Developing Consistency

This month’s newsletter is somewhat different than most in that it is a revised exercise developed for a class. Many students related having difficulty being consistent with new or constructive behaviors, so this exercise was designed to help. Blanks throughout ask you to write down your concerns, experiences, or ideas. Filling in these blanks will strengthen your resolve for following new habits consistently.

Developing consistency, especially in positive, constructive, new habits is a challenge for everyone. Overcoming the desire to do “the easier, softer” thing that is our existing habit is a struggle. Changing established behavior to something unfamiliar makes us feel clumsy, slow, groping, struggling to remember why we want this change (a nuisance when we have other worries). The comfort of the old and the awkwardness of the new discourage changing habits. To overcome this built-in resistance, we need many tricks and supports to help us consistently do whatever we decide is in our best interest. The techniques below may help.

In my experience, difficulty with consistency occurs in several main areas:

Let’s look at ways to reduce each of these difficulties.

To prevent feeling disconnected, we need to LINK ACTIVITIES TOGETHER – using an already consistent activity, such as eating breakfast or bathing to trigger doing a new activity, can make becoming consistent with the new activity easier. Some examples of this include:
__ Use getting out of bed to remind you to stretch, smile, and do a posture check

__ Tie drinking your morning coffee or tea to checking your to-do list for the day (it helps to keep your list where you would drink your beverage)

__ Finishing your AM beverage can signal time to do aerobics or meditation

__ Link finishing breakfast to taking your vitamins or doing exercise

__ Tie bathing to washing hand-laundry items, singing (good for lungs and mood), or exercising (yes, in the tub)

__ Link waiting at a stoplight or in a line to doing a relaxation check or isometric exercise. You can also use washing dishes or doing other chores for exercise, singing, or catching up on phone calls.

__ Tie passing a mirror to doing a posture check (it helps to have lots of mirrors around) and smiling

Other ways to link new behaviors to established ones _____________________________________________________________________________________


To prevent forgetting, many REMINDERS such as objects or status can remind you that something needs to be done. Examples:

__ Position - put objects where they will stand out and demand to be used, such as putting exercise equipment in front of the TV or computer (but not where they will create a trip hazard).

__ Lights – turn on an annoying light that stays on until you have accomplished whatever new behavior you associate with it.

__ Containers – put discards in particular containers (such as for recycling or thrift store donations) near the door to remember to take them when you go out

__ Sticky notes – these need to be switched around often as only new notes are effective as reminders. Putting notes in multiple spots may help to remember new behaviors that could happen anywhere or that trigger resistance (however, resistance may indicate that the new behavior needs to be broken up into smaller pieces that will not individually trigger resistance).

__ List new, would-be habits on your daily planner or to-do list every day until they become dependable. Listing the new behavior on every day or page ahead of time (such as for an entire month or two, or even more) reduces the likelihood of giving up. No matter how repetitious this may be, until the behavior is solid, keeping it on your list is needed. Checking off the new habit from your list each time you do it also helps to reinforce it.

Other ways to use reminders to become more consistent _____________________________________________________________________________


Many kinds of reinforcers can aid consistency:
__ Symbols – Put a beautiful bowl (symbolizes you) in a special spot in your home with as many pretty stones or crystals or other meaningful symbol for the behavior you want to make consistent to represent the time required to make the behavior permanent (such as 21 stones for 21 days or however many you think it will take) around it. Every time you carry out the new behavior, put a stone in the bowl. If you miss a day, take them all out and start over.

__ Stickers - our teachers got it right – most of us love stickers, especially stars. Putting a sticker or star for every day that you do the new behavior (or don’t do an old one that you want to stop) on your calendar, planner, to-do list, refrigerator, accomplishments list, or any other meaningful spot may reinforce consistency.

__ A timer, clock, or alarm going off at a particular hour to remind you to carry out the new behavior can be a big help.

__ Schedule the activity with others; this is particularly effective for activities such as exercise, clearing out, and eating healthy. Most of us have strong inhibitions against breaking our commitments to other people.

__ Bets with friends or family members about who can be the first to achieve a certain behavior or goal can be effective tools for becoming consistent with habit changes such as ending smoking, losing weight, or maintaining an exercise program. Friendly competition, especially when there is something at stake such as money, bragging rights, or prestige can be very effective.

__ Reading - reading multiple books on the subject of a difficult-to-change habit can help maintain focus. Reading reinforces the idea that the change is paramount, suggests new perspectives and ideas to support the change, and helps you forgive yourself for how difficult the struggle is (the fact that someone wrote a book about it shows that other people have a hard time mastering the behavior too).

__ Associating a desirable behavior with a given location can help also, such as
sitting down to watch TV as the basis for doing conscious relaxation, exercise, or sorting

__ Giving yourself a desired reward for doing the new behavior each day and withholding it if you miss can help consistency. Chocolate, flowers, or decorating may be helpful inducements.

Other ways to reinforce consistency: _______________________________________________________________________________________


__ Manage your self talk. Talk to yourself about the behavior you want to encourage not as a chore, but as the gateway to a new and better life. Use your self talk to train yourself to think that you are capable of doing anything you set your mind to; it will become true if you say it often enough.

__ Making a rule for yourself that you will not go to bed, watch TV, browse the Internet, or engage in other optional activities until you have carried out the new behavior can help ensure that you do it.

__ Keep a list of all the reasons why you want a behavior to become consistent where you will always see it when you are in the area where you must do the activity. List both the positive ways that you expect your life to benefit and the consequences you expect from not following the desired behavior.

Other ways motivators can reinforce consistency: ____________________________________________________________________________________



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