zen habits : breathe

Feeling Determined to Change

By Leo Babauta

Let’s say you’ve been wanting to quit smoking for awhile, or you’ve really been wanting to start exercising.

All of a sudden, you read something that motivates you … you’re ready to make the change!

You’re determined.

You’re going to make this happen.

That’s amazing.

The question is: are you going to convert this determination into actual lasting change? How will you do that?

The feeling of determination is wonderful, but it can be ephemeral. It doesn’t necessarily last for more than a few days, unless you create an environment in which it will stick around.

But it can be done.

Here’s what I suggest, based on my successes and failures:

  1. Make a commitment: It’s easy to say to yourself, “I’m going to make this change” but then let yourself off the hook when things get tough or you get busy or stressed. Don’t let yourself back out — take action now to make a big commitment to others.
  2. Set up a daily session: If you have enthusiasm right now, that’s great, but what happens to your change when your enthusiasm wanes? The change withers away. The only way you can make something stick is to create a habit through daily practice. So if you want to exercise, set up 10 minutes every day, at the same time of day, when you’re going to do your yoga or pushups or jogging/walking. Put it on the calendar, and make it an unmissable appointment. Quitting a habit is tougher, but perhaps try a “smoking-free zone” when you don’t smoke. (Or a “procrastination-free zone”.) Just an hour a day, then two hours after a few days, then three after a few more, etc. Eventually you’ll learn coping tactics and awareness during your zone that will help you quit completely.
  3. Create unforgettable reminders: What happens if your session is supposed to happen but you forget? That’s incredibly common when you first start a new habit. Don’t let yourself forget! Put sticky notes all over, put up a big sign, have a zillion reminders on your computer and phone. How would you make yourself remember if it were your wedding day and you needed to get to church? Oh, that’s right — you wouldn’t need reminders, because it’s one of the biggest days of your life. Make this new habit (or effort to quit a habit) the most important thing in your life for awhile.
  4. Be accountable: If you have to tell people every day, or every other day, how you did … that will create an awareness when you feel like giving up. You’ll stop yourself from giving up, for at least a moment, and reconsider. So in Step 1 above (“Make a commitment”), be sure to commit to regular accountability.
  5. Give yourself an event: This is one of my favorite tricks … I have an event in the near future that I sign up for, and that forces me to prepare. If I sign up for a 5K race, for example, I have to do some training before the race so I don’t embarrass myself (too much). You can do the same thing … sign up for a sporting event if you want to exercise, or announce a date a month from now where you’ll be completely smoke-free, or join a quilting bee if you want to learn to quilt (you get the idea).
  6. Enjoy each step: All of this might seem like a bit of work, but honestly, they can all be a lot of fun! See each step as a celebration of yourself, of life, of compassion for yourself and others. See each step as an amazing moment to be enjoyed, not a sacrifice for some future gain. The victory is right now, in the doing, not in a later reward. Smile.

If you put these ideas into action (and you’re determined, so you will!), you’ll turn your ephemeral feeling into lasting change.


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