What is something that you want to change in your life? Maybe you want to stop biting your nails or wish you weren’t late all of the time. Maybe it is something more addictive like smoking. Sometimes we even want to change things that aren’t voluntary, such as a pattern of exploding in anger or a thoughts that tend towards anxiety.
No matter what you want to change, you will be more successful if you know research- based techniques on making changes. Here are some common myths that I see in my work as a therapist. These misconceptions stop people from making changes.
It takes 21 days to change a habit.
The timing varies. This is makes sense. Some habits and patterns are more long standing, have an addictive component or have a basis in a person’s neurobiology. Research states it can take from 18 days to 254 to change a habit with an average at 66 days.
I should be able to change through willpower alone.
In their book, “Change For Good” researchers identified 9 strategies that were effective in making changes. Willpower was not one of them. That may be because willpower is a broad term and implies that it alone is all people need. Not true.
Here are three strategies that do work when people are making changes.
- Consciousness Raising- Increasing information about the problems
- Emotional Arousal- expressing one’s distress at the problem (this is part of why therapy works, having to really hear why you are upset about something can lead to action)
- Helping relationships- enlisting the help of someone that cares
Feeling shame and anger at myself will motivate me.
Not true. The strategies that work least were those based only in fear or guilt.p People are more able to make changes when their thinking about the process is a small percent negative and primarily positive.
If you think about this, you know it is true. If someone yells at you, initially you may work harder but in the long run you will probably become angry and resentful. Eventually you may slow down or not work. A little shame or guilt can be effective, but too much is counterproductive.
Conversely, we tend towards doing things where we feel success and joy. If I feel in shape and good about myself, I usually exercise more. So, a change process that depends less on self-anger and more on noticing successful steps in changing is more effective.
If you keep these three facts about the change process in mind and you will be able to kick some habits!
If you would like to learn more, please contact Mount Airy Learning Tree for my class “Kicking Old Habits,” on February 25 and March 4, 2015 at 7 PM at the Mount Airy Read and Eat.
Ruth Feinblum, LCSW is the founder of Growth Solutions Counseling. She helps people to worry less and relax more, couples to communicate and people to thrive after divorce.