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Secrets to Changing a Habit

by nina on February 11, 2011

changing a habitToday we have a special guest post from Meg Selig,  the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success. In addition to her consulting work, blogging at PsychologyToday she is also an adjunct professor of counseling at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley.

Meg gives us some great insight into the different stages of change, obstacles to change, how long it takes to form a habit, the difference between “Willpower” and “Change power” and the importance of setting intentions.

Q. How does one begin to change a habit?

You begin to change when you are faced with a serious challenge to your old habit behaviors.  For example, someone who is overweight may find out she’s gained 12 pounds in one year.  The child of someone who smokes tells him, “Daddy, we learned in school that smoking causes lung cancer.  Are you going to die?”   A caring mother whose house is full of clutter can’t find her daughter’s special bear, and her daughter can’t sleep.  Incidents like these can take a person from the “Oh, my habit’s not so bad” stage to the “I’ve got to re-think this” stage.  When you begin to think about changing, you are in what researchers call the Contemplation Stage.  You might not be ready to change, but you are ready to think about it.

Q. How long does it take to form a new habit?

After thinking about it, let’s say you decide you will change.  You choose a vivid motivator to help you change—like “to feel young and vital so I can walk with ease”—and you make a plan.  Your plan could rely on willpower or changepower.

“Willpower” is using only the thought of your motivator to guide your behavior.  An example of a willpower plan for eating is keeping a food diary so that you become more aware of your eating instead of eating mindlessly.

“Changepower” is adding outside support to your willpower.  For eating issues, you might seek counseling, join a support group, or remove junk food from the house.  You might decide to spend more time with caring people and avoid tempting situations.

As we all know, you don’t live happily ever after once you put your plan into action.  If only!  It takes about 3-6 months to form a new habit, not 21 days, as some ads suggest.

Q. What are some of the obstacles to changing habits?

One obstacle is brain chemistry.  You can practice the old habits on “automatic pilot,” in a sort of trance.  It takes a while to dismantle most of the old brain chemistry and replace it with the new habit.  For example, it took a friend of mine 3 months to develop a daily (M-F) exercise program.  She really had to force herself initially.  Now when she can’t exercise, she misses it.

With food habits, a huge obstacle is our society’s unrealistic attitudes toward thinness and beauty.  Bad attitudes and ads stick in our brains.  We have to challenge them.

Another big obstacle is over-estimating our own willpower.  Studies show that willpower can get tired, like a muscle that’s been over-used.  This happens when we are under stress or are having a tough day.  When this is happening, we need to take a break or call someone who can help—changepower!!

Q. What is the role of intention and visualization in habit change?

Being able to visualize a better life for yourself is so powerful that I call it one of the Eight Great Motivators.

Setting your intention for the day is as important as setting your alarm clock. It reminds you of how you want to approach the day and what you want to accomplish.

I recommend that habit-changers think about their intention either every night or before getting up in the morning.  Then give yourself a mental pat on the back when you’ve achieved what you’ve intended to do!
Q. What is the role of positive affirmations in habit change?

Many people benefit from creating personal mottoes or affirmations to keep them going.  A motto like “Live longer, stronger” can remind you of your health motivator. I like AA’s: “HALT!”  which means, “Never get too Hungry, too Angry, too Lonely, or too Tired.”  “To life,” “health first,” or an affirmation like “I treat myself with kindness” are good ways to encourage yourself.  To find a good motto or affirmation, think about a bumper sticker that you’d like to paste on your brain!

Meg Selig

Meg Selig is the author Changepower!: 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (English and English Edition)

changing eating habit

Visit her website at

You Can also “Like” her Meg Selig author page on Facebook.

Nina Vucetic

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