- Breaking Bad (Habits)
5 healthy strategies to help break unhealthy habits
We hear it all the time at this point in the year: “New Year, new you.” As December rolls into January, nearly 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions to improve their lives and relationships. We start going to the gym, we eat more vegetables, and we try to get off our phones before bed. These are all terrific habits: but you shouldn’t pressure yourself into trying to become a whole new “you”. Instead, make your goals a little more manageable by focusing on becoming a “healthier you”.
The best way to do this is to start shedding some bad habits that you’ve had a hard time breaking. Habits and routines are not necessarily bad things, but certain behaviors can be downright harmful. Go into the New Year with these helpful tips to help you break bad habits that have been affecting your wellness, and start your journey toward becoming a healthier you.
### Identify (and avoid) triggers
Triggers are the little subconscious urges that prompt you to engage in a behavior or habit. For example, you might feel the urge to drink alcohol when you go to a bar with your friends. This can put you in a compromising position if you are trying to cut back, or quit, drinking. Identifying these triggers can help you move past them. Using the example above, try suggesting alternative meeting places so that you are not exposing yourself to an urge trigger.
Note if there are certain times of the day, locations, people or behavior patterns that lead to urges. Once you identify these triggers, you can take steps to avoid or limit your exposure to them.
Replacing a bad habit with a healthy one can help when those urges arise. If you grab a cookie or handful of candy at work when you’re hungry, for instance, consider chewing gum or snacking on a handful of grapes instead. Similarly, if a slow weekend day gives you the urge to drink alcohol, use exercise to replace the urge to imbibe. When you feel like drinking, go for a long walk.
After a few weeks, the positive effects of these healthier behaviors will replace the dopamine rush of that sweet treat or substance. You may find that you lose weight, have more energy, or sleep better at night. Eventually, you might lose the urge to engage in the original bad habit altogether.
A study from 2012 found that we are more to sustain a lifestyle change – like breaking a bad habit – if we determine the change will be beneficial to us. We can use these perceived benefits to get specific about why we want to break the habit we’re trying to break. Get specific about why you are trying to break a given bad habit. Is smoking affecting your ability to play with your kids? Does excess weight make it uncomfortable to fly on planes, meaning that you don’t travel as much as you’d like?
Determine the positive outcomes that can happen when you break a bad habit. Write these down and use them to motivate yourself next time you feel an urge. Instead of shaming yourself or beating yourself about feeling the urge, remind yourself of the benefits you reap by sticking to your healthier lifestyle. This can help you stay on track as you try to adjust your behaviors and get back on track when you do slip-up.
Even though breaking a bad habit is a personal journey, you don’t have to do it alone. If you have a friend who may be struggling with the same issue, try breaking the bad habit together. You can cheer each other on and support each other through the tough times as you try to make a big lifestyle shift.
Even if you don’t have someone in your life trying to accomplish the same goal, reach out to people around you to get support for your lifestyle change. You can rely on your family and friends for encouragement and gentle reminders if they notice that you are struggling to stick to your goals.
Additionally, you may consider getting help from a mental health care provider for further support. A behavioral counselor or psychiatrist will work with you to identify triggers and coping mechanisms you use, while providing techniques to help deal with urges. If you’re not sure where to look for help, book a video mental health care consult on Sesame to discuss your goals with a licensed mental health care provider.
Breaking bad habits is an ongoing process. You may experience slip-ups, cravings and other setbacks on the road to a healthier you. Don’t get frustrated when you fall into an old pattern or behavior. Doubting yourself may leave you feeling like giving up your goal. These lifestyle changes don’t happen all at once, nor do they often happen in a linear way. Stay patient with yourself through the tough times and remind yourself of the benefits that you detailed when you asked “why” you wanted to make these changes.
It also helps to reward yourself for your successes, no matter how small. Give yourself a healthy treat for small landmarks. For example, you could book yourself a spa session after 2 consecutive weeks of not smoking a cigarette. These small motivators keep you feeling positive and confident, and encourages the process of breaking habits rather than the outcome.
Bad habits are hard to change. Stay patient and embrace the small steps you’re taking toward a healthier New Year. Embrace the challenge and soon enough your new habits will feel as natural as your old ones.
Top U.S. New Year's Resolutions for 2022. (2022).
Breaking Bad Habits. (2012).
The power of habits. (2012).
How to break a bad habit. (2022).