As we enter another new year, it’s natural for us to want to eliminate bad habits. All too often, though, we fail to change the habit for the long haul because we don’t create a plan to support us in the process. Here’s a list of things to help you develop a support plan to guide you through the process:
1. Commit now & plan now. It’s easy to push off changing bad habits since we’ve often been leaning on them for years. But, the more we allow habits to slip into the next month and the next year, the greater the compound effect they have on our well-being. So, commit to changing an unhelpful habit today, commit fully, and develop a written support plan that you start implementing now.
2. Name the habit you want to eliminate. This seems obvious if we’re talking about something like smoking, but if you’re unhappy with your weight or you’re spending more money than you earn, sort through the specific behaviors that contribute to this problem and decide on a single habit to focus on. For instance, if you’re unhappy with your weight, you might zero in on “eating junk food” as the habit to focus on, or if you’re overspending, you might decide “using your credit card for purchases” is the bad habit you need to knock. Focusing on a single habit at a time may seem “easy” or like you’re “ignoring others,” but success is more likely when one habit at a time is focused on.
3. Identify the value that is motivating you to eliminate this unhelpful habit. Before you begin, take time to build some self-awareness. We may view eliminating a habit as the goal in and of itself, but the likelihood of success is greater if you identify the core value(s) it’s not supporting. For example, if your goal is to stop smoking because you value having a healthy body and living a long life, you’re more likely to successfully stop smoking for life than you are if you aren’t clear on what value this habit is in opposition with. If ‘you just know the habit’s bad,’ dig deeper and write down your personal values and motivations behind this thought. Write down all of the reasons you want to change this behavior, and frame your reasons positively and in terms of your values (i.e.“Smoking does not support my desire to have a healthy body,” etc.). Keep copies of this list within site at home and work, and keep a copy with you so you can refer to it when you’re feeling discouraged.
4. Anticipate and plan for obstacles, triggers, and temptations and decide what behavior you’d like to replace this unhelpful habit with: Generally, it’s a lot easier to replace a behavior than to eliminate it. So, decide what you will do instead of engaging in your unwelcome habit, write it down, and be specific. For instance, if you’re replacing smoking, list all anticipated trigger times with a replacement positive, alternative behavior:
1) morning before work (meditate for 20 minutes), 2) mid-morning break at work (stay in the inside work lounge with a non-smoking friend and have tea together), at lunch (bring lunch and work-out at lunch instead of going out with smokers), and after work either on the way home from work (chew gum and make a phone call to someone in your support system) or going out to a bar or party (replace these events with non-smoking constructive events (take a yoga class every Monday and Tuesday for the month, visit a museum every Wednesday for the month, have dinner with a non-smoking friend every Friday for the month)…and so forth.
Moreover, decide upon a particular replacement behavior you will use for unexpected triggers, and be consistent in implementing it each time a trigger pops up. For instance, knowing you can meditate any time and anywhere for 5 minutes, you might decide this is a good “go to” replacement behavior for you.
5. Accept the time frame you’ll need. Changing an unhelpful habit often takes up to 4 weeks of focused work, so select an ending date of 28 days from now as your goal date. And, beware of the temptation to discard the plan too early. Human beings need time and alternate experiences for changes to solidify. And, if you become convinced that you’ve kicked a habit before your goal date, enlist support and trust that you should stay with your plan for the entire 4 weeks in order to solidify change as much as possible.
6. Enlist support: To build-in accountability and buffer yourself with support, inform as many people in your life as appropriate about your plan. Enlist “on-call” support from at least 3 supportive people in your life whom you promise to reach out to when you’re struggling with the plan or have encountered a set-back. Additionally, if you feel you need or would benefit from professional support or a professional program, consider seeking a life coach or some other kind of help.
7. Create a log for tracking your progress: Monitor your progress with a tactile log. One popular log involves keeping index cards for each day of the week and month of your plan. Place check marks with any notes on the card for each time you engage in your “positive replacement behavior.” Write any notes regarding obstacles, triggers, and temptations you may have encountered and how you dealt with them. Use this information to assess your thoughts and feelings, address unexpected obstacles, and learn from set-backs.
8. Reward yourself: Build in a small reward for each time you’re successful engaging in your “replacement behavior.” Make sure your reward doesn’t run counter to your goal and be consistent about rewarding yourself.
9. Stay positive and be patient with yourself: You can expect to have bad moments and days during this process. The key is to be patient with yourself and not to quit after a set-back. Make regular journal notes about your thoughts and feelings throughout the day, and reread your notes from the previous day each morning. Notice if there is a pattern of feeling more negative at some point in the day, etc. And, when you do have negative thoughts creep in, immediately replace them with a positive affirmation such as “I choose to make positive healthy choices for myself.”
10. Do some research so you know what to expect: No matter what unwelcome habit you’d like to eliminate, there’s information out there. So, do some research and if possible, talk to others who have gone through the same process to acquire a better idea of what to expect…and, hopefully, some inspiration, too!