For many of us New Year's resolutions are nothing more than a distant memory. If you've managed to stay on track with your intentions to improve your health or kick a nasty habit, then you my friend deserve a GIGANTIC round of applause! You are amongst the wee 8% of people that managed to stay on track according to the Psychologists at the University of Scranton. So kudos to you!
But if you're like the majority, you've lost that determination that was at a high just a few short months ago. January 1st (or 2nd depending how you spent your NYE) is typically the peak time for motivation but by spring, those feelings are typically long gone. And although making a resolution is great in theory, it often leaves us feeling worse for having failed at reaching our goals. So why is it that we find it so hard to break the habits that hold us back? I made it my New Year's resolution to find out.
What is a habit and how are they formed?
A habit is defined as "A routine behaviour done on a regular basis. They are recurrent and often unconscious patterns of behaviour and are acquired through frequent repetition." When an action is repeated, a neurological pathway becomes ingrained in our nervous system. Our body forms habits in order to save time and energy in order to allow us to perform more important tasks like hula hooping or dancing in the kitchen. It's like shoveling snow from your sidewalks to allow you to get from point A to point B more easily in order to save you energy from having to trample through a snow bank every day. If we had to think creatively about everything we did throughout the day, we would exhaust ourselves by noon with simple tasks like brushing our teeth.
Habits immediately register in our brains as being negative, but creating healthy habits can be very beneficial to your happiness and your health. So turn off the autopilot and get back in the driver's seat! Here are my Top 5 Tips for Breaking the Bad Habits that hold you back:
WARNING: The following tips may lead to the creation of healthy habits that may have serious side effects including weight loss, increased energy and improved sleep, sex, energy, mood, mental clarity as well as reduced risk of disease and increased longevity.
1. Get it in Writing
Acknowledge the habit exists, find what triggers it, think about all the ways it negatively effects you and how it makes you feel both emotionally and physically. Then write it all down. You really need to understand your habit in order to avoid falling back into it. Keep a journal. I like to write about the moment I find myself falling into old patterns to find the connections my nasty old habits have with certain situations and emotions. Uncovering the triggers and becoming self aware is key to creating a personal success story.
2. Baby steps
Focus on one habit at a time. If you try and change everything all at once, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed, deprived and frustrated which is a recipe for disaster. Keeping it simple leads to small victories that can grow into big results! Creating changes so small that they seem trivial helps avoid a rebellious brain. Classic example: When trying to get into the habit of flossing, set your goal at flossing one tooth per day. Just one tiny little tooth each day! Most people don't stop at one and will end up flossing their entire set of chompers. It's all about perception. If you set the goal too big, your lazy brain will rebel in order to save energy. Start small.
This may be the most important step of all. When you quit a habit, the reward center in your brain will crave the stimulation it would have normally received from your old habit so you must counteract this with positive replacements such as physical activity, new hobby or healthy food alternative. Your new healthy habit will eventually become ingrained in your nervous system just as the old on did, but this one won't leave you feeling like a bag of garbage.
4. Be kind to yourself
Chances are you are going to slip up and fall off the wagon. Accept your mistake and don't make excuses. Use failure as tool to understand what triggered your relapse. Get that journal out and write it down. Be patient. Don't beat yourself up about it. Get over it and get back on that wagon! It's going to take time but it will be worth it.
5. Reward yourself.
Reaching your goal is extremely rewarding in itself, but kick it up a notch with an added bonus! Treat yourself to a fancy new outfit once you've lost those pesky few pounds or book a trip somewhere tropical with all the money you saved from quitting smoking! Whatever it is, just make it feel good because you earned it.
You truly have nothing to lose except the old habits that no longer serve you, so go for it. Use these tips and run with it. Get committed, creative and make it work for you.
In health and love,Heather Allen, CNP