You Can Change Your Habits: Here's How To Do It

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So many of us want to change our habits to get healthier. Will we achieve our goals? Some people will, some won't.

Here's how you can tell which group you'll fall into. Consider the question, “What's the story I tell myself?"

Do you start by thinking of yourself as hopelessly overweight, or someone who will inevitably become diabetic because your parents were, or as a perpetual klutz who can't “do" sports or work out? Chances are good you won't change your habits.

Or do you tell yourself the story, “I see myself as a fit person. Now I'm also going to act like a fit person." Perhaps you'll sign up for a class, or join a fitness-oriented group, such as running or cycling club. You'll start eating more greens and fruits, because that's what healthy people do, and that's who you really are inside.

Believing (that you inherently are the person who now makes healthy choices) and belonging (joining an exercise class or spending time with fit friends and likeminded acquaintances) makes all the difference.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Here's why the stories we tell ourselves are crucial. They show whether we have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

It starts when we are kids. Did your parents tell you, “You're smart. Why didn't you get an A? What's wrong with you?" Or did they say, “I know you worked really hard studying for that test. If you keep doing that, you'll get an A very soon."

In other words, was there a belief instilled in you that success is a result of working hard and learning? That's a growth mindset. If you were told you got A's because you were smart, or C's and D's because you weren't, that's a fixed mindset.

If you have a fixed mindset, you'll believe you always are and were the same, that you can't change anything – your grades, your health and so on – by your effort. This is further explained in the groundbreaking book, Mindset, by Carol S. Dweck, PhD.

Most Things in Life Aren't Fixed

But if you want to change your habits, know that you can. Most things in life aren't fixed, and people change every day. We've all seen it: someone who's lost a lot of weight and kept it off, another person who stopped smoking, a friend who stopped spending and began saving, or a colleague who started a fitness plan that made them stronger, leaner and more energetic.

These people are all around us.

So if there's a habit you want to change, change your story to: “I am a fit person," “I'm someone who naturally eats healthfully," “I'm a saver, not a spender." 

Keep telling yourself the story you want to see unfold – as if it's already true - and you'll develop a growth mindset. Scientific evidence shows that it works.

You will see the change you believed in.

Peter Pronovost, MD, PhD, is Chief Clinical Transformation Officer at University Hospitals.

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