“Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom- and the responsibility –to remake them” – Charles Duhigg.
We are all creatures of habit. This makes any change in our life a difficult, terrifying and inconvenient thing for a lot of us. We all have the habits we would like to change for the better. It could be overindulgence on alcohol, overeating, sleeping way past bedtime, taking sugar or gluten laden foods, getting paranoid about little things, severe anxiety.
Well whichever category you fall, it is time to put a halt to your days of crazy indulgence. This article is going to take you through how to break a habit in 21 days and create a new lifestyle in 90 days. First, let’s take a look at habits.
What are Habits? How do I break a habit?
Habits are routines of behavior that tends to occur subconsciously. They are formed after our brains have learned and then repeated something new. Habits generate these physiological and biochemical changes in the body that perpetuates the behavior.
Habits run our daily life. Most of what we do is based on the habit we have developed at different points in our life. Most often, those who engage in such practices are unaware of it because they see it as routine tasks which require no self-analysis.
Some of these habits are positive, while some others will have a long-term adverse impact on:
- our capacity to live a fulfilling life
- a brighter better version of ourselves.
Why habits are so easy to make and hard to break
Habits are so easy to make because they make you feel comfy. They could be likened to a toasty bed, well-laid, inviting and waiting for you to slide in under covers, and then grab a box of cookies and a glass of milk from the nightstand…..hmmm, so sweet right? That is exactly how you fall into the temptation of bad habits and it is so hard to break a habit.
Our brain works on a habit loop basis which is a kind of trigger and rewards basis, so it gets easy for us to slip into a routine and difficult to break the method. When there is a repetition of a pattern of behavior, neural circuits are established in the brain which makes the change process a challenge. However, the act of creating resistance to the addiction helps to develop new networks which in time get stronger and overpower the old systems.
Here is how to break habits in 21 days and have a better lifestyle in 90 days.
How to break bad habits and make better ones
Acknowledge the habit you want to change
The first step is to identify the obstacles by bringing it into unconscious awareness, and then you have a standing chance to relinquish an unwanted habit. So, sit down, take a deep breath and try to identify the habits that are standing in the way of your health and happiness. Could it be laziness to exercise? Unhealthy eating habits? Or overindulgence on wine? Better still; ask yourself ‘What changes do I want in my life?’
Envision a new script in your life
After you have identified and acknowledged the habit, try to envision the changes you want to make; envision the new you. If your goal is to engage in sporting activities to be fit, you could swim, cycle, or play racket sports. In fact, researchers have revealed that these types of sports help to lower the risk of stroke and heart disease to some extent.
If you are set on eating healthier, envision yourself cleaning your cupboard out of your nighttime junk stash and replacing them with fresh organic ingredient. Creating this new script in your mind is a significant step to take.
Focus on one habit at a time
You might find yourself saddled with about 3 to 4 habits you need to change. If you are thinking of breaking all habits at once, you might become overwhelmed by the sudden changes happening all at once.
However, when you choose a particular habit, focus on changing it alone! Do not break a habit, but this habit! Your body system will gradually ease and adjust itself to the changes going on. For example, instead of thinking of quitting junk foods, exercising every day, and sleeping as early as 9 pm all at once, you could just focus on one.
Take small steps
Often, when we make overly grand plans and resolve to stick by it, we end up giving up. You might be able to follow the plan for the first few days, but a lot of people fall back to their lousy habit with time. So instead of saying that you will exercise for 4 hours each day, you could only start with three times a week. I is easier to break a habit, when you do it with small steps.
Create specific plans for your goal
Once you have decided on the particular habit you want to focus on changing, you should write down specific strategies for improving such practices. You could even stick your plans to your fridge, or any other place you get to see them all the time.
Once specific goals drive you, change becomes more natural. On the other hand, vague plans like ‘I will start exercising’ or ‘I will stop overeating’ might not do so well. So instead of this write ‘I will walk around the park on Monday, Wednesday and Saturdays and I will wake up by 6.30 am so I can walk before work on these days’ and ‘I will take five small meal portions daily.’
Repeat the behavior to make it instinctive
When you repeat specific actions on and on, your body becomes used to it that over the time, it starts seeing it as intuitive. These changes might be alien to your body for the first few days, but when you repeat the behavior you are aiming at, things become more comfortable. For example, you might feel body aches in the first week of engaging in sporting activities. That is only your body trying to get used to the sudden changes.
Habits fill deep-seated needs, so you should try filling the void that would be left with an alternative. Try to look for an alternative nourishing behavior that will take the place of the unwanted desire. These other options could be distractions or pure substitutes. Whichever it is, just make sure it is a good choice.
The temporary relief that your old habits provided can be replaced with an activity that will give sustainable comfort. You could pop the alternative on your calendar worksheet that way; you don’t have to take your frustration out on your kids or co-workers. Also, instead of winding down after a day of work with a bottle of beer or a bar of chocolate, you could try a gingerroot tea and watch aerobics videos.
Avoid cues that remind you of your bad habit
There are things (or people) that trigger these bad habits in us. Try to identify and do an audit of what triggers your habit and try to remove such triggers. Keep those people and things which remind and encourage you to indulge at arm’s length. Surround yourself with those who motivate you to keep fighting, those that inspire you to be healthier, often exercise, and avoid alcohol and so on. Cues could come in different forms for instance;
- If you can’t resist a bun, take a different route to work to avoid the bakery.
- Don’t drink the first glass of wine if you know you can’t resist a second and third offer.
- Go for a 40-minute walk at 10.45am if you are used to having a cup of coffee at 11.00am.
Always stay motivated
The task of breaking a habit might seem insurmountable, but it is entirely possible. We assure you, you’d feel better once you hit your goals. You have just got to put yourself in a position of strength and care for yourself. It might be an arduous journey, but try to envisage the dramatic improvement in your life later.
Remember it might be hard to start and stay on track and but once you get the hang of it, things become more natural. If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan but never the goal.
It takes 21 days, 21 days of healthy eating and working out and it will become a habit. Then you can have the new lifestyle you want in 90 days.
What are those habits you would love to change in your life?