“It’s too hard to change”, “I’ve tried breaking my bad habits, but I always fail”, “Why bother anymore?”, “I want to change, but it’s taking too long and I just can’t keep it up”. Have you ever said any of these things to yourself about something that you’ve tried to quit? It could be unhealthy eating, smoking, starting to work out, or anything else that you know needs to change. If you’ve ever wanted to get rid of a bad habit you’ve most likely had some or all of these thoughts.
True, transforming bad habits into good habits can be daunting and difficult, but it’s not impossible. You just have to have the right tools and know-how to make it happen. I’m going to tell you a few things that have helped me in the past:
It Takes 21 Days
Research shows that changing a bad habit into a good one takes 21 days. That’s 3 weeks of consistent effort. So, to begin choose ONE thing you would like to free yourself from. You can choose to replace it with a good habit if you like, but you don’t have to. The goal at this point is to just get rid of the harmful habit, so it is up to you if you’d like to introduce the helpful habit now or not.
Once you’ve decided on the habit that you want to work on, decide on the date that you are going to begin. Give it some thought and make sure that you are going to be able to concentrate on really letting go. For instance, if you’ve decided to start exercising 3 times a week, but you know that the week you’ve decided to start this goal is going to be filled with late nights at the office then you will only be setting yourself up for failure and feelings of defeat. The point is to set yourself up for success, so do that by making sure that the only thing stopping you is your decision to do so. Choose a date that is free from any major obligations, so that you won’t feel more stressed out than you have to and will do everything you can to make it happen.
Now, write down the date. “On March 24th, I will become a non-smoker.” Count 21 days and mark that on your calendar. Commit to yourself to not waiver for the next 21 days.
It’s overwhelming sometimes to look at the whole picture. Depending on the severity of your bad habit 21 days may seem like a ginormous amount of time. Make it easier on yourself by focusing on each day, one by one. Still take note of when the 21 day period ends, but tell yourself that each day you are going to recommit to yourself to stick with it and not look too far ahead. Every day is it’s own accomplishment. Cross each day off on the calendar as it passes and give yourself a huge pat on the back for living each day in a healthier way.
Make A List
When sitting at a big holiday meal I’ve had the tendency to overeat, “just because the food is there”. Once in a while that’s not such a bad thing, but what is bad is the way I feel the next day. I always feel remorseful and guilty, because I know that I could have avoided it. So, this Passover I am making a list of tips, techniques, and reasons of why I won’t overeat. Some of the things on my list are: 1. I know I will feel horrible tomorrow morning. 2. Am I really hungry or am I just picking? 3. If you want more tomorrow it will still be here. 4. Ask Roman for help 5. If you’re looking at this list then you most likely don’t really want to eat. I am going to take this list, fold it up, and put it under my plate as a reminder as to why I shouldn’t fall into my old harmful patterns. This physical action of writing it down and taking it with me will help me resist the temptation of overdoing it, because I have planned on it to help me.
If you know you might slip-up, which is a possibility, then do what you can to prepare for it. Make a list of why you are quitting this bad habit and what you can do to remind yourself of how to deal with difficult situations where your instinct is to move toward your harmful crutch.
Create A New Routine
If for instance you’re trying to alter your eating habits and you know that at a certain time of day you instinctively go for cookies try to change up your routine. Many people have the urge to eat a snack when they get home from work, because they’re too hungry to wait for dinner. It’s ok to grab a snack, but many times it’s not the best choice of snack. So, if you normally walk in the door, put your bag down, hang up your coat, and then run to your “comfort stash” in the cabinet, try something new. Put your bag in a different spot than usual, hang up your coat in a different area of the closet, and instead of running for food, force yourself to take 5 minutes to just decompress. You will probably be able to make a better decision after that.
Shed Your Identity
Once a couch potato is not always a couch potato (or potahto – whichever you wish ). After living so many years practicing the same bad habit it’s easy to identify as being a certain way. You may think that’s how people have come to know you, but you should know that you can change and decide to shed yourself of that negative image. Start to recognize the positive path you’re on and choose your new positive behavior as your new identity.
Tell your friends and family about your goal. This will give you much-needed support, but it will also hold you accountable.
* Review your list of reasons, tips, and techniques as a reminder of why you’re working on this goal.
* Create a mental picture of yourself as already having succeeded.
* Speak unquestionably. Say “When I quit smoking” as opposed to “if I quit smoking”.
* Point out your accomplishment every day that you stick to your goal.
* Celebrate sticking to your goal by giving yourself a reward (non-food related).
* Most importantly: Remember to take it one day at a time. If you do falter, don’t label yourself a “failure”. Learn from the slip-up and begin again. If you can learn from the mistake and get back to your original plan then you’re well on your way to succeeding. Everyone falls off once in a while, so remember to not be so hard on yourself.