Forming New Habits


With the new year merely hours away, many people are considering making healthy changes for 2016.  Some choose to take up a cooking class or go skydiving, but on average most of us focus on making a health conscious effort to work out, stay away from processed foods, or quit smoking.  The latter is most difficult for us to conquer since these types of behaviors have become part of our lives for too long.  When attempting to make changes there are two things to consider in helping you reach your goals:  establishing a support system & changing your environment.

First of all, what is a habit?  It can be defined as something that we do often enough that eventually becomes automatic.  We make an association between the behavior and the goal.  “When I do this, I get that.” A pattern begins to emerge and in turn becomes a habit.  So, we eat a bag of cheesy popcorn after a long day at work.  It provides us with a sense of relief.  The next time we suffer another grueling day, we are more likely to turn to that bag of gold to cheer us up.  After a while, we learn that eating cheese spray popcorn makes us feel better.

Now you want to break the bad habit.  

  1. Support System -  Get a buddy system set up.  A research study reported that couples who supported each other and committed to making the same changes together were more successful than those who did not.  Holding each other accountable can be helpful in staying on track.  Also, it can be nice to know that you can relate to each other and have a good understanding of the level of difficulty you may each be experiencing.  Having someone join you while working at a new behavior can also make it more fun than going at it alone.  Set small, realistic goals, and celebrate as you accomplish each one.  Ask your partner or find a friend who is looking to make similar changes to increase your success rate!

  2. Change in Environment – When dealing with an old habit, chances are you are stuck in a routine or pattern.  In order to tackle this problem, it may be necessary to change your surroundings.  Cues exist in a pattern to elicit the old habit.  These cues serve as reminders to perform the habit.  You can trick and alter the cue by changing your environment.  Research has demonstrated that moving to another city or going on vacation are great ways to form new habits since the same environmental cues no longer exist, so pay attention to when and how the habit occurs.  For instance, if you find that you need comforting after a hard day at work, put that cheesy popcorn on the highest pantry shelf!  Place more desirable products at front and center.  Basically, make it easier to do the things you want to do and harder to do the things you no longer wish to continue.

Changing a bad habit into a good habit will take time and patience.  Studies have shown that new habits can take anywhere from 15 to 254 days to be fully established.  The key is to repeat new behaviors until they become as stable as the ones prior to them.  At the same time, allow for slip ups.  Habits are not easy to break and you may find yourself guilt-ridden over the cheese spray coma you are experiencing.  It is okay.  Give yourself a break.  You will start again the next day.  

Good luck!  I wish you the best! And have a HAPPY NEW YEAR!