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The Secrets of Successful Habit Change

January 30, 2019

By Linda Smith, PA, MS

For most of us, beginning a new healthy habit or changing an old unhealthy one, is challenging.  Our old patterns of behavior are deeply entrenched and interconnected with every aspect of our lives.  We’ve practiced them over and over again.  So, when we begin to make a change, the old patterns keep calling to us and urging us to stay the same.  It takes a great deal of effort, focus and commitment to break through the past into something that becomes a new normal that lasts.

The secret to success in making a change in behavior that lasts is to make it as easy as possible.  So, what makes it easy?  Consider these tips:

Create a pattern of behavior that can occur on repetitive days of the week at the same time of the day.

In other words, it’s much easier to create a habit that will “stick” if you do it every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7:00 than if you do it any day of the week and at varying times.  In fact, it’s even easier if you do it every day at the same time.

Connect the new habit with something that you already do regularly.

In other words, connect the new habit with an old one.  Here is an example, Karen wants to start an exercise program.  She knows that she already sets her alarm to get up in the morning and then has a cup of coffee to start her day.  She decided to connect her new habit to her alarm going off in the morning and having her coffee.  She set her alarm 45 minutes earlier so that she could put on her fitness clothes and head out to exercise as soon as she was done with her coffee.  Getting up and drinking her coffee becomes a reliable trigger for exercise.

Decide to commit to your new habit change for at least 3 months of regular practice.

If you miss a session, simply continue the pattern as soon as you are able.  It generally takes at least 3 months of regular practice for a new habit pattern to begin to replace an old one.

It doesn’t matter if you “feel like” doing the new behavior pattern or not.  Chances are that you won’t feel like it.  Expect that to be the case and keep going.

During the 3 months of committed practice, do not allow the mind to entertain a mental discussion of whether or not you want to follow through on your commitment.  Just create the reliable trigger and move forward with the commitment you’ve already made to yourself.  After 3 months of reliable practice, you may still not “feel like” doing it but the rewards from your new pattern will likely be strong enough to support you and to help counter the pull of the past.

Consider developing a support system in your new habit change.

You may enroll the support of family and friends, coworkers and community members.  You may choose a professional such as an exercise physiologist or nutritionist.  You may also choose to partner with a health coach who is trained specifically in the supportive, non-judgmental art and science of motivation and healthy lifestyle changes.

 

Remember that while habit change can be challenging, the rewards of change can mean a lifetime of health, vitality and happiness.  Keep going.  You’re so worth it!

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