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Breaking Old Habits

With the end of summer, many people look at the fall as a time for new beginnings. It’s the perfect time to break old habits. Many of our bad health habits are formed when we choose to regularly engage in behaviours such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol or unhealthy eating that we know will damage our health. But if we know these behaviours are bad for us, why is it so difficult to stop them? Unfortunately, many of our habits become ingrained in our daily routines and we find them rewarding, even though we know they’re unhealthy. This is why it’s so difficult to change these behaviours. So much so, that many people fail after a first attempt and then often give up their goal completely. Although changing a bad health habit isn’t easy, it can be accomplished.

Before making any changes in your life, try to objectively look at the habit you wish to change. If it’s smoking, what triggers you to smoke? Do you turn to smoking to deal with the pressures at work or at home, or do you only smoke when you are on a lunch break with colleagues?  How is it problematic to your health?  Once you acknowledge that you want to change your behaviour, you may still have doubts of whether you are capable of following through. You may also weigh the benefits and costs of changing your behaviour. How does it make you feel? You may continue to find the behaviour enjoyable. Even though you could probably recite the negative aspects of smoking, like the risk of lung cancer, you may still enjoy the social aspect of smoking with friends over coffee or a drink. If you still have the desire and commitment to change the bad health habit after reviewing the impact of your habit on your life, then it’s time to begin the process of change.

1.    Preparation

Establish plans of action to help you reach your goal. Talk to your family, friends, kids, life coach or colleagues about your goal to change a bad health habit. Social support can provide you with the encouragement and resources to help increase your likelihood of achieving your goal. Keep in mind, that while most people will offer positive feedback, some people may be negative about your efforts to change. Probably the best approach would be to steer clear of anyone with a negative approach, but that’s not always possible. It might be a good idea to plan your new healthy behaviour and how you will engage in this behaviour in different situations and with different people. This should include plans on how to cope with temptations in situations that may cause you to feel the urge to engage in your old habit. You can also plan how you will fill the void and manage your feelings, such as anxiety that may be initially present when not engaged in your old habit.

2.    Action

Replace the old habit with a new healthy habit. When you feel the urge to engage in your old habits, whether you’re in a situation or with people that trigger your old behavior, incorporate your new healthy behavioral patterns. For example, if a friend invites you for coffee when you’re trying to eat healthy and exercise more, suggest you meet for a walk instead. That way you can socialize while engaging in a healthy activity. Making a change such as this will bolster your self-esteem and strengthen your motivation to continue to make permanent changes.With repetition, your new healthy behaviour will be easier to maintain as it becomes part of your weekly routine. It’s also important to remember that if you fall back into your old ways once, you should stop and take a moment to realize what caused you to return to your old behaviour and learn from the experience so that you don’t repeat it in the future. Don’t get discouraged by a setback. Try to continue with your new healthy behaviour.

3.    Maintenance

Remember why you engaged in your bad habit. What was the reward in the habit? Perhaps you had a drink at the end of the day to help you relax. Or maybe you treated yourself to a cookie to get over an energy slump in the middle of the day. It’s important to find new healthy behaviors that also provide rewards to replace the old one so you’ll be more likely to stick with your new habit. Instead of a drink or a cookie, try some relaxing yoga stretches after a stressful day or take a walk to renew energy in the middle of the day. Most experts agree that daily repetition of a behaviour for approximately 28 days will ingrain that behaviour so that it becomes a habit. So, if you are able to engage in your new healthy behavior for just 28 days, this behaviour will soon become automatic and a part of your new lifestyle. Finally, it's important to step back and take a moment to acknowledge that you have successfully changed your behaviour for a healthy new you!

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