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In about six weeks, people will be celebrating the New Year and many of them will be resolving to change something in their lives – the ubiquitous “New Year’s Resolution.” We talk to a behavior specialist and coach about how bad habits are created and why. She also gives us some ways to help give those resolutions some staying power for the year ahead.

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  • M.J. Ryan is a resolution maker and an internationally-recognized expert on change and human fulfillment, author of the book, Habit Changers; 81 game-changing mantras to mindfully realize your goals

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Habits: Breaking bad ones; creating good ones

Marty Peterson: Just about six weeks from now, many Americans will be formulating their New Year’s resolutions. They’ll be preparing to lose weight, get a better job, or develop more self-confidence and become more adventurous. Unfortunately, only about eight percent of us are successful in achieving the goals we set on New Year’s Day, but it’s not for lack of trying. Some researchers say we bite off more than we can chew; others put defeat down to not planning adequately beforehand. Our guest, M.J. Ryan is a resolution maker and an internationally-recognized expert on change and human fulfillment. She came up with a way that helped her and the clients she serves who wanted to change as well. It’s all in her new book, Habit Changers; 81 game-changing mantras to mindfully realize your goals. Ryan says she came up with the “mantra” idea when she was trying to help a businessman quit micromanaging his employees.

M.J. Ryan: He needed to learn how to delegate. People said he was the worst boss he ever had because he would give you something and then he wouldn’t like how you were doing it and he would take it away from you and do it himself, complaining all the while. I was teaching him how to delegate and I was going on and on and on, and he said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. I’m busy, I need it simple so I’ll remember.” And so I said, “Okay, say ‘what and why, not how.’” That’s the technique by the way, that is how you delegate. You tell somebody what the objective they’re trying to do, why it’s important to do it and then the “how” they do it is up to the person. So he said, “Okay, say ‘what and why, not how,’ say ‘what and why, not how,’ I can remember that.” And he wrote it on a teeny little piece of paper and he took it with him every time he met with his people, and he totally changed, to the point where he got a promotion during the time we were working together.

Peterson: Ryan says that it was this man’s success that made her realize that she was on to something, so she created a set of mantras – or slogans or sayings – to help people change their habits. But, why is it that we need mantras or anything else for that matter, to change ourselves? Why is it so difficult to break a habit?

Ryan: There are habits that come in, often when we’re very young in response to the challenges of our lives. We do and think things that are smart for being two or five or whatever but they don’t serve us well when we’re adults. They end up being the very things that cause us problems. So that’s one thing. The other has to do with our temperament. So some of us are naturally, for instance, born more anxious, more worried – I was one of those. They’ve proven that we’re more fiery. And some of it is that we just didn’t get the education on certain things, you know. We’re learning so much now about how the brain works and every single time that I work with a person and I teach them about how their mind works they say, “Why didn’t we learn this in school?” Because when we learn how we think, then we have much more choice about how we want to use the instrument of our mind.

Peterson: In her book, Ryan has mantras for everything from acceptance to procrastination to worry. One of the most helpful to people who want to break out of the everyday routine, has to do with overcoming the fear of taking risks.

Ryan: There’s a great one in there, actually it’s one that I gave to my sister who said to me, “I want to take bigger risks in my life.” She said, “I keep saying ‘no’ when anything new comes up, so I live with this life of the sameness and I gotta break out of that.” And I came across this slogan called “Stand where you’d rather not.” So if you want to take bigger risks, you can say to yourself, “Stand where you’d rather not,” and that helps you remember I’m going to stand where I’d rather not and low and behold she changed. She started taking bigger risks. She’s become a beekeeper, which is something she’d never have done.

Peterson: Making decisions can be difficult for people who don’t often access their intuition. Ryan says that we need to trust our gut – or as she puts it – our “inner GPS” if we want to affect lasting change.

