First we make our habits, and then our habits make us. – John Dryden
No one would critique your habit of going to the gym daily or preparing lunch the night before or limiting TV watching to specific programs. They might envy your discipline and wish they had the same stick-to-it drive. What they don’t realize is that you’ve gotten to this place through a series of steps and missteps, revising and working to find the combination that supports your goals. You are also flexible enough to know that not all habits work forever, and that tweaking and adjusting behaviors is an ongoing process.
What about BAD habits? Whether it’s mid-day snacking, skipping the gym or procrastinating, feeling helpless to change takes its toll on your self esteem. Yet, you feel helpless to change and so the loop continues and you become more discouraged and resigned to accept these behaviors as a given. The good news is that you are not alone, nor are you a victim of genetics. Research breaks down the psychology driving habits into Three distinct stages: 1. Cue 2. Routine 3. Reward This habit loop is very challenging to break and has actually been hardwired into our psyches. Furthermore, we don’t break bad habits; rather, we replace them with more positive alternatives.
If you are committed to changing your behavior, there are 4 doable steps to begin: • Identify the stages– what’s the cue/routine/reward series that lead to your habit? Feeling tired in the afternoon and passing the candy bowl or vending machine for a shot of sugar? • Explore alternatives– what’s a healthier routine? A different route? Getting outside for a quick walk? Packing a nutritious snack? • Commit to change and adjust as needed– test drive your new routine. Is it enough of a change or can you tolerate something more radical? Perhaps your mid-day stroll for a snack was really a way to change the scenery and move, while the sugar treat was just an added “bonus” • Anticipate setbacks- make your new habit loop bulletproof. Plan ahead and whether it’s wearing sneakers or packing an apple, prepare for the inevitable slide. It’s OK- tomorrow is another day to begin anew.
When we walk away from labeling some habits as bad, we give ourselves permission to be human. After all, we created them for ourselves and we also have the power to add new ones that rather than break the old, replace them with a preferred alternative.