How to break a habit that doesn’t serve you and form a new one

One of the hardest things to do in life is break a habit and create a new one. It happens to the best of us. We try to change our ways, slip up and do things that aren’t in our best interest because it’s easy and comfortable. Then before you know it you’ve eaten a share bag of Maltesers (that are never made for sharing FYI) and crying to re-runs of Grey’s Anatomy, because it didn’t work out.

Add a pandemic on top of that and holy cow, it’s like climbing Everest, barefoot, after sitting on your sofa for a year.

I don’t think that it’s been discussed enough during the pandemic either, whilst everyone seems to be learning something new, getting into running, it’s actually really hard to change how you think and what you do.

If your instinct is to run, then it’s pretty easy. It’s your routine. But then if you’re damaging your knees, you have to switch it up and find something to replace that buzz and fill that hole in your day. 

It’s not difficult to start it, but it’s difficult to break a habit successfully as it only happens when you replace it with something that feels the same or better for you emotionally and physically. 

I am absolutely no different. I am the Queen of having to change my ways, slipping up and starting from square one again. Whether it’s my brain fog returning or learning how to love myself or find motivation in new ways, it’s all been about breaking a habit and forming a new one.

But this year my life looks starkly different to last year, simply because I made new habits with my blog and social media and the wonder of online learning so…

How do we break a habit that doesn’t serve us and form a new one?

Keep a journal to identify what does and doesn’t work. 

To change your habits you need to objectively view what you do in response to a trigger (stress, tiredness), aka what your habits are.

Also make sure to write down how you feel after that habit. If you feel better then it serves it’s purpose and you can keep it, whereas if it makes you feel worse it’s time to break it.

How would you feel if nothing has changed in a year? 

In Shahroo Izadi’s The Kindness Method (which I highly rate and ramble on about to anyone who’ll listen) there’s lots of mind-map exercises, including a map that focuses on these questions: 

How do you want to feel in a year’s time?

How would you feel if nothing’s changed by then?

Both of these questions are SO important to work through. As the reality is, if you want things to be different in a year’s time, you need to change your habits now to get there. Shahroo’s book is filled with tips on how to break a habit successfully from her tried and tested method working as a psychologist in addiction. It’s a must read.

Substitute an old habit with a new one

The issue a lot of people have when they try to break a habit is that they don’t replace it with something. If you binge eat in the evening after a long day at work and then suddenly stop doing that, during those hours in the evening you won’t get that release, so after a few days you’ll probably slip back into that habit. 

The trick is to substitute a habit that doesn’t help you with one that does. Find another form of release and it could be anything such as walking, doing an online dance glass or a yoga flow on YouTube. Whatever you’re trying to move towards and away from make sure there’s something in place to deal with that trigger.  

Keep a journal whilst you’re doing this too, to notice if this new habit is working or not too, so you can keep tweaking it until it’s right.  

Don’t break all your habits and change them at once 

The idea that in January we become a new person, relinquish all bad habits and start a fresh is as absurd. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything you want in one day.

If you wanted to start moving more setting a goal of 30 mins exercise for 5 days a week is too much. You’ll crash out and feel like a failure. Start everything slowly and increase overtime, find enjoyment in what you’re doing and be in it for the long-term. 

You’re breaking a habit for good, not for a set time frame

The thing with habits is that they’re usually related to goals, so people set time limits on them. When really if you want to make some new habit a part of your life whether it’s fitness, a new hobby, a side hustle, you’ve got to view it as perpetual. You’ll do it until you don’t want to anymore and see where it goes. 

As opposed to doing it until you can run x or lift y. Keep that separate to begin with while you work on sustaining a habit. The more you do it, and keep tweaking how it’s going, then you will sustain those healthier habits for your mental and physical wellbeing.

How do you break a habit for good? How do you form and sustain new habits?

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