We all have habits, some good and some not so good. These are behaviors that we’ve learned and that occur almost automatically. And most of us have a habit we’d like to break, or one we’d like to develop.
For most people, it takes about four weeks for a new behavior to become routine, or habit. The following steps can make it easier to establish a new behavior pattern.
- The first step is to set your goal. Especially when you are trying to stop or break a habit, you should try to phrase your goal as a positive statement. For example, instead of saying “I will quit snacking at night”, say “I will practice healthy eating habits”. You should also write down your goal. Commiting it to paper helps you to commit. It can also help if you tell your goal to someone you trust.
- Decide on a replacement behavior. (If your goal is to develop a new habit then your replacement behavior will be the goal itself.) This step is very important when you are trying to break a habit. If you want to stop a behavior, you must have a superior behavior to put in it’s place. If you don’t, the old behavior pattern will return.
- Learn and be aware of your triggers. Behavior patterns don’t exist independently. Often, one habit is associated with another part of your regular routine. For instance, in the snacking example the trigger may be late night television or reading. You automatically grab a bag of chips while you watch. Many people who smoke automatically light up after eating. Think about when and why you do the thing you want to quit.
- Post reminders to yourself. You can do this by leaving yourself notes in the places where the behavior usually occurs. Or you can leave yourself a message on the mirror, refrigerator, computer monitor or some other place where you will see it regularly. You can also have a family member or co-worker use a particular phrase to remind you of your goal.
- Get help and support from someone. This is kind of obvious. Any job is easier with help. It works even better if you can form a partnership with someone who shares the same goal.
- Write daily affirmations. Write your phrase or sentence in the present tense (as if it were already happening), and write it ten times a day for twenty-one days. This process helps make your goal a part of your subconscious, which will not only remind you to practice the new behavior, but it also keeps you focused and motivated.
- Reward yourself for making progress at set time intervals. Focus on your goal one day at a time, but give yourself a small treat at one, three and six months. The rewards don’t have to be big or expensive, and you should try to make it something that’s associated in some way with the goal. Doing this provides you with both incentive and extra motivation.
Following these steps is no guarantee of success of course. Depending on the habit it may take several tries to finally make the change. But if you stick with it, you can do it. Good Luck.