How to Break Your Bad Habits and Make New Habits Stick
Wednesday, January 1 2014 Emily Roberts MA, LPC
Stop with the excuses, the "I can'ts" and the BS in your brain that tells you the bad habits you have created are impossible to break. Habits are simply conditioned actions that can be broken. As our old friend, Aristotle said "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit." It is not some philosophical aha moment, its easier than that. Changing your self-talk and perspective can be a foundation for future success and lead to a higher self-esteem.
Be Nicer to Yourself to Break Your Bad Habits
The nicer you are to yourself, the more likely you are to commit to a new behavior. That, coupled with small actions towards change, is a combination for success. Instead of resolving to stop something cold turkey or setting goals with expectations as high as the sky, get real with yourself, set realistic resolutions. Treat yourself like your ideal best friend would. Cheer-lead the successes, no matter how large or small, and problem-solve the setbacks.
Popular new year resolutions to "get fit," "quit smoking" or something that your brain hasn't been accustomed to doing normally is a set-up for failure, which takes a toll on your self-esteem. How on earth is one day, one 24-hour period going to stimulate a new behavior or habit? It's not! It takes a little more than just the will. You have to create actions that stimulate new neural pathways.
Tips To Break Bad Habits and Make New Habits Stick
Let's say you want to get fit. What does that mean, losing a few pounds, changing your diet or working out more? Are you the expert? Not likely. Enlist the help of someone or something that is able to guide you with logic. A nutritionist or health coach can tell you what your body actually needs, instead of what you think you need. A little money up front could actually help you achieve this goal now, rather than looking forward to doing it again next year. Plus, it boosts your self-confidence when you have the right, logical, numbers or facts to help you see what is healthy for you.
Lower your expectations.
There is a reason gyms are packed in January. Everyone has jumped on the resolution bandwagon. If you haven't worked out in weeks and believe that you are going to work out every day, you are setting yourself up for failure. Instead, make small steps towards change. Commit to working out 3-4 days a week, start small in order to increase the pattern in your brain.
Account for slip ups.
If you strive for perfection, you're going to let yourself down. Don't make yourself feel bad. Look at what you have accomplished and what you hope to accomplish in future days. Redirect your disappointment about a slip up into a positive outlook on how many days or actions you have already accumulated.
Try it for 10 minutes.
Whether it's getting on the treadmill or trying to organize your home, just do it for a little while. Science shows that when we start something, we are likely to continue it. The first few minutes or the first step is often the hardest one, so make it more fun (see next tip). Challenge yourself to try it for just 10 minutes and see if you feel better. This small amount of time and effort can actually stimulate more positive neurotransmitters to flood your system.
Make it more pleasurable.
The idea of going to the gym on a cold day sounds as fun as watching water boil. I hear ya. I make it a little more exciting by knowing that I can watch that reality show while I'm on a machine, get a flavored water to enjoy while I am bored to tears climbing the stair stepper or download a new song or book to make the experience more pleasurable. The association of something positive with a task or action that you perceive as unpleasant tricks your brain into starting or enjoying the activity, strengthening the new habit.
A sticker may work for a child, but let's be honest, you need something that is almost as pleasurable to replace the action you are attempting to extinguish. If you are trying to eat healthier, rewarding yourself with a slice of cake isn't what I mean. Rewarding yourself with a game on your phone, getting a massage, or going to a movie after a set number of days of eating healthy can help strengthen the new behavior. Use a money jar for reconciling your efforts.
Try these tips to help with New Year's Resolutions or any new behavior you want to add in to your lifestyle. Good luck!
Emily is the author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are.You can visit Emily’s Guidance Girl website. You can also find her on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.