We all have behaviors or character traits that we want to change. Perhaps you’re a couch potato wishing you had a great workout, or a pound of debt behind you. But even if Mother Nature did not give you the innate qualities you want, you can cultivate them yourself.
“Research shows that humans are a product of both their genetics and the environment,” says Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a California-based clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear (Familius, February 2019). “We are born with certain genetic factors, but as we grow and move through life we can develop into the type of person we want to be.”
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While you cannot change your genetic coding, you can learn to better control your thoughts and behaviors. Our experts offer these 11 tips to drive change and increase your chances of success.
Clarify your goal
To say “I want to be a better person” is too vague. A clearer goal, according to Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and relationship expert at Tone Networks, is to “be kinder to others.” To do this, you can practice being a better listener, showing empathy for someone in need, or being more patient while driving.
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Keep a real-time log
Trying to remember a behavior later on often leads to an overestimation or underestimation of what really happened, says Manly. For example, a dieter who records her food intake has a better chance of being specific and noticing eating habits.
Be proactive, not reactive
Sometimes it is easier to change situations than to change your reaction. For example, if you get irritable with friends late in the week, spend time with them on the weekend when you’re rested and see if it makes a difference.
It’s not realistic to say, “I’m going to stop swearing now,” but it is realistic to stop swearing at work in order to start.
If you storm in and don’t get it right, you might feel guilty or defeated, says Durvasula. For example, if you want to eat more vegetables, add one serving per day to your existing plan instead of forcing yourself to eat vegetables at every meal.
As your new behavior becomes a habit, increase the frequency with which you practice it, for example several times a day or a week.
Rewrite your self-talk
Manly suggests consciously shifting a negative inner dialogue into a positive one in order to better achieve your goals. For example, if your inner voice says, “I am not worthy”, change that to “I am more than enough”.
Place simple, supportive messages around you to remind you of your goal. If you’re trying to exercise more, write on your bathroom mirror, “Take a 10-minute walk after work! You will feel so much better! “Manly recommends.
Ask for assistance
Your inner circle can contribute positively or negatively to your change, says Durvasula. Identify who is supporting you so that you can get positive feedback and encouragement, and distance yourself from negative people so they don’t derail you.
Be nice to yourself
See stumbling and missteps as opportunities, not mistakes. “Mistakes are the way we learn and can even be viewed as a kind of triumph,” says Durvasula. “If you see a lesson rather than a failure, you are less likely to punish yourself for it.”
Recognize your progress with a reward based on your individual desires. “For example, a warm evening bath could be a real luxury for a busy mom,” says Manly.