3 Steps To Make A New Habit Stick, From A Psychologist

Often we look for some heralded solution, like a single therapeutic method or a self-help book, as the holy grail. Despite the best of intentions, we blindly take those on, and then we stumble. 

Take, for instance, how meditation (or mindfulness) is often touted as a cure-all for everything, from mental health challenges to weight loss to career success. But even if you came home from a wellness retreat blissed-out, continuing to integrate those practices into your real life can be more of a challenge, and unfortunately, that’s where it really counts.

Sometimes we are told to simply recite a mantra to change our mindset. And while that can be helpful at times, our real beliefs about ourselves, the future, and the world are really what matters. You can tell yourself you’re amazing and successful, but if you don’t truly believe it, then two things often happen: First, you might achieve what you set out to and then sabotage it. Second, you might never get there and then feel disheartened. 

And then, some of us—those who are wired Type-A in particular—need to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. Just breathe! often isn’t enough; we will end up conducting these behaviors with suspicion and resentment. For some of us, this disparity between what we are doing and our real thoughts will work in our favor, as we learn to look for evidence that we are on the right track. For others, we end up falling through the cracks. 

There’s also the case of analysis-paralysis. A classic example will be a client reaching out, telling me they’ve spent the last decade in psychotherapy, and their panic attacks have not improved. Initially miffed, I’d ask, “But what have you been discussing for the last 10 years?” Often the answer is “family dynamics” or “my childhood.” While there is a place for understanding your background, it’s far from the be-all and end-all. Our emotions and trauma are stored in our body; intellectualizing them away doesn’t always help. 

Finally, there’s the good ol’ case of sabotage. More often than not, clients will start out being consistent, until one slip-up has them feeling despondent, like they’re back to square one. This has nothing to do with their character flaw or weakness—it’s human nature. The brain resists change, so we often sabotage our own behaviors. Once someone rises up from that week, though, they realize they have the power to do anything. 

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