The most daunting part about trying to change bad habits for good is the fear that you won’t be able to stick with it. But the best approach with any overwhelming situation is to take it day-by-day or moment-by-moment. You have to start somewhere, and these simple techniques can help with your journey!
If you’re like me, you prefer to have a clean start on a day you can remember. But putting off changing a bad habit can keep you from committing to it before you even start. Instead of waiting for the new year, the first of the month, etc., start today. If you get an urge to do that bad habit, think about it for a little bit and tell yourself that you don’t need it today. That’s as good as any other starting point.
Take baby steps
Quitting something cold turkey can be enticing, but it’s best to save that technique for addictive habits (like smoking.) Instead of cutting out all unhealthy food — unless your doctor says it’s of life and death importance — try tackling “snacking too much during the day” first. Plan to move your food out of sight or write a note in front of it. What makes it hard to change bad habits for good is the thoughtlessness behind the habit. So start small by making your mind think about what you’re doing first. After you get used to cutting out that habit, you can add in something else — like culling down sugary drinks to a few times a week.
Tie it to a reward
If you just cut out the bad habit without an incentive, your mind may see it as a punishment. Instead, tie it to a reward. In the snacking example, if you’re not doing it as much then you’re spending less money on food. Use those savings to get a meal you really like later in the week, even if it’s not the healthiest. You’re already doing better in the long run and if you have something to look forward to, it’s easier to convince yourself that cutting out a daily bad habit is worth it.
I like this technique as it helps to change bad habits for good ones and also helps make good habits more regular. In the case of snacking, I’ll set reminders periodically to drink more water — which I always forget to do. Drinking more water means that I’m more full throughout the day and don’t feel the urge to snack.
Tell others about it
This is a technique that works in helping people stick to a variety of goals. By telling others, you make yourself accountable. And by having someone commit with you, it raises your chance of success because of your support network.
If you want to make a commitment with someone else, there are two ways to do it: 1) have someone change a bad habit with you (it doesn’t have to be the same one) or 2) put someone in charge of your incentive if you reach your goal. These both work effectively as long as you follow the next guideline too.
Don’t add shame into the mix
If you want to change bad habits for good, don’t shame yourself or the person committing with you — and don’t let the person you put in charge of the incentive shame you for not hitting your goal. It’s okay to slip up — or even to choose to do it — now and then. Knowing that, there’s less pressure to cut it out altogether.
What you’re ultimately trying to do is live a better life. If you’ve cut it out at least once, you’re already doing better. Keep that mindset — the reward mindset — and you’re more likely to stick with it. And if you slip up, you won’t feel like you have to scrap the whole effort. Just go back to your new, better routine and you won’t feel like you have to start from scratch.
Learn to redirect
When you tell yourself you can’t do something, you crave it more. Trust a woman who’s been pregnant twice. I rarely drink, I have raw oysters maybe twice a year, sushi once a month at most, never eat soft cheese, and don’t eat rarely steak often. But you can believe that every time I was reminded about what I couldn’t have, I craved them all instantly — and this happened for a solid nine months.
What did I do instead? I redirected. I’d find something else that I could eat or I’d go take a nap. Sometimes I’d just strike up a conversation with someone to distract myself, or I played video games to get my mind off of it if I was bored. Redirecting works well, especially if you feel a big craving coming on.
As a side note, it’s understandable that craving something and not getting it might make you cranky. We have another post about simple ways to boost your happiness now.
Take up a new, better hobby
This is an extension of redirecting — a more long-term version. In the snacking example, I realized that the time I spent throughout the day fixing snacks I didn’t need, I could take 15-30 minutes to do some exercises. So I’d go to the office gym and do some easy stretches and low intensity workouts. Or I’d take a walk around a few blocks to get some fresh air. That made exercising less daunting — I didn’t need to carve out a few hours to get ready, exercise, and then shower off afterwards. And because working out felt less like a hassle, I made time on weekends to go out dancing or ride bikes.
Don’t mark off a calendar
As rewarding as it is to see progress, counting away days is like watching a pot boil. It feels like it takes a lot more time — or in this case, effort — and until you see the first sign that it’s working, it can be discouraging.
If you want to change bad habits for good, don’t focus on how much time you’ve been trying. Making small tweaks lead to better lifestyle choices overall and then you’ll start to see long-term results. Don’t make this harder on yourself than it has to be.
The old adage is that it takes 28 days to change a habit. But don’t think about it as a whole month. Tackle it day-by-day, take small steps, and set yourself up for success instead of shaming yourself if you slip up. If you’re not there after 28 days, take the time you need. You can change any habit you want to, but it doesn’t have to be a difficult experience.