How to change negative habits for healthy ones
by Katey Kerr-Peterson
Negative habits can creep into our lives and our routine, and before we know it they become part of our default behaviour. Often we know better than to make that extra cup of coffee, stay up late watching TV, engage in office gossip, or make unhealthy food choices. But we struggle to do better and know exactly how to turn our good intentions into our reality.
We are all only human, and can’t be expected to make perfect choices everytime. But if you are honest with yourself, and know there are some positive shifts you would like to make for your own physical and mental well-being, then read on. As Magaret Moore, co-director of the Institute of Coaching at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital puts it – ‘engaging in habit changes for self-improvement is key to vitality and well-being at all ages’!
The good news is that you are the author of your life. Your life is made up of the choices you make, and you have the power and ability to bring about positive change. Change begins with you and you can start today.
Here are our 7 steps to change unhealthy habits:
Identify the habit(s) you want to change
It all starts with awareness. Take the time to review the areas of your life as an observer, and notice the behaviour you want to shift. It can be anything from wanting to spend less time on social media, to engaging in more positive self talk, or even prioritizing physical health through more regular excercise. Be kind to yourself during this process. There is no need to feel ashamed, or to beat yourself up for not being where you want to be. Jot down a few of the changes you wish to make, and be proud of yourself for taking this first and important step towards change.
Identify your triggers
Every action is initiated by a trigger. For example, if you’re standing in front of the fridge looking to eat yet another snack, pause to notice why you’re there/what has triggered you being there. Are you really hungry, or are you actually enjoying taking a small mental break from work? If you’re constantly reaching for your phone to surf social media, what causes this impulse – are you simply bored and looking for some entertainment? Becoming aware of your triggers can help you pause before you act, and you may find it easier to consider other, more positive, options.
Replace the negative habit for a better one
In this above example, instead of reaching for more food, you could opt to drink a large glass of water instead, or walk outside for a 10 minute mental break. Instead of scrolling through Instagram, try engage with a colleague in the office. These simple shifts will make you feel more energized, focused and connected, which are all hugely beneficial. Ask yourself – how do I really want to feel, and what (better) choice can I make to take a step towards this?
Change the narrative
Instead of justifying your negative habit, try and flip the script of you inner dialogue. For example, instead of pouring that extra glass of wine, or eating an unhealthy dessert saying ‘I deserve it, it’s been a stressful week’. Affirm to yourself ‘I love feeling in control of my health. I love feeling good, and right now I am satisfied just as I am’. It may feel un-natural at first, but when you start to feel good, it will get easier to shift to the healthier choice, and you will enjoy a positive cycle of thinking – feeling – and being.
See yourself throwing away the twisp or buying healthy food or waking up early. Whatever the bad habit is that you are looking to break, visualize yourself conquering it, smiling, and enjoying feeling good. By holding this new identity in your imagination, the easier it will be to show up as him/her – bringing you closer to your ultimate goal.
Small steps are still progress
Let go of the ‘all or nothing” mindset. If you set out to do 1 hour of exercise, but have a work deadline that you need to prioritize – set aside 15 minutes to workout. You will feel less guilty about skipping it all together, and will reap the positive effects from reinforcing the habit regardless. Small steps in the right direction, is still progress.
Give yourself time
In our culture we want to see instant and immediate results. However lasting change takes time. Commit to the process, and offer self compassion when you slip up. Remember that everything in life is a choice, and every moment is a chance to choose again. Life is yours for the taking, so set your sights on your goals, and enjoy the journey on your way there.