Everyone has habits, good ones and those we’d rather change (or hide). We often only think of habits as having a negative implication, ones you should break or a habit that’s bad for you.
You might have a habit of finishing off dinner with something sweet, procrastinating instead of being productive or a modern day habit of constantly checking Facebook (yes, that’s a habit too).
First, let’s look at what a habit is. An easy definition is “a regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up”. It’s the hard to give up part that we struggle with.
Habits, and routines, are important for us all. They give us logical sequences and patterns in our everyday living actions and most of our habits are unconscious ones. For example, the next time you get dressed, notice which leg you put in your pants first. It will be the same every day. Try the other leg and see how strange that feels.
We have many unconscious habits throughout our day, but it’s when we realise that a habit is not working for us positively, we often decide to change it. And then fail at the attempt.
The secret to changing a habit is to not set yourself up for failure.
How do you change a habit?
Going cold turkey doesn’t always work – you’ve probably tried that many times. The secret is to replace the old pattern/habit with a new action and repeat for as long as it takes to lay down a new neural pathway in your brain.
Here’s an example – you know one of your worst patterns is procrastination to on a work project. So, you need to work out:
- The trigger – sit and see if you can work out what the trigger is for when your brain begins to sabotage you into procrastinating. Hint – it’s usually an emotional trigger. Is it feeling overwhelmed, feeling tired, the fear of failure, fear of the unknown?
- The action – then look at the repetitive behaviour that follows the trigger. Do you go to the fridge, do housework, eat chocolate, watch TV?
- The reward – now think hard and work out what the reward is that you get from your “action”. Are you (unknowingly) punishing yourself, is it feeding low self esteem, or re-enforcing negative self talk, proving to yourself that you never stick to anything?
To create a new habit (or break an old one) you have to be conscious of what you are doing unconsciously. You have to be present in the moment of each step.
When you’ve worked out your trigger, make up a new action to replace the unresourceful action, while keeping in mind the new reward (feeling of success, achievement) you want.
For example – instead of going to the fridge when avoiding work by procrastinating, walk out to the letterbox and back, or do another physical activity, something that physically replaces the old action.
Remember, this is a practice, so you will need to keep practicing every time you feel the trigger.
Don’t forget to celebrate!
Celebrate every time you get it right and don’t get upset with yourself if you revert back to the old habit. Concentrate on each win and what you achieve.
You want to switch your focus to what you’re achieving, not failing.
With your health in mind,
Catherine McCoy is an Integrative Naturopath, Heath Coach, Writer and Presenter who is the founder of the iNaturally Clinic in Canberra. Catherine helps busy women from all walks of life who are experiencing anxiety and overwhelm to get their health back on track and to Rebuild Their Life.
Contact Catherine for more information.