Q: When do you know that a new behavior has become not only a new habit, but a lifestyle change?
A: When you do it naturally, without thinking ... or even better, when you do think about it, and you want to do the new behavior over the old one. The old one just isn't "you" anymore.
That happened to me today, when I was heading out to the library. I walked out the door with three books in hand, and headed for my car. Before I had gone even ten feet, I thought, "Actually, I'd rather walk." So I tucked the books under my arm, walked right by my car, and started up the street.
My library isn't far – it's under a mile away. When I lived in Brooklyn (oh-so-many years ago), it would have been inconceivable to me to get in a car to go anywhere within a two mile radius. In Cobble Hill, we walked everywhere, in good weather or bad. Even if you had a car, you would never dream of taking it out for a local errand. And even when we became parents, if it was raining, snowing, sleeting, or whatever, we would throw the plastic cover over our Maclaren strollers and go where we needed to go.
But this is the suburbs, the car is right in the driveway (no worries about getting another spot, or alternate-side-of-the-street rules!), and whether I liked it or not, I gradually lost my Brooklyn training and would easily and mindlessly jump in the car to go less than a mile ... or sometimes, shamefully, even less than that.
Recently, I've been creating new habits for myself. I'm "walking the walk" (in this case, literally!) for positive change in my own life, as I work with people whose goal is to create positive change in theirs. One of my goals is to be more active in general. My mini-habits have definitely helped this. I changed my original "walk 15 minutes a day" mini-habit – which was not too successful despite how easy I thought it should be – to a "too small to fail" mini-habit of one 60-second plank a day – and I've been keeping up with it. And just like the literature on kaizen/mini-habits says ... the mini-habit is like a Trojan Horse that tricks your brain into bigger action. Not only do you rarely stop at the mini-habit (I've been naturally segueing into my yoga or tai chi after my plank), but it has repercussions throughout the day. You start to think of yourself differently ... and as a result, you make different decisions. So guess what: even though it wasn't on my to-do/mini-habit list, today I walked way more than 15 minutes. And I did two days ago, too, when I walked over two miles to my bank and back. Funny how that works ...
Another thing that helps make new habits successful is to connect them to another habit you already have. In my case, I decided several years ago that I needed to get back to reading more. At the same time, I switched from buying most of my books to borrowing them from the library. So now whenever I hear about any book I might be interested in, I immediately go to my library website and see if it's in the system. We have an inter-library loan program (and I'm sure you do, too), which makes it easy to do. I find the book, and very often, my library doesn't have it, but the interlibrary loan system does. I place a request, and whenever the book comes in (it could be a few days or a few weeks), I get an email ... and up to the library I go, to pick it up.
This has always been a win-win-win for me: I spend less money on books; I don't accumulate book clutter (I have enough of that already, trust me); and I read a ton. Now I've added an extra win to the chain! And the more I read, the more I learn, the more I walk .... I can almost hear a little bell going ding ding ding ding ding! in my head.
Plus, I just realized: those small habits in reading, walking, and using my library just supported my writing goal, too. That's another thing about these small lifestyle shifts; they send out ripples that gradually affect other areas positively, too.
I'm seeing it every day: little things add up to big changes. As one of my clients likes to say, "Persistent, consistent effort over time sees results." And this is mine for today.
Ruth Kunstadter, MA, BCC works with career changers and other individuals who want to connect to their purpose and potential, and to create more self-care, balance, and fulfillment in their personal and professional lives. Find out more about creating your best "what's next" at www.newpathwayscoaching.com or by emailing Ruth at NewPathwaysCoach@gmail.com.