Maverick Life


Living one’s best life can begin with small changes

Living one’s best life can begin with small changes
Image: CDD20 / Pixabay

Do you long to change aspects of yourself but find it difficult to express your innermost aspirations? It’s not always easy and perseverance is key, especially if previous attempts at transformation have failed. If you do persist, the rewards could be life-changing.

James Clearbehavioural expert and author of the international bestseller Atomic Habits says to live your best life, start by making small changes. Clear writes, “success is the product of daily habits – not a once-in-a-lifetime transformation”.  These choices determine us, because “researchers estimate that 40%-50% of our actions on any given day are automatic”.

The compound effect of hundreds of small changes determines whether one becomes the person one always wanted to be; the sum total of one’s actions determines who one is – and this takes continuous work, throughout one’s lifetime.

Learning one new thing each day might not change us into instant experts, but lifelong learning becomes transformative. Similarly, being kinder to others on a daily basis will ultimately result in a network of strong connections.

Habits have a deep psychological basis, says Barry Viljoen, a Sterkfontein clinical psychologist and lecturer at Wits University in Johannesburg. They are patterns or rituals that develop over decades; they have a function and are triggered by cues or situations that one experiences. Each time a pattern is repeated, a neural pathway is activated, and all these unconscious actions become super highways. Habits such as switching off lights or putting on the alarm are unconscious actions that free up brain space which can be used for things that require more thought.

Thus, in order to improve one’s life, become aware of how some habits have developed. Practising mindfulness techniques can help us understand why we act the way we do.

We should ask ourselves what needs the habit satisfies and what triggered it? Overeating, for instance, could follow feelings of insecurity or anxiety. If one gets trapped in the habit of experiencing the world as negative and unjust, this will dominate the experience of reality.

The first step is to make a list of your habits. Once you have listed them, decide if they are good or bad by giving each one a score. Ask yourself if they will help you become the person you want to be?

Viljoen says the second step is to consciously create space between the trigger and the action. Slow it down and evaluate rationally what it is that you are experiencing and what are the feelings that this experience sparks. This can help to stop the automotive action and break the circuit.

If you look at it from a rational perspective, you would discover that it is often an encoded response to an emotional need. In the case of overeating, for example, you might be eating because you are feeling inadequate and the food gives you instant gratification; you are putting yourself down because you have feelings of insecurity.

The third step is to work out a clear plan of what changes you are going to make. The secret is to start with small, manageable changes that are not too far outside your lifestyle. Be specific about what and where and how often you plan to do them.  For instance, I am going to walk for five minutes every morning before breakfast; or I’m going to call so and so every week to check on them. Changes don’t have to be big; they can be small things that you incorporate into your life that will slowly but surely make an impact.

And, in fact, the good news is that even if you have already given up on your New Year’s resolutions, the recipe to success is not making drastic changes, but rather consistent, small adjustments. DM/ML


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