You may be thinking, “Dr. Cherie has lots of good ideas on Time Management, but it’s quite a challenge to teach an old dog new tricks. It might be tough breaking the old habits and learning new ones.”

In one sense, you’re right! As humans we are creatures of habit. A habit is something that is routine, repetitive, familiar, and unconscious. When we repeat a behavior 21 times or more it becomes habitual. When it becomes an ingrained habit, it is challenging to break, but not impossible! You can change any old habit if you follow
my seven steps to behavior change. They are proven effective and work on any behavior from smoking to Time Management. If you stop midway, however, you have to go back to number 1 counting the repetitions all over again, so it is in your best interest to stick with the program until you have completed your 21 repetitions. At that point you should have replaced the old behavior or habit with the new desired one. When you are choosing whether to go with the new behavior or to recede back to the old habit, ask yourself, “Do I want to reinforce the future or to cling to the past?”

Here are my seven steps to behavior change:

Step #1: Become aware of what you are doing. Without awareness, there is no change. For instance, if you habitually bite your nails and are unaware of it, you won’t ever stop because your hand ends up in your mouth without you even knowing. Awareness is always the first step in changing anything.

Step #2: Acknowledge what you are aware of. You can be aware of something without acknowledging it. For instance, there are many people who are aware that they drink too much, but they keep it a secret and don’t acknowledge it to themselves or others. Acknowledging what you are aware of means that you are telling yourself the truth.

Step #3: The choice to change the habit. You can be aware of something, and even acknowledge it, but until you make the choice to change it, nothing will happen. There are people who are aware that they smoke, and they acknowledge that they want to stop smoking, however, they haven’t yet made the choice to change and actually stop smoking for good. Making the choice to change means that you want an area of your life to be different and you are willing to take the actions to make that happen.

Step #4: Map out your plan. Your plan involves what you are going to do to make the change. It also anticipates situations, people, and places that would trigger the old behavior reoccurring and taking hold again, and replacing the old circumstances with new options so as to avoid occasions of temptation. If you are habitually late, then you need to have a meeting with yourself to walk yourself through the steps, and determine if you really want to be on time. If you do, your plan should include “cushions” of time to accommodate last minute emergencies, traffic, accidents, parking, and long lines. You are most probably not allowing for the “Stuff” of life to happen. You may be operating as if you lived in a perfect world, and cutting your time between appointments too closely.

Step #5: Commit to the plan. Commitment means that you will follow through to the successful completion of the project. Commitment means that you take yourself seriously, that you believe you can be trusted to cause your desired outcome to happen. It means that you will cause the result to happen, no matter what the obstacles. If you commit to cleaning up the clutter in your office it means that you will schedule a time (or several times) to sit down and tackle the piles. You may need an “Adult sitter” to support you, but you will gather the tools: files, trash can, sticky notes, paper clips, bold marker pen, scissors, and you will tackle the project with the rule, “I will handle each paper only once and I will make a choice about it,” You can get the job done in comfort and style with your favorite cup of coffee, music in the background, and your best friend as your adult sitter. Commitment means that you will get the job done, no matter what!

Step #6: Follow up and follow through. From time to time life may throw us some curve balls. It may be challenging to keep your commitments no matter what, SO, that is where follow up and follow through come in. It is a great idea to have a person in your life act as external accountability. He or she can help follow up on your progress with the project. If your time management project is to get a new system that will eliminate double booking, then your follow up buddy will check in to see that you have purchased the system, that you are using it, that you are integrating it with your computer, your smart phone, and the calendar on your refrigerator door. Your buddy will also inquire about you consistently informing your assistant, colleagues, and spouse of any schedule changes. This way your new habit will become successfully integrated into your life. If you slide back into the old behaviors, you acknowledge it, correct the error, and get right back on track

Step #7: Reinforce, recognize, reward and celebrate the new habit. No behavior becomes embedded without reinforcement. Reinforcement means that you make the new habit stronger than the old one. Recognizing means that you notice that you are doing a good job of replacing the old with the new. Reward means that you find appropriate ways to “gift” benefit you so you feel like the winner you are.

Use these seven steps with any habit that you want to change. I never said it was easy, but I did say it was possible to change old habits into
new desirable behaviors. You can do this if you apply the principles that I have taught you. If you don’t succeed the first time, hang in there and keep on going. You can have the habits in your life support you. Now go for it!

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