It’s not just you. Everyone has a hard time changing habits!
Personally, I need as much support as possible when I’m really trying to make changes to better live a healthy, fulfilling life. That’s part of why mindfulness has become such an integral part of my daily life.
But, I get it. Mindfulness may sound a little intimidating, and completely different than your current lifestyle. But you don’t have to sit cross-legged chanting mantras to practice mindfulness. (If it did, I’d be a terrible mindfulness practitioner!)
Mindfulness is, simply put, noticing.
Noticing breath. Noticing thoughts. Noticing body sensations. Heck, noticing warm, soapy water as we’re washing a dish is a mindful way of doing one of everyone’s least favorite daily chores!
If you look closely at what you’re trying to change, it’s usually older, more deeply-rooted, automatic habits that have become engrained over a long time – which require noticing to change.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to manage food cravings. You may need to pay more attention while eating so you can notice when you’re satisfied and want to stop eating.
(Mindful Eating Tip: try paying attention to how your meal/snack tastes while you’re eating it. When the taste becomes duller or less enjoyable, that may be a sign from your body that you’ve had enough.)
Whatever the change is that you’re moving towards, simply noticing is an important part of the process.
When you notice your engrained, automatic habits, you can choose to do something different. If you don’t notice them, you’ll almost always revert to them – not to the healthy habit you’re trying to create.
You Probably Don’t Want to Hear it, But Change Also Requires Patience
The problem is, we usually want to reach our goals or make changes as quickly as possible.
And we often think of our actions (or lack thereof) in black-and-white, all-or-nothing terms: when we successfully change, things are good. When we don’t, or while we’re working at it, we get impatient. We start wondering why we can’t just do it.
The hard reality is that change is a slow, gradual process with ups and downs.
Often the change you want to make in your life relates to an end result, like losing weight, having more energy, or being stronger.
The thing is, those things happen over time. In order to get stronger, you need to start at where you are today and gradually move your way up.
And being patient during that process can be hard! Sometimes you feel like giving up because what you want isn’t happening fast enough. Or maybe something comes up that slows you down.
During these times that try your patience, practicing mindfulness allows you to accept where you are right now. It helps you acknowledge change as it’s happening in the moment, let go of judgment, and carry on.
4 Mindful Steps Toward Change & Cultivating Healthy Habits
1. Pick the change you’d like to make for yourself
It might be something big or something small: listen to what your mind and body are telling you. Then, make sure you ask yourself why. Why do you want to make this change?
This will help you stay connected to what’s important to you.
For example, I want to participate in more nature-based physical activity. My “why” = to be healthier in my body, and to take opportunities to appreciate the natural beauty of the world around me.
2. Define what success will look like
When will you know if you’ve achieved your “goal”? Try not to make your goals too rigid by setting your expectations too high. Take it slowly, and remember to make sure your goal sounds enjoyable. (What’s the point otherwise?)
For example, for me it’s consistently spending a few times per week outdoors doing something relatively active. I’m not telling myself I must spend 5 days per week outside doing 45 minutes of physical activity with a heart rate of 125 bpm. That would take the joy out of it!
3. Start Your Journey & Be Sure to NOTICE
Each time you do the activity, or practice the change, notice what it’s like. Use your senses.
Maybe notice bodily sensations before, during, after the activity. What did you like about it? What didn’t you like?
(P.S. You might want to reconsider those things, because what’s the point of doing something you don’t like?)
4. Remember Your “Why” & Celebrate Small Successes
Taking time to return to your intention allows you to see what you actually ARE doing in that direction. It can help you avoid the trap of comparison, of telling yourself to ‘try harder’ or feeling like you’re not doing enough.
The mindfulness component here is being present with what IS, as opposed to letting your mind take you away into the past or future – to remembering what you didn’t do or imagining what you could be doing.
For example, this week I’ve walked my dogs four times, and each time I went a little longer than usual. Then, on one walk I stopped and noticed my senses and realized how green the grass is turning as we get deeper into spring.
Without this step, I might have judged myself for not taking an actual hike. Instead, I’m being present and mindful of what it is that is actually happening in the present. And if I’d been stuck worrying about the past or future, I would’ve missed an enjoyable moment in the present.
By focusing our attention on what is actually happening, you can focus on what actually matters.
This directly shapes our thinking patterns and lays the groundwork for new habits. This is the power of neuroplasticity in creating new neural connections and pathways.