Replacing unhealthy habits with healthier ones is helpful in reducing long term stress. Initially, it may be stressful because anything new can feel uncomfortable, but the end result is worth it. If we have not been taught healthier habits growing up, we are now in the position of having to learn healthier ways to live. Our society does not focuse on creating healthy lifestyles for us to develop and maintain mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Thus we end up with unhealthy habits.
Habits are unconscious routines, behaviors, or actions that are formed over time and become automatic. Understanding how habits are created allows us to overwrite the unhealthy ones. In 1999, the psychologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered a feedback loop that Charles Duhigg labels "the habit loop" in his book The Power of Habit. The first step is a cue or trigger that creates a craving. Your brain switches to automatic pilot and determines which habit to activate. Next, we have a routine, then the reward. Over time, with repetition, the habit becomes ingrained. Habits, because they create a neurological craving, become very powerful.
Habits that have formed neurological pathways in our brain, can not be erased. However, science has discovered the neuroplasticity of our brains. The good news is that this allows us to replace unwanted habits with healthier ones. By paying attention to our cues and rewards, we can start to change the routine. It is important to create a trigger, a craving, a new pattern, and then reward.
To replace an old habit you must:
- have the intention to want to change
- have a strong "why', even a 'why not'
- believe change is possible
- develop a new routine
- lean on others who have successfully changed
- find one or two people who can encourage you
- trust the process, forgive yourself for set backs, and be willing to try again
- be patient...it takes between 18 - 254 days...on average it take up to 66 days
- commit for 21 days to help establish the routine and continue for an additional 90 days to make it more permanent
- journal and verbalize your goal
- visualize the new behavior
- take time to reward small victories
Changing our habits can be challenging, but is well worth the time and effort. The healthier habits create a much better future for you and your loved ones. Make small steps and change one behavior at a time. Remember to share your victories with others and be proud of your accomplishments, no matter how small. Before you know it, those old habits will be history and a happier and healthier you will emerge.