Tips for success at habit change
by Anne Chambers, LCSW, Missouri Lawyers' Assistance Program
Gearing up for habit change? Preparation is a powerful tool. Most articles on the subject note that it is helpful to understand some of the steps of habit formation.
A cue puts us in automatic mode, prompts action, and tells us we are approaching a reward. James Clear notes how cues lead to cravings, which drive habits. The emotional or physical change we receive gives us reason to act, such as the temporary relief from stress reported by smokers; brief comfort or emotional regulation following a binge; or brief relief from withdrawal for the person suffering from addiction. The routine or response is the habit or action we perform, such as overeating or smoking. Actions that cause immediate rewards become habits more quickly while behaviors leading to delayed rewards become habits more slowly.
Here are some tips for successful habit change:
- Consider your motivation for change. The stronger it is, the better. For example, I worked on habit change to be as healthy and strong as I could be.
- Choose one habit to change. Select one and one only.
- When deciding between multiple targets for change, pick one that will cause a positive ripple that overflows into other parts of your life.
- Analyze your habit, in detail, in writing. Give it some time.
- Select a replacement habit to perform in place of the old behavior. Plan for a healthy trade.
- Write down every challenge you anticipate, along with your plan to tackle each challenge.
- Gather your support team. Family, friends, sponsors, professionals, peers, and self-help resources can be important allies. Who do you want in your corner?
- Identify resources you need to help you along the way and obtain them.
- Pick and share your start date.
- When it is time to execute your plan, perform your new habit repeatedly in place of the old one. For example, if my goal is to maintain a healthy blood sugar level, I might snack on fruit in the evening, instead of the old routine like ice cream or nachos covered in cheese dip.
- Be gentle and compassionate with yourself.
- Celebrate milestones. I treasure the Coach wristlet I got to celebrate the day I learned that in addition to having better health, I also lost 20 pounds.
- Be persistent. Whenever you hit a snag, regroup and try again.
Ready to make some changes? Contact the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program at 1-800-688-7859 for free, confidential assistance.
- Babuata, Leo. The Habit Change Cheatsheet: 29 Ways to Successfully Ingrain a Behavior, https://zenhabits.net/the-habit-change-cheatsheet-29-ways-to-successfully-ingrain-a-behavior/. Site last viewed 5/16/19.
- Changing Habits. The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, https://learningcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/changing-habits/. Site last visited 2/1/19.
- Clear, James. The 3 R’s of Habit Change: How to Start New Habits that Actually Stick." Behavioral Psychology, (https://jamesclear.com/behavioralpsychology, https://jamesclear.com/habits). Site last visited 1/25/19.
- Goetz, Teri, MS, LAC, ACC. "How to Change Unhealthy Habits." www.psychologytoday, 7/15/16.