Calling time on your old illusions

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If you want to call time on your old mental habits, you need to discipline a new approach.  Photo by Malvestida Magazine on Unsplash

Wishing to develop your behaviour doesn’t make the behaviour change happen.  It’s a start, but there are a number of reasons why it’s not enough.

  1. Your current behaviours are embedded in years of habit
  2. Your current social environment is not yet adapted to the change you want
  3. Your current self-talk is geared up to justify your old habits
  4. You are not holding yourself accountable with unambiguous measurement
NEW HABITS

Put the other way round, in order to change, you need to:

  1. Create new routines, and drop old routines
  2. Develop your social network to support the new behaviour
  3. Try out new reasoning, and challenge the truth of old reasoning
  4. Set clear targets, and measure honestly and regularly against them
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY

A large part of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is designed to support this kind of change.

The idea is to take quite a scientific approach to changing or own behaviour.

A good CBT therapist will:

  1. Help you identify what change in behaviour you would like to make
  2. Work with you to create an encouraging interpersonal environment
  3. Help you challenge old illusions (e.g. “I can’t do it because…”) with self-tests
  4. Help you inspire and measure progress with clear targets and measurements
TYPICAL “SMART” CHANGES

A common recommendation is that goals should be “SMART”.  If you want to try some CBT on yourself, try to set out a short-term goal that is:

Specific
Measurable
Achievable
Relevant
Time-based

AN EXAMPLE

Let’s say you want to achieve more time for a particular activity.

Take some time to design a short-term target that takes you forward in this aim.  Make it SMART.  For instance:

Specific – “Every (name weekday) I will make time available for (name activity).”
Measurable – “The time I give myself will be (name number of hours).”
Achievable – “I have checked with (name people consulted), and we agree that this is achievable.”
Relevant – “This will help me in the following ways: (state why this change is constructive and relevant)”
Time-based – “I will work on this goal from (name start date) to (name end date)”

THE CYCLE OF REVIEW

Then you record, every week, what you have achieved.  If you like, you can also measure how you felt about it.

You may find that, as soon as you start to try to achieve your goal, negative assertions flood in.  Examples include:

“I cannot abandon my friends/family/children for this activity – it’s selfish.”
“It’s too difficult – I have a biological body that is not designed to achieve this.”
“I never really wanted to do it anyway – I’d rather go back to my old behaviour.”
“Something came up which was urgent, and took me away from achieving my goal.”

The important thing here is that you catch these negative thoughts, and test them out a bit.  If you are using a therapist, then they can help you, through constructive dialogue, to challenge your negative thoughts.  If they are valid, so be it – maybe you will choose to amend your goals.  But the idea of CBT is to create enough energy and motivation to push forward, and try to make a wished-for change.

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SUMMARY

If you want to make a change, then you may have to make sure that you develop new routines, social support, self-talk, and goals.

Spend a bit of time identifying what change you want to make, and then take time to create a SMART goal.

While you are working on your goal, you can diarise what you have achieved, how you felt about it, and any negative thoughts that occurred to you.

While reviewing your progress, you can challenge these negative thoughts, with the help of trusted friends, or a therapist.

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