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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Golden Rules of Habit Breaking

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Do you ever find yourself staring at the ceiling at night, making a list of all the nasty habits you have? You swear too much; you can’t stop biting your nails; you’re constantly checking your phone while other people are talking to you.

You toss and you turn as your flaws continue their parade through your head like the pink elephants from Dumbo. It’s time for a change. Enough is enough. Tomorrow you’re throwing away all the chocolate you have in the house and you’re switching to green tea too, even though it tastes like feet. Farewell to knuckle-cracking, spot-squeezing and procrastinating. Sayonara, social media. Adios, alcohol.

But how often does this conviction last until morning? The desire to be better is a part of the human condition. The motivation to actually do it can be a little harder to come by. Sometimes your ‘healthy’ phase does last the night, but it’s often just that – a phase – and it slips by the wayside within a couple of weeks (or sooner).

Starting a positive habit is pretty easy. Sustaining it is another thing entirely. Health and wellbeing expert Dr John Briffa offers a reason why. Willpower is like a muscle, he says. Once you’ve ‘exercised’ it (by saying no to that post-lunch cigarette), it gets tired for a little while afterwards. If you have to keep on tapping into your willpower (‘We’re heading out to the smoking area, coming?’) self-control starts to drain away, and it’s much easier to fall off the wagon.

So what’s the secret? Dr John says the trick is not to rely on willpower. Make things a little easier for yourself by following these rules:

  1. Spread The Word

Have a chat with your significant other (housemates will do in a pinch) and explain your plan to make a change. Chances are, they’ll support you – and your chances of success are even higher if they decide to join you. It’s a lot harder to stick to your booze-free lifestyle when your boyfriend’s just opened a bottle of wine.

  1. Be Realistic

‘Starting tomorrow, I’m going to go to the gym every day, before and after work.’ Blimey, good luck. There’s no harm in starting small when it comes to habit breaking. Exercising every day is a great idea, but you might not always be in the mood to slog to the gym. How about a quick resistance regime that you can do in your living room? It’s harder to make excuses that way.

  1. There’s Nothing Wrong With Short-Term

Of course, the goal is to sustain your new habit in the long term, but there’s something daunting about changing-your-life-forever-no-backsies. Set yourself a goal of one or two months – that’s often long enough to break a habit for good anyway.

  1. Stay Full

Did you know hunger kills willpower? When your blood sugar drops, making positive changes gets harder and reduces the sustainability of your new lifestyle – plus, hanger is a real thing. A handful of nuts will keep the wolf from your door for a couple of hours.

  1. Check In On Yourself

Motivation wanes with your energy levels. Remind yourself why you’re doing something (or why you’ve stopped). Pause, take a breath and focus on the pleasure you’ll get and the pain you’ll avoid by changing your habit. Keeping track of your progress is a fantastic way to stay on top of things. Try an app like Chains.cc or Habitica, which are both free.

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