By Hilde Amundsen
Changing habits can be difficult, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary so you can move ahead with your life. Getting stuck in bad behavior patterns is easy when you are struggling with problems.
A number of years back I went through a life crisis. That started me on a quest for tools that could help me set boundaries and change the way I thought about myself and my life.
As I found methods and techniques that worked for me, I discovered that the techniques that help us make changes are actually fairly simple. For me it was about “cracking the code” and understanding how I could work with myself to get a better life.
Changing deeply ingrained habits and ways of doing things does not happen by itself. I worked very hard in a focused way to turn my situation around. Making changes in your mental outlook is not something you can do overnight. It is also something that you feel in your body.
In the end, I managed to get out of the difficult situation I found myself in. Here are some tips on how I did it. Many of the techniques I used can now be found in Mindfit, the app that I developed with my sister Janne, who is a psychologist.
6 tips that can help you change
– During my own crisis, my thoughts and the way I thought about myself were not good. I had enough confidence in myself from a professional standpoint, but I had low self-esteem when it came to how I thought about myself as a person.
1) Get to know yourself and your reaction patterns
Understanding myself was the first step to making my situation better. For me, this meant improving my self-esteem, having more faith in myself and giving me the strength to believe that I am good enough the way I am.
Identifying the thoughts, feelings and physical reactions I have when I find myself in difficult situations makes it easier to understand how I can break my patterns of behavior. It gives me something concrete to focus on – and that I can continue to work on to change.
Tips to better understand your emotions and physical reactions:
Notice how you react when you are in difficult situations.
- Where in your body do you feel discomfort?
- What feelings and physical reactions do you have?
- Do you get scared, frustrated, angry, sad, discouraged or something else.
2) Identify your thoughts
Did you know that scientists in the US have found out that we think between 12 000 to 50 000 thoughts in one day – and most are negative? It is so easy to think, no, I can’t do that. No, that won’t work. No, everyone else is much smarter than me.
What we think about ourselves affects how we perceive a situation. We are not always conscious of our thought patterns. But it is important to identify the negative thoughts that affect your faith that you can master a situation.
Tips to identify your thoughts:
- What do I think about myself?
- What does this say about me?
- What scares me about what other people will think of me?
3) Challenge yourself
When I learned to understand my own response patterns, it was much easier for me to work to change them.
I asked myself: How can I find a way to get tougher in setting limits for myself?
There are always obstacles that prevent you from changing, and it is often much easier to find excuses for not doing anything than to make a change. It’s important to challenge yourself, motivate yourself and decide for yourself that what you want is actually important. You must want to change. It will not happen by itself.
I have heard it said in many different situations that it takes three weeks to change a habit. But I also have to say that my psychologist sister would add, “It might only take three weeks, but not everyone manages to change a habit. It is important to be aware of the resistance you have to change, and motivate yourself to shift from thought to action.”
4)Jump into change, and set yourself goals
We often set our own limits, and it’s easy to find excuses for not doing things that we think is a little bit scary. It’s better to be safe.
To get ahead, we must dare to challenge ourself. Set goals (not too big). One step at a time.
I set goals for myself. I decided that I had to start setting more limits for myself. It sounds so easy, but it was not, particularly for someone who always said yes, turned up, and fixed things. The five first times I set real limits were the most challenging for me. But practice makes perfect.
There is never “the right time” – there is nothing to wait for.
It is one thing to set limits, but it is the reaction I get afterwards that I have had to work with to be able to stand it – and to dare to do it again. What I did then is that I worked with myself mentally with the help of different techniques.
5) Helpful techniques
When you have to do something that is hard for you, it is easy to give up because you feel uncomfortable – which I did and sometimes still do. You can work on this yourself in different ways – there really is no recipe, but you have to find ways that work best for you.
I have two to three techniques I tend to use.
I often have an internal dialogue with myself, where I ask myself questions like:
- What exactly is the problem here?
- Why am I reacting the way I am?
- What would I say if this had happened to a friend – what advice would I give him / her?
Are there different ways to do this?
This makes it easier for me when I manage to analyze the situation from a distance, shift my focus a bit and see it from a different standpoint.
6) Keep a record of positive events and experiences when you master something
Another important thing that I have experienced while changing is what can happen when things look like they are going the right way. When I think, “I’ve finally gotten going,” there is always a little “downturn,” and suddenly I’m back to old patterns again.
Keep this in mind when you are working to change. Don’t be disappointed with yourself, but remind yourself that at least you tried and next time it will go better. It is important to not give up.
Keep record of positive events and experiences
It is important to keep track of positive events and situations when you master something along the way, to help keep your spirits up, and see that you are on the right track. This is provides confirmation that you are headed in the right direction, and you can also go back and look at everything that you’ve actually accomplished.
High self-efficacy affects your ability in reaching goals and gives you perseverance when solving difficult tasks.
Research shows that when creating new habits, it’s smart to make the new behavior so easy to implement that it will be a part of your daily routine.
What have I accomplished?
I have become better at speaking up and setting limits for myself. This means that I continue to strengthen my belief in myself – and that I am good enough the way I am.
Remember that mental training can’t be done overnight, and just as it is possible to have “a bad hair day,” it is also quite common to have “a bad self-esteem day.”