Bad habits create bad outcomes; good habits get us closer to our goals. Even if you don’t hit your goal at the intended time, you can put good habits to work so you can at least wander by your goals as you continue on your life’s path. Whether you’re fighting a bad habit or an addiction, there are options available.
If 2020 has led to some poor eating and fitness choices, try to plan for your day. For those who reach for the junk food when stress hits, it’s time to pack a lunch bucket loaded with fruit, whole-grain crackers, yogurt, and other healthy choices.
Make a deal with yourself. If you are hungry after you have your yogurt, you can have chips. However, first, you have to finish the yogurt and drink eight ounces of water.
Another way to plan is to start a daily review. Before bed, write down two things you’re thankful for and two things you’re proud of. Once this habit is established, and it may take a calendar prompt to do this right, you can create a mental reminder. Before buying the chips, just ask, “Will I be proud of this action tonight?” If not, put your wallet away.
Ask for Help
Getting an exercise buddy or a diet friend can make life easier when trying to change your bad habits to good habits. If you’re dealing with a severe addiction, such as a drug or cigarettes, remember that luxury rehab can be a bargain compared to long-term health problems or jail time.
Addiction is an illness. Your brain, body, and spirit need whatever you’re getting from the drug or chemical. Punishment is a terrible way to beat addiction, so find some help and make a new path for yourself with help from caring professionals.
Pay Attention to Your Triggers
One of the biggest problems with habits is that we build them whether we want to or not. Your brain is always looking for ways to be efficient, so if your brain notes that it’s 3 pm and your stomach says, “we need a candy bar,” your body will grab your wallet and go get one, even if you’re not hungry because the groove in your head is working well. You need to redirect it.
Triggers can also be emotional. Your family member or co-worker who always pushes your buttons is jumping up and down on them, and you decide to teach that person a lesson by eating an entire pizza alone. This is one of the biggest problems with triggers; we think we’re rewarding ourselves for dealing with life stress, but we’re damaging ourselves by lessening our ability to manage stress in the future.
Create a Substitute
When the trigger hits, create a substitute activity. If it’s 3 pm and the candy bar monkey lands on your back, stand up, make yourself a cup of tea, and text or visit with a friend. You can quickly train yourself to go from
- poor choice
- feel bad
- healthy choice
- feel proud
If you create a substitute activity when the trigger hits.
As you become aware of your triggers, set up mental rewards. That wonderful co-worker who offers everyone chocolate by keeping it on her desk isn’t out to get you, so make a mental reward. If you can get through this week without dipping into the chocolate bowl, you get to order one of your favorite scented candles on Friday after work.
Take pride in your habit changes. Celebrate little changes that nobody else notices. If you find yourself falling into the couch and ignoring your household instead of interacting and being a good partner and parent, ask your partner to help you. Notice this so you can build a new action or habit when presented with the trigger of “getting home from work.”
Building good habits is hard. It takes conscious effort not to fall back into what’s easy or what feels thoughtless. Your brain is always working in an efficient way, so once your good habit is in place, it won’t take much effort to maintain it.