In Making or Breaking the Habit

4 steps to crushing your self improvement goals

Most of us want healthier habits. And we want to ditch the habits that aren’t helping us. But, in a world where everything has been sped up for instant gratification, we’ve become accustomed to living in the moment and not as concerned about the aftermath.

The problem with instant gratification is that it breeds complacency. Few want to put in the time or effort to change the habits that aren’t helping them or to create habits that can help them. It’s just easier to change the channel. Or ditch that old relationship. Or ignore why you’re stuck on autopilot.

And while there is a lot of creative ideas out there to help us maximize healthy habits and minimize the bad ones, a lot of the time it’s easier said than done. Things get complicated when you’re stuck in a habit and may not even be aware of it. Or worse yet, you’re aware of it but don’t have a clue how to get unstuck, so your pride keeps you stuck in the habit loop while your happiness gets tossed out the window.

Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit explains how the things we think are choices may actually be habits. This can work for or against you. If you make the decision to get up every day and go for a 6 a.m. jog, in time this can become habit. In other words, you’re now on autopilot when you roll over, turn off your alarm, sit up, and grab your shoes to start your jog. And for all intents and purposes, the decision to boost your health has now become a healthy habit. On the flip side, if you’re in the habit of tossing out one relationship while having another on the back-burner, this too can become a habit of chasing one thing while running from another.

To challenge a habit, we have to check our motivations on why the habit is there in the first place. While the risks of being hurt on a jog are few, the risks of being in the habit of self-sabotage, are many.

Making the Habit

Creating or changing habits require many steps. In other words, in order to get healthy habits to stick, and unhealthy ones to unstick, the habits you’re choosing should replace the ones you’re wanting to eliminate. Just like you switch up your gym routine with leg days, arms days, cardio and core, all habits in our lives need monitoring, or you risk getting stuck in the same routine and not reaching your goal. Creating any habit is a process. Some are easier than others, and some come more naturally. To make a habit, it needs consistency, and goals and to be tracked. In time, any behavior you begin can become a healthy habit.

Think of it this way: if every time you went to the gym it was leg day, you’d wind up with some amazing legs, and not much else. So what do you do? You suck it up and do arm day. And then switch up with cardio and abs. And back to leg day in rotation. Any other habit is no exception. If habits are based on triggers, routines and rewards then it’s up to us to make sure we’re aware of the triggers, so we’re prepared for the routine and can maximize the rewards. And that’s not just in the moment, but afterwards. Thus, to create healthy habits that stick, you have to get in the habit of recognizing your habits. And, you have to be willing to do the gruntwork of changing what’s not working, so you can reach your ultimate goals.

Breaking the Habit

There’s a lot to consider in reducing bad habits while creating healthy ones for lasting change. Your desire to want better is going to be the biggest predictor of success in any habit change routine. Period. Once you’ve decided whether you’re ready for the groundwork in creating new habits, then you need to be ready for ditching the ones that aren’t helping you. This isn’t an easy process. It requires more than brute strength or a killer mindset. It requires dedication to reaching a healthy goal. It requires authenticity with yourself in acknowledging self-sabotaging behaviors that are hurting you or flushing your happiness down the toilet. It requires commitment to change, and being okay with the frustration that can sometimes go with it. And, it requires a ton of acceptance — with yourself, with your life as it currently is, and in where you ultimately want to be.

To drive this home, here’s four points to help get you ready and keep you motivated.

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How to Stay Motivated When Making or Breaking a Habit

Start small. I call this ‘baby steps’. Just like the toddler who’s starting to walk, be prepared to take lots of baby steps in managing a new habit. And just like the toddler, be prepared to fall when trying to ditch an old habit. When we first start a new habit, we’re totally on-board and psyched about it. For example, when we try a new diet, we’re all about seeing results, making meal plans, jumping on their mobile app, or reading books about the new diet. Then, after the first couple weeks, we’re over it. Why is that? One word: motivation. You have to find ways of keeping yourself motivated once the initial high of a new routine wears off, or when reality hits in ditching old habits.

Be Realistic. If you’re wanting to eliminate a toxic habit then you have to be realistic with your goals and real with yourself. Habits don’t always start for healthy reasons. Sometimes, they start to numb pain, or avoid emotions you don’t want to deal with. It doesn’t make them any less of a habit. And they deserve the same attention as the healthy ones you’re fine with acknowledging, or the goals you’re excited about reaching. The fact is, not many people out there are wanting to run to the front of the line saying, “Why yes, as a matter-of-fact, I’m in the habit of leaving relationships when shit gets real and it’s no longer all fun and games.” Being authentic with yourself is important in making or breaking habits. The more real you are with your starting point, the more real the lasting changes can be.

Consistency is Key. In Behavior Analysis, we consider many factors, not just the behavior or habit itself we’re looking to create, improve, change or reduce. Similarly, consistency is key for creating a new habit or reducing an unwanted one. A new habit needs to be practiced consistently until it becomes, well, habit. Meaningful and measurable improvement doesn’t happen by chance. It happens with consistency.

Recruit a Coach. We can only do so much on our own before we find ourselves stuck again. There’s only so many changes we can commit to in a day, a week, or a month. There’s only so many books we can read, or free time we have to invest in a new habit, so the key is to maximize the strong points. Coaches often have backgrounds in habit change. Some specialize in behavior change and can take it a few steps further for you on a deeper level of analysis. If determining your own habits, making your own changes, and modifying things on your own hasn’t gotten you the results you want, consider talking to a professional who can help you level up in your goals.

Written by

Psychologist. Behavior Analyst. Helping warriors recognize their inner strength & empowering them with a little badassery. #INFJ. Seeker of the perfect latte.

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