“An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.” – Ernst F. Schumacher
If there’s one thing I have learned from studying Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, it’s this: to lead a meaningful life, one must practice the skills and behaviors needed to do so. Understanding ourselves is an important part of healing, but in my opinion, has been over-emphasized by psychotherapy for too long. To improve our lives, we must be willing to make behavioral changes that align with our goals and values. That goes for therapists as well as clients.
Making changes is incredibly difficult. Our minds are very good at talking us out of doing things. Rather than exercising, eating well, meditating, and taking other actions that are good for our well-being, we listen to our minds’ justifications and excuses, and allow ourselves to put off change until another hour, another day, another year. There will never be a good time to make a change, so the best time is right now.
Staying motivated to make a change is different for every person and every situation. But here are a few ideas…
- Tell others your plans for change. Ask friends and family to check in with you about the change you’re making in order to hold you accountable.
- Start your change with someone else. Having an exercise buddy or starting a healthy diet with your spouse can make a huge difference. You could even join a group. There are online and in-person support groups that can help you stay focused on your goals.
- Choose a special date, and hold it in mind. I stopped smoking cigarettes on January 1, 2017. Having that date in mind and not wanting to mess it up by relapsing really helped. I can now proudly say that it has been over a year since I have used tobacco.
- Link the change you want to make to your values. First, think about and list your top five values. Then, think of a link between the change you are working on and each of your core values. For example, if one of your core values is family, and the change you want to make is meditating every day, you could write, “Meditating every day will increase my patience and calm when interacting with my kids.” If one of your core values is individuality, and you’re trying to quit smoking, you could write, “By quitting smoking, I’m sticking it to the evil tobacco lobby.” Write down something for all five of your values, and post the list somewhere where you’ll see it frequently.
- Pair the change with something you already do regularly. If your goal is to journal every night, and you already brush your teeth every night, tell yourself you will not brush your teeth until after you journal.
- Replace with a healthier habit. For example, many former alcoholics or drug addicts reap great benefits from exercising, finding that the endorphin rush is a healthy alternative to getting drunk or high. If you are trying to cut out chocolate but having sugar cravings, eat strawberries or blueberries instead.
- Start a blog. Writing about your experiences will keep you accountable, and could even connect you to others who are making the same change.
- Track your progress. Use a planner, chart or graph to keep track of how far you’ve come. Seeing all the progress you’ve made can help you stay motivated to continue it.
- Reward yourself – thoughtfully. When you’ve reached a milestone towards your goal, treat yourself to dinner at your favorite restaurant (unless you’re trying to eat vegan and your favorite restaurant is called Meats and Cheeses) or to a spa day (unless you’re trying to break a spa addiction… hey, it could happen).
- Try, try again. At some point, you will likely screw up. We are all human. But don’t give up! Get back on the horse and keep going!
How did you make a change in your life? Comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.