It’s hard to make big changes in your life - even if you know you need to make them. Whether it’s giving up a bad diet and starting to eat healthy, beginning to exercise instead of living a mostly sedentary life, or distancing yourself from people and activities that are causing you too much stress, the human brain loves to resist change. Taking a major life transition, like moving or starting a new job as an opportunity to piggyback some other lifestyle changes is a strategy that many employ. Here are some tips for replacing those bad habits with good ones.
Actually replace the habit
We develop bad habits for a reason - whether they provide some sort of pleasure, convenience, or a combination of the two. Habits are also hard to break, because we become desensitized to their negative effects the more we do them. This is why it’s vital that you not only cease doing or participating in whatever activity or situation is harming you, but that you find something to actually replace it with - perhaps something that provides a similar benefit (but healthy and productive). For example, if you’re trying to stop smoking, take a short walk whenever you have a craving or set up a small home gym so that you can do a quick 5 - 10 minute workout using your treadmill or weights instead of smoking. Or if you’re trying to end a negative relationship, meditate each time you want to engage with that person. Replacing your bad habits with positive ones can help you double the positive benefit of eliminating those harmful practices.
“Because bad habits provide some type of benefit in your life, it's very difficult to simply eliminate them. (This is why simplistic advice like ‘just stop doing it’ rarely works.) Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar benefit,” says JamesClear.com.
Make a specific plan
Your chances of success diminish when you over-generalize your problems and your solutions. If you’re in a bad habit of eating unhealthy, and you say “I’m going to eat healthier”, it’s kind of hard to make that happen. You’re not being specific enough.
Instead, identify the problem. “I eat too much fast food”, or “I am eating too many empty sugar calories”. Make a defined plan. “I am going to cook dinner at home five days a week”, for example.
“Studies show that it is much easier to stay motivated when we have a very specific end point in mind, and can know at any moment exactly how far we still have to go,” notes Psychology Today.
Don’t keep your plans secret
It may sound extreme, but not wanting to let another person down is a very strong motivator. Of course, you should make any and all lifestyle changes for the right reasons - and those reasons are that you want to do it - for you. But once you’ve made the decision, it sometimes doesn’t hurt to throw some extra accountability into the mix. If you have a buddy system, you may feel more motivated to keep going down your path of self-improvement.
“There’s a reason that many recovery programs include group meetings and individual sponsors or therapists. Being accountable to others is a powerful incentive to keep on keeping on. By both giving and receiving support, you keep the goal in focus,” says PsychCentral.com.
Take it slow and accept setbacks
Just because you make a big decision doesn’t mean you can achieve it in large, quick chunks. Change, even ambitious change, usually happens gradually through a series of small victories. Don’t try to grab it all at once. If you’re trying to shift your life into a more active one, for instance, don’t try to start running three miles every day. Start smaller, and build on your small achievements.
Don’t miss the opportunity to reconfigure your life and ditch bad habits for some good ones when you’re in the midst of a big life change. When your mind is in change mode, it’s easier to accept and go along with ancillary changes.
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