Ryan: We have the thinking part of brain which is about language and logic, but we also have the intuitive, metaphoric non-language part of our brain which is also, by the way, they found that there are cells that are connected to that that are surrounded in our gut. So when we say we have a gut feeling about something, there really is such a thing. And it is tied to our brain. It’s just tied to the non-language part of our brain so we don’t have words for it. So because we don’t have words for it and because we’re mostly trained in terms of logic in schools, some of us tend to discount that and we’re not accessing part of our wisdom. Thinking is great but also this notion of “What is our gut telling us we should be doing here?” So the trust you inner GPS is to help people remember who want to remember this that we have it in our guidance system, which is our intuition, and we can, in fact, touch into it and figure out what it’s trying to tell us and follow that.

Peterson: Some of her clients want to become more positive at their jobs and in their lives. Ryan says that there are individuals who are born “naysayers” and who find all of the things that are wrong with any project or proposal they come across. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can hurt them socially if they’re always looking at the downsides of things. Ryan suggests a mantra like “be a yea-sayer”.

Ryan: This really has to do with people who are good at seeing the problems in things, and that’s a particular talent of thinking. I actually have this talent. It’s the capacity to see what’s broken in something, what isn’t working, what could go wrong. And typically, if we don’t use that well we come across as naysayers. Everything you say, I say “Yes, but that’ll never work because of duh, duh, duh, da, duh,” right? So this is to remind people who are good at seeing what’s wrong that what our brains are really designed to do is to agree with whatever we can, what is right about what the person’s saying, what is true about what you’re saying, and then more skillfully – once you’ve said the “yea, yes that’s good” and then add in your part. And that helps create much, much stronger collaboration.

Peterson: Many of us sit and worry over things that we really shouldn’t worry about – like not being talented at everything we want to do in a day, or that we won’t have time to get things done. She says that one of her clients came to her with this problem and Ryan suggested the mantra “outsource your worries”.

Ryan: She had her own business and she was really good at the big picture strategy, vision – typical entrepreneur. And she was worried all the time about getting to places on time and all the logistics about the travel, etc., etc. And she realized, wait a minute, my assistant is great at this. So what I’m going to do is outsource my worry to her, meaning I’m going to have her do all that and remember that she’s great at it. So part of how you can use this is to figure out “What am I worried about?” Worry is the place where we don’t have the talent we need to deal with something, typically. So what that means is who can you go to, who can you count on, who can you use as a resource or support to help you in the places where you are worried?

Peterson: One of the big problems that resolution makers have is procrastination. Just getting past the starting line of change can be a big change in itself. Ryan suggests that you try to break a change down to its component parts.

Ryan: People tend to get overwhelmed because it’s a huge thing and you don’t know where to start. It’s a giant project, for instance, to write a book, or to do some kind of art or to start a business or whatever. So when you think of it all, it can feel super-overwhelming. So the mantra for that is “What’s the first step?” Just do the first step. And first, to figure out what is the first step and then just to do that. And when we only look at the one thing instead of the whole thing, we can one-step or one-action ourselves all the way to the end.

Peterson: What if a mantra doesn’t work? What do you do then? Ryan says that you have to decide that you really want to change and put the work into doing it. Then pick just one thing to change at a time so you can focus and practice enough to make it a habit. Put the mantra from the book or one you make up yourself where you can find it – on a piece of paper or as a reminder on your phone.

Ryan: When it doesn’t work, meaning, when you forget you screw up. Don’t turn goof-ups into give-ups. Just because you messed up once, you’re just learning. Did a baby who was starting to learn to walk, who then falls down, do they give up trying to walk? No. They get up and they try again. And that’s the essence of how you actually do this is persistence. You do not give up and make sure you’re celebrating when you’re doing it right. That’s the formula for actually making sure that you do change something. If, however, it’s just not resonating for you, you need something that you feel is closer to what you need to be reminded of, then of course change the slogan. But make sure you’re doing all those steps.

Peterson: You can find a mantra for just about any personal habit you want to change in M.J. Ryan’s book, Habit Changers, available now. You can also visit her website at MJ-Ryan.com and Habit- Changers.com. For information about all of our guests, visit our site at Viewpointsonline.net. You can find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our production directors are Sean Waldron and Reed Pence. I’m Marty Peterson.