Spring into New Healthy Habits
Many of us look forward to spring as an opportunity to shake off the winter and freshen up our lives. This can take the form of “spring cleaning” to make sure that our house and yard are clean and updated for the coming warmer months, but we can also do some “spring cleaning” on our unhealthy habits as well. Is there a habit that has been bothering you, or impeding your personal growth? Maybe you are not necessarily wanting to get rid of an old behavior, but just incorporate a new behavior into your daily routine. As we all know, making changes can be a difficult process, but there are a few things that can increase the chance for success.
The first step to successful behavior change is making sure you have a plan and that you are prepared. It is important to have an idea about exactly what is involved in making this change. If you are wanting to change an eating habit, have you thought about removing the “offending” food and stocking your kitchen with healthy snacks? If you are wanting to incorporate a new mindfulness routine, do you have an area that lends itself to quiet contemplation?
Another piece of this first step is looking at why you want to change this behavior. Is it because you recognize the existing habit is a problem or because other people are telling you it is a problem? If you are making the change for someone else, it is much harder to follow through and to stick with the behavior change. If you are contemplating a change, think about the pros and cons of creating a new habit and the long and short term effects of this change. You also need to look at your motivation for having this habit in the first place. What need was this filling? Can we come up with a more satisfactory ways of filling this need?
The second step in the process, if you are making a change by taking something away, such as stopping smoking, or cutting back on junk food, is looking at your patterns of behavior around this habit. If you notice that you reach for junk food when you are tired or stressed, what can you do to replace that? Can you remove the junk food and have healthy snacks available to reach for? You need something to replace the old habit so you are not left in a vacuum. It is important to visualize making the change and how good it will feel when you have a new habit in place. This will also help if you tend to sabotage yourself with negative self-talk. If you have visualized your success, you will have something to counter any negative self-talk that pops up.
The next step is not mandatory, but can strengthen your ability to succeed. When you write something down, you are more likely to follow through and to keep the commitment you made to yourself. Just the act of writing it down can make it feel like a contractual agreement you have made with yourself and psychologically give you a little boost in your commitment. It is also useful to have a friend or “good habit buddy” that you can count on to keep you on the straight and narrow. It can make things easier if you know that you are accountable to yourself and to someone else. Having a “good habit buddy” can also be there to support you when you are feeling like your behavior change is too difficult, or your willpower is waning.
Now that you have the initial steps in place, you can make the decision to change your behaviors. You have eliminated the triggers, you have a plan to change, you have all of the pieces in place to help with your success, you have a written plan and you have a buddy for support. You are ready to do the work to change your behavior. At this point, there are two last things to keep in mind. The first, is that change takes time. It can easily take at least two months if not more to make a lasting change, so be prepared to commit for the long haul. The second and often missed idea is that you need to be kind to yourself. Making behavioral changes can be difficult; you might slip up and fall back into old behaviors. If that is the case, don’t spend time beating yourself up over the slip up, just start again. Remember each day of success is a day moving in the right direction.