The problem with habits is that they’re, well, habitual. We’ve gotten used to how they feel and how they work in our lives, even when they don’t really work for us anymore. While it can be easy to identify habits that aren’t serving us well anymore, making the changes to that habit can be tough. Here are ten things I’ve learned about breaking bad habits -and implementing new ones- that have served me well for about the past 35 years.
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1. Make small changes.
We often want to make big sweeping changes all at once, but this is highly ineffective. The smaller the change, the more likely we are to stick with it. Small changes help us define our new normal and implement new habits by becoming easily absorbed in our routines. Want to get into better shape? Instead of buying a gym membership, new workout clothes, hiring a personal trainer, throwing out all the junk food in your house and vowing to eat nothing but kale from now until you’ve dropped 20 pounds, try doing five pushups. You can even do them now, after you read this last sentence.
2. Identify triggers.
Figuring out what your triggers are for old -and new- habits is essential to losing the old and ushering in the new. Triggers are ingrained cues that spur a behavior; for example, coming home and turning on the television while you microwave a TV dinner. But if you’re trying to lose weight via eating better and exercise, maybe instead you leave the TV off and put on a pot of water to boil. Maybe while you’re cooking your dinner you learn about a sport you want to try or do jumping jacks in your kitchen. Effectively identifying and negotiating triggers is key in developing new habits.
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3. Blog about it.
Blogging is a powerful tool: even the idea that someone might read what you’re published online instills a sense of responsibility and accountability. You can blog about anything you want, but blogging can be really helpful if you’re trying to break bad habits and instill good ones. If you’re on a weight-loss journey, sharing your feelings and choices and actions with the world helps you stay accountable to your goals.
4. Deal with failure effectively.
Dealing with failure effectively is all in your perception of it. Failure can be an extremely helpful learning tool if you use it appropriately. Instead of seeing a failure -because you will fail in establishing a new habit; that is inevitable- in the development of a new habit as a failure of yourself, recognize that it’s simply a small setback on your way to getting a new habit going, and see what you can learn from that failure.
5. Enlist support.
And by “enlist support” I mean “tell everyone you know who might be helpful”! Your friends, your family, your colleagues: anyone and everyone who will encourage you and provide helpful feedback. This also helps you create another form of accountability: if your colleague asks you how your new exercise regimen is going when you walk into the office every day, it’s yet another trigger for the development of that new habit.
6. Learn helpful coping mechanisms.
Sometimes the habits we want to change are coping mechanisms: for stress, for anxiety, for relief from the daily grind. But healthy habits help us cope effectively and create more functional mechanisms in our lives, while unhealthy habits do the opposite. Recognizing that your new habit is creating more effective means of coping can be helpful in establishing it firmly in your life.
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7. Be kind to yourself.
Try a little gentle self-talk when you experience failure instead of brooding over your difficulties. Making changes is hard and it’s really hard to develop new habits. I always say I need to be nice to myself because I don’t know what the rest of the world has in store for me. It’s served me well. Have some empathy and compassion with yourself; try thinking of yourself like you’re your own best friend. You wouldn’t beat your friend up for a failure when they are trying to make healthy changes, so why do it to yourself?
8. Get a partner involved.
Aligning your goals and changes with someone trying to do the same thing can be enormously helpful. They can help you with failures and setbacks, provide their own insights as to how to handle them and give feedback and support on the regular. Having a partner who can help see you through the tough times and celebrate your triumphs is an exceptionally useful weapon in your arsenal to combat old habits and install new ones.
9. Energy and sleep levels matter…a LOT.
Making changes to your habits is tough enough on its own; if you’re suffering from sleep deprivation or lacking quality sleep it can seem insurmountable. Our energy levels affect everything we do and getting enough high-quality sleep is absolutely essential to developing new habits and instilling new changes in your life.
10. Build trust in yourself.
Ultimately, you’re accountable to yourself for establishing new habits, making changes to put them in place and becoming a better person. You’re worth it! Have a little faith that you are worthy of this new life, these new changes, and these new habits that are going to build a better, more powerful you.