We all have them – unhealthy habits that we know deep down we need to kick, but don’t want to admit it because they bring us so much joy.
What comes to mind when you hear the words "unhealthy habits"? What are your unhealthiest habits? What are the things that make you feel semi-guilty for doing (or not doing) because you know that it’s not benefiting your health or helping you reach your fitness goals? Grab a notebook and write down at least 5 things.
You may be thinking, “I know these things, why should I write them down?” Putting things into writing brings them to life. It brings them to reality. When it’s just hanging out in the back of your mind, you’re able to push it aside and ignore it, but when it’s written out for you to see, it becomes real and a constant reminder. They say the first step to fixing something is to admit to having a problem in the first place so congratulations! Phase one complete.
Now, take that nice list you just created, and find the one unhealthy habit that by breaking, would have the most positive impact on your health. If you struggle to rank them in terms of unhealthiness, that’s okay, just pick one because you’ll get to the rest soon. Equally important, though, is to assess the cause of your bad habit. Why is it a habit of yours in the first place? Are you doing it out of boredom? Are you stressed? Is it a result of laziness? Being honest with yourself and recognizing the underlying issue is crucial to overcoming bad habits because you can begin to replace it with something healthier when you feel the craving coming on.
Here are my top tips to overcome a bad habit:
Take Small Steps
For some people, like myself, we like to be all in, the 100%-right-from-the-start, let’s-do-this kind of attitude. This works great for some people; you will conquer your habit quicker, though the process might feel more intense and painful. However, this doesn’t work for everyone. Often times cutting things out cold turkey will result in failure because we feel really motivated at the beginning of new challenges, but as that starts to dwindle, so does our willpower and we start to give in. Kicking a habit will be more sustainable by taking steady, small steps. Are you a soda drinker? This week focus on drinking half as much as you usually do. The week after, drink half of what you drank the previous week. See what’s happening here? You will slowly, but surely, phase soda out of your diet. Is your unhealthy habit that you don’t go to the gym? Start by committing to exercise 2 times a week. Once you’re comfortable with that, amp it up to 3 times a week. By taking things slower, your journey may take longer, but it will feel less intense by doing things in phases, making you more likely to succeed.
Find a Substitute
This is pretty self-explanatory. Replace your habit with a healthier alternative. Are you a person who loves your $6 Starbucks drinks several times a week? Replace that 500-caloried monster with something with less sugar. Do you make excuses to not go to the gym because you hate it? Exercise is not punishment and luckily, there are so many forms of it, so find something you do like so that it becomes less of a chore.
When you assess the reasoning behind your habit, you can begin to recognize when you will get the urge to give in to it. When you’re able to identify it, you can distract yourself. It really depends what kind of habit you’re trying to break, but if snacking before bed is an issue for you, brush your teeth instead of reaching for food. The inconvenience caused by having to re-brush again before bed may be enough to hinder your routine. Other forms of good distractions would be getting up and stretching, going for a walk, taking a mental break, talking to a coworker or friend, etc. Customize this appropriately to your own situation.
Make Your Bad Habit Inconvenient
This may not work with every habit, but if you don’t have that soda in your house, or that ice cream, how will you actually consume it? You can’t follow through with your habit because it’s not conveniently there for you. When you’re craving a cigarette, are you really going to leave your house to go to the store and get some? By incorporating the inconvenience factor in, and not making things readily available to you and at your disposal, you’ll be less likely to follow through with your habit.
Visualize Yourself Succeeding
I mean, the chances of succeeding are slim to none if you aren’t 100% committed, but if you are, then envisioning yourself succeeding will serve as a great motivation factor. In moments of weakness and contemplation, visualize yourself habit-free.
Realize It Will Get Easier
Everything gets easier with time, right? Things are always SO hard at first. Breakups, losing weight, changing routines–change can be very difficult, but it always proves to be worth it. What about that cardio you commit to doing though you feel like giving up in the first 5 minutes? Your body will become more efficient and your current work out will soon become your warm-up. Our bodies are so adaptable. It’s our minds that are the limiting factor. Just realize that things take time, but they will always, always, always get easier and become your new norm.
If You Mess Up, Don’t Use It as an Excuse to Keep Messing Up
This is important. Just because you slipped up and gave in to your habit, doesn’t mean that the whole day/week/month is shot. That is a terrible mindset to have! So what you started your day with an unhealthy breakfast? Continue about your day making the rest of your meals healthy and nutritious. Though I understand the notion of each day being a fresh start, we don’t need to orient our lives around needing it to be a new day to live a healthy life. We mess up from time to time. We are humans, that’s what we do. It’s all about moderation and taking it at a pace that is well suited for us personally. Don’t beat yourself up about things. Instead, tell yourself it’s alright and you’ll do better next time because you are strong.
Habits are all in your head (unless you physically have an addition, of course). Your mentality is limiting you and standing between you and your goals. Is it your body or your mind that is telling you that you need to walk during your run? Is your mind telling you that you want that ice cream in the freezer, or are you actually hungry? Whenever I get cravings I ask myself why I’m feeling the way I am. Our minds are incredibly powerful machines and this can work to our advantage and disadvantage at the same time. It’s important to begin to understand the difference between physical and mental cues. Listen to your body!
Breaking a habit will make you feel strong, motivated, and inspired. Succeeding and having confidence will have a domino effect by producing a desire to break another habit and make another positive change. You’ll realize you’re stronger and capable of more and more with each milestone you surpass and soon you will be unstoppable.