What's the one bad habit you can't seem to break? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
We are all creatures of habit.
From the time we wake up, most of what we do, eat, and think will be the same as it was yesterday. We turn on the coffee, grab the paper while the shower heats up, get the kids ready for school, drive to work -- and don't remember driving there.
We all have developed patterns of behaviour that make it easy for us to get through the day. It would be overwhelming if we had to think through every decision as if it were the first time. Although most habits are harmless, we all have a few we wish we could change. Which of your habits would you like to change?
Habits are recurrent, often unconscious patterns of behavior that are acquired through frequent repetition. In many cases we are unaware how we acquired certain habits. When did we first start biting our nails or eating doughnuts after lunch?
Because habits are often unconscious, attempting to create new habits because we "should" is rarely effective. Identifying our unique reasons for wanting to change a habit, however, allows us to create momentum toward our new goal.
Five steps to commit to a new habit
1. Identify the habit you would like to change or create. If your goal is to get rid of an existing "bad" habit, be sure to identify the behaviour you are going to substitute. Be very specific. "I want to get fit" is not a new habit. "I will walk for 30 minutes three times per week instead of watching television" is more specific and attainable.
2. Identify your motivation. We all have our own unique reasons for wanting to change our habits. Ensure that your desire to change comes from you, and you are not attempting to change to please someone else. (Read about 7 tips for maintaining fitness motivation.)
3. Ask yourself what specific things you wish to gain by changing this habit. Perhaps you want to go to the gym to meet people, lose weight, lower your blood pressure, or feel youthful. Look at how this new habit will benefit all areas of your life. How will it affect your spouse, children, job, income, social contacts and physical health? Write down the benefits you will attain. The more thorough you are when asking yourself these questions, the easier it will be for you to follow through. Keep writing until you can't imagine a life without this new behaviour.
4. Examine the consequences of not changing. Write down all the ways that your life will be negatively affected if you do not change your habits. Again, consider all areas of your life, physical and emotional.
5. Commit to your new habit for a minimum of 21 days. Research tells us that it takes a minimum of three weeks to develop a new habit. Read over the lists from the previous two steps daily. Continue to add to them as you realize new benefits and consequences. Reviewing these lists will affect the amount of pleasure and pain you associate with your old habit. When you think of reaching for that doughnut, all of the benefits and consequences you have written will quickly come to mind and alter your behaviour. You will begin to see how this habit affects all the areas in your life that are important to you.
Creating a new habit is not easy, unless the reasons for doing so are meaningful. When we tell ourselves that we can't change a specific habit, what we are really implying is that we don't have an important enough reason why we should. As you continue this process it becomes clear: When the whys are big enough, the hows take care of themselves.
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Dr. Laina Shulman, co-founder of Pure-Health, is a chiropractor, consultant, writer and professional speaker residing in London, Ontario.