Are your New Year’s resolutions starting to get sidelined despite really wanting to change? Why? One big reason most people fail to create sustainable behavior change is they don’t plan for what they need to unlearn.
Whenever we have a preexisting behavior, our brain is vested in continuing with the status quo. It’s like a well-worn path in a forest, clear of weeds, branches, and other obstacles. It’s just so easy to walk that way.
When we try to establish a new behavior, it’s like taking out a machete and hacking our way through the underbrush to create a new path. We get cut and bruised along the way. It’s very uncomfortable.
If we don’t recognize that discomfort is a normal, expected, and even useful, we may start to blame our lack of follow through on things like competing priorities, lack of clarity, or lack of motivation. The more we attribute this discomfort to these external factors, the less we believe we can change, and the easier it becomes to give up.
However, if we notice the discomfort and choose to do the harder thing (new behavior) anyway, our subconscious wakes up and pays attention. Each time we take out the machete, the clearer the path becomes, and the easier it becomes to do that new behavior.
How long does this take? It depends. Sustainable change often takes longer than 21 days because often there are very strong competing habits. Some of those competing habits could be very logical like, after work I drive home instead of going to the gym. Some can be emotional like, if I take the time to work out, my family will think I’m selfish, I won’t have time for my hobbies, or I need to put more time into work to get promoted.
This is where it can be very helpful to have someone to support you to recognize the ways your brain is sabotaging you (without your consent). A really good support person, such as a professionally trained coach, will also make it easier for you to address the emotional components so the change doesn’t feel like pulling teeth.