Without a doubt, countless Americans woke up on January 2nd determined to adopt a healthier lifestyle and free themselves of negative behavior patterns. Common goals like shedding excess weight, exercising more days than not, procrastinating less, and arriving on time may sound relatively easy to accomplish. Yet, replacing bad habits with healthier ones is difficult, even for the highly motivated. There’s lots of good advice for improving bad habits, but if you’re like most people you have good intentions that are never actually put into practice. While unhealthy or troublesome habits may jeopardize mental and physical wellness, they can also waste one’s time and energy and prevent one from accomplishing goals.
Why are old habits so hard to break, and new habits so hard to make? One reason is that all habits are routine recurrent behaviors that are repeated regularly until they occur unconsciously. Our habits, whether healthy or not, provide some type of benefit, which adds to the difficulty of eliminating them. While setting goals for life changing transformations is a good strategy, we often set the resolution bar too high, dive in enthusiastically and peter out in few short weeks. However, one can successfully replace bad habits, and initiate the formation of new habits, by taking small but significant steps each day.
If you have habits that you’d like to change, perseverance is key. Identifying negative behavior, tracking how often the behavior occurs, recognizing the triggers involved, as well as the benefit of the behavior are processes that support new habit formation. When the rewards of the behavior are positive, you’ll likely want to repeat the same action often enough for a new habit to form. Once you’ve decided which old habits you’d like to replace with new habits, start by making changes so small that it’s almost impossible not to do them. Give yourself time to change habits that are most important to you. Think positively to reward yourself for each little victory.
Plan to make realistic changes for improved health benefits over time. Remember that many good habits that help us function throughout the day occur automatically, and free up our energy, allowing our minds to focus on new situations that require mindful decisions and actions. As the brain doesn’t distinguish between good and bad habits, it’s likely to take about three months to substitute a new behavior for an old one. With perseverance and a positive attitude, changes will happen. A plan of action can replace negative behaviors with positive ones. To position yourself for success, use the following as a guide:
- Identify triggers for every habit you’d like to change.
- For every trigger, identify a positive action that you can take instead. Having a plan of action is your first line of defense against a bad habit.
- Focus on changing one specific habit at a time, consistently for thirty to ninety days.
- To ensure success, start with a simple behavior that takes a just a few minutes of your time.
- Be specific. If your goal is to eat healthier, identify foods to include and foods to avoid. If you want to increase your physical activity, start by walking 10 minutes each day and increase the time as you feel stronger and more energetic.
- To reduce the urge to fall back into old habits, avoid situations that can spark triggers.
- Urges can be strong, especially when trying to quit habits such as smoking, drinking, binge eating or overspending. A support network can be helpful during difficult times.
- Taking small steps can lead to ultimate success. Trying to make changes at warp speed often results in failure.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Chances are you have tried unsuccessfully to make changes in the past. This doesn’t prevent future achievement. Don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow. Focus on today.
- No one is perfect. If you stumble along the way, realize that some attempts initially fail and are a natural part of making permanent change. Stay the course and carry on!
The 3 R’s of Habit Change: How to Start New Habits That Actually Stick. https://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change
5 Ways to Follow a Healthier Diet in 2018. https://www.consumerreports.org/nutrition-healthy-eating/ways-to-follow-a-healthier-diet-in-the-new-year/
7 Steps to Changing a Bad Habit. https://psychcentral.com/lib/7-steps-to-changing-a-bad-habit/
The 7 Keys to Turning Bad Habits into Good Habits. https://zenhabits.net/the-7-keys-to-turning-bad-habits-into-good-habits/