make behavior change easier woman on bed contemplating behavior change

Behavior Change: why is it so hard?

Behavior change might be on your agenda this time of year. Maybe besides losing the holiday weight, it’d be nice to drop a few additional pounds and get in shape. You’ve been swearing you’ll afford that vacation and this is it! Maybe this is the year to find love or really improve relationship once and for all. You’ve said it before but this truly is the year to pay attention to your health, finances, or relationship!

I know you’re ready and you’ve been trying really hard for the past couple weeks.

Still, some stats tell us only 8% (or up to 18% in the optimistic findings) successfully keep our New Year’s resolutions. If you’ve almost given up already, you’re not alone.

But don’t let the statistics fool you. Humans are highly capable of behavior change. It’s part of what separates us from other life forms.

The way you go about doing it is what sets apart those who manage to transform their lives (er, their bodies, bank accounts, or relationship experience) and those whose movement in the world remains relatively the same year after year, decade after decade.

Successful Behavior Change

It helps to understand some things about the human animal. We were made to conserve energy. Keep that in mind when you decide what and how to change and make it as easy on yourself as possible. You’ll give yourself the best chance of making that change permanent and be more likely to achieve your desired outcome.

Here are three great things to do to make it as easy as possible (and 10x more likely it will stick.)

1. Combine behaviors

Combine an already-habit with a desired one for easy behavior change. For instance, examine what you do automatically that produces a “good” return on your investment. It might be brushing your teeth. Do you automatically brew coffee first thing? Maybe it’s watching your favorite show. Every single one of these things you do “almost without thinking” has a positive return for you (or you wouldn’t have made it a habit in the first place.)

Just so you know, I am not arguing the good in caffeine or TV viewing… or brushing your teeth, for that matter. I’m not arguing anything. The point is to pick something that you do automatically and that you LIKE because it’s pleasurable, easy, or has a good payoff…even as small as liking the feeling of a clean mouth.

Now, marry that to something else beneficial. Maybe you want to drink more water. Or add a daily stretching routine. Maybe you’re trying to add some meditation. Do it while the coffee brews. The stretches don’t have to be long. Even three minutes of meditation makes a difference. Getting hydrated in the am while the coffee brews is a perfect time for that. Meditating while brushing your teeth? I say it’s possible.

And yes, combine a good thing with a less healthy habit: drinking a beer after work for example. If you already drink the beer, adding the additional more healthy behavior will, in fact, still make a significant difference.

2. Small behavior change first

… because small behavior changes last. (See what I did there?)

We all get pretty gung-ho when it comes to behavior changes. And yes, when you get good insight and put action to it, you will see some pay offs that make a difference right away.

But do not underestimate the power of small, incremental changes added over time. These will change your life. And if you combine them with things you already do, you will barely feel the difference.

Don’t believe me? I just committed to contributing an additional 3%…just THREE percent… to my long-term investing. At a super-moderate yield, in ten short years, that 3% alone will net an additional 75 THOUSAND dollars. SEVENTY FIVE THOUSAND BIG ONES. And that’s not even combining it with other investing. That’s JUST the 3% figured alone.

Not a friend of compound interest yet? You need to meet.

I will barely feel that three percent allocation. In fact, I pretty much won’t. It’s being moved from one account draw (where it earns absolutely ZERO) to the other.

Is that the only financial change I’ll make and call it good? No. But I am not all black and white and hot and bothered about this one either. I am not waiting until I have something HUGE to invest. I am not requiring myself to get all my ducks in a row before I start moving small amounts that will make a big difference. Which leads me to this:

3. Conquer all-or-nothing thinking

It never helped anyone. Ever. Honestly.

All-or-nothing thinking just keeps people stuck. It keeps them having the same experience in life and in relationship over and over and over again. It fosters paralysis. And a collasping, “ah just screw it” response when a little snag comes up.

Just change one little thing today. One little thing next week. (Not tomorrow either…give yourself at least a week if not THREE weeks to make a real adjustment.) At the end of the year, that’s 52 (and if you did one every 21 days that’s still SEVENTEEN) additional corrective improvements. That’s a lot of improvements.

It’s not true that you need to figure it all out or make drastic changes or that you can’t move until everything is prepped and ready to go. It’s not that six sessions of marriage or relationship counseling will transform your relationship forever. (There should be some movement in six sessions, and you should gain insight but a lot of that is going to be small, internal, and make the biggest difference implemented in real changes practiced over time.)

Look, we love dramatic transformations. We love rags-to-riches and underdog victories and come-from-behind wins. We love get-rich-quick schemes and fast happy relationships that form and gel into a “happily ever after” in an hour and 43 minutes. That’s all good. These are pretty sweet stories. But they are not common, realistic, and they are not even the whole story.

Gentleness, my friends, is the key to getting over black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking. Just try being gentle and rigid at the same time. You can’t. You CAN, however, be gentle and loving while being firm at the same time.

