Making a resolution? Maybe to get your diet on track, to build more exercise into your daily routine, to stop procrastinating, to stop smoking, to get more rest? Or, you might be one of those for whom past New Year’s resolutions have led to frustration when you started all gung-ho and then ran out of steam early on.
The key to making your resolution a success is not to jump in with expectations of completely turning your life around all at once. Instead, start with a realistic plan, based on an understanding of what you are doing that’s not working for you along with what you want to do differently. In other words, start by taking a look at the bad habits that seem to get in the way of the good ones.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Identify the behavior. You can’t break a bad habit unless you know when and why you perform it.
Want to change your diet? Start by taking a hard look at what’s unhealthy about your eating habits. Are there times of the day when you are most likely to overindulge? Certain events that push you toward the junk food? How are you feeling emotionally when you eat healthy? What about when you don’t?
What about your exercise routine? Think about the times when you do something to get yourself moving. Now, compare it to those times when you end up staying on the couch. What’s the difference? What gets in the way?
It might be helpful to keep a daily bad habit log to track how often you give in to your bad habits and what’s going in with you during these times.
2. Evaluate the risks and benefits. A habit has positive and negative appeal. Maybe it offers pleasure or relieves stress. But it also holds you back or undermines your health. So what are you getting out of it?
Let’s be honest. If you weren’t getting something out of your bad habit, you wouldn’t be indulging in it. So ask yourself: What is really good about my bad habit? What are the short-term benefits? Maybe it’s just fun to do something that you enjoy, like digging into that piece of pie and feeling the sugar rush. Or snuggling up on the couch and avoiding having to think about something that’s bothering you. Basically, being in control, doing what you want, turning off the nagging voices, one of which may be your own.
But what about the long term? That’s where the disadvantages come home to roost. Think about the effects of your bad habit on your physical and mental health. Wasted time. Missing out on meaningful activities. Feeling depleted. Risking health consequences over time. And the way you end up feeling like you have let yourself down.
Now that you have identified your bad habit, you might want to make a list with two columns, advantages and disadvantages. Which side wins?
3. Prepare for change. Figure out what you need to help you to avoid the bad habit and have some alternatives ready to replace it. Willpower is not enough.
People fail in their resolution to break a bad habit because they don’t have a plan. Instead, they think that they can grit their teeth, go cold turkey, and just tough it out. That may sound like a good idea, but chances are, it’s also a recipe for failure because, when you take something away, a vacuum is left behind. And if that vacuum isn’t filled – preferably by something equally or more attractive – you will find your way back to your old behavior. Instead, be the man/woman with a plan.
Each of us is unique in terms of why we indulge in certain behaviors and what we need to break out of them. Be proactive by creating an environment that is more conducive to good habits. Look around your home and office and wherever else you spend time. Isolate where your habits get triggered and look for ways to remove them. Any healthy food in your refrigerator? Keeping temptations like cigarettes around? Got the day ahead of you with no plans? Who are the people in your life who can support your change? Who get in the way?
Build your own toolbox . Fill it up with alternatives to your bad habit – activities, ideas for healthy food, enjoyable exercise, supportive people. Visualize the new you. Give yourself positive messages with self-encouragement and without self-criticism. Stop playing old tapes.
4. So do it already! Take the next step by substituting your alternatives for your bad habit. But go easy on yourself. This is a learning process – don’t expect overnight success.
Begin with baby steps. Remember habits are deeply ingrained. But if you did your homework in step three, you should have your toolbox filled with alternatives and supports to help you to begin to push your bad habit into the past and replace it with one that supports your well-being. As you experience small successes, pat yourself on the back, and ask your support team to give you an “attaboy/attagirl.” If you have a relapse or two, don’t beat up on yourself. Instead, retrace your steps and see if you missed anything. Again, this is a process. YOUR process.
Break a bad habit or two in 2011! And make it the year that you move a step closer to being the best YOU possible!
Any reactions? Stories? Please let me know!
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