We are creatures of habit. Steeped in routine behavior that we repeat autonomously day-in and day-out, our lives become fundamentally hinged on the scripts we replay over and over again. That might be why it’s so hard to change your life. It’s part of your comfort zone, which includes your very thoughts, emotions and behaviors. For some, it’s an identity — the definition of who they are right down to the very core.
But that’s not the only reason why it’s so hard to change our lives. Sure, a large part of who we are is based on the habits we possess. Clearly, good habits can create the foundation for a positive life filled with abundance, while bad habits can do just the opposite. But it’s not just our habits. It’s so hard to change our lives because, for the most part, we spend it living in fear, worry, stress and anxiety, dealing with negativity from others and ourselves.
Truly, we can be our own worst enemies at times. But when that internal wrangling is coupled with the negativity continuously hurled at us by others, from every which direction, it truly can become a near-impossible task to change your life. And, add to that the endless string of failures many of us endure throughout the years, and it’s quite easy to see why we so often throw up our hands in silent resignation.
It’s far easier to succumb to the norm than exert yourself against the tide. I know all too well about how hard it can be to change things in your life. But I also know that it’s possible. I know that, with a positive frame of mind at least, and the right mixture of both inspiration and motivation, we can turn things around, fight that good fight, and stay persistent until we achieve our goals.
However, it isn’t easy whatsoever.
The fact still remains that human beings will do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure. Much of our lives are based on this pain-versus-pleasure paradigm. In fact, our minds are always doing what they can to avoid pain in any aspect. Subconsciously, the mind works to avoid, not only physical pain, as seen in the flight-versus-fight response, but also emotional, mental, and spiritual pain.
The fear of pain, then, is possibly one of the biggest detractors from truly changing our lives and turning things around. We build those what-if scenarios up so big that it can feel like we’re facing a mountain. It’s easier to revert back to what we know rather than dealing with the agony of pain and defeat that’s akin to truly changing your life around. Why? Because all change involves some element of pain.
Even when we’re talking about organic change, the kind that occurs thanks to Mother Nature, Natural Selection, Darwinism, or whatever you’d like to call it, that change also involves pain. The pain is felt on an individual level from the organism that can’t adapt, and also on a species level where some thrive, others merely survive and a few die out altogether. Change can be painful, to put it mildly.
However, as individuals, we look more towards what’s happening in our own lives than with whatever is occurring out there in the wide great world. Personal change is very painful, that much is clear. But it’s also the pathway for improving your life. There’s a little cliche that goes, “No pain, no gain.” That saying was born from the simple fact that personal progress is made through pain and breaking through your comfort zone.
How to Change Your Life
What I’ve found, in my own personal experience, is that it becomes far easier to change your life when you have a compelling reason to do so. When we lack the reasons, finding the willpower to not only create the change, but to also ensure that it becomes a permanent one, is far more difficult. It’s hard to change your life when there’s nothing deeper driving you to do so.
In fact, changing your life is akin to striving towards any goal. You’re far more likely to achieve that goal as long as you follow a few simple steps. One of those steps is to ensure you’ve got some deep-enough reasons for wanting that goal in the first place. Not superficial reasons. Real reasons that offer profound insight into why you’re doing what you’re doing.
When the reasons run deep, it isn’t so hard to change your life. In fact, when you’re so compelled by something driving you — something far greater than yourself — it’s easier to reach for those goals. Instead of coming up with excuses for not doing things, you end up staying motivated and taking action, because the alternative just isn’t acceptable anymore.
For example, if you want to lose weight, get a better job and make more money, quit smoking, start your own business or do just about anything else, when you have a powerful reason, it’s easier to push through the limitations. You stop making excuses for yourself, and you start focusing on why you want the things in the first place. Even if you’ve failed at that goal in the past, with a strong-enough reason, you can overcome just about anything.
Deep reasons for wanting something include things like family, security or freedom. You can’t say you want to make more money so you can buy a flashy car. That would be considered a superficial reason. Your reasons have to compel you. They have to run deep and go right straight to the core of who you are and everything you’ve ever wanted to be in life.
If you take the time to come up with some compelling reasons for your goals, you’ll push through. But you have to write these down if you want to change your life, and I mean really change your life. These reasons will provide the very foundation for developing good habits, taking action and eventually achieving all of your goals.
Using Habits To Change Your Life
Habits are such an integral part of our lives, but we often forget the important role they play since we’re usually too busy living life on autopilot. We go through the motions, moving from one point to the next, day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year, and we forget about how these small behavioral routines play such a big role in our lives.
When bad habits are a deeply-ingrained part of you, it’s hard to make any considerable progress. They hold you back. They push you down and tell you that you don’t deserve to live a better life and that this is it for you. You wallow in self-pity and you continue to do things that you know are damaging to your health or wellness, but you do them anyhow.
Clearly, our poor habits are a big reason for why it’s so hard to change our lives. The smoker that can’t quit is compelled by their bad habit, which acts to negate the necessity for doing anything healthy. Generally, smokers will live unhealthy lives because smoking is an unhealthy habit. It’s easier to engage in other unhealthy habits when you’re already partaking in one major one.