Gentle is key in Behavior Change

I know some of you think you need to be hard on yourself to get results. You think if you’re not punishing or pushing yourself, you’ll wimp out and cave to the other extreme. That’s the very nature of all-or-nothing thinking and it does not serve you. Not sure what gentleness looks or sounds like?

It’s a good loving, inner cheerleader. One that doesn’t let you off the hook (indulgent or permissive) and doesn’t have you feeling like a piece of crap (harsh and shaming.) It sounds a bit like this: “hmmm, my pants are tight. Back to salads and fruit for lunch and no snacks from the break room. You can do that.” And then when considering the snacks while walking by them says something like, “You’re good. That impulse will pass in a few minutes. Keep walking.”

That gentle voice does not say things like “Holy crap, you’re fat! You deserve to wear tight pants as a reminder to get your ass in gear.” And then, walking by the snacks says “Your damn pants are tight. Don’t even look at those cookies, Fatso. That’s right, keep walking.”

One of those voices is loving and the other is not. Loving always wins in the (short and the) long run. Choose loving, gentle, and firm. No matter what the topic for your desired behavior change, gentleness will serve you. Harshness will just add to you feeling worse. Who wants that?

You can do it.

Real change happens over time when it’s combined with other habits, starts and stays small and incremental, and allows for gentleness in the process. Real change is woven into the fabric of daily life and compounds into transformation over time.

Need help? Of course, I’m here for you. Whether you want help setting incremental, helpful goals, being accountable to someone, understanding how gentleness works in your life and inner dialogue, or finding the right approach to meeting your goals and objectives, I am here to help.

boundaries between people

Good Boundaries – at holiday time and always

When facing time with family, good boundaries will serve you well.

But first, let’s be clear: good boundaries are not “I just can’t take it ANY.MORE!” limits. They’re not demands you hope others will fulfill. They are not cold, hard brick walls.

Good boundaries are more like standards you have that keep YOU peaceful, safe, and at least relatively content.

Good Boundaries in action

Here’s an example: I have a standard that I don’t get yelled at. If, at any time, someone were to start yelling AT me, I would remove myself. Right away.

I don’t yell back and usually I don’t reiterate my standard unless I do it with super-low, measured energy. I just go away from it. Or get off the phone. I leave the room or ask the other person to leave- in that same measured, low-level energy.

I don’t do yelling matches. Period. About anything. Ever.

Those days are gone.

Because I now have standards about what I will and will not have in my life. And yelling AT me is one thing I will not have in my life.

Here’s a thing to remember:

You set a boundary, you get to keep it

Having a boundary and setting it is NOT about the other person, it’s about you. If you set a boundary, then it’s yours. You are the one who gets to tend and maintain the boundary.

You only get to control yourself.

Don’t try to use “boundaries” to control other people. That will never work. Those are actually demands. Those types of boundaries can be manipulative, plus they’re kind of screechy, shrill, and above all, ineffective. (More about this everywhere I’ve written about communication: HERE and HERE. You can check out the podcast episode HERE or search for episode 7 of Midlife Love Bytes anywhere you find your podcasts.)

Don’t be surprised when others push them or cross your good boundary.

They’re new. Like a dog and an electric fence, people need to discover and learn from the boundary. Of course they’re going to get tested.

Don’t get upset when YOUR boundary gets tested.

There’s no need to go to war over them. If the boundary or standard is not negotiable (that is the nature of real boundaries and standards- they are not negotiable) then don’t stand there and negotiate the boundary.

Yes, you can explain your boundary

But do this at a time when it’s not being tested, pushed, or crossed. You can say something like “hey, just so you know, I don’t stay engaged when people yell at me. It doesn’t work for me. I don’t like it. I feel bad and I just don’t tolerate it.”

End of talking. You don’t have to defend the boundary. Or unearth it’s family of origin or ex-spouse origin. If it’s a boundary and it’s your boundary and you mean to live by it, then you don’t really need to explain it or justify it or talk it to death.

That someone understands where the boundary comes from or how it came to be a boundary for you is way less important that YOU having it, being clear on it, and knowing that it’s YOUR boundary.

Assertiveness is different than aggression

Assertiveness comes from a place of strength; aggression comes from an attempt to get more of it. In other words, aggression is a reaction because of lack while assertiveness is just an assertion of that strength.

Assertiveness does not lord it over someone else or tell them what to do. Assertiveness puts the truth out there and then follows up when necessary.

Apply your good standards and boundaries

Heading into the holidays, identify a thing you know you won’t tolerate. Then make a plan for how you will respond to it. Then do it.

That’s all there is to it.

Don’t want to be around your drunk uncle? Make a plan to leave when that threshold gets crossed.

Don’t want to be compared to your brother? Leave the conversation if that happens. Go to a different room.

