About half of all adults make New Year’s resolutions.
Exercise more. Eat better. Quit smoking. Save more money. These are some of the most common new year’s resolutions people make.
When embarking on the new resolution, most people tend to focus on doing something they haven’t done before. Start a new program of diet or exercise. Build new routines. Buy a product or service to help them achieve that goal.
However, what is critical to success, behavioral psychologists say, is not forming new habits but breaking old ones that might be making it hard to form the new ones. And as you probably know from personal experience, breaking a habit is actually harder than forming a new one. Science has solid reasons why.
While it’s often said that humans are creatures of habit (which is really just an excuse to keep doing what we’ve always done), our brain is wired to make decisions and direct us to act in the best interest of our health and ultimate survival.
So let’s harness that brain ability and power to execute some great strategies to break those not-so-great habits:
1. Understand why you want to break the habit. An obvious answer might be that you recognize it’s bad for you. But go a little deeper and ask yourself why you think it’s bad for you. Does it cause you stress and unhappiness? Does it hurt you or others? Will breaking this specific habit eliminate those negative effects, or could those things be caused by something other than the habit?
2. Think about how the habit started. Habits don’t begin the very first time that behavior happens; they form over time and a lot of times, there is something that triggers the habit. Being able to identify why it formed can help you find a replacement (good) habit and possibly remove the trigger that perpetuates the bad habit.
3. As we just mentioned, find a good habit to replace the old one. Doing something new instead of what you’ve always done is easier than just trying to stop the old habit alone.
4. Envision success. If it works for star athletes and business moguls, it can work for you. Visualizing success in shedding a bad habit can be as simple as seeing yourself having achieved the break. Perhaps it’s being able to fit into the dress size that you haven’t been able to wear in a couple of years; or chasing your grandkids around the yard a few minutes without struggling for your breath.
5. Commit and communicate. Commitment to breaking the habit starts inside you. Thoughts come before actions, as the saying goes, and even though you can certainly go about trying to break a bad habit, the likelihood that you’ll go right back to it is much higher if you haven’t convinced yourself that you want it and need it to be gone for good. Once you totally commit to breaking the habit, communicate your commitment to others for accountability. You’re less likely to give up if you know others are paying attention, and it really helps if you can tell someone who is not afraid to call you out if and when you stray.
6. Track your progress. Similar to strategy #4, having a visual representation of your efforts will help you stay on the road to success. Mark your calendar or keep a journal – whatever you choose, make sure you track your hard work daily.
7. One habit, one day at a time. While you’re tracking daily in order to get a broad view, remember to focus on the details – the seemingly small actions that make up the whole habit. Remove the trigger (and keep it out), stay the course with the good replacement habit, and acknowledge each day that you avoided the bad habit.
For more on the power of habits, check out this NPR article and listen to the episode..