I just started making my bed every morning a few years ago. As a child, I had to make my bed daily to earn a weekly allowance. So when I finally became an independent adult, I was no longer as motivated to make my bed every day! I’d consider myself a fairly tidy person but in the morning rush, making my bed just seemed like a pretty unimportant task. And I would even argue that I began to enjoy sliding into an unmade bed when it was time to retire for the day! However, something did shift inside me eventually and making my bed became a daily habit once again.
So what was it that caused the shift and led me to create a change? Was it a conscious or subconscious act that influenced my thoughts and new behavioural pattern? How much did my mood influence my decision to make a change?
Making lasting changes requires an understanding of how our minds work. As a young adult, I probably felt excited about my newly acquired independence and ability to refuse a previously dreaded task. But as years passed, I recognized that an unmade bed did not reflect the calm my mind had come to crave when coming home at the end of a long, work day. Shifts in our thinking will impact not only our mood but our behaviours as well.
A couple of months ago, I told you that I had been using cognitive behavioural strategies to help me become more aware of patterns related to my own use of alcohol (read that blog post here). In this week’s blog post, I thought I’d share with you some of strategies that I used in hopes that it may be helpful to some of you who are interested in breaking any unwanted habits or creating positive behavioural changes.
- The first step is to recognize the situations that are triggering the behaviour you want to change. Where does the unwanted behaviour generally occur? Who are you with when the behaviour is triggered? Using mindfulness strategies can help us to pay more attention to what is happening around us.
- Next, you will want to notice the thoughts and emotions that accompany the behaviour. You will have more conversations with yourself than anyone else in the run of a day and it is important to recognize the stories we are telling ourselves. If your self-talks sounds like, “I can’t handle this” or “it doesn’t matter what I do”, you will be more apt to make poor choices. When we are tired, stressed or frustrated, we are also more apt to fall into our “preferred” escapes – like a cupcake or some online shopping!
- Step three is a pretty important one. This is when you are able to create the space that will give you time for pause and reflection. Will a glass of wine really take the edge off a stressful day? Or is this a behaviour that was learned through habit and needs to be consciously unlearned? Once you notice what thoughts and emotions you are experiencing, you can begin interrupting the automatic responses that created the unwanted habits and begin identifying new responses.
- So step four is all about what actions to take instead of the unwanted behaviour. Ask yourself some questions about what it is you are truly seeking. Reward? Soothing? Rest? Reassurance? As humans, we have sometimes been steered towards avoiding our emotions in favour of escape. When we are able to connect with what we are actually craving, rather than avoiding, we can learn to meet our needs in healthier ways.
- And finally, step five is just about noticing how your mood is impacted by making empowered choices rather than simply responding to automatic thoughts or responses. When we give ourselves permission to feel and notice our full emotional state, we become free to make the choices that will bring us to long term change.
Making changes becomes easier to manage when we start at the beginning, with our thoughts, and rather than solely focusing on the outcome of the unwanted behaviour.