Evaluating your Life Scape
How We Form Habits
According to the National Institutes of Health, habits or patterns of behavior form in two ways: repetition combined with the pleasure/reward centers of your brain. When you trigger these centers, your brain releases dopamine, a chemical associated with good feelings. This release of dopamine reinforces the habit, trigging the desire to perform the pleasure inducing behavior again.
How To Stop Unwanted Habits
If you experience unwanted behaviors try these brainy strategies:
- Acknowledge the habit. Articulate and develop a compelling vision of your future self. This is the key that unlocks the door to self-efficacy (capability) and self-esteem (value).
- Identify the specific behaviors you need to change. Healthy habits and wellness is not the absence of disease but rather the presence of well-being and the culmination of life and healthy-giving habits. Avoid over analyzing the causes of obstacles, barriers, setbacks, and challenges. Instead explore and generate the idea of new possibilities for overcoming challenges by staying positive, appreciating your strengths, brainstorming alternatives and mobilizing your resources.
- Identify the triggers that lead to those behaviors. By identifying the emotional, physical, and psychological stimulus that lead to these rituals, you can plan ahead to prevent or avoid the possibility of a lapse before it occurs.
- Set SMART behavioral goals. Specific, Measureable, Action-based, Realistic, and Time-lined. Break down the goal into incremental goals that are scaled appropriately for successes. Motivation alone without a clear wellness plan doesn’t propel one into action and often withers in the face of adversity. With a well-defined plan of action, however, you know exactly what is necessary to achieve the desired outcome and to make your vision a new reality. Focus on one habit at a time. While you may want to change everything all at once, it’s best to focus your mental and emotional energy on changing just one habit at a time. That way, your focus isn’t diluted. It feels great when we have adopted a new habit and we become confident that we can sustain the new habit in the foreseeable future. The key is to move from extrinsic inducements to intrinsic motivation and contentment.
- Plan to implement only one measurable behavior per goal that holds intrinsic (internal) value and not imposed from the outside.
- Address environmental factors, including support teams or systems that impact your ability to succeed.
- Rewards – to reinforce motivation and confidence, it is important to experience quick “win,” to enjoy extrinsic rewards, and to savor the intrinsic value of behavioral changes. When you’ve achieved a short-term or long-term goal, you need to enjoy the achievement and celebrate such rewards to fully engage with and sustain the change process.
- Seek support. When you tell your friends and family you are trying to break bad habits and form new ones, you do two things. First, you build a network of supportive people who can help you through the difficult times. Second, you create a level of accountability for yourself by engaging others in your process.
- Visualize your vision. Visualization is powerful tools that can help you change your behaviors. Take time to reflect and visualize yourself avoiding your bad habit and replacing it with a healthier one.
- Practice. Once you’ve identified situations in which you are most likely to engage in your unwanted habit, you can mentally rehearse new behaviors. Replace negative habits with positive behaviors.
- Scale back gradually. In some cases, cold turkey isn’t the way to go. If you’re trying to make a major change such as giving up processed foods, for instance, you may want to break into smaller changes that you incorporate one at a time. Think of change as a disruption in the normal way of operating, whether positive or negative it takes practice.
- Relapse Prevention – Even after we master a new behavior, there is always the possibility to get sidetracked. Shifts happen. New challenges emerge. Develop strategies to prevent relapses. Give yourself a break. Everyone falls off the wagon from time to time. If you slip up and revert to your bad habit, don’t resort to negative self-talk. Instead, acknowledge the slip and recommit to your new, better habits.
- Avoid self-justification. The human brain is sneaky! Without realizing we do it, our brains justify thousands of behaviors and choices that adversely affect our mental and physical well being. Learn to listen to your internal voice and learn to recognize when you justify behaviors. People choose to make specific changes at specific times and for specific reasons when they are ready, willing and able.
- The Power of Accountability. Keep a journal. Identify, explore, prioritize and emotionally connect with your journal by listing potential benefits to be derived from making change lasting. If you know you’ll be writing things down at the end of each day, you’ll be more likely to hold yourself accountable for the goals you set for yourself.
- Maintain a flexible mindset. Keep changes simple. The more rules you set up for yourself, the more difficult they will be to adhere to. Think of change as “Trial and Correction.”
- Focus on behaviors you can change. The thinking/feeling work around our significant challenges, lead to the thinking/feeling work around realistic strategies for moving forward.
- Decisional Balance. Make a list of pros and cons. How will your life and health be better if you break this unwanted habit? How does the habit benefit you now? The exercise called decisional balance will help you make a list of reasons to break the habit and reasons to not break it; allowing you to weigh the Pros and Cons. Hopefully, when you see how much the benefits of breaking the unwanted behavior outweigh the risks of maintaining it, the decision becomes clearer and easier.
- Recommit. Get back on track right away. Don’t use slips ups as a reason to give up. Instead, stay the course. No excuses. It’s easy to make excuses to return to negative patterns of behavior. Maintain your integrity by keeping the promises you’ve made to yourself and accept no excuses.
- Live in the moment. One of the most difficult aspects of breaking an unwanted habit is by looking to the future and trying to determine how you will hold up over the long-term. Instead, focus on the moment. Live in the “now.” The now is more real than tomorrow.
- Practice affirmations. Live in the present tense, as if you are already that person. Every day, look at yourself in the mirror and state a positive affirmation about breaking your habit. For example, if you’re trying to stop smoking, you might affirm, “I am smoke free, healthy, and happy.” I truly believe meditation and your form of prayer and spiritual connection is really important.
- It takes a year to eighteen months for major change to take root. Be patient, be confident and ready for the new you.