One of my favorite things I have learned from my study in psychology is tips and tricks for engaging in behavior change. From exercising and eating better to meditating more often, I’m sure we have all, at one point, found changing our behaviors difficult. Today I wanted to share with you some key points for making any behavior change more successful! I’m going to specifically use the example of meditation today. If you would like any sources containing research that backs up what I’m saying, please let me know!
1. Make your goal specific
Setting the intention to meditate more often is a great first step, but what we know is that, for best results, your intention should be more specific. Instead of saying I want to meditate more often, pick the number of days per week you want to meditate. I would also recommend deciding how long you want to meditate for and specific days you want to meditate. If you want to get really specific, even set the time of day you want to meditate (depending on your schedule this may or may not be helpful). Lets say you want to start by meditating 3 times a week for 15 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Why is setting a specific goal so important? Making a goal specific allows you to properly monitor your progress toward reaching your goal. If you are able to monitor your goal, then you are able to make adjustments when you realize you are not meeting your goal. Also, setting out specific plans allows you to implement some of the other tips and tricks that follow.
2. Set the bar low
…at least at first. You can envision and create lofty long-term goals; however, short-term goals should be manageable. If you set a goal of meditating for 1 hour every day of the week (without any previous dedicated practice), you will probably not reach that goal. Not reaching that goal may leave you feeling like you can never reach that goal. If instead, you set the goal of meditating for 10 minutes on Monday and Wednesday, you may easily reach that goal and feel inspired to keep going next week. If you set the bar low enough at first, you might even surpass your goal, which will make you feel extra confident continuing on your journey. Boosting your confidence and making things feel manageable will lay the foundation for successful behavior change.
3. When failure happens…
be self compassionate. Research has shown that people who are compassionate toward themselves after a failure are much more likely to find the strength to try again next week. Whereas those who engage in negative self talk after a set back are less likely to keep trying. Remind yourself that you can always try again and that not achieving your goal at first does not mean you can’t achieve it later! You are always worthy of kindness and forgiveness, especially from yourself.
If you are finding compassion difficult (or are not meeting your goals consistently), I recommend revisiting steps 1 and 2. Maybe you need to make a more specific goal and really set aside time to schedule in your meditation practice. Or perhaps you set the bar too high at first and need to alter your short-term goal.
4. Implementation intentions
These are helpful if-then statements that can lead to better goal attainment. The idea is to specify when, where, and how you will engage in meditation. The statement can be something you repeat to yourself during the day to remind yourself of your intention. Here are a couple examples: If I get home from work on Monday, then I will meditate for 15 minutes. If I finish my breakfast by 8am, then I will meditate for 5 minutes before class. If I finish my lunch before 1, then I will meditate before class/work.
5. Set up rewards
If you need the extra push, I recommend setting up a reward system. A reward could be something as simple as putting a sticker or a smiley face on your calendar to mark the completion of your goal that day or allowing yourself to watch something on YouTube or scroll through Facebook. Just pick something that will motivate you. You can even tack it on to your implementation intention. Ex: When I get home from work on Monday, then I will meditate for 15 minutes, and then I will reward myself with a small piece of chocolate.
6. Remind yourself of the short-term gains
Sometimes reminding ourselves of the long-term gains isn’t enough to motivate our present selves. Instead you can remind yourself of any short-term gains you automatically get from engaging in meditation. After meditating, I always feel calmer and better able to handle whatever I have left to do that day. You can even turn this into an implementation intention to repeat during the day! “If I meditate, I will feel calmer. If I meditate, I will be more connected to my spirit.”
I hope these tips and tricks help you on your journey!