Breaking and Making Habits

Posted: 26th September 2010

It’s no surprise that habits are so hard to break, because by their very nature, we do them without thinking about it. Have you ever listened to a favourite song on a CD before switching off the stereo, only to find for the rest of the day that you are humming the tune of the song which followed it? That just illustrates how good we generally are at anticipating what comes next and we get used to responding to situations in a particular way.

Are you in the habit of having sugary snacks at a particular time of day? Do you add extra salt to your food out of habit? If you are a smoker, when do you feel the need for a cigarette? Is it when you first get up in the morning? Is it when you stop for a coffee? What do you associate with the behaviour you wish to change?
Social habits are hardest to change; it can be very hard to refuse when a friend opens up a box of chocolates or insists on getting another round of drinks in.

One way to break a habit is to design something else to go in its place. If you normally light up a cigarette with a coffee first thing in the morning why not drink juice instead? And why not go for a short walk to take yourself away from your usual environment? If you can recognise the triggers for the habits you want to change then you can take steps to remove yourself from those triggers.

Make a record of your progress. Perhaps award yourself points for each day you successfully stick to your goal. I once used this to increase the amount of water I drank each day and when I reached a certain number of points I treated myself to a new CD.

Give yourself at least 3 weeks, because although it depends on your individual goal, unlearning old patterns and establishing new ones will probably take you this long. And remember to celebrate even the small achievements. It all counts!


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