how-to by The Editors

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Katie Elliot started her platform ‘
Little Challenges’ after recovering from a time of personal crisis. It’s based on the simple practices; tools and ideas that helped her turn life around. In the past, Elliot’s instinct had always been to make huge changes and look for miracle cures. Over and over again she clutched onto the latest great hope, imagining that it would change everything – but in all the years she tried, she never found one that worked. It was only when she started to make tiny, positive changes and committed to them long-term that she began to see extraordinary results. Here, she guides us through her core principles for life transformation.

Notice what you want to change.

What is it that you would like to do differently? Get these thoughts out of your mind and down on paper. Describe what you do (or don’t do) that bothers you and how it affects your life. If you continue you on your current path, how do you think things will look in a year from now? How would you feel about that? Contemplating change can be uncomfortable, so be gentle during this process. No blame. No shame. Just a gentle noticing of what is.

Picture who you want to be

Having got clear about what you don’t want, now is the time to paint a vivid picture of what you do want. Imagine the ‘kind of person’ who behaves in the way you would like to. Try looking out at the world through their eyes for a moment. Often we try to change our behaviour by telling ourselves we should or can’t do things (for example, “I should go to the gym” or “I can’t eat cake.”) We hope that if we can force ourselves to behave differently, we’ll become the kind of person we want to be. This is back to front. We need to see ourselves differently first, using the desired identity as a guidepost ( “I’m the kind of person who goes to the gym after work” or “I’m the kind of person who eats healthily”). If you don’t personally know that ‘kind of person’, imagine someone well-known instead. Read about them. Listen to interviews. Start immersing yourself in new ways of seeing and doing.

Understand willpower

In the moment of deciding to change, we’re likely to have lots of willpower at our disposal. We may be tempted to imagine that it’s all we need to get us where we want to go. Willpower is certainly useful at the start – particularly if we use it to help us plan realistic ways getting from A to B. However, through willpower is a valuable resource, it’s also an easily exhausted one. Every time we make a decision, do something we don’t want to do or resist doing something we do want to do, we use up a little more. When we’re hungry, tired or dealing with big emotions, we can find ourselves without enough left to keep our attempts at behaviour change on track. So we need better strategies…

Create bright line rules and habits

A bright line rule is one where it’s easy to tell whether you’ve broken it or not – for example, “I don’t check my email after 7 pm”. Thinking about checking at 8 pm? No need to waste energy thinking about what to do, you’ve already decided. Bright line rules save your willpower for the times you really need it. So make habits. By breaking down your new behaviour into small steps and making them habitual, you can quickly get to a point where it’s easier to do them than not. Just find an existing behaviour that you do every day and stack your new behaviour on top. For example, want to do some journaling every morning but never get round to it? You could combine it with an existing activity (say, drinking your first coffee of the day) to create a new routine. Best to build one new habit at a time and make sure it’s something small that doesn’t take more than a few minutes to do.

Build a supportive environment

The things we surround ourselves with affect our behaviour. Taking conscious steps to make desirable behaviours easier to do by creating environmental ‘prompts’ (for example, fruit on the counter, books by the bed) and undesirable ones more difficult through creating ‘friction’ (keeping unhealthy snacks in a hard-to-reach cupboard, keeping your phone outside the bedroom so you can’t absentmindedly check it at night), can help enormously.

Keep track of your progress

By recording how you’re doing, you make it more likely you will keep going. Techniques like building an unbroken chain of crosses on your calendar (one for each day you do what you said you would), measuring changes in your fitness or strength or sharing your progress somewhere public can all help you keep going when you might feel like giving up. Oh and don’t expect your progress to be linear – it won’t be. So don’t be disheartened if some days it looks like you’re going nowhere. That’s just part of the process.

Plan for adversity

Sometimes life gets in the way; we get ill, life throws us curveballs. By creating a plan up front to help ourselves navigate those tricky times, we can make it more likely that a temporary blip doesn’t become a major setback. If you eat more than you planned to, get ill and don’t exercise for a week, lose your temper and shout at your nearest and dearest – that doesn’t have to mean that all of your efforts have gone to waste. What matters is that, at the earliest opportunity, you get back on track. So take a moment to think ahead – how will you accommodate the occasional off-day without getting derailed?

Celebrate, be gentle, keep going

The principles may be simple, but making changes doesn’t always feel easy. So notice and celebrate your progress and be kind to yourself when things don’t go to plan. Above all, just keep going.

Listen to Katie’s podcast Adventures in Behaviour Change here

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