have promised ourselves we were going to make a profound change in our lives - a new diet or exercise routine, learning a new skill, changing a certain behavior - only to see ourselves run out of steam and revert back to our old ways.

So, what's wrong with us?

Nothing. We are just human beings. In order to protect us, our brains want to understand what is going on. One of the primary functions of amygdala is to keep us safe, and stability is safe. When your brain receives a signal that a major change will be made, your amygdala releases stress hormones into your body to try to bring you back to the familiar status quo. That is how we get that “I really can't be bothered doing this today” feeling.

These hormones create such a strong sense of discomfort and unpleasantness that we can end up giving up on positive changes, even when we felt highly motivated at the start. So, what can we do?

“Sometimes it is the smallest decisions that can change your life forever.“ - Keri Russell

Think about your brain like a cruise ship. There are no hard turns or immediate stops. In order to change course, you need to make small shifts that lead to a new direction over time, allowing our brain to adjust to these changes as we go.

The key is to make small committed actions each day that are driven by our values (read my post on values here). The overall effect of these small daily actions will add up to a big, long-term change.

We need a system to help us make those positive changes when the going gets tough.

We can do this by setting up a tracking system, on a spreadsheet or app, that allows us to give ourselves a check-mark/cross mark for each new habit we’ve accomplished each day.

Without any accountability, we increase the likelihood of forgetting about our new habits altogether. Having a tracking system helps us stay committed. With the right habits, you can slowly grow into the person you deserve to be.

Let’s say it’s someone’s goal to write 1000 words. And while they don’t always hit that target, just the fact that they sit down and write in a document daily, allows them to feel good about their progress and this emotional feedback is what you need to keep going with your new habits. So find a system that’s easy to use that makes it likely you’ll track your habits every day. It could be a whiteboard, a spreadsheet, mobile apps, a written page.

Keep in mind that whatever system you use, at the outset of starting new habits, ticking them all off is most likely not going to happen immediately and that’s okay – because these are new habits, that go against years of your established patterns, so naturally, ingraining good habits will take a lot longer than we’d like to think. The important thing here is to track each new habit, focusing on improvement in the long-term, as opposed to perfection.

“People do not decide their futures; they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.”

- F.M. Alexander

Benefits of Tracking Your Habits

  1. You’ll be more likely to achieve your goals. By breaking down your big goals into small habits, and tracking them, you’ll feel more confident and in control of your destiny.

  2. Tracking your habits on a daily basis gives you a sense of everyday accomplishment. Meaning, you’ll have more motivation to keep them going the next day and so forth. The sense of accomplishment will be boosting your confidence on everyday basis as well.

  3. You’ll learn which habits you find difficult being consistent in, thus making it more likely that you’ll make adjustments.

  4. You will feel in control of your life and won’t look back on the week with a sense of forgetfulness – you’ll know exactly what you did and didn’t do.

  5. You can make the connection between your habits and your current life, meaning that you’ll appreciate just how powerful they are and use them accordingly.

What is one small action you could start taking today to create a long-term change in your life?

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