For twenty-two years I wanted to quit smoking. My plans were good. Yet hoping to accomplish something did not actually make it happen. After passing up a cigarette or two, soon I’d make an excuse to have just one. Then I would beat myself up for once again not being strong enough not to smoke. Excusing my lack of commitment, I would tell myself I was not perfect, I was only human, with faults, and allowed to make mistakes.
I attempted to change my negative habits for a long, long time, until I realized I could continue “trying” for the rest of my life. Quitting smoking—or any other destructive habit—is accomplished not by trying harder, but by doing. I actually had to make myself not pick up a cigarette until I no longer had the desire to smoke, which took about a month. To stop smoking cold turkey I relied on my personal values of being aware, strong, and accountable. These and other positive values fueled my willpower to not smoke even one cigarette.
Yes, intending to accomplish something is a great first step. Aiming to improve ourselves starts us thinking about the personal changes we want to make or evaluating what career, educational, relationship, and financial goals to set. Yet the statements “I hope to lose weight,” “I aim to be financially independent,” “I propose to be patient in traffic jams,” “I plan to be peaceful,” and “I mean to be successful” still point to some change to happen at a future time.
“Plan,” “hope,” or “I am trying” gives us permission to wait another day. And when given the option, all too often we will not begin any action at all. We will lie awake at night fretting, disappointed and frustrated by our lack of progress, but we will not act. But a small shift in perspective can make all the difference.
By changing the planning statement of “I want” to the present-moment statement of “I am,” we can remain mindful of the negative habit. It also helps us stay emotionally connected to the behavior. For example, “I am losing weight” supports us in being more mindful about eating with awareness and passing up the elevator in favor of the stairs. “I am saving money” prompts us to stop before purchasing yet another pair of jeans in favor of achieving the goal of having money left over at the end of each month. “I am a nonsmoker” really does help consciously break the habit by allowing us to visualize ourselves without cigarettes. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. “I am” is a simple yet powerful positive affirmation that actually motivates us to take the daily steps necessary to accomplish our goals.
To change ourselves or a relationship, we must be willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the goal. Change won’t happen just by investing a few hours in a workshop, a religious service, or a counseling session. Creating new, positive habits is an entire lifestyle change, and it takes time to replace old habits with new ones. Living changed becomes our reason for being, our moment-by-moment priority.
When stumbling blocks come up, and they will for all of us, do not take no for an answer. Rely on your values to support you in taking the necessary actions over and over until your new, positive lifestyle is securely in place.
You are absolutely capable of making the personal changes you want to make once you stop “trying” and instead do, do, do.