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Break Unhealthy Habits with Intention

Assessment

How many days does it take to form a new habit?

That's right, good job!

The correct answer is: It depends on the habit

Not quite!

The correct answer is: It depends on the habit

Forming habits is our brain’s way of helping us complete routine activities with less effort and energy. This is great for tasks like brushing our teeth, but some habits are not so great for us —like smoking, overspending, unhealthy eating and alcohol consumption. The more we repeat certain behaviors, the more automatic and “rewarding” they become to our brains.

The good news is we can change our habits with proven methods and a little time. While some new habits can even be formed in as little as 18 days, it takes about 66 days on average to form most new habits.

Here are 5 ways to break unhealthy habits and form healthier ones:

  1. Set purposeful goals. Envision a healthier you and clarify your goals. Revisit your well-being goals for this year and consider what unhealthy behaviors might be getting in the way of your progress. Or, focus specifically on a certain unhealthy habit you’ve always wanted to break. Be clear about what exactly you want to change and why it is important to who you are and who you want to become. What is your personal reason for changing this unhealthy habit?
  2. Build self-awareness. To make a lasting change, you need to address the root cause. Reflect on and write down the cues that lead to the habit you want to break: When does it happen? What were you feeling before the behavior occurred? What did you feel after? Where were you and who were you with? What happened before you engaged in unhealthy behaviors? Many times, unhealthy habits are formed out of boredom, stress, mindlessness or poor social influences. Once you’re aware of your cues, you’ll be more equipped to replace your unhealthy habits with healthier ones.
  3. Plan, initiate and celebrate. Write down 3-5 steps to help you break your specific habit based on your cues and circumstances. Include ways to reward yourself for achieving each step along the way. Consider the following strategies as you form your plan:
    • Replace the unhealthy habit with a healthier habit, like substituting your digital device routine in the morning (e.g., checking email or social media) with a short meditation session.
    • Create a barrier to your unhealthy habit, such as removing delivery apps from your phone or moving snack food to a higher shelf so it is no longer within your line of sight.
    • Make changes to your environment that will serve as cues to the habits you want to form. This might mean putting workout clothes on a chair next to where you work so you can put them on as soon as you log off for the day. Research studies show that by simply changing your environment, you are more likely to change your daily habits.
  4. Don’t do it alone. Share your plan and progress with a friend, family member, colleague or social group — anyone you can turn to for empathy, accountability and motivation. Research demonstrates that you are more likely to stick to your habits if you have a strong social support network.
  5. Step forward after setbacks. You will likely make mistakes along the way and revert back to unhealthy behaviors at times, and that’s okay. Just don’t give up. Remember your purpose and motivation for making this change. Think about what it is that’s causing you to go back to your unhealthy behaviors and identify ways to overcome that obstacle. And keep at it — the more you repeat the healthier behavior, the more likely it will become a habit. The best part: once you’ve locked in your habit, the hard work is done, and you can celebrate yourself and all you’ve achieved!
    Using this science-backed approach, you can turn unhealthy habits into healthy habits. You’ve got this!

Assessment

Which of the following is NOT a way to change an unhealthy habit?

That's right, good job!

The correct answer is: Rely solely on motivation and willpower

Not quite!

The correct answer is: Rely solely on motivation and willpower

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