Old habits can be difficult to change. Forty percent of our daily actions are habitual, not conscious decisions. Living a healthy lifestyle requires making a change in eating habits, exercise activities, and mental state. Even if you are successful in sticking to a new diet or exercising regularly, it can be difficult to change other unhealthy behaviors that contribute to weight gain. However, there are practical steps that you can take right now to move yourself toward changing any kind of habit.
- Focus on changing one habit. Think about a habit of yours that is sabotaging your goals that you’d like to change. Just pick one thing for now–something very specific. For example, maybe every day at 3:00PM you buy a 450-calorie iced white chocolate mocha with whipped cream.
- Identify the cue. Now ask yourself why you are repeating this habit. Are you tired? Bored? Hungry? Keep a log for a few days noting the circumstances when you engage in this habit. Where are you? How do you feel? Are you with anyone?
- Experiment with rewards. The next time you find yourself in this situation and feel the urge to engage in your habit try doing something else instead, like going for a walk or making a quick phone call to a friend. Afterwards, jot down three things that come to mind and then wait 15 minutes to see if you still want to engage in the habit.
- Form a new routine. Experiment with different activities until you find the one that distracts you enough from your old habit that you no longer feel the urge to act on it. Then replace that as your new routine and practice it.
Don’t be discouraged if you mess up. Change doesn’t happen over night–think about how long it took for your old habit to develop. Give yourself a minimum of three weeks to adjust, and enlist the support of friends and family to help you resist temptation.
Duhigg, Charles. “Infographics! (Or, a Flowchart for Changing a Habit).” Charlesduhigg.com. N.p., 17 Apr. 2012. Web. 10 Jan. 2013. http://charlesduhigg.com/flowchart-for-changing-habits/.
Neal, Wood & Quinn. (2006). Habits – A Repeat Performance. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(4), 198-202.