It’s a lot easier to start some new type of life-enhancing behaviour than it is to keep it going. How can we sustain new patterns of behaviour, until we’ve done them for so long they become habitual?
And for those of us who are therapists, coaches, or other types of health professional: how can we help our clients to keep up new behaviour between sessions?
Well, there are hundreds, if not thousands of tools out there to help us with this challenge, but we can pretty much bundle them all into what I like to call ‘The Seven Rs’: Reminders, Records, Rewards, Routines, Relationships, Reflecting, and Restructuring. Let’s take a look at each.
We can create all sorts of simple tools to help remind us of the new behavior we wish to persist with. For example, we might create a pop-up or a screen saver on our computer or mobile phone with an important word or phrase or symbol that reminds us to act mindfully or to utilize a particular value.
We might use the old favourite of writing a message on a card and sticking it on the fridge or propping it against the bathroom mirror or taping it to the car dashboard.
Or we might write something in a diary or calendar or in the ‘notes’ app of a smartphone. We might write just one word, like ‘Breathe’ or ‘Pause’ or ‘Patience’, or we might use an acronym like ‘A.C.T.’ or ‘S.T.O.P.’, or a phrase like ‘Letting go’ or ‘Caring and compassionate‘.
Alternatively we might put a brightly-coloured sticker on the strap of our wristwatch or the back of our smartphone or the keyboard of our computer, so that every time we use these devices, the sticker reminds us to do the new behaviour.
We can keep a record of our behavior throughout the day, noting down when and where we do the new behavior, and what the benefits are; and also when and where we do the old behavior, and what the costs are. Any diary or notebook – on paper, or on a computer screen – can serve this purpose.
When we do some form of new behavior that involves mindfully acting on our values, hopefully that will be rewarding in its own right. However, we can help to reinforce the new behavior with additional rewards.
One form of reward is kind, encouraging self-talk, e.g. saying to yourself: ‘Well done. You did it!’ Another form of reward is sharing your success and progress with a loved one who you know will respond positively.
On the other hand, you might prefer more material rewards. For example, if you sustain this new behavior for a whole week, you buy or do something that you really like, e.g. get a massage or buy a CD.