Did you make any new year’s resolutions this year?
If you did, and they were along the lines of quitting smoking, cutting out the late night snacking or hitting the gym 5 times a week, then there’s a high chance you’ve struggled and possibly given up altogether by now.
See the thing is, at the root of all these things are habits.
Smoking is a habit. Reaching into the biscuit tin in the evenings is a habit. And choosing to stay at home and watch netflix instead of exercising is a habit.
And habits are notoriously hard to break.
It can be done though, you just need to work out the best way to interrupt your brain’s old patterns and your normal routines, so you can replace these old habits with new, better ones.
For some people there is a really simple way to break a bad habit.
Just stop doing it.
Go cold turkey.
Make a choice that you won’t make whatever that thing is a part of your life any more.
For most of us though, it’s never that easy.
Partly because, as strange as it sounds, our bad habits benefit us in some way. And partly because they’re so ingrained in our lives and our routines that half the time we’re not even really aware we’re doing them.
So you need to address those 2 factors to be able to break those habits.
First things first.
Look at the benefits that you get from the habit you want to break.
Take late night snacking for example.
The obvious benefit of hitting the biscuit tin is the pleasure of eating biscuits. They taste nice. Really nice. And it makes us feel good to treat ourselves to something enjoyable at the end of a long day.
If you want to break that habit though, because you know it’s not all that healthy to eat a packet of biscuits a night, then you need to find other things to give you that pleasure, that sense of having a nice treat.
It could be as simple as finding a hot drink that you really enjoy that you can drink alongside just one of your favourite biscuits.
Or you can move away from food altogether and create a list of other things that feel like real pleasures to you. A hot bath. Curling up with a blanket and a few chapters of your book. A phone call with your best friend.
It takes time but if you make a conscious effort to do one of these other things each time you want to head to the kitchen for snacks at night, then gradually you’ll start to replace that habit with these new ones that still bring you pleasure, but are better for you.
The second thing you need to do is get yourself off autopilot.
Think about the things that trigger you to indulge in your bad habit.
For late night snacking it might be a particular TV show coming on that prompts you to head to the kitchen. Or it might be that half an hour after dinner you just really fancy something sweet. When you know the things that lead you to snack, then you can take steps to changing things.
When that programme comes on, go and make a cup of tea instead of grabbing a pack of biscuits. Have a fruity ice lolly or some frozen yoghurt after dinner to satisfy that sweet craving.
It’s all about rewiring your brain to do something different instead of falling back into the old habit. Our brains are lazy and like to fall back on routines and shortcuts to free up thinking power for other, more important things.
So by recognising our triggers and interrupting that autopilot system we can replace our old habits with new, better ones. It take conscious effort at first, but with time these new habits will start to be done on autopilot instead.
There are a few things that can help with this process though:
Don’t do it alone.
If you can, try and get someone else on board to make these changes with you. It can be really hard to quit smoking if all your friends are doing it. So see if one of them wants to quit with you, so you can support each other and hold each other accountable.
Know you’ll fail.
You will slip up. There will be a night that you do get through a whole pack of bourbons. You’ll have a cigarette (or 5) on a night out. There will be a morning when you snooze your alarm instead of getting up to go the gym.
And if you know that this will happen you won’t beat yourself up as much about it.
You can acknowledge you slipped up and then choose to keep going with your new plan tomorrow.
Start again straight away.
When you do fail, the most important thing to do is make that choice to get right back on track with your new habits.
Missing one gym session is fine. But if you snooze your alarm again the next day, and the day after that then you’re making it so much harder to get back on track. Remember how lazy your brain is? By staying in bed three days in a row you’re telling your brain that this is what you do. The choice is being made, the shortcut is forming in your brain, to sleep in rather than get up and work out.
Don’t let that happen. Get straight back on with building the new habits.
Make things as easy as possible for yourself.
If the new habit you want to form is exercising regularly then set yourself up for success with that. Lay your gym clothes out the night before so they’re ready for you in the morning.
Of if you want to start drinking herbal tea instead of snacking on biscuits at night, put the teabags in a pretty container out on your kitchen worktop so you see it when you go out into the kitchen.
Find as many prompts as you can to remind you to stick with your new habits instead of falling back into your old ones.
Hopefully these tips will help you to break whatever old habits you want to move on from, and replace them with better ones that make you feel great.
What habits do you want to break or create this year?