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Natural Awakenings Twin Cities

Two Types of Habits

Mar 02, 2021 08:00AM ● By Melissa Cathcart

About this time of year, many people have either given up on their New Year’s resolutions or are faltering in their commitments. While frustrating, setbacks are completely normal and, according to the Motivational Interviewing (MI) model of change, they are essential. With each “Relapse” (MI’s last phase of change), an individual reaps greater wisdom for integrating the new behavior with the next try. The person refines their new habit and how it fits into their overall lifestyle over time. The setbacks are part of the recipe—not an additive.

M.J. Ryan offers her own wisdom on creating habits. In her book, This Year I Will…How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True, she points out that neuroplastic change takes six to nine months to achieve. The brain rewires slowly with repeated behavior. So that 21-day goal falls short. Research shows the best practice is to make goals SMART: Specific, Measurable,Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. You should make sure to schedule time for your new behaviors and celebrate small victories. When you fall off the wagon, you can reset with the Four A’s: Assess the current situation; Adjust what needs to be done; Admire yourself for having the strength to start again; and Act quickly to enact your new course of action. Change takes an investment of time and attention.

“The brain’s tendency to habituate means we go through much of life like sleepwalkers,” shares Ryan. “That is why when we want to create new habits or change old ones, our most important ally is being awake to our experience. We’ve got to become aware of what we’re doing or not doing.” Success requires more of a focus on the process rather than the end goal.

It is also important to be awake to our motivating force and how we speak to ourselves. Are we trying to force ourselves into a preconceived, commercialized condition? Are we berating ourselves into the new behavior, shaming ourselves into a habit that we think we should want, using this new goal as a way to beat up on ourselves? Those goals are doomed to failure. They feed our gremlins.

The habits we eventually integrate into our life are those that we find nourishing, those that bring us into greater alignment with our values, and those that we can celebrate along the way, even before we reach our end goal. It is less about the content of the goal and more about the approach we bring to it. Our relationship to our habits reflects our relationship to ourselves. New habits are wonderful opportunities to consciously parent ourselves, to renew our commitment to ourselves with greater time and attention, to accept and appreciate our present state.

Next time you find yourself saying or thinking, “I have to [insert new habit here],” correct yourself out loud with, “I get to …” or “I want to….” Over time, you are changing your approach and neuro-wiring to a more nourishing one. Every habit can become an act of self-love.

Melissa Cathcart is a licensed acupuncturist, manual therapist, corrective exercise specialist and pelvic floor specialist who practices in Minneapolis. She has had multiple trainings in Motivational Interviewing. For more information, visit


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Read the full September 2023 Magazine