How to break a bad habit
Much of what we do in life is habitual. We do most things on autopilot and our habits, good and bad, make us who we are. The key is controlling them. If you know how to change your habits, then even a small effort can create big changes in your life and confidence. Here are some tips to get you started.
Write it down
Don’t just think about making a change, commit it to paper. This does two things. First, it creates clarity by defining in specific terms what your change means. Second, it keeps you committed since it is easy to dismiss a thought, but harder to dismiss a promise printed in front of you.
Experts say it takes about 21 days for a new activity to become a habit, and 6 months for it to become part of your personality. Choose the one habit that you most want to change, the one that makes you feel unhealthy, unattractive or generally uncomfortable with who you are. By telling yourself that you are only going to do it for 21 days, one day at a time, you have a much better chance than if you tell yourself you are giving it up forever. You will be surprised at how quickly the days add up.
Learn to resist the cravings
Habits can be broken more easily if you understand the process that creates them. We usually go back to an unhealthy habit because we give into cravings. Cravings are like a wave, they rise to a peak, and then fall. This happens whether you yield to the urge or not, though most people believe that their craving will escalate endlessly unless they give in. In fact, succumbing to cravings only reinforces them, resisting, in contrast, reinforces resistance. Watch the urge rise, peak and fall and see how easy it becomes to ride them, one at a time. The more you ride the more confident you will become, just like a surfer.
Another trick is to recognize that willpower is like a muscle; it gets stronger the more it is used but ultimately weakens if overloaded. That’s why it is better to set short-term realistic goals rather than trying to change everything at once.
Sometimes we think that cutting down on things will be easier than giving it up altogether but actually complete abstinence is often easier than perfect moderation. If we cut down on something it is more likely that we will be reinforcing the habit in the long term because the thing – cigarette, chocolate bar etc. will become more valued as we look forward to having it again rather than coping with the cravings and eventually breaking the habit.
Replace lost needs
Whenever we give up a bad habit, to have the very best chance of succeeding we need to replace it with something otherwise we will be left feeling like there is a void in our lives and will be more likely to give in to cravings. If you stop smoking take up something that you can do with your hands – knitting, crosswords – playing angry birds on your iphone – whatever it is do that when you feel a craving. If it is food you are trying to control replace unhealthy snacks with healthy ones wherever you can.
Get some support
Tell everyone you know what you are trying to do. Surround yourself with friends who can also be role models. Make sure that people you spend time with are people who look and act the way you would like to. Social imitation is the easiest form, not only of flattery, but of self-improvement. If you can find someone who also wants to break a bad habit you can be a valuable source of support and encouragement for each other.
Rewarding yourself is an important way of staying motivated. A good idea is to put the money you are saving in a jar to buy, or do, something special at the end of the 21 days. Rewards don’t have to be things, they can be tickets to a gig, a trip to a spa etc. make sure it is something you really want and wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford as that will increase your motivation.
The thrill of succeeding in breaking a bad habit will not only improve your health and your confidence but also all your relationships as you begin to feel really good about yourself. Good luck.
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