Photo credit: Miguel Pires da Rosa
Habits are a natural part of life. Research estimates that around 40 percent of our actions are habits: You don’t think about shutting a door behind you or scratching an itch. From an evolutionary standpoint, habits make sense. If we had to think about every little thing we do, we would go nuts.
But how can you break a habit that’s not good for you, like biting your nails or overeating?
Just in time for the new year, we give you step-by-step instructions for kicking bad habits.
Step One: Identify the habit.
Quitting a bad habit begins with admitting you have one. You may not want to admit that you check Facebook an unhealthy amount of times each day, but you must if you want to stop doing it. There is a lot of power in identifying — and admitting — a problem. As long as you keep denying it, you’ll never be able to muster the willpower you’ll need to kick it.
Step Two: Identify the trigger.
There is a reason you overeat at parties or bite your nails while reading. Your bad habit is being triggered by a feeling, and the next step in breaking the habit is identifying that feeling. Do you feel anxious at parties, causing you to seek comfort in food? Is it boredom that inspires you to bite your nails? Do some soul-searching. Figure out why you do what you do.
Step Three: Come up with a new habit.
The truth is that most habits aren’t broken; they’re replaced. If overeating helps you relieve anxiety at parties, come up with a new way to relieve anxiety. The same goes for biting your nails: Figure out a new habit that provides the same release from boredom, but isn’t bad for you. This might be squeezing a ball, rubbing a soft piece of fabric, or fiddling with a rubber band.
Step Four: Replace the old habit with the new habit.
This is the most difficult step. It will require conscious effort on your part to replace your old, bad habit with your new, better habit. Whenever your trigger arises, actively focus on engaging in your new activity instead of your old. If you’ve chosen a good replacement, it should provide similar relief. Do this again and again, and your new habit will be established — leaving your old one behind.
There a few things to keep in mind as you go about breaking your bad habit. The first is to value and respect yourself, which will inspire you to stop doing things that aren’t good for you. The second is to forgive yourself for your failures — which will almost certainly crop up. The key is not to give up. When you find yourself engaging in your bad habit, cut yourself some slack. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come and calmly return to your new, better behavior.
We hope this guide will help you as you endeavor to be your best self in 2015. Remember: There is nothing wrong with asking for help. If you feel you’d benefit from the guidance of a medical health professional as you strive to lose weight, stress less, or take care of an old injury, we’re here for you!