Step 4: How to SUSTAIN the Changes
In Step 3 of this series I looked at how to integrate change into your life. In this step, I am going to explain how to have those changes become sustainable. Sustainability is one of the more challenging aspects of change management. How many times in your life have you made the decision to change your thinking and behaviours, and you’ve made the change, but days, weeks or months later, find yourself right back where you started? Sound familiar?
In the last paragraph of the explanation of Step 3, I revealed that change would be more successful if it was motivated by love and not fear. The reason this is true is that the motive determines the the focus, which creates the result. To better understand this, it’s important to understand why our choices to change, fail. In our awake state, or what is called conscious state, we live life motivated by our desires and wishes. Of course when we make the decision to change our behaviour that is a conscious choice, a desire or wish that we feel will improve our situation.
The other part of consciousness is what is called subconscious, which are our habitual thoughts, feelings etc. that have emerged from our childhood programming and life experience. The minute our attention goes from the thoughts we choose, to the thoughts that choose us, our subconscious takes over and we resort to our established habits, most of which were inspired by other people. Have you ever made the conscious choice to drive to a destination and start out heading in the right direction, and then a thought pops into your head and you begin to entertain that thought. In that moment your subconscious has taken over the driving and typically, one of two things happens; you arrive at your destination, totally unaware of your experience of driving there, or because this is a route that you often take to go to another destination, you arrive at this other destination, having responded to that habitual program. Your desires and wishes were sabotaged by your habits.
This isn’t saying that a subconscious approach to life is bad. Doing some of life subconsciously saves a lot of energy. Imagine if every time you got out of bed, you had to learn to walk all over again. That’s a programmed, subconscious behaviour that is very beneficial, and one of thousands that we resort to each day that makes life easier to manage. Researchers have suggested that only 35% of our subconscious programs are beneficial, which leaves 65% of those behaviours having no benefit, and in many case being harmful.
In Steps 1-3 I explained how gathering more knowledge and understanding expanded our appreciation of our desires and wishes. This process of gathering more knowledge and understanding is also referred to as becoming more aware. This commitment to expanded awareness is another conscious behaviour. It means we are ‘more awake’ when it comes to experiencing life. Ultimately our mind can only either be entertaining those thoughts we choose which includes our desires and wishes, as well as what we are aware of through our expanded knowledge and understanding or, getting caught up in the thoughts that randomly cross our mind, or habitually arise in response to whatever we are experiencing.
The latter causes the brain to switch to subconscious behaviours which are our old habits. The moment that happens, then pursuit of our desires and wishes become difficult and we have to resort to a lot of will power (more to the point won’t power) to maintain our focus on what we desire or wish. This is where the strategy to maintain being conscious and to sustain the change kicks in. That strategy is called, being mindful.
From the western perspective, mindfulness is stopping and remembering in each moment that they’re is a more self-loving alternative, the one that you desire and wish for, the one that you have created, of which you have a more expanded, loving centred awareness. Ok, so you’ve stopped and given your detailed self-loving alternative serious consideration, then what?
This next step is counter intuitive…do what comes naturally. If you still feel the urge to follow your old habitual way of doing things, then do it, but only after you have given thought to the pros and cons and the self-loving alternative reality. And then what? Repeat that process every time you are presented with the choice to be aligned with your desires and wishes. There will be a tipping point, that moment when you stop and are being mindful of your choice between your desires and wishes and your non-serving habit, and you decide that you will choose what it is that you desire and wish for, and it requires almost no will power, as it is a self-loving choice. Then what?
You do it once, and you realise it was quite easy and you are enjoying the feeling of having aligned with a thought, action or feeling that really reflects your true worth, which leaves you feeling pretty darn good. Of course, when you are presented with the choice once more, it becomes easier to choose the more self-loving alternative. Be aware that sometimes a thought of doubt, or a moment of feeling low sees you presented with the choice and you resort to your old habit (remember it’s your habitual response to stress), and that’s OK, remember the key is to follow what comes naturally. Being more aware, you recognise the difference in the feeling between this choice and the more loving alternative.
Presented with the choice some time later, you stop and practice being mindful of the alternatives and in this moment you recall how you didn’t like your experience when you chose to align with your old habits. Recalling how you felt when you made the more loving choice you will typically be more inclined to follow that path. This switching between behaviours may take several attempts, but mostly, if you stay committed to being mindful, you eventually stick to being aligned with the more self-loving behaviour and here’s the kicker – it becomes your new habit, but this time, it’s better serving.
That’s how you make your changes sustainable. In the next step I explain how the positive emotions of successfully maintaining the changes super empower the new habits and becomes the glue that also helps make them stick.
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