On the other hand, a person who works out for 30 minutes every morning by going for a run or hitting the weights in a gym, and doesn’t smoke, is less likely to partake in the negative or detrimental behaviors associated with unhealthy habits. Why? Because working out is a keystone habit.
Keystone habits are the gateway to good habit development. They hold the key by not only helping to develop other good habits, but also by helping to eliminate bad habits at the same time. This is why keystone habits are a great way to help change your life. The person that works out for 30 minutes per day is not only less likely to eat fast food or smoke cigarettes, but also more likely to drink ample water, take vitamins, and engage in other healthy habits.
If you focus on things like keystone habits, and just do a little bit each day, it’s easier to change your life. It won’t happen overnight. But, then again, nothing worthwhile ever does. It’ll just happen slowly over time. Little by little, as one keystone habit takes hold, good things will begin happening. You’ll attract other good habits while also subconsciously working to avoid the bad habits.
Creating Good Habits for Long-Lasting Change
Habits offer the gateway to true long-lasting change. However, we also know that developing good habits is no small task. It takes an enormous amount of work and effort. To get over the initial hump, you need those compelling reasons why you must change. If it’s simply an “I should change,” you won’t do what it takes. You need to know why you must change.
Once that’s in place, you need a habit game plan. You need to identify the right habits so that you can make slow and steady improvements in your life. Think months and years rather than days or weeks. These things don’t happen quickly whatsoever, and since your existing habits took a long time to form, creating new ones to replace them will take equally long.
I say that so that you don’t get discouraged while trying to build up good habits or quit the habits that might have plagued you for some time. But if you sincerely want to change your life, then the focus absolutely has to be on your habits. Just know that it’s going to take time to institute these changes.
How much time does it take to create a new habit? The jury is out on that one, but one particular study found that it took anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a habit with 66 days being the average. However, I think that every person as an individual is different. For some, habit formation might be easy. For others, it’s downright difficult.
Keep in mind that when habits form, they etch these neural pathways in your mind. Neural pathways connect one group of neurons to another. The pathways help to form channels that allow the flow of energy through neuron groups to become easier and more effortless. So, the longer you perform a particular behavior, the deeper the neural pathways get etched.
That’s also why it’s so hard to quit a particular behavior that’s been performed for years or even decades. Things like smoking, overeating or excessive drinking become so deeply ingrained in the mind after a while, that it’s hard to kick those habits without a compelling reason to do so. In the end, we end up reverting back to the behavior that we know because it’s part of our comfort zone.
Using the Micro-Changes Approach to Change Your Life
Considering that habits are such a big part of who we are, and since they make up 45% of all human behavior, the clearest pathway to change in your life has to do with your habits. Find the compelling reason, then build up the habits. But this is easier said than done. We all know that. So what’s the bet way to do this?
What I’ve found to be the surest way to instituting new habits in my life is to use the micro-changes approach. Here’s how this approach works. First, you need to identify the habit you want to create. Let’s say you want to create the habit of working out every single morning for at least 30-40 minutes. We all know this is easy to do in the beginning, but staying motivated is hard.
The problem usually is that we overthink things too much or try to take on too much too fast. When that happens, we hit a brick wall, then end up giving up. When we deal with stress, anxiety and fear, it’s easy to revert back to what we’re comfortable with. Why? Because we’ll do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure.
So you have to stem the tide here. In the morning, every morning, put on your shoes and go outside and just walk around the block. Walk around the block one time. If it’s the winter or it’s cold, get in your car and drive around for 3 to 5 minutes. Okay, don’t think that I’m crazy. Let me explain.
Neural pathways etch over time. What you have to do is commit to something that’s too easy to fail at. So, walking around the block one or even two times, or driving around for 3 to 5 minutes is a means to an end. Do that for the first week. The next week, go a little bit longer. If you have a gym near your home, just drive to the gym, park for a few minutes, then drive back home.
This sets up the habit. It’s almost like pre-loading the data you want into your mind. After the first week, this becomes easier to do, and when the commitment is so small, it’s harder to give up on it. This is by far the quickest pathway to change no matter what habit we’re talking about.
Over time, you simply do more. For example, if you’re driving to the gym, you can start dressing up in your gym clothes, driving there, parking, then driving back in the second week. People might think you’re crazy for doing it, but who cares what others think, right? The point is to make improvements and change your life for the better. You’re not defined by others’ definition of you.
Eventually, park and go into the gym. If you’re walking around the block, jog for a few minutes instead. Take it week by week, but the point is to not miss a day. Don’t skip a beat. If you do, it’s harder to get back on track. Keep the commitment level low, but be sure to keep at it. That’s how you can create virtually any good habit.
This approach also works for quitting bad habits. You have to make a conscious effort to reduce the bad habit. Week by week, reduce the bad-habit behavior. At the same time, replace it with something else. The point here is that you have to be consistent and conscious of your efforts. That’s how you can ensure to enact the change and improve your life over time.