There used to be a television show called The Newlywed Game during which the host asked the newlyweds questions to discover how well the newly married couples knew each other. It was entertaining to hear the answer compared to what the spouse thought the answer would be. Exposed habits were frequently the brunt of the amusement.
Daily, we participate in habitual behaviors with little to no acknowledgment at all, such as walking cluelessly across the street while reading a text message, smacking while chewing, drumming fingers on the desktop or driving slow in the fast lane.
All of us are creatures of habit, both good and bad. Our repetitive behaviors become ordinary to us. They show off what we count as important or what we deem acceptable. They are generally performed quickly, residing somewhere between conscious and unconscious thought. They form our daily routine, freeing us from having to think about every little thing we do.
Thanks to our habits, we live on autopilot a fair amount of the time and, remarkably, we need most of the habits we have.
But what if we want to change a habit? How do we undo what has become automatic?
Here are six habit-changing steps to break bad for good:
Identify the Purpose
Habits serve a purpose. It is important to identify what purpose they serve. For instance, brushing your teeth every morning keeps you out of the dentist chair, and surfing the web for hours or obsessing on your phone keeps you from having to start that dreaded project or interact with the people around you. Identifying the habit’s purpose is the first step to becoming more aware of the actions necessary to break it.
Isolate the Problem
Habits are frequently a cover for a deeper problem. For instance, binge eating for comfort to numb feelings of insecurity may be a cover for low self-esteem. Defining the problem the habit is solving is important. Dealing with that problem is even more important. Replacing a negative habit with a positive one is a good way to start. Realize, however, that when real life gets in the way, willpower may not be enough to keep the old ways at bay. This step may require help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend, coach, therapist, or support group.
Commit in Writing
Writing out goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound and keeping those goals where you see them often, has been researched and shown to be a very effective step in changing habits. Add to that a “behavior contract” between you and say, a trusted friend, that outlines a set of behaviors you want to complete in a designated timeframe, and habit changing success becomes much more likely.
Don’t Go It Alone
There is real power in reaching out to a trusted friend, a counselor, a health coach or a support group when necessary. Others often see you differently from the way you see yourself. With their perspective, they can lead you to understand things from a new point of view. By being accountable, the habit breaking goal stays in focus, stays on track, and makes change possible.
Take it Slowly
A bad habit can be hard to change. Initially it was a behavior learned and adopted for a purpose. Unwinding that behavior takes time and patience. Focus on the long-term advantages of the desired change. You are developing a new purpose, a new rationale and a new resolve. When you make progress, celebrate the success and continue to review solutions to any difficulties that arise. Give yourself enough time.
I often say three steps forward, two back. Nobody’s perfect. Everyone slips up now and then. It is part of the human condition, but it is not a reason to give up. When you find yourself in a lapse, acknowledge where you are, where you have been, and where you want to go. Move forward afresh. Spend more time gathering information about why you slipped and less time beating yourself up over it. With the new information, revise your plan, if necessary, and start again. I believe in do-overs. Tomorrow is another day filled with opportunities.
Breaking bad for good is possible. Step by step, habits can be changed. Commit to begin, focus on progress, and go for it!
Karen Creasey is owner of Health and Wellness Motivation. She is a professional speaker and a certified Health Coach and Personal Trainer. For more information, visit www.karencreasey.com or call (760) 218.3640. firstname.lastname@example.org