It is hard to break old habits and establish new ones. Even when we know, intellectually, that the old habits we may have are destructive, harmful, or nonproductive in some way. Strongly entrenched behavior patterns are things to which we often cling for comfort, because they are familiar, or because it is the path of least resistance. One way people think that you can break these patterns is through sheer willpower. By “white knuckling” your way through the changes. While that may get you over the initial hump, willpower is finite and willpower is easily weakened. Especially in the face of strong biological drives or long term behavior patterns. So what do we do? Here are some tips I have found in changing some habits of my own,
An important thing is to have a plan. A road map for what you are trying to accomplish. When trying to end a habit you can use your plan to replace the negative behavior with something that is less harmful. Have a plan in place for how you will deal with stressors when they come up if your behavior is stress induced. An example would be: “Instead of smoking a cigarette when I am stressed, I am going to take a ten-minute walk.” Then, in the heat of the moment, you have a behavior on which you can fall back, so you do not need to revert to your old coping mechanism.
Another thing you can do is to reach out to others for support. Having people around you committed to your positive growth can be invaluable. It helps so much to have people who want to see you succeed and are glad that you are making changes rather than those who want to tempt you back into your old behaviors. It would not be good if you are trying to get your eating back on track and you have a friend who is constantly baking you cupcakes.
A third strategy is avoiding cues. This is very helpful, particularly in the early stages of changing a behavior pattern. A cue is something that is closely associated with the behavior you are trying to change. An example would be if every night at a certain time you watch a TV program and that is when you have your ice cream, and you wish to stop eating ice cream every night. What you might do is read instead. It will diminish the desire for ice cream by not having the cue happen.
My last bit of advice, and one I found exceptionally helpful, is breaking your behavior changes into small manageable steps. Steps can be small changes toward a greater goal or measuring your progress in smaller increments of time. This can make the task less overwhelming. Break it down into whatever you can handle. Do not start with “I am going to run five miles every day” if you are not exercising regularly yet. Do not take it one day at a time if that seems too big and you can only get through fifteen minutes at a time of not doing whatever habit you are trying to break. That is what I had to do when I was quitting smoking. A day at a time was too big and overwhelming, so I took it fifteen minutes at a time at first. You can then work up to larger increments and behaviors, but be realistic with your expectations. Remember that it is okay to progress at your own pace. It is not a race and there is not a prize for getting to your goal quickly. The “prize,” if you will, is in sustaining the change for the long term. That will take patience and perseverance.
Remember that this is YOUR journey and you are the architect of your life narrative. You have the power to change habits that do not serve you, should you wish to do so. They say it takes at least two weeks to break an old habit and establish a new one. I think by not relying on willpower alone, having a plan, reaching out for support, avoiding cues, breaking your journey into manageable steps, and recognizing that you have agency in the matter, you can accomplish great things.
Feel free to answer any of these questions or ask your own question below!
What do works for you to help maintain habits?
What would you tell another to help them break a bad habit?
What are your favorite habits you have?