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Ten Tips to Help You Break Any Habit

Most people have one or two habits they'd like to change - whether it's smoking, procrastination, nail biting or overeating - and as the saying goes: old habits die hard. So here are ten tips to help you kick the habit for good.

  1. Commit to break the habit. It can be very difficult to change some habits and having a strong commitment is essential. Ask yourself why you are changing this behavior. Is it to become healthier or so your partner will stop nagging you? Only when you make a commitment to do something for yourself will you be successful. Trying to change for anyone else will lead to failure and resentment.

  2. Record your behavior. Keep a record of every time you express the behavior and the context in which it occurred. This will not only confirm the frequency of your behavior and reveal a pattern, it may also reveal why you do that thing you do. For instance, do you smoke when stressed, or when you're bored? Do you overeat when you're feeling sad and lonely, or to fill a void in your life? Once you understand why, when and how often you express your behavior, you can change it that much more easily.

  3. Set specific and realistic goals. How much weight do you want to lose and how quickly? Be precise and make sure your goal is attainable to avoid setting yourself up for failure. Don't expect too much too soon - changing a behavior can be a long process and you may need many mini-goals along the way. Establish contingency plans in case you miss a goal or get off track. You will probably have a couple of relapses or set-backs - we all have those days. But don't let those days derail your whole plan. Reflect on what happened, why you cheated and then move on.

  4. Create a detailed plan. How will you go about changing your behavior? If you resolve to exercise more, how many times a week will you go to the gym? At what time? What is your back-up plan if something prevents you from working out at your specified time? If you are quitting smoking, will you do it gradually or cold turkey? If you choose gradually, how many cigarettes will you cut out each day or each week? Write your plan down and post it where you will be reminded each day of the commitment you've made to yourself.

  5. Get support. Getting friends and family involved or joining a support group will make changing your behavior so much easier. It will help you be accountable for your actions and they may be able to identify expressions of your behavior you aren't aware of. For instance, if you are trying to stop biting your nails, ask your friends and family to tell you if they notice you biting them in their presence - it may be such a subconscious behavior that you don't even realize when you are doing it!

  6. Be responsible. This is your life, your behavior, and your goal to change. No one else can do this for you, you must do it yourself. Others can help, but the responsibility lies with you and you alone.

  7. Stay positive! Post positive affirmations around your house and office, read uplifting passages and by all means, reward yourself when you deserve it! If you have gone three days without smoking, treat yourself to something special and non-destructive (be careful not to replace one bad habit with another). Treat yourself to a new pair of shoes, a mani-pedi, a night at the movies…whatever will make you happy and serve as a reminder of what you've accomplished!

  8. Avoid the old traps. If you're trying to stop drinking, don't hang out with your old drinking buddies and don't go to the bar! Remove temptation from your life as much as possible to keep you focused on your goal. This doesn't mean you have to ditch your old friends, but limit your activities with them that don't involve your bad behavior. Explain to them that you want to hang out with them, but that you are trying to stop ______ (drinking, smoking, overeating, etc.) and suggest an alternative activity or location to meet.

  9. Find an alternative behavior. It will probably feel very strange when you first begin to change your behavior. It may help to find something else to fill that new void. For instance, gum is a popular choice for many people trying to quit smoking or overeating. If you bite your nails, keep a stress ball nearby and reach for it whenever you need.

  10. Be patient! A key phrase repeated in Alcoholics Anonymous treatment programs is "one day at a time." Alcoholics are never considered "recovered," they are forever "recovering," reflecting the fact that changing a behavior may be a long term or even a life-long process, one that requires daily diligence and effort. Don't be discouraged if it is difficult or if it takes several attempts for the change to stick. But it is absolutely possible to change yourself for the better. And you're worth it!

 


 

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