Written by Nyomi Graef
What comes to mind when we say that we’re “going on a diet”? Something to go on until we lose some weight? Another hassle in our lives? Another thing we could fail at? Most of us are probably aware that most weight loss diets don’t work long term. Why don’t they work? Long-term nutrition and other lifestyle changes need long-term solutions. Fad diets/unappealing diets/unsustainable diets, and so on, won’t last. We must make healthy eating and other positive lifestyle habits affordable, practical and sustainable. And we must make positive lifestyle habits enjoyable — habits that we want to do, and do regularly.
How do we stop a bad habit? In a nutshell, first identify the bad habit that we want to stop, then swap it with a better behaviour. Now regularly practise this new behaviour so that it becomes a habit that we do as a normal part of our lifestyle. Easy yeah? It’s obviously harder than it sounds. But if we really want to be happier and healthier, long-term positive changes are vital. Read the following ideas to conquer bad lifestyle habits and master new good ones.
Identify the bad habit that you want to stop
Also acknowledge that the habit is bad, and that it’s important to stop doing it.
Know why it’s best to stop the habit
Write down the positive reasons for stopping and read them at least a few times throughout the day everyday. They might include better health, more energy to keep up with your family, feeling more attractive, higher self-confidence and higher self-esteem.
Set higher standards for yourself
Settle for low standards and you won’t change for the better. To live a better quality of life, set yourself higher standards of living. You are worth it.
Believe that you can break the habit
Self-belief is vital for success.
Know the nature of the habit
For greater success at kicking your bad habit know:
Select at least one new good behaviour to replace the bad habit
This new behaviour must fill the gap in your life that the old habit has left. This gap can be physical/mental/emotional/spiritual. Good alternatives to bad habits can include a hobby/pastime such as gardening, reading, arts and craft, volunteer work, and playing an instrument and a sport. Be creative! (Warning, it might take time to enjoy your new behaviour or pastime. You might feel a sense of loss while the old habit is going, or after it has gone. Be strong!)
Set one or more SMART goals for the new behaviour
SMART stands for many things; a common one is specific, measurable, attractive, realistic and time bound. Set small goals on the way to your larger goals. Breaking down goals into manageable steps increases your chances of success. Examples of SMART goals are: “By 31 March this year I will be eating at least 5 serves of veggies a day at least 5 days a week” and “By the end of April this year I will be going for a walk for at least 30 minutes 4 days a week.”
Reinforce the new behaviour often so that it becomes a habit
The new behaviour needs to become a habit. This takes time. It can take at least a few weeks of regular effort to make a new behaviour a habit.
Regularly track how you are going with your goals
People who often monitor their progress are more likely to achieve their goals than people who don’t monitor it.
Stop, or at least reduce, as many triggers of the bad habit as you can
For example, spend more time with people who practise the same behaviour that you want to adopt, instead of those that engage in the behaviour that you want to stop. We can become like the people that we associate with.
Change your environment to increase success
Move junk food to the back of your pantry and fridge, and healthier food to the front. Have a full fruit bowl instead of junk food on your table. (Stay tuned for more ideas in the future to help set you up for success.)
Persist, be patient, and commit to change
The path of positive change can get tough. Persist! Keep the good reasons for change in your mind to inspire and motivate you to keep going. And, like I said above, read these reasons daily.
Imagine (visualise) often that you are happy practising the new behaviour
What we imagine often can (within reason) happen because thoughts are creative. Imagine in detail how you feel when you have your new habit, where you will be, who you are with and so on. Always make what you imagine positive.
Plan in advance for problems, and know ways to overcome them
You’re more prepared for set-backs, and more likely to stay on the road to success.
Reward yourself when you succeed
Rewards don’t have to be big nor expensive. Watching a movie, eating at a café with a friend, and playing computer games with friends are just three of many possible rewards.
Get help, if you need it
A friend, family member, coach, book and so on can be good sources of ideas, inspiration and encouragement. You are never alone. Help is just an email, phone call or message... away.
Breaking bad habits and replacing them with new good habits takes time, effort, persistence and patience. Put in the time and effort — the you that you want to be depends on it.