Bad habits; I guess we all have a few of those! Some bad habits are pretty harmless but there are many which have a direct negative impact on our health and well-being. Here are some simple strategies on how to change bad habits to maintain healthy ones.
The key here is to “change” bad habits rather than try and break them. The best way to do this is to substitute another habit for the bad one you are trying to get rid of. It is much easier to start something new than to stop something you have been doing, possibly for a very long time. So, if you bite your nails, go and get a manicure (yes, even the guys). At first, it may seem a silly thing to do but after a few manicures, you’ll start to admire how your nails are now looking and will want to continue.
Another key element to successfully changing a bad habit is understanding; you need to understand why and when you do it and what circumstances and emotions surround the habit. Maybe you smoke to ease stress; perhaps you interrupt people when they are talking when you are nervous; possibly you put off doing important tasks through fear of failure or any of a thousand other things that fall into the bad habit category.
The first step is to understand why you do what you do and at what times and places you are more likely to do it. Decide which bad habit you want to work on first and write down why you think you do it. Then write a list of the benefits of changing that habit for something different. Keep a journal for a week or so and note down how you are feeling, what you are doing etc. every time you are aware of repeating your bad habit. Work on just one thing at a time; trying to change several bad habits at the same time is doomed for failure.
After a week or so, look over what comments you have made and you will probably see a pattern emerging. Your bad habit could be a response to nervousness, boredom, stress or lack of focus. This new understanding will form the basis for putting strategies in place to change your habit.
It is really important to change your mind before you can change a habit; this is why you need a better understanding of why and when you do it. A positive mindset and attitude is vital to your success. Accept that it might be hard at first but that you will get there in the end. Tell yourself repeatedly that you can and will make the changes necessary to change your bad habit and to help you maintain healthy ones.
When I was trying to stop biting my nails, I discovered that I mainly did it when I was worried about something. I developed a mantra that I used to repeat over and over in my mind (and sometimes out loud) “I used to bite my nails when I was worried but now I don’t need to.” Remember, your subconscious can’t tell the difference between what is true and what is not; it will believe whatever you tell it. So make a decision to only tell it what you want it to hear!
Some habits are best broken down into small chunks, making gradual changes to ultimately achieve the goal. Smoking is a good example here; if you are a heavy smoker, trying to stop cold-turkey is almost certain to fail. You have possibly already tried this, maybe numerous times. So, repeat to yourself, over and over, “I used to smoke a pack a day (or whatever) but now I only need to smoke ten a day (or whatever you think is doable). As your body adjusts to the lesser amount of cigarettes, change your mantra to a lower number and so on, until you discover you’ve successfully quit.
Find something to substitute for your bad habit. If you are a chocoholic, firstly, stop giving yourself that label and then substitute your favourite fruit once a day when you would normally have had the chocolate. If you don’t have a favourite fruit, then find one! Many smokers find that chewing gum instead of lighting up is a helpful substitute. If procrastination is your problem, a short daily to-do list with the five most important tasks, can help get you started. I held and squeezed a soft squishy ball when I was worrying over something. Be creative as you look for a substitution that will help you change those bad habits.
When you kept your journal, you probably found that there were several triggers that helped you keep the bad habit alive and well. The trick is to avoid the places and situations that are your triggers. If you eat the wrong foods when you’re at home, don’t buy them. If you smoke more when you’re with other smokers, change the company you keep. If you absently eat chocolate in front of TV, put out a bowl of nuts before you reach for the remote. The idea is to change the environment that assists you to continue the bad habit.
The first step to change bad habits and maintain healthy ones is to make a decision to change. Understand what drives you to continue the habit and change the environment that encourages and enables it. Watch what you say to yourself around the habit and change your self-talk so that your subconscious mind changes what it believes. Many psychologists believe it takes just 21 days to change a habit. You can do anything for 21 days, so make a start and just keep re-setting those 21-day goals to achieve the benefits of healthier habits.