Tired of the girls doing all the work while the guys watch football? Ask for help. Use Clean, Non-Blaming Communication (TM) or (CNBC). “I feel frustrated. I don’t want to do all the work and clean-up. Can you help with that?” Or assert it as a standard: “I feel miffed. I want to watch football and take a nap.” Then go do it. 😉

Hard to imagine the last scenario?

It could be that’s not an area for a boundary.

Sure, it’s something you feel piqued about and you’ve grown bitter about over years and years and years.

Could be, asserting a boundary about that one is really about changing things up way ahead of the game, or just getting over your irritation.

You gotta pick your battles.

If you’re having trouble identifying what might be true boundaries, (think standard) versus demands or attempts to control, I can help. I can see what might be a blind spot for you. It’s what I do.

Maybe you don’t have any experience asserting a boundary and they come out being pretty aggressive expressions. I know how to help with that too. I love supporting people as they grow stronger.

You could be super frustrated around your previously thwarted attempts with good boundaries. I can help with that.

Let’s get you prepped and set for more peaceful, happier holidays (and life) this year.

Get in here and let’s get started. Give me a call.

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relationship patterns that need busting might mean learning to walk down a different sidewalk

Relationship Patterns Busted

We all establish relationship patterns, sometimes without realizing it. Even when you’re aware you’re doing the same dance (or experiencing the same frustrations) it can be hard to see things clearly from the inside.

Maybe one day you suddenly realize you’re doing all the reaching out. You text and call. You initiate contact. You come up with fun ideas for what to do together. It’s never the other person.

Or you realize you just can’t seem to get what you need no matter what you’ve done to make those needs known. It’s almost like you’re speaking a foreign language. If only you could feel heard. You try harder and get even less!

It could be you’ve loaned more money or paid for an outing or bent over backwards to help and had the same person fade or withdraw over and over. In your frustration, you realize they only surface when they need something. Next time they appear, you appreciate feeling needed, (and you’ve missed them) so once again you give, only to have them do the same thing when they get what they came for.

Your pattern might be something different entirely. Like the more you want connection and ask for it, the more she withdraws. Maybe the more you treat him like a child, the more irresponsible he becomes.

It can take time and insight to recognize relationship patterns.

It’s easy for other people to see what you’re doing. And not so easy to make sense of it or see it clearly when you are the one (or two) doing the dance.

Even if you recognize yourself in one of the above descriptions, (or any other recurrent pattern) it can be tough catching yourself in the middle of it. Besides that, from the inside of the dance you may think you look a whole lot different on the outside.

(Hint, hint, you probably DO look a whole lot crazier to other people, especially those who have witnessed the relationship pattern over and over and over. Remember, just because you look crazy doesn’t mean you ARE. You’re just stuck repeatedly doing something that’s not working.)

Avoiding your relationship patterns’ trap

Ever heard the sidewalk analogy? Your relationship pattern is like a hole in the sidewalk. At first, you just walk down the familiar sidewalk and fall right in.

You might wonder why it’s suddenly so dark and damp, pitiful, and well, kinda gross-smelling in there. But, it’s familiar. You’ve been here before. And the other person is down there in the muck with you. After slipping and sliding a bit, (or a lot) you each claw your way out of the hole, sometimes over the tops of each other.

Next time, you know the hole is there and MAYBE you find a way to go around it. But it’s like a magnetic vortex. You get scooped off your feet and fall down it again. Whoops!

Soon, however, you are recognizing the hole and you develop enough strength to resist its magnetic pull. You deliberately walk out and around it. (Cool!)

The real win comes when you recognize the sidewalk and find a different route entirely. Bonus: the alternate route not only avoids the slimy, slippery hole, it gets you where you really want to be a whole lot faster and without all the slime, stink, and muck of the hole, not to mention there’s zero clawing on the way out.

Shifting the pattern

Picking a different sidewalk requires some serious skill. Usually there are reasons that darn hole is magnetic. Most people need a map, a guide, or a coach watching from the outside who can help them see and understand the pattern, build the strength to resist its pull, and find a suitable alternate route.

Don’t do this alone. You already know falling into the hole is zero fun. There’s no need to spend extra time standing out there on the sidewalk arguing about which way to go.

I know it can be humbling to ask for directions. I know some of you even like your sidewalk. It’s familiar at least, maybe it’s comforting in some way, perhaps it pays off sometimes. (For example, when you beg for attention, sometimes you get it. When you chastise him, maybe he behaves for a bit.)

For some of you, admitting you need an outside perspective is the biggest hurdle. But you know the sidewalk you’re choosing does not lead where you want to be. You know you need directions.

Still, it can be a risk to trust someone else with your life and relationship patterns. You want your investment to pay off, not lead down another dead-end street. I get it.

You could ask any and every passer-by for directions, but a wiser approach is to get a good map. Better yet, hire a personal guide. Heck, you might even need a skilled coach to help you stay out of that hole.

I want to be that kind of effective help for you. Let’s talk and get you on a path that leads to the kind of life and relationship you really want.

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