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For the majority of us, habits are what form our everyday lives. We wake up, have a coffee, go to the gym, check emails, go to work, make dinner. Our routines are habits we have formed, and they shape our lived experiences. Behavioral psychologist William James argued that “All our life, so far as it has a definite form, is but a mass of habits, — practical, emotional, and intellectual . . . bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny.”
But sometimes the habits we form are actually detrimental to our physical and mental well being. These habits can be comforting and bring immediate relief, though we are often blind to their long term negative effects.
Habits like drinking, binge eating, smoking, and toxic relationship patterns can be extremely hard to kick. But there is hope! It is not impossible to change our habits. With courage, perseverance, and achievable goals, our habits can become our sources of strength, not weakness.
Here are 4 tips to help with breaking bad habits, forming new ones, and bettering our overall lives.
1. Make Lists
Compiling a short list of all of your habits can be a great way to evaluate your current and decide what you need to change
It can be hard for us to parse out which habits or behaviors are bad for us and which are beneficial to ourselves and others. Whether it be our smoking habit, junk food addiction, or late night binge watching, these decisions are being based on immediate emotional responses, meaning we are lacking in sound logic.
In order to combat these habit forming emotions, psychologist Amy Morin suggests that for those looking to kick bad habits lists can be especially helpful. She says to make a list of all the reasons why you should not follow through with a habit– lighting that cigarette, reaching for that extra glass of wine, sleeping through your alarm– and ways you’ll feel better if you don’t give in
“The funny thing about cravings is that they usually go away if you wait a few minutes,” says Morin. “So reading over your list—and tolerating a little discomfort—will help you ride the wave until the craving has passed.”
2. Mantras Are Your Friend
Developing short and effective motivational mantras can be the difference betweens sticking to your goals and falling back into old patterns.
Finding phrases or words of wisdom to repeat to yourself in moments of intense temptation can be extremely helpful when attempting to overcome bad habits.
How do you make a good habit stick? Well, posting on social media can be a good start. Holding yourself accountable online can be an effective way to ensure you stick to your word and stay true to the goals you’ve set, whether that be exercising more, healthier eating, or reducing your alcohol intake.
“The next time X happens (because it will—you cannot rid the world of coworkers bearing baked goods, for example), you need to be ready. You need to have a plan to combat it. That’s your Y. Repeatedly remind yourself: “If X happens, I will do Y,” writes Corrie Pikul for Oprah.com.
Think of your mantra as your guiding voice, your verbal vision board. Choose words or phrases based on what you want to accomplish, what you want to avoid, and how you want to feel.
3. Create Obstacles, or “Friction”
Making it harder for ourselves to make poor decisions can help give us pause and change our ways.
Sometimes it is just too easy for us to make the wrong choice and fall into bad habits. According to Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, the key to quitting any bad habit is not to resist it, but to redirect it. Instead of changing your old behaviour, start to change the routine that occurs as a result of the craving you feel.
Sometimes changing this routine can involve inserting an obstacle in front of a temptation or routine that triggers the bad habit. On your phone too much? Lock it away. Want to limit junk food? Keep only healthy foods in the house so you aren’t tempted.
Some psychologists call this “friction” and consider making obstacles a major aspect in changing habits that are hard to break. Amy Morin writes on her Psychology Today blog post that “whether it’s an app that puts a time limit on your social media access, or it’s storing your credit card in the trunk of the car… you might find that accessing your habit isn’t worth the effort.”
4. Give Yourself Rewards
Changing our habits is tough. So when we succeed, it helps to treat ourselves.
While you begin to cut yourself off from those sweets, or jump into a new workout routine to spend less time sitting, it is important to avoid quitting anything “cold turkey” — meaning, taking a more gradual approach to your lifestyle change should not be so abrupt.
Instead, make some small, achievable goals, and reward yourself when you meet them. Reward systems you set in place can not only be a healthy motivating force, but they can also allow you the satisfaction of the habit while gradually weaning yourself off.
As Thomas Oppong writes, “Building better habits takes time.” He says to focus on small wins, because big changes are built on small ones. Don’t cut out sweets altogether. Try to go two or three days, and then give yourself one day where you can indulge as a reward for your effort. Or, stick to a light evening snack after a full day of healthy habits and exercise.
Putting reward systems in place may also help you from having a relapse, which often occurs when quitting “cold turkey”. This increases your motivation and self assurance that, actually, you can turn bad habits into good ones.
What are you waiting for?
Tired of spending money on cigarettes and alcohol? Want to get off the couch but you aren’t sure how to get started on a workout regimine? Try starting with one or all of these simple tips to kick those bad habits today and take back your life. It may not be easy, but following these words of advice will help you start your journey.