How to Adopt a Change-Friendly Mindset in the New Year

Asian Woman Working in Her GardenMany of the people I work with in therapy have expressed a desire to adopt a healthier lifestyle in 2015. Those in the baby boomer generation, now experiencing midlife, are thinking more along the lines of a lifestyle redesign than just creating or improving a few habits. A baby boomer myself who has embraced a number of healthy lifestyle changes in the past few years, I have been sharing some of what both modern neuroscience and my own experience have taught me about how to approach the change process for the best results.

Readiness for change is impossible to predict, create, or control, and often shows up in our lives after a long period of denial and pain about what isn’t working. Sometimes there is an event that ignites our determination, but most often change begins when we have simply gotten fed up with the way things are. Change is something we are often looking for in others, or we want someone to change along with us. This is especially true of couples. The truth of the matter is the only one you can change is you.

The desire, readiness, and motivation for change happen if and when we are ready to allow it to happen, and not a moment sooner. Sometimes our enthusiasm is contagious and we are able to get others to join in, but if you are ready now, get started—don’t wait for someone who may not be. Others are on their own timetables. Most people find it helpful to surround themselves with like-minded people who have similar goals. If we aren’t lucky enough to have this support in our family and friend circle, it may be worthwhile to seek out a community-based group to meet this need.

The journey of change in our lives is typically one of alternating periods of forward momentum and periods of sliding back to our former, default settings. If we accept that this reflects the nature of the change process and says nothing about us, we can decide that a setback is not the same thing as giving up, and simply recommit to the positive changes we have decided to make. We don’t have to do anything perfectly in order to embrace healthy change. We just have to stick with it and make the decision to resume again after periods of regression to our former habit patterns.

Even if change feels intimidating or threatening to us on an unconscious level, that doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. Growth occurs only when we step outside our comfort zone. As we are able to stay with the discomfort of the unknown, we learn to relax as the experience is integrated into the brain’s neural mapping. Soon, the unknown becomes the known and is no longer scary. This is the same process we go through all of our lives in countless ways. By this age and stage, it can feel as exciting as it does dangerous. I have found that mindfulness practice of some form of meditation is a great tool for managing the anxiety that often accompanies change.

Often at midlife, changes in our health habits reflect shifts going on internally in areas of relationships, career, and unfulfilled dreams and plans. The change that is occurring on the outside is reflective of changes occurring on the inside. Change is often thought of as scary and destabilizing, but there are times when staying the same seems even more so. If you are ready for change, a good place to start is accepting yourself where you are, deciding on a step you’d like to take, and taking it. Then, keep going.

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  • Ronald

    Ronald

    January 9th, 2015 at 10:41 AM

    It is awfully hard to change the things that we have been doing for what seems like a 100 years, you know like old habits are hard to break But if you know that it is a change that in the end is going to do something positive for you and maybe even your family, then it is just hard to at least not give it a try. It might not be too easy to do at first, but if you resolve that you are going to do it and be a success, then that is what it will be.

  • Diann Wingert

    Diann Wingert

    January 9th, 2015 at 4:35 PM

    Ronald,

    Habits have both a mental and a neurological existence. The brain create something called a neural pathway or brain map that allows habits to go on “auto pilot.” Changing these maps just requires a little patience and repetition. In time, the new map replaces the old map as the new habit replaces the former one. I agree with your comment about resolve. We really do help to create our reality by making conscious deliberate choices.

  • Zeke.net

    Zeke.net

    January 10th, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    I know that this is the year that I have to make some meaningful and substantial changes in my life to be around for as long as I want to be, but I have to tell ya that I feel a little lost as to where to start.
    I want to lose some weight, start eating healthier and start a little exercise regimen as well. That’s the big picture.\But I do feel a little overwhelmed thinking about making all of these changes all at one time.
    Do you think that it would be better to introduce one new thing at a time, give it time to take and then start with something new? Or will I be better off just going ahead and jumping in and starting it all at the same time?

  • Diann Wingert

    Diann Wingert

    January 11th, 2015 at 8:46 AM

    Hi Zeke, Some people are more successful making broad sweeping changes simultaneously, but most of us will find that anchoring down one change at a time will lead to more lasting change over time. Since you are currently feeling overwhelmed just thinking of how many changes you feel you need to make, I would suggest starting with exercise. You will get more “bang for your buck” making this change than any of the others, so it’s an ideal place to start. When we are exercising regularly we tend to sleep better, have more energy, feel more optimistic and confident and manage stress, worry and anxiety better. Because of these benefits, in addition to our clothes fitting looser and feeling better about ourselves for having done some exercise, other changes are more easily incorporated into our new lifestyle. The four pillars of health are: movement (exercise), sleep, hydration and nutrition. You might try targeting them in that order. It takes about 4-6 weeks to fully develop a new habit, but you don’t have to wait that long to start working on subsequent habits. There is no right or wrong way to go about this, so listen to your body, try to have a little fun with it and remember it’s never to late to get healthier. Good luck !

  • Eliza

    Eliza

    January 12th, 2015 at 3:51 AM

    Go ahead, make those changes in your everyday life that you KNOW are going to do you the most good.
    It can be a little painful at first when you start to consider all of the things that you would like to try differently so I would recommend taking things one step, one day at a time and seeing what feels most comfortable for you.
    I think that you will find that once you have accomplished a few of your things on your list then it may not feel quite as daunting when you decide that you are ready to try the nest.

  • reece

    reece

    January 12th, 2015 at 10:23 AM

    I think that when you have opened yourself to be acceptable to change then you are automatically going to be equipped with the mindset to make those changes.

    For some people this has been a long time coming, and I think that once they have made up their minds to do it then they can because they have had a long time to ponder the consequences of making this change.

    I don’t mean that this will always be easy, because making a huge leap like that is never the easiest thing in the world to do, but I do think that they have a had a little more time to consider their options and that this seemed like it would be the most beneficial choice for them.

  • Diann Wingert

    Diann Wingert

    January 12th, 2015 at 11:00 AM

    Eliza,

    Thanks for your helpful comments !

    Diann Wingert

  • Diann Wingert

    Diann Wingert

    January 12th, 2015 at 12:28 PM

    Reece,

    We can think of readiness for change which begins with precontemplation, then contemplation, action, assessment and integration. Precontemplation or “wanting to want to change” can take years, but once we are ready to contemplate change, we may move into the action phase swiftly and with relative ease. This is true whether we are talking about starting a positive habit or stopping a negative one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Diann W.

  • ruiz

    ruiz

    January 13th, 2015 at 3:50 AM

    Thankfully I am pretty content with my life and where I am so I don’t have to worry too much about it I mean I am always open to change when I need to be, but there are also times when I think that you can safely say that if it ain’t broke, then why worry about fixing it?

  • Barry

    Barry

    January 24th, 2015 at 10:09 PM

    some people want things to change overnight. but they also want to have a good nights sleep.

  • Diann Wingert

    Diann Wingert

    January 25th, 2015 at 12:13 PM

    Barry,

    Your comment is amusing but totally accurate. In my therapy practice I often see people who want the benefits of change and the comforts of non-change at the same time. Even when we think we are ready to move in a new direction or to create healthy change, we often cling to the familiar, to what feels safe and secure. I usually recommend taking a step that is big enough to make us feel that it is truly making a difference, but small enough so that our discomfort with the change process is manageable. Once it begins to feel “normal” to us, it’s time for the next step. Diann

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