Habit is any behavior that you acquire and repetitively indulge in so that it becomes an inseparable part of your routine. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with having certain ‘habits’ provided they are useful, nurturing, and healthy.
Most people think of ‘habits’ as falling into black and white categories. For example- finishing work in time is a good habit while procrastination is a bad habit. However, human habits are much more complex than bad v/s good. Some habits, for instance, are not simply bad but so destructive, addictive, and unhealthy that you want to call them quits but are somehow unable to get around to doing so. Like, drinking, smoking, binge-watching are the habits that require an urgent fixing on your part because if you don’t take action now, you’ll be doomed.
As per researches, our habit-making behaviors can be traced to a part of the brain called basal ganglia. Every single time your behavior turns into an automatic routine, it’s due to this part of the brain. That instant gratification to every time shoot off a text to your friend is a problematic habit; mindless scrolling on social media is yet another problematic habit. You find comfort in these habits which is why you find it hard to change them. But once these habits start taking a toll on your health, relationships, and career, there’ll be no way to undo the damage.
So, if you have certain bad habits that you’ve been meaning to get rid of (even if they’re as small as the nail-biting habit), don’t wait for someone to give you the required push. Break your old, faulty habits and replace them with good ones in the following ways:
1.) Recognize your triggers/cues and deal with them: Simply put, triggers/cues are the reasons why your habit/ behavior develops in the first place. Let’s say you want to change your habit of staying up late, track your behavior for a few days to understand your triggers. Once you recognize that you stay up late on the days when you watch some movie/TV show/ mindlessly scroll through social media at night but you go to bed early on the days when you read before sleeping, you can block your triggers by switching off your phone and the other electronic devices at a fixed time every night and start reading around the same time.
Similarly, if you crave a certain food (let’s say, chocolate, every day), keep fruit or vegetable snack available. The principle of ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ operates here. The key here is to keep these gratifying food cues out of sight so that your brain builds a new association with a healthier cue (fruit/vegetable snack). With repeated practice, your brain will be signaled to enter a more focused state, thereby outwitting tons of distractions that keep you from indulging in good habits.
2.) Choose the right support system: You may or may not realize it but you are surrounded by people who are willing to inspire a positive change in you. If you want to replace the habit of binge-eating and no workout with healthy eating and moderate to high intensity- workout, you should look for a friend or family member who you can work out with. You can both set diet and workout plans and together work towards making those plans a reality. You can also tap into an online forum/ community of people who share the same goals as you. Being in the company of someone who is just as willing to change as you are, will always motivate you to adopt healthier behaviors. You inadvertently get negatively influenced by friends/ family members who are always slacking away and not willing to change their habits, so you start acting in the same way as them.
3.) Track your progress: Tracking your progress is an indispensable part of a self-improvement plan. It will help you zero in on your strong and weak areas and areas that require improvement. You could maintain a journal listing your goals and how you are meeting them. Recording what you achieved and how you felt while achieving your goal will certainly play a role in motivating you to do even better next time onwards.
4.) Reward yourself: The stages of adopting a habit are cyclical and not linear. We often think all bad habits always reliably progress to good habits with consistent efforts. It’s a satisfying narrative but not true always true. When you put in efforts to change a habit without the presence of a reward system, you’ll be only momentarily motivated, and we know that temporary motivation doesn’t last long. Relapses to bad habits are not uncommon especially if you have no reward structure to motivate you. Humans are hardwired to be the best versions of themselves in the presence of a reward system. So, after achieving a milestone of, let’s say, reducing 5 kgs of weight, give yourself some non-food reward, like, buying yourself a dress that you always wanted to buy, will act as a positive reinforcer and strengthen your positive, healthy behaviors. Here, it’s important to choose your rewards carefully. Treating yourself to a high-calorie food is not the best reward to give to yourself if you are planning on reducing your weight.
5.) Practice positive affirmations: If you believe that you can change your habits, then soon enough, you will change for the better. You need to have it etched in your mind that you are capable of change. Subtle or stark, positive differences can be brought about in your life if you practice magical words like ‘I can and I will’. Train your subconscious mind to believe in the power of change.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The bad habits that you have been consistently shoving under the rug may cost you dearly in the future if you don’t take a plunge to change them now. So, take action and gear up for a positive change in your habits/ lifestyle, for as they say, “Your habits define who you are.”
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