Habits, good and bad
Habits are thoughts or actions triggered automatically which we repeat again and again. Examples of good habits are putting on your seatbelt when you sit in a car or brushing your teeth before you go to bed.
It follows that if we repeat an action consistently in the same context we will develop a habit. Habits are easier to form with a goal and plan. If you want to drink more water during the day – that is your goal. The plan then is to always take a bottle of water with you and drink it each day. Continue to do this and studies have shown that by week 10 it has become a healthy habit – we will now do this automatically.
So how do you break a bad habit?
There is no denying that it is not easy to change an established bad habit and this is harder if we are tired or stressed.
One Psychiatrist Judson Brewer suggests being mindful about your habit as you are doing it – smell the cigarette, describe what it tastes like, imagine the smoke going into your lungs – this triggers the part of the brain that makes decisions. This can help you decide that you don’t really like the taste or the smell and over time can help you quit smoking. Get curious about the habit and how your body is reacting – becoming restless and tense and then understanding that these emotions will come and go.
Habits can be linked to certain places – if you always call into the local shop to buy a pie then avoid going past that shop. Perhaps you always have a glass of wine when you get home in the evening but want to reduce your drinking, then it helps to change your pattern. A mental link is formed between getting home and the glass of wine. To break the habit go straight out and take the dog for a walk or have a tea or do some meditation. The urge to have a glass of wine passes.
- To start, make a log of your unhealthy habits. Then use a diary to monitor the habit.
- Enlist the help of your family or friends for support and choose a habit that you want to change.
- Consider this habit and how it is affecting you (examples):
- poor eating habits which cause you to gain weight and prevent you from being active with your family;
- telling lies often because you don’t want to admit something, which affects your honest relationships with people;
- running late constantly, giving others the impression that you are so busy when really you are stressed and don’t want to spend time facing the causes of your stress.
- Set a realistic goal and start with a simple plan
- If you want to eat more fruit then put an apple in your bag to eat on the drive home.
- If you want to walk more, then walk around the block at lunch with a friend. Use an app to motivate you
- If you want to stop eating unhealthy snacks stop buying them and instead buy healthy replacements. Successful weight loss is not about missing out on food but enjoying healthy foods so that it becomes a way of life.
- Persevere, learn from any setbacks and keep trying.
Chances are, once you distract yourself from the bad habit—and keep doing it repeatedly—your brain will start to realise that you’re moving away from that pattern.