Change is a common outcome that you may be seeking when you decide to come to therapy. Change is hard, most of us don’t like it very much and it can be overwhelming when we start to imagine all the things we could change! It’s the first month of the year, one where the development of new habits is encouraged and talked about….a lot.
What are you looking to change? Sleep routine? Relationship with food? Movement schedules? Limiting screen time? Whatever the habit is that you are building, I’ll let you in on a little secret…
Changes don’t have to be big! Small changes over time create monumental impacts.
The purpose of habits is not to create large degrees of change all at once. Ideally, habits become those automatic activities that are reliable for us in moments of stress.
Let me give you an example:
You want to start meditating. You’re a beginner, so you’re not quite sure where to start, but have heard it’s a really good way to practice mindfulness, reduce stress and anxiety, and increase the quality of sleep. Great! I love this plan. You start off with the goal of meditating for 30 minutes every day. You’re full of motivation, eager to get started, and bask in the glorious results of a calm mind!
Fast forward to the first 5 minutes of your meditation. You are not quite sure what you’re doing, your mind isn’t clear, you are getting increasingly frustrated and give up. You don’t try again till next week, and the same thing happens, so you never meditate again. Change doesn’t happen, and you are still stressed. Ok, so this example might be a little exaggerated, maybe not. Let’s try again, building the habit in small increments: You sit down to meditate, with the goal of focusing on your breath for 5 minutes a day, 5x a week. You experiment with the timing of that 5 minutes, and find that you like it best when you meditate for 5 minutes right before bed. You build this habit until it becomes pretty easy to do for 2 weeks. Then you increase to 10 minutes a day until this becomes reliable. Then you increase to 20 minutes and so on and so on. After the first month, you feel pretty good! You miss a day here or there, but you don’t beat yourself up about it. You even start to notice that you are more present at work or at school, and you are more ‘in the moment’ while doing the things you enjoy, like reading or hanging out with friends.
After a couple more months, life gets busy, and you have less free time. Before you built this habit, it would have been so easy to stop meditating, and use that time to attend to the busyness of life. Instead, now you have a strong and reliable habit that you can depend on, even when things get busy.
This is the value of strong habits.