Habits are important because they relieve the brain of the difficult task of making decisions. Imagine waking up every day and deciding on every task that you need to complete. Think of the toll it would take to make decisions all throughout the day. So we form habits and repetitive actions strengthen the neural pathway in the brain, making it automatic. When this happens, the brain conserves energy to focus on more important tasks. Another reason habits are important is that they lay the groundwork for your goals. Let’s say you want to become a public speaker and you practice speaking in front of the mirror every day. This simple daily habit will gradually lead to your success as a speaker. The third importance of habits is that they make up who you are. Most of our everyday behaviours tend to be repeated in the same location almost daily. With this fact, it is critical to develop good habits and eliminate bad ones if we want to improve our lives. So how do we change bad habits?
Identify bad habits
This is the first step because you can’t change something you don’t recognise. If you don’t consider a certain action as a bad habit, you won’t be able to change it. Although some habits, such as smoking or swearing are easily identified there may be others that are negatively affecting you but that you are unaware of. You can start by writing down all your daily thoughts, activities, and actions on paper and do this for a week. From there, identify the thoughts, activities and actions that are not beneficial to you. For example, you may have listed shopping online 5 days in a row. Or said yes to an event or activity you weren’t particularly excited about, and so on. Another way you can identify a bad habit is to ask your friends or family. Other people may know you better than you know yourself. Request honest and objective feedback about yourself from them.
Define your why
Have a good why. The reason for the need for change. Keep in mind that your reason must be compelling enough to justify the change. Again, you can use a journal to list down all of the advantages of changing your bad habit. Each time you face a setback, go over them for motivation.
Once you’ve identified the bad habits you want to break. Keep an eye out for them. Determine the cues or reminders that lead to the negative action. Identify the emotions or processes. Were you upset? Happy? Or simply bored? Noticing the patterns that lead to the negative routine will allow you to consider alternative solutions.
To make your bad habits easier to break, change the layout of your space. This may even include placing social media icons in several layers of folders to avoid mindless scrolling and when you reach for your mobile, it is not the first thing you see onscreen. The idea is to create friction in the habit loop. Increase the number of steps you have to do a negative action. The additional steps will cause a disruption making the action less appealing.
Do not try to change all your bad habits at once. Rather, start by changing one habit at a time.This will increase your chances of success. By starting small, you will face less resistance from yourself and begin a snowball effect of breaking bad habits.
Remember that your bad habit did not develop overnight so it goes without saying that breaking it will also take time. Be gentle with yourself. But keep going. Do not allow a slip-up to derail your progress.
Replace bad habits with good ones
Breaking bad habits becomes easier when there is a replacement. Because let’s face it, you have grown accustomed to your old habits, simply quitting won’t cut it. And the more you try to break a habit, the stronger it becomes. You can, for example, substitute reading a book for watching television. Alternatively, instead of scrolling and purchasing various products online, you could do some decluttering. With a substitute, you are ensuring that you don’t slip back into the bad habit. But, when choosing an alternative to a bad habit, consider the following:
- Will this alternative benefit my health?
- Will it support my goal?
- Is this alternative practical for me?
How to Start Good Habits
Yep, it’s always your best bet to start small. So that you can make the change more manageable and have a better chance of success. For example, if you want to live a healthy lifestyle, you can start by drinking water instead of soft drink. Replace your soft drink intake with water in small increments.
Maintain a positive attitude
When you decide to develop a good habit, you are bound to encounter difficulties. When this happens, it’s important to maintain a positive attitude. To overcome the negative self-talk that may result in the slip-up. Remind yourself that one mistake does not mean failure. You can always try again.
Although it may not sound like a big deal, committing to developing a good habit will result in accountability. With commitment, you hold yourself accountable, make realistic commitments and believe in yourself.
Prepare for setbacks
Developing a good habit will certainly have setbacks. Remove the guilt and instead focus on getting back on track. For example, you may have missed an exercise session for today. Tell yourself that it’s okay but ensure that you get your exercise tomorrow and the following days. Second, reflect on the setback. What, for example, were the circumstances that led to the missed exercise session? Then make the necessary adjustments. Third, have a backup plan. Such as, if you can’t do a full one-hour session, do several 10-minute sessions. So long as you don’t miss a day.
Celebrate small wins
Celebrate and reward yourself for every small win you achieve. It will not only provide you the motivation to continue with the habit. But it will also allow you to pursue other beneficial habits.
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