How do you break a bad habit and create a new healthy one?
We all have habits, habits keep us safe, make us feel comfortable in the choices we make every single day. They are necessary because they are the brain’s way of helping us to make the same choices on a regular basis. Even if the habit is “bad” we still help to feel good about it, because it’s known. Habits are learned progressively and usually performed unconsciously.
When we decide to change a habit, the first step is to start communicating different information to your brain. Our brain is capable to receive new information, adapt and change based on the thoughts we say, actions we do and new environments.
In order the change a bad habit, we first must acknowledge that there is a bad habit that we want to change. We need to understand that there is something that is causing us discomfort, pain that we no longer want to live with.
Once we have passed from that pre-contemplation phase where we are not sure that we want to make a change in the first place, now we are very well aware that this is an issue and we want to fix it. It’s the contemplation phase. We are not sure how to change, but we know we can’t go on like this. Once the habit is identified, we start with the action in the next 30 days. In these 30 days it’s not enough to stop something (example eating white sugar), we also have to start talking to ourselves in a different way in order to change those pathways in the brain.
It starts with the “Why” as a first step. Why do you want to make the change? What do you get by changing this habit?
Once you have identified the reasons why you want to make a change then we start at identifying triggers and what you can do in the future to prevent the relapse. The idea is to replace the usual response to a trigger with a new habit. For example if stressed out leads you to eating a box of biscuits, pause take a breath and talk to yourself for couple of minutes: “Am I hungry?What is actually going on? What will this bring for my health? What is it taking from me”. (Pay attention here that I used the example of being stressed out and eating as a reward. If you truly want a biscuit it’s fine, no crime there, but using it to numb emotions isn’t very healthy because you won’t fix what is stressing you out with a biscuit and by eating while stressing out will affect how you digest food in the first place and how you feel afterwards).
Once you have identified the trigger it is time to replace the bad habit with a new one. You have to choose some new habit that is sustainable, and gives you similar reward like the bad one. After doing it over and over again, it becomes intuitive, it becomes a new habit.
I would advise in general to try to limit your triggers (you have identified them so you can anticipate until you are in the new forming habit phase), join someone who is going through similar changes, remove any negative self-talk that you can’t do this or that you are a failure and at the end show yourself some grace when you relapse. Relapse is part of the journey, plan for it, stand back up and try again.