Make healthy habits stick and kick the bad
We're a little over a week into 2017 and let's face it, those New Year's resolutions are already starting to feel more like a distant wish than an achievable reality.
So why not try approaching this whole resolution thing from a different angle. Instead of a resolution, think about setting a habit in motion. This could be a positive habit you'd like to form, or possibly a bad habit you want to break. With a bit of thought and planning it is sure to stick around and become instincutual. .
Unfortunately, the bad news is there aren't any foolproof steps to break a bad habit according to the Umbrella Health director Jacqui Wall.
Wall, a registered clinical psychologist, says whilst research shows what the most effective strategies are to combat a habit - the reality is that once ingrained, habits are hard to break.
"Research has shown that while parts of the neural circuits in our brain can weaken when we don't practise them, old habits never fully retire. In some instances unused habits can be reactivated with the smallest trigger, for example pouring a glass of wine at the end of a 'long hard' day."
But before you spiral into despair, jolted by the news that you're never going to kick that nail biting habit she says there is a way to fight that automatic impulse and resist those irksome urges.
Wall says the best thing you can do for yourself is to form a new, parallel habit. Like going for a walk at the end of your 'long hard' day, or mixing up your favourite virgin cocktail. Studies have indicated that we are 25 times more successful if we try to create a new habit rather than just going cold turkey on the old one.
Kicking an old habit and starting anew requires about 30 days of doing a new behaviour to train our brains and create positive neural circuits.
Firstly identify your triggers that occur immediately before you engage in a habit.
"A trigger might be an excited feeling when seeing a sale sign in a shop window, before you know it you're swiping the credit card for an item you didn't need." Triggers can be places, people, time (of the day/in the week) and emotions.
She says it's important to know your triggers so that you can strategically avoid them, or change them.
"The next time you find yourself thinking about your habit, stop and notice what has just happened. Who are you with? What are you doing? How are you feeling?"
Set up your environment to make the unhealthy habit difficult to do and an alternative habit easy to do. Such as clear out your house of all junk food and stock up with healthy alternates you enjoy. Goodbye chocolate, hello smoothie ingredients.
"Even when we know a habit is bad for us we often keep doing it because it provides us with satisfaction or psychological reward. For example, we eat junk food when we know it will lead us to feeling 'gross' and gaining weight. Surely those reasons are enough to stop us, but the reality is that the pleasure we get from devouring the slice of cake overrides our rational thoughts. Instead, find healthy rewards that act as a treat and are more satisfying like fresh watermelon in summer."
WALL'S TOP TIPS TO FORM A GOOD HABIT
To help yourself form and maintain your brain's neural circuits it's important to:
* Focus on behaviours not outcomes. Outcomes can take a long time to be realised, and in the meantime we can often get demotivated as we wait for results. Set yourself up for success by setting your goal around what you do and not what you achieve.
* Add-in new actions to beat the old. If you'd like to break a behaviour, such as smoking or working late, make your goal the creation of an alternative behaviour, drinking water or meeting a friend after work.
* Design a routine. Having a routine will help you go into autopilot mode.
* Create helpful cues/triggers. Cues prompt behaviour, for example, leave your gym gear by the bed. This will cue you to exercise when that 6am alarm goes off.
* Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. Habits take at least 30 days to form. Every time you practise your new behaviour, your brains neural circuit strengthens.
BRING ON THE BENEFITS
Maintaining healthy habits, such as doing a mindfulness exercise or catching up with a friend, can do a world of good for your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. If you need a little motivation to put good intentions into action here's a few benefits that a healthy habit can bring:
* Enables your body to unwind from daily stresses.
* Provides your brain with an opportunity to recalibrate (meaning you can hold your big picture perspective).
* Makes it easier for you to control impulses and regulate your emotions.
* Research highlights regular recovery improves your heart health.
GOOD HABIT INSPIRATION:
* Unplug from technology on daily basis.
* Establish a sleep hygiene routine. Having an established routine before you head to bed cues your brain for sleep.
* Practice gratitude daily. Retrain your brain to focus on the positive things in your life, it's too easy to get distracted by the negative. Do this by writing down three small things you are grateful for each day.