Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
Home | About Dr. Phillips | Forest Garden Office | Reading Room | Advice Line Articles | "Office Staff" | Other Services | Psych-mobile | Choosing a Therapist | Affordable Therapy or Life Coaching | Dedication
Self Improvement





Now is the time to improve your life for 2011 and all your years thereafter.  This month we're going to focus on habit change. First, consider this quotation: "Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny."   These are wise and noble thoughts. Begin your path to self-actualization by comparing your daily behavior patterns with your values and goals. Then you can change your life for the better, one habit at a time. Pick the top six behaviors you'd like to change and visualize how your life could be improved when you make these changes. Realize that you can accomplish these changes in the next 12 months. Research shows that most habits can be changed within 30 to 60 days. The exception might be difficult problem behaviors which need to be eliminated with professional help over a longer period of time.


Now let's think about Mark Twain's tongue-in-cheek advice, "Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow." This is what we usually do with our habit change plans. I can just hear you thinking, "I don't have time to make changes. I've had this habit for years and I can't change it. I'll just fail again."   But new research findings can be used to conquer these negative attitudes.  The biggest mistake people make is to attempt to change a difficult habit first, ending up frustrated and stuck. The most effective strategy is to start with an easy habit to change but one which will bring improvement to your life. You can even start out by changing a "half habit." For example, if you want to exercise in the morning, you could set your alarm back 15 minutes and use that time to do some stretches or sun salutations. Once that habit is established, you can add more time until you have reached your goal.


Using the example above, I'm going to mention a few key concepts in habit change. One is enjoyment. You need to do something that makes you feel good while you're changing the habit.  We all know that exercise makes people feel better when the habit is established, but think about adding music and an interesting drink as part of your new plan.  Another key factor is enmeshing the new habit in a daily routine. This structure will enable you to remember to perform the new habit on a regular basis. So you might jump into your exercise routine in the morning right before you take your shower. Another key concept is to consider environmental influences when you are changing your habit. You'll be more motivated when you exercise in a room in your house with lots of light and space to move around. Tiptoeing around a dark house filled with sleeping family members will make you long to go back to bed yourself. The same concepts mentioned above can be applied to removing negative habits as long as you understand that a new positive habit must be added to counteract the behavior you want to change.


You'll want to plan your habit change carefully with the assistance of others who have researched  positive habit change. On the Internet, look up the words habit change and select some of the articles listed under, for example "The Habit Change Cheatsheet."  A recommended book with more of the same information is "The Habit Factor, Martin Grunburg, Equilibrium Enterprises, 2010.  Once planned, take action! You'll be glad you did!