How To Trade In Bad Habits For Good Ones!

How To Trade In Bad Habits For Good Ones

Most of us have habits we'd like to change, but instead of feeling bad about yourself for being unable to change them, use the fundamentals of forming habits to your advantage.

Good habits, bad habits, or any other kind, follow a typical three-step pattern. In school we had the “3-Rs; Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. Well, habits have their own 3-Rs; Reminder, Routine, and Reward. By breaking down the cycle of a habit you want to change, you can identify what triggers the routine and begin to address what really needs to change. This way you can establish a pattern for new and healthier habits.

Engaging in habit changes for self-improvement is key to vitality and well-being at all ages, according to Margaret Moore, co-director of the Institute of Coaching at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. “Summoning motivation for long-term goals gets harder when we move beyond the family- and career-building stages of life,” she says.

“It is normal and natural for men to feel like relaxing and letting go of the self-monitoring discipline of healthy habits, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet. But feeling good and energetic requires a daily investment in self-improvement, which begins with letting go of unhealthy habits and engaging in healthy ones.”

Motivation And Confidence

If you want to be more likely to make a lasting change, you need first to create a solid foundation. “You need to make sure the habit change is important and you have confidence that you can achieve it,” says Moore. Sounds simple, right? Often people take on changes important to other people, but the ones making the change don't really care. “Before you can focus on changing a bad habit, you need to measure both motivation and confidence,” says Moore.

How do you know if you're ready to change that habit? Use the “Am I Ready To Change” chart below. Rate your motivation on a 0-10 scale and then do the same for your confidence level. You want a score above a 6 for each. “This is the foundation you need to be successful,” said Moore.

So, what should you do if you don't have that high of a score? Think about choosing another habit to change—one you may have a little more passion for. Or, scale back the habit change to raise your confidence level. For instance, if you lack the confidence to quit smoking, begin with cutting back to five cigarettes a day. “Once you build more confidence from changing a lesser habit, you can revisit a more ambitious one,” says Moore.

Our Three Rs.

Now that you've chosen a habit you want to change, identify the three Rs:

  • Reminder: A trigger starts the behavior.
  • Routine: The behavior or action your take.
  • Reward: The benefit from the behavior or action.

Think of these items linked in a continuous loop. It works like this: Say you have a habit of eating junk food when you watch TV at night.

This is the loop: Your 8 p.m. show beings (reminder), you go to the kitchen to grab some snacks (routine), and you them while you watch your program (reward).

When the reward is achieved; in this case, the pleasure of comforting junk food, you have a desire to repeat the action with the next reminder (commercial break), and the cycle begins again.

Reminder: A trigger starts the behavior. Routine: The behavior or action your take. Reward: The benefit from the behavior or action. Click To Tweet

Review Reminder And Routine

The simple solution to this issue is just to stop eating junk food. But, this is never easy because the real issue is the habit, not the food itself.

Understand the reminder and routine. For the first step, shine a light on what happens with the current reminder and routine. In this example, at 8 p.m., you visit the kitchen for snack foods and then settle down on the couch.

Ask yourself, why do you go to the kitchen? Make a list of short words or phrases that describe your feelings before you begin the routine. Is hunger? Or, more likely, boredom? Maybe it's the desire for pleasure of eating while you watch?

Find your triggers. Research shows that habit triggers typically fit into five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, and immediately preceding action. In the TV-watching scenario, the set of triggers might be:

  • Location: living room
  • Time: 8 p.m.
  • Emotional state: bored
  • Other people: none
  • Immediately preceding action: favorite TV show comes on.

This is where a journal can come in handy. Take notes about your own situation using these categories for 3-5 days, as some may vary, for instance, time or mood. Afterward, review the information by looking for patterns.

For instance, maybe you snack only when you are alone or when you watch TV later at night, or maybe your mood is different. Or maybe you follow the routine of snacking only when you watch certain shows or certain types of shows like comedy or drama. Do you favor certain foods like ice cream or pie over other choices? “These are the clues to what needs to change so that you can shift to a new habit,” says Moore.

Boost your motivation. Next, make a list of the different rewards you enjoy. “The goal is not to ‘punish' yourself for seeking pleasure, but to choose rewards that make you feel good while investing in your new healthier habit,” says Moore. These could include taking a walk, meditating, or calling a friend. Or, you could pick snacks good for your brain and body like whole fruit, low-fat yogurt, or a cup of green tea.

Make A Plan

Once you have studied your routine, the reminder that triggers your behavior, and the reward for your habit, you can figure out which factors you can shift and thus break the cycle.

For example, instead of watching TV at the same time every night, use that time slot for other habits with better rewards, like exercise, reading, or taking part in a hobby.

If you find your snacking is triggered only when you watch TV later at night, try watching earlier the next day. If you discover that it's not the snack food you crave, but rather the act of eating, take the time to prepare healthier snacks that can satisfy that urge.

Be patient. It can take some time to change a habit. You may have to experiment with different rewards or triggers to find the right ones, but soon you can shift your bad habit into a good one.

“Once you know how to choose the habit you want to change, and break down the cycle of how habits work, you are empowered to make lasting change,” says Moore.

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