by Kimberly Allen, RN
Habits are a part of our everyday life. Some we consider good habits like brushing your teeth, taking a shower etc, others we consider bad, like loosing your temper, biting your nails or alcohol/drug abuse. Habits are actions that you have performed over and over, to a point where they are an automatic response. Every year Americans spend their money and time trying to break their “bad” habit and most are unsuccessful.
A bad habit is any habit that you have developed and find undesirable. Remember habits are something you’ve done so frequently that it’s automatic, in other words you don’t really think about it you just do it. So the first step is to start thinking about the habit, bring it back into your conscious mind and make it a choice. Once you’ve made the habit a conscious choice you need to think about why it was a habit in the first place. What benefit did you receive from the action that made you want to repeat it often enough for it to become a habit? Did it make you feel better? Help you relax? Then look at the benefits you receive from eliminating the “bad” habit. This area is usually much easier and most people can find numerous reasons why they should eliminate their bad habit. For many making a written list and keeping it with you to glance at for a boost of motivation during a weak moment is helpful. You can look at your list and realize you have a choice, which benefits are more valuable to you.
We form habits to fill needs. Even if it’s a habit you consider a “bad” habit you developed it to fill a need. So since the need is still going to be there you are going to have to choose an alternative action to replace the habit you are eliminating. Instead of sitting down with a gallon of ice cream and a spoon when you’re upset take a walk. Whatever action you choose to replace the habit you’re eliminating it’s important that it makes you feel good about the choice you’ve made. Most of the time when breaking bad habits you go through certain “check points” as far as conditioning yourself. The first 30 days typically is the most difficult. It requires you to use more “will power”than the other check points. Experts say will power is like a muscle, the more you exercise it the stronger it gets. So one way to strengthen your will power is to practice using it for other simple unrelated things before your “stop date”. For example if you’re sitting at the table and notice that you’re slouching make yourself sit up straight. Just like a muscle becomes tired after exertion will power can also become fatigued after resisting temptation. It’s this will power fatigue that can set you back. Research has shown that practicing different types of will power on a regular basis can strengthen and improve your will power giving you a better chance of success. Once you’ve made it past 30 days will power isn’t as much an issue as coping with problems that develop without reverting back to old habits. This is where choosing which habit is more important really impacts your success.
With the New Year approaching many people are thinking about changes they want to make in their lives for the New Year. Some even make lists of all their “bad”habits they want to change. The best way to give yourself a better chance of success is to set your “stop date” in advance, pick a date of your choosing. It doesn’t have to be New Years it can be the 2nd Tuesday in February the day doesn’t matter, the task is what matters. Then once you’ve set your date prepare for it. And for optimal chance of success eliminate only one “bad” habit at a time. If you make a list and try to change too many things the chances of you being successful on any one is significantly reduced.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.